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How to care for a wooden worktop

Melanie Whitehouse / 31 August 2016

Read our guide to caring for wooden kitchen worktops - including how to oil, clean and remove stains.

Oiled wooden worktop
Keep wooden kitchen counters in top condition by oiling them regularly

While laminate and other worktops become marked and damaged over time, the beauty of a wooden work surface is that, treated correctly, it will become deeper and richer. Scratches and other damage can be sanded away, and it can be returned to its former glory with the use of specialist oil.

Read our tips for choosing a kitchen worktop

How to oil a wooden worktop

The number one rule is… no varnish! You don’t want anything on the wooden surface that might crack or chip. If your worktop is damaged it can harbour germs -and that’s not at all hygienic in a kitchen. Oil is the finish you want and it comes in various forms (see below) which will waterproof and protect your worksurface.

Hardwood worktops should be given at least three and usually five thin coats of protective wood oil – if possible, before they’re installed. As well as the top, all sides, including the underneath and the edges, should be treated.

Work the oil into the worktop in the direction of the grain using a lint-free cloth (like an old T-shirt, sheet or tea towel) rather than a brush.

The end-grain of the worktops around the sink is most at risk of absorbing water so apply extra coats here, around taps, and in areas of heavy use like draining boards.

Wood absorbs oil at different rates in different areas, so after 10 minutes go over the entire surface again, rubbing in any oil that’s sitting around.

If the surface feels slightly rough when you run your hand over it, give the wood a very light sanding with fine wire wool.

Allow up to an hour’s drying time between coats. Then check the whole area feels silky smooth and its colour is even. Apply additional coats in the same way, allowing enough drying time in between. The first coats of oil will dry quickly but the last couple may need eight hours or more to soak in.

Re-oiling and aftercare

Experts recommend treating new wooden worktops with oil every week for the first six weeks, then at least once every three months to protect from wear and tear and keep them looking their best. Regular treatment will keep them looking like new for years!

You will know it’s time to apply another coat when the sheen has gone, the wood is dry and dull and water no longer ‘beads’ on the surface.

If it looks like your worktop needs oiling more regularly than recommended, then do so - you cannot over-oil it.

If your work surface starts to look grubby, a soapy solution of washing-up liquid in warm water should be used to clean it. Apply with a J-cloth or similar and wipe dry afterwards, then re-oil with several thin coats.

If your wooden work surface is damaged or in need of renovation, sand it down with fine sandpaper or wire wool. Gouges or dents can be filled with wood filler and sanded back. Then add several thin coats of oil, as if it was new.

Ring marks can be sanded out, then oil reapplied in that area alone.

Black marks maybe caused by contact with metals or by moisture seeping in because you haven’t done enough oiling! Sand back the affected area and re-seal with oil.

Find out how to revamp your kitchen on a budget

Dos and Don'ts

  • DO... wipe up spills straightaway, particularly when your wooden work surface is new, to stop staining.
  • DON'T... use harsh cleaning products and scouring powders.
  • DO... prepare food using a chopping board for food preparation - cutting directly onto the worktop will damage it.
  • DO... use heat-resistant mats or stands for hot pans to protect from scorch marks.

Types of oil

  • Tung oil comes from an Oriental tree and provides excellent protection but is tricky to apply and requires a long drying time.
  • Boiled linseed oil comes from the seeds of the flax plant. It usually requires more applications than other oils as it dries out faster. Thin it 50/50 with white spirit to aid application (the white spirit will evaporate).
  • Danish oil is a mixture of Tung and linseed. It provides great protection and is the easiest to apply.
  • Teak oil is a mixture of natural oils from vegetable products (and has nothing to do with teak wood!)

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.