How to Clean and Care for a Wooden Bowl

natural food safe finishes wooden bowls

In this post, we’ll show you exactly how to clean a wooden bowl. We’ll also discuss how to sanitize your bowl effectively and safely, and how to condition your wooden bowl so that it’s always ready to serve.

At Spencer Peterman, each  bowl is handcrafted in our New England workshop from locally sourced, upcycled wood, and is made to last for decades with the proper care.

Fortunately, it’s easy to maintain our wooden kitchenware with the right cleaning, sanitizing, and conditioning methods. First, let’s talk about cleaning.

how to clean a wooden bowl

How to Clean a Wooden Bowl

Are Wooden Bowls Dishwasher Safe?

Wooden bowls are not dishwasher safe. The high heat of a dishwasher, along with the length of time spent in water, can cause your bowl to warp or crack.

Additionally, the harsher detergents typically used in a dishwasher may wear down your bowl over time, shortening its lifespan.

How to Wash a Wooden Bowl, the Right Way

Cleaning a wooden bowl after daily use is easy. Simply hand wash your bowl in warm water with a mild dish soap and a soft, non-abrasive sponge. Make sure to towel dry thoroughly immediately after washing in order to prevent cracking.

Never allow your wood bowl to sit submerged in water before washing, as this can lead to cracking or splitting.

If your bowl still feels sticky after washing and drying, wash again to thoroughly remove any remaining food residue.

how to sanitize a wooden bowl lemon juice white vinegar

How to Sanitize a Wooden Bowl

Are Wooden Bowls Sanitary?

It’s a common myth that wooden kitchenware holds more bacteria than plastic, and is therefore less sanitary.

The truth is, wood typically harbors less bacteria than plastic, and woodenware can be easily sanitized with natural products you likely have on hand at home.

The quintessential study debunking the “wood is less sanitary” myth was conducted by food safety researcher Dean Cliver at the University of California, Davis. In this study, Cliver found that wooden cutting boards hold less bacteria than their plastic counterparts.

While plastic cutting boards may be easier to sanitize, and can withstand higher temperatures for cleaning, plastic is not as tough as wood.

This means that plastic cutting boards are more easily marked with knife grooves from the food preparation process. These grooves are hard to clean and create a space for bacteria to become trapped and proliferate.

In contrast, wood is much tougher and less susceptible to knife damage, making it more difficult for bacteria to hide.

The type of wood a bowl or board is made with also matters. Hardwoods have a finer grain, which is less susceptible to damage. Softwoods, in contrast, pose a greater food safety risk because their larger grains are more prone to the damage that promotes bacterial growth.

We make all of our boards and bowls at Spencer Peterman with locally sourced and upcycled hardwoods such as maple, oak, cherry, and walnut.

Simple Methods to Sanitize a Wooden Bowl

Wooden bowls are sanitary, but you may want to sanitize yours on occasion to discourage bacterial growth. For example, if your bowl develops a funky odor, that’s a sign that it’s in need of sanitizing.

Here are three easy ways to sanitize your wooden bowl:

  1. Cut a lemon in half, and rub lemon juice over the bowl’s surface. Let sit for two minutes, then rinse the bowl with warm water. Hand dry immediately.
  2. Mix one part white vinegar to five parts water. With a kitchen cloth, rub this mixture over the surface of the bowl and let it stand for two minutes. Rinse the bowl with warm water and hand dry immediately.
  3. Lightly spritz a 50:50 mixture of white vinegar and water directly on the surface of the bowl. Wipe off excess with a towel and allow the bowl to air dry.

how to condition a wooden bowl

How to Condition a Wooden Bowl

Why Condition Wooden Bowls?

Conditioning is a key step in keeping your bowl in great shape. With the right care, including regular conditioning, your bowls can last for generations. 

Conditioning prevents your boards, bowls, and tossers from drying out and from absorbing too much moisture. 

Conditioning also keeps your wooden bowls looking as beautiful and lustrous as the day you bought them.

Tips for Conditioning Wooden Bowls:

Use the right conditioner: use mineral oil or a product specifically made for conditioning wood, such as our own black walnut or beeswax conditioner. Other oils, such as vegetable oils, are not suitable for seasoning wood as they may turn rancid–that includes quality oils such as extra virgin olive oil. 

Condition at the right frequency: After purchasing your bowl, condition it daily for a week before using it to serve food. After the first week, condition weekly for a month, and then monthly going forward, or if your bowl appears dry or dull in appearance.

Condition thoroughly: Using a paper towel, liberally coat your bowl with mineral oil or your conditioner of choice. Allow the bowl to stand for 15 minutes before wiping away the excess conditioner with a fresh paper towel.

An important note about conditioning: Conditioners are appropriate for all of our products EXCEPT our Driftwood, White Pearl, and Sea Glass bowls and tossers–the food safe finish on these products should not be oiled. Learn more about our all natural, food safe finishes.

At Spencer Peterman, we take great pride in our handcrafted bowls. Each is made to last–with the right care, of course. Now that you know how to clean a wooden bowl, as well as sanitize and condition your bowls, you can enjoy them for decades to come.