Wood Vs Plastic Cutting Boards: Choosing the Perfect Cutting Board

You’ve finally replaced your old kitchen knives with new, sharp blades… and now you’re looking for a high-end cutting board. One that will be gentle on your kitchen cutlery. But narrowing down to the perfect cutting board isn’t always straightforward.

Should you go with a Hi-Soft, quality plastic cutting board or a stylish, hardwood cutting board like maple?

Our detailed write-up onWood vs. Plastic cutting boards, outlines all you need to know, comparing and contrasting the two options.

Why some chefs and cooks prefer plastic cutting boards

Plastic cutting board

While some people swear with wooden cutting boards, some prefer plastic cutting boards for some obvious reasons. Here are a few reasons why some people prefer plastic cutting boards.

  • They are low-priced and simple to sanitize.  

Some people prefer plastic boards because they are easy to sanitize – you can toss them in the dishwasher. At 180F, water sprinkling on the board’s surface kills most of the existing bacteria.

  • Plastic cutting boards are more affordable than wood boards. 

A superior wood cutting board won’t cost you an arm and a leg -- but they are more high-priced than plastic boards. Even so, the high-grade certified HDPE boards can cost as low as $20.

  • Cleaning is less demanding. 

Plastic cutting boards are not only friendly to harsh cleaning solutions but also cleaning is less demanding. A plastic cutting board could appeal to you if you want a low-maintenance chopping board. Unlike wooden boards that need constant care and seasoning, You can scrub plastic boards with soap and water for a quick cleanup. Also, you can toss them in a dishwasher. 

It’s not recommended to use a dishwasher for any cutting board -- but boards made of acrylic plastic material can be cleaned using a dishwasher. Also, plastic is non-porous. It is much easier to clean a cutting board when it’s still smooth and free from knife dents.

  • Plastic boards take up less space.  

Plastic cutting boards are less bulky, and they save on space. A plastic cutting board has a thickness of between ½ and 1 inch. In contrast, a wood cutting board could have a thickness of up to 2 inches.  

  • Easy on the knives. 

Plastic cutting boards are still easier on knives than bamboo or glass cutting boards. Bamboo cutting boards are tough on the knives – and glass cutting boards are a down-right NO! Plastic cutting boards won’t dull your knives like tough chopping boards – but they wear out fast.

Why a plastic cutting board may not be the best choice

While plastic boards  are cheaper and less demanding to maintain than wooden cutting boards, they have some downsides. 

  • Plastic boards are less durable than wood, and they need regular replacement. 

While plastic boards can be cheap and cleaning them is pretty straightforward, plastic cutting boards degrade faster than wood. The face of the board gets scarred with knife marks. Hence you’ll need to replace them more often as some parts chip off and degrade. You could find you were better off investing in a high-end cutting board in the long run since you spent just as much money on cheap cutting boards. 

  • Plastic boards are less sanitary than wood.  

Knives slash through the plastic, leaving cuts that can trap bacteria. Unlike wooden boards, plastic isn’t porous like wood. Moisture trapped in deep marks dries up faster in wood, inhibiting bacteria growth. Knife cuts on plastic boards can become breeding grounds for microbes because the trapped moisture promotes bacterial growth. Grooves or cuts on plastic boards can hold moisture. The trapped moisture will need higher than average temperatures to dry up. For this reason, plastic is considered less hygienic than wood.

  • Dulls the knives' edges faster compared to wood.  

Although plastic cutting boards do not dull knives' edges like bamboo or glass, they still dull knives faster o compared to an end-grain board like maple or walnut. Wood is softer on knives' edges than plastic.

  • Plastic easily gets scarred. 

After using a plastic board for a while, knife marks incredibly scar the board's surface, as revealed in scans taken by an electron microscope. These marks can be hard to seal and even clean. It's tough to clean plastic boards with food particles lodged deep in the crevices. When cleaning the board, you'll need to scrub with a brush.

  • Plastic boards can be unhygienic, especially if not well sanitized.

Although some people prefer plastic cutting boards because they are dishwasher safe – the method is not 100% effective as it will hardly disinfect all crevices on the board. A research studyinvestigating bacteria behavior on plastic and wooden cutting boards proved that bacteria are likely to be more persistent on a plastic surface than a wooden one.  

Although having a wooden board can be demanding, you still need to clean and sanitize a plastic board after every use. You still have to scrub the board with hot water and soap, then sanitize it with a chlorine bleach solution.       

Perks of going with wood cutting boards

Wood cutting boards are superior to plastic cutting boards – by far, they are the most recommended. Hardwoods used for cutting boards can last long yet be gentle on knives. Also, wood naturally absorbs knife cuts (more this later).

Here are some advantages of going for a wooden cutting board:

  • Wooden boards can serve you for many years. 

High-resistant wood species like bamboo can be harsh on knives. If too soft, knives could easily mar the board. Hardwood trees like maple, cherry, and walnut meet the hardness test ideal for a wood cutting board. The Janka Hardness scale estimates the hardness of different wood species. The wood chosen for a standard cutting board has a Janka hardness rating of 900 – 1500. 

Cutting boards made from hardwoods like maple can live through many years if you clean and season the boards correctly. Plastic can last a lifetime, but if we’re talking about staying in excellent condition, plastic boards cannot outwear wooden boards. They have a short lifespan, as less as 1-2 years before their quality starts degrading. But if well cared for, you can extend their lifespan up to 5 years before needing a replacement.  

  • Wood is more hygienic than plastic.

Wood can trap bacteria. Even so, wood has active substances known as extractives with antimicrobial properties embedded in the wood fibers. These embedded wood extracts desiccate mold and bacteria, safeguarding your various foods from being contaminated. Here is empirical research that tests the microbial characteristics of wood. While there is concern that wood might promote microbial degradation because of its porous nature, the truth is – wood has organic extracts that prevent microbial degradation. And these compounds have antimicrobial behavior.

  • Wood is gentle to your knife's edges. 

Wood is easier on your knives than plastic. This is true for cutting boards glued with the end-grain (grain pattern) facing up. The grain facing up has an advantage because kitchen knives cut along the fibrous material of the wood. As the blade penetrates the wood, its wood fibers firmly grip its edges.  

When cutting along the wood fibers, deep cuts bind up, making the marks less persistent. Cutting boards that have this design are more forgiving on your kitchen knives.

Wooden boards like end-grain cutting boards won't show deep knife cuts like the case with plastics. So, sharp knives will not dent the wooden board with lasting deep cuts. That's because the wood fibers naturally bind up, restoring the board's aesthetic glamour.  

  • Wood makes elegant, artistic designs. 

    Woodworkers can cut lumber in different planes to reveal polished, decorative patterns. For instance, wooden boards cut with flat-grain facing up show a conspicuous cathedral pattern.  

    • Wooden boards feel more comfortable to cut on. 

    Cutting on a board like an end-grain cutting board feels more comfortable; the grip on the knife feels firm. That's because your knife cuts along the wood fibers, which act as a cushion on your sharp knives.  

    • You can seal knife marks made on wooden boards. 

    With wooden boards, You can seal knife marks with conditioners and mineral-grade oil, unlike plastic. Plastic will show knife marks that you can't seal with cutting board oil or conditioner. 

    The bad that come with choosing wood cutting boards

    Wooden cutting boards disinfect themselves. They are more hygienic and can last longer if well cared for – still, they don't come without some downsides.

    Here are some cons on wood cutting boards:

    • Wooden boards need regular care.

    Wooden boards like end-grain cutting boards need frequent conditioning and seasoning. Seasoning your wood cutting is not something you will only do occasionally, but also it's a job you'll need to do the right way. There is a recommended way to season or condition your wood cutting board. 

    By getting a wood cutting board, particularly the high-end boards like maple wood, you also sign up for the extra work of cleaning and seasoning it with oil or wax to maintain the board from warping or cracking. Also, consider spending on a top-notch, non-toxic cutting board oil and conditioner to season and keep your board clean.  

    Cutting board oil
    • Cleaning wooden boards can be demanding. 

    Cleaning a wood cutting board needs more attention. Cleaning a wooden board will take a longer time than cleaning a plastic board. Standard procedure involves hand-washing the board with warm water mixed with mild soap, leaving it to dry up, and then treating it with food-grade mineral oil. With plastic, you can toss them in a dishwasher for a fast rinse – even though it's not safe to clean any cutting board in a dishwasher. 

    As a precaution, never put a wooden cutting board in a dishwasher. It's unlikely some wooden boards will fit in your dishwasher, but even if some sizes fit, the boards can crack or splinter. 

    • Wooden boards warp with time.

    A major downside with wood is the warping or curving of the board with time. This happens when there is an uneven distribution of moisture content in the wood fibers. When wood dries up, some parts of the wooden board retain more moisture content than others. Dry parts of the wood shrink faster, changing its shape. When this happens, the board bows or bends at its center. 

    Wood shrinks and expands depending on the moisture content and humidity levels. Unlike plastic, wood is never perfectly flat. How you use the board, clean it, and dry it affects the board's movement.  

    Cupping of wooden cutting boards is a huge concern for many people. Luckily, there are precautions to follow to fix cupped cutting boards.  

    • Some wood used for cutting boards can be toxic or hard on knives 

    Some hardwood species,  if used for cutting boards, can leach poisonous toxins or smells into foods.  A good example is Rosewood. Maple, walnut, and cherry are the standard hardwoods for cutting boards. Also, some wood species can be tough on knife blades, an example being bamboo. 

    The glue used to assemble various wood pieces into a board can be toxic. Some types of glue used contain a toxic carcinogen known as formaldehyde. 

    Our cutting boards are constructed from solid maple or walnut hardwood, which is non-toxic. Also, we useTiteBond III Glue, which is both food-safe and water resistant. The final product is a hand-made, wood cutting board that’s free from toxins or smells that could leach into your foods. 

    • Wood is expensive 

    Wood is costly to source these days. One reason being trees take decades to mature. Sourcing for the logs costs a lot of money. Also, it takes time and skills to assemble a high-class wood cutting board. Yet another reason could be some wooden boards blend various wood species for diversity. 


    • Wood boards hog space

    Wood cutting boards are bulky unlike plastic cutting boards.  They take up more space.  

    [FAQ] Frequently Asked Questions on Wood vs. Plastic Cutting Boards

    What are plastic boards made of?

      Standard cutting boards are made from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) material. The material is chosen because it's durable, food-safe, and low-maintenance. HDPE cutting boards are resistant to bacteria, odor, and moisture. They are also gentle on knives' edges.

      Are plastic cutting boards healthy?

        If well sanitized and replaced often, plastic cutting boards pose a minimal threat of food poisoning. They become unhygienic mostly when they are not well maintained and sanitized. When knives slide on the face of a plastic board, it leaves cuts that could trap bacteria. Also, not all plastic cutting boards are non-toxic. Some cutting boards have a coating that's treated with toxic antimicrobial chemicals.

        NB: While plastic boards are generally considered safe because they use HDPE material BPA-free, plastic material itself is generally not the healthiest material. 

        Plastic can contain other estrogenic chemicals that could leach into foods. Also, it can degrade, chip, or crack. Using plastic cutting boards occasionally is not a major threat to your health. But it would be best if you were concerned about consistent long-term use of plastic in the kitchen. A wood cutting board is a healthier alternative.

        Do chefs use plastic cutting boards or wooden?

          Professional chefs use both wooden and plastic cutting boards. You will find both types in major hotels and restaurants. Plastic boards are much easier to clean, they are more affordable, and still gentle on knives. But wood is softer on knives, and it can be sanded down to serve you for many years.

          Are plastic cutting boards bad for knives?

            No. Plastic cutting boards are not bad for knives. They are still forgiving on knives, but wood cutting boards have a reputation for being softer than plastic cutting boards.

            How sanitary are wood cutting boards?

              Wood cutting boards are perfectly safe if clean properly, also if you use the board to cut raw meat or fish, it is important to disinfect it with 3% Peroxide or a mix of bleach and water. Read the full guide on how to sanitize a wood cutting board here. Also, wood's porous and hygroscopic natureallows conditions that inhibit bacteria growth. This isn't the case with plastic cutting boards.


              Final words

              Many factors will influence your choice of a cutting board. Ultimately, it will all come down to three crucial things. One is your budget. The other is how keen you’re on maintaining sharp blades, and you want a board that complements and maintains your sharp knives. And lastly, you ought to think about if you want a low-maintenance cutting board or one that needs constant care.

              Plastic is a nice option if you’re not looking to spend $100 on a cutting board. It’s also a popular choice for those who want a cutting board that is dishwasher safe – one easy to clean up without risking damaging the board. As for plastic boards, many people prefer ¾” - 1” poly boards. These can go into a dishwasher, and they are more resistant to warping than ½” plastic poly boards.  

              But if you want something elegant, softer on your knives, and long-lasting – and you are willing to spend good money on a well-assembled board – go for a large wooden cutting board. You can’t go wrong with an end-grain cutting board, preferably one with a thickness of at least 1.25 inches.  

              Some people are fond of having two cutting boards – one plastic, another wooden. Plastic is preferred for meats, while wooden is for fresh and ready-to-eat foods like veggies, fruits, and bread. Plastic can be your workhorse when you want to make a mess and then a quick clean up. 

              A wooden board would be a good option for veggies, and those days you want a nice, delicate cut. Also, having two boards minimizes cross-contamination.

              You can shop for hand-crafted Canadian wood cutting boards fromour online catalog. Our cutting boards are made from quality hardwood trees like maple and walnut. Plus, we use non-toxic, food-safe, and moisture-resistant glue and finish to manufacture our wood cutting boards. 

              Next Read:Bamboo Vs Wood Cutting boards: Which options is the best?