How to Clean and Care for Wooden Bowls So They’ll Last

Wooden bowls are gorgeous, but you need to know how to clean them if you want them to last in the kitchen. Wood is porous, so it needs different care from the non-porous materials that make up most dinnerware.

Whether you use them for mixing ingredients, serving salads, or displaying fresh fruit, proper care and cleaning is essential to maintaining their natural beauty and longevity. We’ll take a look at everything from daily maintenance to deep cleaning to help you keep your wooden bowls looking their absolute best.

Two stacked wooden bowls sitting on a white marble kitchen counter

Different Woods

If you’re considering buying some wooden bowls, it’s helpful to know the different types and some of their traits. The most common woods used for bowls include:

Maple – A hardwood with a tight, even grain that is resistant to warping and cracking. Maple bowls are durable and easy to clean.

Oak – A classic choice known for its strength and rustic appearance. Oak bowls require a bit more care to prevent drying and cracking.

Cherry – A beautiful hardwood with a rich, reddish-brown color. Cherry bowls are durable but can be susceptible to staining if not properly cared for.

Walnut – A dark, dense wood that creates stunning bowls. Walnut is less porous than some other woods, making it easy to clean and maintain.

Bamboo – While technically a grass, bamboo is becoming more and more commonly used to make wooden bowls due to its sustainability and durability. Bamboo bowls are lightweight, eco-friendly, and resistant to moisture.

Regardless of the wood type, all wooden bowls share some common care needs to preserve their condition and appearance. Proper cleaning, conditioning, and storage are key to keeping your wooden bowls in tip-top shape.

Cleaning Wooden Bowls

Cleaning your wooden bowls regularly is essential to prevent the buildup of food residues, stains, and bacteria. Remember, the first and most important rule in caring for wooden bowls: never let them soak in water. That also means: never put them in the dishwasher.

Daily Cleaning

For everyday use, a simple wipe-down is usually sufficient. After each use:

Rinse with Warm Water

Avoid submerging it completely. Gently scrub with a soft-bristle brush or sponge to remove any food particles or residue.

Dry the Bowl

Thoroughly dry the bowl with a clean, lint-free cloth or paper towels. Make sure to dry the interior and exterior surfaces completely to prevent water damage.

Dish Liquid, If Needed

If something is stuck on, you can use a small amount of mild dish liquid and warm water to tackle any stubborn stains or buildup. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely after using soap.

Always Hand Wash

Avoid putting wooden bowls in the dishwasher, as the high heat and harsh detergents can cause warping, cracking, and loss of the natural wood finish.

Deep Cleaning

Periodically, you’ll want to give your wooden bowls a more thorough cleaning to remove any deep-seated grime or stains. Here’s how:

  1. Fill a clean sink or large container with warm water and a small amount of mild, food-safe soap. Avoid using harsh cleaners or abrasives, as these can damage the wood.

  2. Submerge the bowl in the soapy water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes. This will help loosen any stubborn buildup.

  3. Gently scrub the interior and exterior of the bowl with a soft-bristle brush or sponge, paying extra attention to any problem areas.

  4. Rinse the bowl thoroughly under warm running water to remove all soap residue.

  5. Dry the bowl completely with a clean, lint-free cloth or paper towels. Make sure to dry both the interior and exterior surfaces.

  6. Once dry, you can apply a light coating of food-safe mineral oil or beeswax polish to condition the wood and restore its luster (more on this in the next section).

Dealing with Stains

Wooden bowls can sometimes develop stains from acidic foods, spices, or other substances. To remove these stains:

  1. Make a paste with baking soda and water, or use a small amount of lemon juice or white vinegar.

  2. Gently rub the paste onto the stained area using a soft-bristle brush or sponge.

  3. Allow the paste to sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly and drying the bowl completely.

  4. For stubborn stains, you can try using a small amount of fine-grit sandpaper to lightly buff the affected area. Be careful not to sand too aggressively, as this can damage the wood’s surface.

  5. After removing the stain, be sure to condition the wood to restore its natural luster (see the next section).

Conditioning and Maintaining Wooden Bowls

In addition to regular cleaning, it’s important to condition and maintain your wooden bowls to keep them looking their best and prevent cracking, warping, or drying out over time.

Oiling and Conditioning

Applying a food-safe oil or conditioner to your wooden bowls on a regular basis will help keep the wood hydrated, prevent drying and cracking, and restore the natural luster.

Here’s how to condition your wooden bowls:

  1. Choose a food-safe oil or conditioner, such as mineral oil, walnut oil, or a beeswax-based polish. Avoid using vegetable or olive oils, as they can become rancid over time.

  2. Apply a thin, even coat of the oil or conditioner to the interior and exterior surfaces of the bowl using a clean, lint-free cloth or paper towel.

  3. Allow the oil or conditioner to soak into the wood for 15-30 minutes.

  4. Wipe away any excess with a clean cloth, making sure the bowl is not left with a sticky or oily residue.

  5. Repeat this process every 2-3 months, or whenever the wood starts to look dry or dull.

Proper Storage

Proper storage is also key to maintaining the condition of your wooden bowls. Here are some tips:

  • Store wooden bowls in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight or heat sources, which can cause warping and cracking.

  • Avoid stacking heavy items on top of wooden bowls, as this can also lead to deformation over time.

  • If storing bowls nested inside one another, place a clean, soft cloth or paper towel between them to prevent scratches or scuffs.

  • Consider storing wooden bowls with a light coating of food-safe oil or conditioner to keep the wood hydrated.

Repairing Damaged Bowls

Even with proper care, wooden bowls may eventually show signs of wear and tear, such as cracks, splits, or deep scratches. Don’t worry – many of these issues can be repaired with a little time and effort. Here are some tips:

  • For small cracks or splits, you can try using a food-safe wood glue to carefully reattach the pieces. Clamp the bowl together until the glue dries completely.

  • Deeper scratches or gouges can be sanded down using fine-grit sandpaper, then re-oiled or conditioned to blend the repaired area.

  • If a bowl is severely damaged or warped beyond repair, it may be time to retire it and invest in a new one. Wooden bowls are relatively inexpensive, so don’t be afraid to replace them when necessary.

Basic Rules of Wooden Bowls

  • Clean your wooden bowls regularly, using mild soap and water
  • Condition the wood with food-safe oils or polishes to prevent drying and cracking
  • Store your bowls properly in a cool, dry place
  • Repair minor damage when needed to extend the life of your wooden treasures

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Last Updated:

June 6, 2024