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Non toxic oil for a wooden countertop

Hey Hounds,

Wondering if any of you know of a non-toxic oil that I could use to treat my new wooden countertop? I won't be doing any chopping on it, as such, but after sanding, I'd like to treat it so that is is benign to all the usual food handling sloppiness of a young family.

I'm thinking linseed oil, but that's just a hunch. Some expertise would be welcome.


- Sean

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  1. Sean, I think that a coat or two of mineral oil would do the trick. You can find it in drugstores or in building supply stores. I've used it on my formica counters for years.

    1. No expert here, just thoughts: There's always butcher block oil. It's 100% non-toxic and won't turn rancid. With that said I'm pretty sure linseed oil is fine too, especially if you're not doing any food prep directly on it. Linseed is more of a traditional wood treatment and should make the counter look great.

      1. mineral oil is the way to go. the more frequently you apply it, the better. eventually it will become nearly indestructible.

        i had a butcher block counter installed in may. i do use it for food prep, and have been oiling it once or twice a week. its water-resistance is already impressive.

        just beware putting hot stuff directly on it.

        1. Butcher block oil = mineral oil

          I'm not a huge fan of petroleum products, but mineral oil is supposed to be non toxic (people actually consume it).

          Linseed oil will go rancid and start to smell bad. Any nut/vegetable oil, will, over time, go rancid.

          Use the mineral oil.

          1. Food grade linseed oil is expensive (really expensive, it's a "supplement"), and anything else would be unwise, if not toxic, carcinogenic, etc.. Much of what's used as a solvent does contain toxic additives, and none of that would be reliably tested for ontaminants that don't affect it's intended purpose, which isn't human consumption.

            It also smells really unappetizing to me, anyway. I like the smell of oil paint, but not so much while I'm eating.;)

            5 Replies
            1. re: MikeG

              MikeG, I think you're confusing mineral oil with mineral spirits.
              Spirits is the solvent, while mineral oil is what is the food-safe oil used on butcher block. Mineral oil is not Harmful Or Fatal If Swallowed...vets use it medicinally.

              1. re: pitu

                And you can buy it at the pharmacy - used for humans, medicinally, as well.

                Great for wooden prep surfaces.

                1. re: cayjohan

                  Yep, the stuff you buy at the pharmacy is USP grade which is safe for consumption. It is commonly used as a laxative.

                  It is certainly safe to use on wooden counter tops or cutting boards and is what is typically recommended.

                2. re: pitu

                  Since this thread popped up again, I just noticed this and I'll note that I was talking about the inadvisability of using linseed oil, which the OP mentioned in their post, not mineral oil.

                  I've also used both "food-grade" as well as USP mineral oil from drugstores, which is easier to find. The food-grade oil is usually thinner than the drugstore version and so presumably penetrates wood better, but I don't know if it makes a noticeable difference.

                3. re: MikeG

                  Food grade lnseed oild, otherwise known as flaxseed oil is not a good choice. It requires refrigeration and is very unstable. It goes rancid very easily.

                  The boiled linseed oil you often see as a furniture finish is typically linseed oil with some solvents added.

                  Don't confuse the two and don't think that food grade linseed oil (aka flaxseed oil) is a good cutting board oil any more than corn oil would be good for this.

                4. I;ve always used mineral oil on my wood cutting boards - it's the only oil I know of which is not toxic and won't go rancid....

                  1. I'd thought that raw linseed oil was the thing to use on wood bowls, counters, etc... and what I have used for all my wood furniture (teak, stereo speakers, as well as a wooden counter top). Boiled linseed is poisonous so don't accidentally use this, but raw isn't expensive - I just got a small can in the local hardware store.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: steinpilz

                      Don't use hardware store linseed oil on anything that comes in contact with foods. These oils contain toxic solvents and additives. Use only food grade oils, linseed or mineral oils.

                      1. re: gdsharpe

                        I've been using raw linseed oil for decades on my teak furniture, walnut speakers, and maple chopping blocks/counter tops. It's great.

                    2. "MikeG, I think you're confusing mineral oil with mineral spirits."

                      No, I didn't refer to mineral oil as a solvent, I was talking about the linseed oil. Maybe I confused you by calling it a solvent? I guess it's sometimes used as a finishing oil by itself, but i think mostly as a thinner for oil-based paints and finishes. The non-food grade stuff that is. The latter is sold in expensive little bottles at health food stores - a huge waste of money IMO just because of a vague oh-but-it-isn't-natural sentiment. Suck it down by the spoonful as an omega3 lipid supplement if you like, but don't waste it oiling down cutting boards. ;)

                      I use mineral oil on everything - butcher block to wooden spoons, etc. For the latter, it keeps them from absorbing quite so much in the way of flavors and odors, I find.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MikeG

                        from your post above it sounded like you were calling mineral oil carcinogenic
                        You said, "Food grade linseed oil is expensive (really expensive, it's a "supplement"), and anything else would be unwise, if not toxic, carcinogenic, etc.."

                        so, we're all on board with mineral oil for butcher blocks
                        : )

                      2. Steinpilz - it's probably not a big issue - after all, how much of it ends up in your food? (The same goes for the sentimental unease over mineral oil.)

                        But unless it's labelled for consumption, I doubt very much it's even tested for potentially injurious contaminants, including whatever it might pick in a non-food-related supply/production chain. A few toxins here or there are of no concern for its intended use, but a better idea than USP mineral oil? Not IMHO.

                        1. There's also Bambu Goo, meant for products (cutting boards, floors, etc) made from Bambu, but it works on wood, too. It's made from beeswax, carnauba wax, and other food-safe stuff.


                          1. "Butcher block oil = mineral oil"

                            Almost. Butcher block oil = FOOD GRADE mineral oil. The stuff commonly found at the hardware store may or may not have additives/impurities that are undesireable. Same goes for typical paint dept. linseed oil; I wouldn't be comfortable using it with food.

                            Here's a readily available, cheap product specifically for the purpose:

                            1. Most bigger kitchen stores will have food grade mineral oil. I have one of those big wooden cutting boards on my regular counter top and I bought the mineral oil at the same place. I don't treat it as often as I should, but enough to keep it looking great after 3 years.

                              1. The only oil that should ever be used on a butcher block or wood counter is food grade mineral oil. Please don't waste your money by purchasing it at a fancy housewares store. Food grade mineral oil can be obtained over the counter from any pharmacy for less than $2.00 per pint, as it is commonly used as a natural laxative.

                                1. You also get the USP at any drug store where it's (still) sold as a laxative. (Apparently, wouldn't know about that from personal experience.)

                                  To beat a dead horse momentarily, I meant the "anything else" to refer to "anything other than food grade mentioned in the first clause of this sentence." ;)

                                  After initial oiling (it may take several repeated, heavy applications), it shouldn't need than an occasional light wipe.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: MikeG

                                    You said, "Food grade linseed oil is expensive (really expensive, it's a "supplement"), and anything else would be unwise, if not toxic, carcinogenic, etc.."

                                    mineral oil is NOT the same as linseed oil

                                  2. Ok, swords down, guys! Thank you for all this input. I will hasten to the pharmacy to buy food grade mineral oil. And I will treat liberally, and take a bit meself, for good measure.

                                    I remember years ago watching a C Movie cowboy. Around the campfire, some old dude, who had earlier fallen off his horse, was rubbing whiskey on his bruised leg. 'If it's good fer the innards, it's good fer the hide..' He must have been a Chowhound in the making.

                                    - Sean

                                    1. Quick Post Script, Hounds

                                      Looking at Ikea's website, their recommended oil for chopping boards and countertops is linseed oil, with some additives, which they claim to be food safe. Now, the Swedes are a fastidious lot, not given to screwing around with food safety (with the exception of matjes herrings, perhaps!), so I'm a bit perplexed by our fellow hounds anti-linseed position.

                                      Check it out, if you can bear it:

                                      - Sven


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Sean Dell

                                        The next time you are in the drugstore pick up a bottle of unscented baby oil and read the ingredients. Hmmmm. If we lather our baby's with it, it has got to be safe for the cutting board.
                                        It is an interesting note that mineral oil is a naptha product refined out the wazooo making it safe. You can buy it in bulk from the major oil refineries. It would reason to say a natural product would be better. There are many other natural oils available but none that will last as long as mineral oil without drying out quickly, going rancid, smelling to high heaven or altering the color of your wood.
                                        I make wood countertops and cutting boards for a living. We know what works and what doesn't. If you have any questions relating to this field I wood be happy to answer them.

                                        1. re: thomas evertsen

                                          The rule of oiling was at least 30 years ago when I had my house built and still have butcher block counters- we used mineral oil, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, then once a month for a year.

                                        2. re: Sean Dell

                                          I have to disagree with Ikea's recommendation of the use of this on cutting boards. I wasn't aware that the Swedes were particularly fastidious about food safety but, anyway, this is from Ikea USA.

                                          1. re: Sean Dell

                                            I have some of that, and used some recently. It stinks. I much prefer using mineral oil or a mineral oil/beeswax blend. The IKEA stuff doesn't seem to work any better than the others, so why bother with the stink?

                                          2. I prefer to use a combination product that includes both Food Grade Mineral Oil and high quality natural beeswax. The reason is simple, the mineral oil soaks into the board to help keep it hydtated and the thin layer of beeswax sits on the board surface causing moisture to bead up on the board's surface and helps protect the board. Wooden Wonders Beeswax Butcher Block Conditioner is my top pick for both price and quality.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: ChefCharlie

                                              My experience with mineral oil is that it makes a big mess when applied and a 16 oz bottle will not last very long by comparison to Wooden Wonders Beeswax Butcher Block Conditioner.. just a little goes a very long way and it gives the board a more furniture like appearance that last much longer than straight mineral oil.

                                              1. re: ChefCharlie

                                                Wow, $16 for 16 oz. Nice gig if you can get it.

                                                If you really want beeswax, buy some in bulk and mix with mineral oil. I'm sure it would cost a heck of a lot less.

                                              2. re: ChefCharlie

                                                I have to second this mix too. I use it on the wood handles of my kitchen knives. They had turned the typical gray you can expect after years of neglect and abuse. After a couple applications, they actually look better than when new.

                                                You can find these mixes of beeswax and oil at Amazon and other places. A little bit will go a long ways, so, if you were just doing knife handles, for example, a bottle might last a decade.

                                              3. When we redid our kitchen two years ago, my husband put in some really beautiful American Cherry counters. I oiled them with pure Tung oil which is completely food safe, mixed with some citrus solvent, which is also completely food safe. It was a lot of work as you had to allow the tung oil to dry completely between coats for several days each and it took about 8 coats the first time. But since then, it's been two years, they're still absolutely beautiful, durable, just terrific. People come in and ask if I"ve just oiled them. But I know it's actually finally time for a light sanding and re-oiling. No rush though. I highly recommend the tung oil if you have the time and patience initially.

                                                Here's where I got mine:

                                                1. Linseed or flax oil is a drying oil, meaning after it been applied it's needs to cure. Raw linseed oil takes weeks to cure, boiled linseed oil isn't really boiled, solvents are added to the oil to make it cure faster, this is used as a furniture finish and probably not what I'd use for a counter top.

                                                  Food grade mineral oil is the first choice for my cutting boards and butcher block.

                                                  Another option, though more expensive is one of the commercially prepared oils like Emmet's Elixir.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Demented

                                                    To add yet some more

                                                    MINERAL OIL...but it at the local pharmacy, probably won't say "food grade" but will be labelled "USP"

                                                    USP means it is fit for human consumption

                                                    Perfectly safe, effective...simple

                                                    1. re: Yellowshirt

                                                      exactly. It's readily available at almost any pharmacy, including Target for under $2 for a pint bottle.

                                                  2. To respond to one statement, merely that we were convinced to lather children's butts with petroleum oil does not mean it's safe. Mineral oil is just refined non-hardening oil. It is quite correct that baby oil is mineral oil, but even the unscented is likely not food grade. In any event, it does not belong on a baby's butt, any more than does the motor oil you'd use in your car.

                                                    I too make my living making saw dust (have been for over three decades). From that, I can say mineral oil is great for bread boards and butcher blocks. But so are some other oils. Among them, raw tung oil and walnut cooking oil. These latter oils are known as hardening oils. They harden through polymerization (rather than drying). As such, they do not go rancid, as some have suggested or inadvertently implied. Other oils, such as vegetable, olive or other "food" oils oxidize, leaving them rancid. "Boiled linseed oil, however, does not go rancid, but can support bacteria growth. Thus it's not a good choice for exterior use in the Pacific Northwet.

                                                    I've taken old butcher blocks that had dried out (shrunk) and bathed them in mineral oil and just let it set for a hour. When I came back, it had all soaked in. Two weeks later, after wicking had caused the oil to soak in deeper, all the cracks had disappeared.

                                                    Just as a matter of reference, "lemon oil," as is found in hardware stores, is just mineral oil with a scent (and possibly other additives). Tung oil, unless it says "raw tung oil," or "pure tung oil" is likely linseed oil with solvents (and a higher price). Finally, boiled linseed oil is not boiled. The name came from the bubbling effect of having air blown through it, to help speed drying.

                                                    Using a hardening oil will provide a little more protection, but isn't necessary. Like non-hardening oils, you need only wipe on a new protective coat. Unlike non-hardening oils, you must wipe off the excess to avoid orange peeling.

                                                    You can thin either one to get more penetration and it will not hurt a thing. However, the solvent (e.g., mineral spirits, naphtha, turpentine) must be allowed to evaporate, which will take a few days.

                                                    It is pretty established in the woodworking communities that almost all finishes are safe, once allowed to cure.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: dejure

                                                      dejure -- sounds like you are pretty knowledgeable in this area. I am restoring a Boos block that has a few splits and several end checks. It's gotta be at least 30 or more years old, and has been untreated in the dry local air. Like you suggest, I think there is a good chance that bathing it in oil will resolve a lot of those splits, etc.

                                                      I am a bit leary of using mineral oil and will steer away from it if a viable alternative exists; I don't think it's a particularly good petroleum item to ingest.

                                                      Thoughts on these two products (which happen to have the exact same ingredients... I suspect seed oil is linseed oil) for 'bathing' the block and regular maintenance? The manufacturer says "it will never go rancid". I mainly ask because of your comment about hardening/polymerization and the effects on really getting deep in the block.

                                                      Here are the 'natural' products that contain: refined seed oil, lemon oil, vitamin E, and carotene (and I am noting your comment about 'lemon oil').

                                                      Homewood / Block Bros. (http://www.home-wood.com/html/cleanin...): Block Oil
                                                      Lamson & Goodnow (https://store.lamsonsharp.com/catalog...): All Natural Wood & Bamboo Oil

                                                      Also curious... how much oil (cups, gallons, etc) do you think an old dried out maple 20x24x10 block could consume? Do you keep applying oil through the 'weeks' until it will take no more, or just an initial bathing?

                                                      Thanks for any insight!

                                                      1. re: Avery1

                                                        Spoke to the manufacturer and owner of one of these companies... they are the same product. The product is not linseed oil (I won't disclose the details here). It will not go rancid (they've been producing it for ~20 years) and does not harden/polymerize. As an added bonus, it will be retained by the wood much longer than mineral oil. The owner was very helpful probably spent 20 minutes talking to me -- very impressed. I'll give it a go, and respond back with results after refinishing the block.

                                                        1. re: Avery1

                                                          My humble apologies for not getting back to you. I'm on quite a few lists and ones like this have to be manually checked, since they aren't good about notifying about new comments.

                                                          Of the sites you provided, I noted one offered mineral oil in a fancy bottle. Chances are you would just be paying more than you would if you bought it from the local drug store.

                                                          I also noted other products, which may incorporate beeswax. It's probably a good product, after you have had a chance to get the wood to absorb oil to replace lost moisture. If you put it on before, it will help the surface, but wont have the penetration characteristics of straight/pure oil and may interfere with your attempts to "feed" the wood, as some say. I am actually a fan of these products. They made a huge difference in the appearance of my knife handles.

                                                          I'm a bit fussier than most about what I tolerate in my kitchen and food (e.g., I hate genetically modified food, am pro superfoods, look for natural chealtors (of heavy metals) etc.). Still, I have no problem with mineral oil on my kitchen wood surfaces. After all, you are going to wipe off the excess, if any, after you've allowed it to sit. The amount you get on your food would probably be paled by what goes into most our food, whether from the packaging of from another source.

                                                          Some products may use walnut oil. You can use the stuff you get down town for cooking. It, like linseed oil and tung oil, is a hardening oil and won't go rancid.

                                                          I can only guess at the amount of oil your maple block would take, but I'm betting it'll suck up a couple pints pretty quickly. Again, further wicking will take time, but may or may not happen relatively fast, depending on how dried the wood is. In the end, it wouldn't surprise me if it accepted another pint or two.

                                                          My approach for applying oil, whether working on a butcher block or a exterior wood window sill is to be as aggressive as I can in the initial stages (I'd stay with a hardening oil for the exterior project).

                                                          1. re: Avery1

                                                            Unfortunately, I hadn't been back here in some time and did not receive notice of your reply. Still, a reply might help others.

                                                            I would hesitate initially using any hardening oil on a butcher block which has dried out, resulting in splits and cracks. It "might" work, if you keep the surface wet, allowing the finish to soak in before hardening. Otherwise, you are going to end up with, mainly, just a surface coat. It will not have time to swell the wood back to its original state.

                                                            I would stay with the mineral oil to "tune" the wood back to a "moisture" content to near where it started. In other words, the oil needs time to swell the wood.

                                                            When happy you've done all you can to close the cracks and splits, say after a couple of weeks saturating the block with a non-hardening oil, wipe of any excess.

                                                            At this point, you can use the block or apply a final seal coat. For the seal coat, you could use a hardening oil or a varnish, like poly, but I'd avoid shellac. Too, I would try to avoid building a surface coat.

                                                            For what it's worth and parroting the publicly known pro's, once done, with either method the transfer of "finish" shouldn't rate notice.


                                                        2. Mineral oil is very handy stuff. It is really cheap. Foodgrade is safe, odorless and doesn't go rancid. However, I think it can darken the wood (I know if can darken and soften leather). I use it generally on all my carbon knives since it is foodsafe. I use it on all the natural handles (horn, bone, wood) as well. However, unlike a laquer or maybe some kinds of paste, you may find it darkens your counter. Also, if you don't apply it evenly you can get splotches.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Shann

                                                            I used to use just mineral oil for my knife handles. Then I went to boiled linseed oil and tung oil. Now use a beeswax product sold for that purpose. The difference is profound. The wax helps seal the wood and the handles look almost new. Far better than what I experienced with plain mineral oil.

                                                            If you wanted, you could acquire your own bees wax and dissolve it in turpentine (rather than paint thinner or other solvents). The turpentine has to be heated, but since it's flammable, that's best done by heating in a pan into which you pour boiling water (pour the water off and put on more, if it cools too quick).

                                                            1. re: dejure

                                                              "Board butter" for butcher blocks is basically beeswax dissolved in mineral oil to make a paste. I'd do that over dissolving it in turpentine.

                                                              1. re: ted

                                                                try this product...get the 'edible' version:


                                                                1. re: redgirl

                                                                  Same thing, plus a significant markup. I think I made a pint for ~$7.

                                                                2. re: ted

                                                                  After some (only a little) research, turpentine has its own unique preservative qualities and penetrates far better than mineral oil. We aren't talking a lot. Adding both mineral oil and turpentine might produce a more penetrating product.

                                                                  I plan on picking up a few pounds of bees wax from a beekeeper in the near future. I'll use it to experiment with different formulas and will try to remember to share the results.

                                                            2. Tung oil is the way to go because it will NOT go rancid and it is very hard wearing. Mineral oil will not hold up. Tung oil is a nut oils of sorts.
                                                              Tung oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: ottokirpitnik

                                                                I agree with tung oil. While ingesting the oil in large quantities will make you sick, it is safe to use as a countertop oil. Several coats over a few months will give you a good finish.

                                                                Note: Tung oil is not the same thing as tung oil varnish. You want pure tung oil.

                                                                1. re: Bigjim68

                                                                  Tung oil is my favorite finish for surfaces that don't require protection against moisture or abrasion.

                                                                  A search of the net produced a lot of hits for polymerized tung oil selling for ninety to a hundred and twenty a gallon.

                                                                  I gambled and bought a gallon from Treehouse labs in Winthrop, Washington for around forty a gallon and about five bucks for the mineral additives to [further] speed hardening, plus a modest shipping charge. It was at my shop the next day (of course, I live in Washington too).

                                                                  Treehouse was willing to talk on the phone and gives good instructions for using their tung oil. I am really happy with the product and am going to have to order another gallon.

                                                                  Three or four coats of polymerized tung oil are indistinguishable, in appearance, from treatment with polyurethane. It's an easy to apply wood finish, which penetrates wood, when thinned, and leaves a nice satin surface coat.

                                                                  Because it does build surface coat, you may want to consider staying with time tested mineral oil for things that will be chopped on. For example, while polyurethane is considered a food safe finish, it can't hold up to knives and chopping and, eventually, will flake off pieces.

                                                                  Once you've treated wood with a penetrating, hardening finish, whether tung oil, linseed oil or "tung oil finish) (just another tung oil with resins and thinner added) there isn't any going back without removing a lot of finish and wood.

                                                                  Keep in mind, no finish is maintenance free and will have to be touched up. As such, it is sometimes better to stay with the easiest one, even if you have to do it more often. The alternative may be to work several times harder removing the old varnish or poly finish to restore the surface.