Salvage Smelly Cutting Boards with Salt and Lemons


I am a fan of wooden cutting boards. They are easy on my knives, they look pretty and they last forever with just a little TLC. They do have their drawbacks. They can’t go in the dishwasher and they sometimes pick up aromas from whatever you have been chopping on them.

I speak most specifically of onions, garlic and shallots. Some of my cutting boards have a definite smell of onions when you get them wet. The aroma lingers, even after umpteen scrubbing sessions. I even got the sandpaper out and went to town. No luck.

The problem came to a head when I cut an apple on a cutting board and then used it to serve said apple. Partway through the meal Rich and I both commented on how weird the apple tasted. Yep, eau de onion. Not a good combination.

It was time to pull out the big guns. Or rather, whatever we could think of that we felt comfortable using on a food preparation surface. Anything chemical was out – I was afraid it would soak into the wood. I remembered that I had stained my white Corian counters with blueberries not long ago. I scrubbed the stains with salt and they were gone in no time, with just a little effort.


I decided to use salt on the cutting boards. Then I started thinking about other food safe fresheners. Lemons came to mind – they work on garlic and onion smells on my hands and to freshen the microwave.

I made a paste of salt and lemon juice right on one of the cutting boards. I scrubbed it with a nylon scrubbing pad until the salt was all dissolved and not abrasive anymore. I repeated the process and then rinsed the board clean. No onion smell. I let it dry and took another whiff. A hint of onion. I repeated the process. Voila, no onion.

Salt, lemon and a little elbow grease did the trick. I had to re-oil the boards after that, but I now can cut apples and bread on my boards without adding a note of onion.

What are your favorite kitchen cleaning tips?


8 thoughts on “Salvage Smelly Cutting Boards with Salt and Lemons

    • I have used baking soda on my wooden boards in the past. No discoloration, but not much help with the deodorizing either. I think the onion/garlic juices have soaked into the wood and its tiny cuts from chopping. The abrasiveness of the salt helped to scrub it out. At least that’s my theory. 🙂

  1. Hi, Thanks for the education. Have used this method for plastics before but hadn’t thought to try this on my cutting boards. I do use food grade mineral oil for my boards and also, for the wood handles on my kitchen knives. It soaks in and doesn’t leave any residue.

    • I hope the information helps!I was surprised how well it worked on those persistent smells, even better than sandpaper. Isn’t mineral oil the best! I like that is has no smell and soaks in beautifully. And a bonus, my hands are nice and moisturized when I am done! That reminds me that I need to oil all of my cutting boards and knife handles again.

  2. I have used lemons and salt to clean my wooden cutting boards for a long time. Isn’t it wonderful that they are natural deodorizers and disinfectants?

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