Plastic vs. wooden cutting boards: Are they hygienic and safe for your knives?

Which kinds of cutting boards are best?

Despite wooden cutting boards being the overwhelming favorite of professionals such as butchers, they still get a bad rap. Some people claim that because wood is porous and can absorb liquid, it’s unsafe to cut meat on it.

Surprisingly, the reality is almost the opposite. Both wooden and plastic cutting boards can be and are safe for any kind of food, with wood having a slight lead in terms of food safety and knife wear prevention.

Why is a clean cutting board important?

Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria from one object to another. Cutting raw chicken and then slicing fresh produce on the unwashed board is the perfect example of cross-contamination.

This can happen between any two foods that might have germs present. Even lettuce, a significant source of E. coli infections, can lead to cross-contamination when not properly washed.

There are peer-reviewed studies on the bacterial retention and decontamination of both materials. The conclusion is simple. Whether your cutting boards are plastic or wooden, the most crucial step is thoroughly washing and drying them before switching foods. If you’re careful, both materials are safe.

Why are plastic cutting boards worth it?

Plastic equipment is lightweight, space-efficient and easy to clean. It’s also durable and affordable. A plastic cutting board can withstand vigorous hand washing, high-temperature machine washing and chemical sterilization. That’s one of two main reasons you’ll find high-volume kitchens equipped with plastic cutting boards.

Plastic also allows for color coding. Typically, red cutting boards are for red meat, tan for fish, green for fruits and vegetables, blue for cooked food and white for dairy. These sometimes vary between states and cooking establishments. While restaurants use them, most home cooks don’t opt to buy cutting boards in each color. That’s OK as long as you’re thorough with cleaning and sanitizing.

Are plastic cutting boards safe for knives?

The plastic cutting boards are made from is soft enough that it won’t dull a knife overly quickly. It’s not quite as gentle on an edge as some types of wood cutting boards, but it’s suitable for some of the fanciest knives in the world.

Why are wooden cutting boards safe?

The main worry about wood cutting board safety is that it can absorb bacteria and lead to cross-contamination even after it’s washed with soap and water. These fears are unfounded. Wood’s porous nature does allow it to absorb some bacteria. However, instead of letting that bacteria flourish, it traps and dries out the bacteria, leaving it unable to contaminate food.

Another reason wood can be better than plastic is its ability to repair itself. Once there’s a large gauge or groove on the surface of a plastic cutting board, it’s there to stay. This can trap bacteria between washings.

Wood, on the other hand, tends to repair gauges and grooves as time goes on. A gentle hand washing rehydrates the wood slightly, allowing it to return to its original shape and greatly minimizing the risk of trapped bacteria.

Wooden cutting boards are great for knives

A wood cutting board is the best choice for high-end chef’s knives. End-grain cutting boards offer a high level of softness that minimizes the regular dulling of a knife. With that said, all cutting gradually dulls a knife. High-quality wood simply slows that process.

What else to look for in a cutting board

Once you’ve decided between a wood cutting board and a plastic cutting board, it’s time to think about other important features. These are some factors you should consider when picking a cutting board. 

  • Size: Cutting boards come in a wide range of sizes, from compact versions measuring around 5 inches by 10 inches to extra-large ones that measure about 20 inches by 30 inches. The smallest are great for little tasks, like chopping an onion or a few cloves of garlic, but can be frustratingly small when cooking for a crowd. The largest are great for commercial kitchens but impractical for home use. Most buyers will want something in between the two extremes.
  • Shape: Although rectangular cutting boards are most popular, you can also buy round cutting boards. A round cutting board isn’t necessarily the most practical, but some people like how they look. Also, a wooden round cutting board can double as a trivet to protect counters from hot pots.
  • Groove: Some boards have grooves around the outside to catch juices from fruits, meat or other produce that lets out liquid when you chop it. This can help avoid annoying messes.
  • Reversibility: With a reversible cutting board, you have two usable sides. Sometimes, one side is grooved and one side is flat, but you can also find double-sided options with two flat or two grooved sides. 

Best wooden cutting boards

Best Dfackto Premium Canadian Maple Cutting Board

Dfackto Premium Canadian Maple Cutting Board

This gorgeous maple cutting board is made from quality end-grain wood and has a reversible design. Alongside the maple cutting board, there’s also a cherry version with a darker, richer hue to the wood. 

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Best Proteak End Grain Wood Cutting Board

Proteak End Grain Wood Cutting Board

Its high-quality wood and end-grain construction make it a fine choice for the most demanding home chefs. There’s also a smaller version if the big one doesn’t quite fit on your countertops. 

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Best Shumaru Teak Wood Cutting Board

Shumaru Teak Wood Cutting Board

It’s safe for high-end blades and comes in three sizes to fit your kitchen perfectly. This wood cutting board is large and reversible with a groove to catch juices. 

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Best Eco Home Wood Cutting Board

Eco Home Wood Cutting Board

It has convenient handles on the sides, nonslip feet and an optional juice groove that keeps meat juices off your counter. You can choose from a maple cutting board, cherry cutting board or hardwood cutting board. 

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Best John Boos Block Chop-N-Slice

John Boos Block Chop-N-Slice

This affordable edge-grain model comes from one of the biggest names in cutting boards. You can choose from six sizes, with the smallest measuring 5 inches by 10 inches and the largest measuring 15 inches by 20 inches. 

Sold by Amazon and Sur La Table

Best Sonder Los Angeles Large

Sonder Los Angeles Large

Crafted from beautiful walnut, this wood cutting board has a gorgeous dark finish and looks as good as it performs. It’s generously sized, measuring 13 inches by 17 inches, with a groove around the outside to catch juices. 

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Best plastic cutting boards

Best Thirteen Chefs Cutting Boards

Thirteen Chefs Cutting Boards

These no-nonsense cutting boards are simple to sanitize and come in six colors for the careful cook. They’re large, with the smallest measuring 12 by 18 inches and the largest measuring 18 by 30 inches. 

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Best Oxo Good Grips Cutting Board Set

Oxo Good Grips Cutting Board Set

If you typically cook for only a few people at a time, these small and medium-sized options are perfect. Both boards are double-sided with nonporous surfaces that resist staining and odors. 

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Best Aichoof Cutting Board Set

Aichoof Cutting Board Set

This highly economical four-pack of colored cutting boards comes with nonslip feet and a vertical storage stand for safety and convenience. Each is labeled with a different produce type, so it’s easier to stay safe and avoid cross-contamination. 

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Best KitchenAid Classic

KitchenAid Classic

This cutting board has three sizes to choose from, and none cost very much. They’re nonslip with a groove to catch liquids, plus they’re dishwasher-safe for easier cleanup once you’re done cooking. 

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Best Winco Plastic Cutting Boards

Winco Plastic Cutting Boards

These are the same cutting boards found in professional kitchens across the country. You can buy them individually or in packs containing several boards of different colors, which is helpful to avoid cross-contamination. 

Sold by Amazon

Cutting board FAQ

Are bamboo cutting boards a good idea?

A. While they’re lightweight and affordable, it’s best to avoid bamboo cutting boards. It’s significantly harder than other wood and even has mild antibacterial properties. At first glance, that makes bamboo look like an attractive material. However, it’s not any more hygienic in practice, and its hardness wears down a knife edge much faster than traditional wood cutting boards.

Why should you never use glass cutting boards?

A. Glass wears down a knife edge incredibly quickly, no matter what metal the knife is made from. It’s also hard to keep wet foods from sliding around a glass surface. This makes precision cutting difficult and even dangerous. Glass cutting boards should be avoided at all costs.

Should you use flexible plastic cutting boards?

A. While they are convenient, lightweight and affordable, they don’t offer the cushion of a large piece of plastic. They’re also hard to clean. They work but are best avoided in favor of rigid plastic or wood cutting boards.

Are wooden cutting board countertops worth it?

A. Rarely. They tend to be expensive and difficult to sanitize. They are also hard to replace if damaged. Cutting board countertops can be safe and effective if you’re careful, but most homeowners shouldn’t waste their money.

How big should a cutting board be?

A. The best size is the biggest one that fits on your kitchen counter. Your cutting board should be at least as tall as your biggest knife is long. Using one that’s too small makes it difficult to make consistent, precise cuts.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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