Baking Soda Treatment

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Feb 28, 2011
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The topic of removing garlic smells came up in an earlier thread and there was an idea that a baking soda paste might do a good job at removing the smells. I decided to give it a go.


The board is a Boardsmith 14x20 maple that I have had for a few years. It gets cleaned regularly but it still stunk like garlic so I think it was a good choice for the test.

I used 3 cups of baking soda mixed with 1 cup of water. This formed a stiff paste that I was able to spread over the top of the board. I used a dough scraper to get an even coat.

Next I let it sit for 11 hours over night during which time it formed into a thick crust. In the morning I broke apart the crust and scraped it into the garbage. Then I washed the board with soap and warm water. Lastly I dried it and oiled it with mineral oil.


The smell is mostly gone. Probably 95%. I can still smell something faint if I put my nose a few inches away from the board but I am very satisfied with the odor removal.

Other things I noticed was that the board was extremely dried out when I removed the baking soda and the joints of the blocks had become raised and were noticeable to the touch. Also the board seemed to darken or stain wherever the baking soda was applied. I don't know if the baking soda just pulled so much junk out of the wood that it just brought old stains to the surface or what but the surface looks different nonetheless. Personally I don't mind but my wife looked at me sideways and wanted to know what I had done to our cutting board. I just hope the re-oilling will smooth out the joints.

I have pics but it says that I can't post attachments, so pics to follow.


Nice pics and tutorial, thanks.

I occasionally scrub my board (cherry with juice groove) with a slurry of baking soda and water, rinse with warm water and repeat if necessary.
Then dry with a paper towel and let it sit to air dry.
All done fairly quickly, minimizing the length of water contact with the wood.

Never had any issues with raised joints, grain, or swelling.

Perhaps Dave will be by shortly to advise...
No offense, but your board looks god-awful dirty! No wonder it smelled bad. Do you wash it between uses? If it were mine, I would consider a good sanding to remove the mottled surface.
No offense, but your board looks god-awful dirty! No wonder it smelled bad. Do you wash it between uses? If it were mine, I would consider a good sanding to remove the mottled surface.

No offense taken but are you talking about the before or after photo? I always scrub the board after use with soap and warm water. The mottling was not present before the baking soda but came up during the baking soda treatment.

Sorry -- I thought the mottling was in all the photos -- may have clicked on the same link more than once. Even if that just the result of the baking soda, then I'd still suggest sanding down the surface. It doesn't look like something I'd want my food prepared on.
Geeze- Soda is a caustic! I would not leave it on a wood surface for any time at all, as it will start to break down the wood fibers. I'm surprised that the garlic smell is a problem. I chop and smash a lot of garlic on my boards and after cooking I give it a wash with soap and hot water and call it good.

If you will send the board back to me I will resurface it for you.

Any idea about why the baking soda paste may have caused the problem? I use baking soda and have left it on overnight without any problems, but I use a thinner paste, almost a slurry, and only a thin coat. Maybe two tablespoons of soda and enough water to let me work it over the board.

I just saw the other thread. I've had similar results with baking soda overnight on a cherry board. It left dark splotches on the heartwood and discolored the sapwood, leaving it almost grey colored. I thought it might be a property of the cherry wood since i know it darkens over time with exposure to UV, the staining looks like a chemical reaction. I was able to lighten the stains somewhat with diluted bleach in a spray bottle. I'll try sanding or planing the board eventually

On a positive note. The baking soda treatment is the only thing that has really worked at removing onion and garlic odors.
I pasted mine last night and put a little 50% bleach on it today and wiped it right off. The smell of garlic is gone so I am pleased. I'll have to rinse it a few good times tonight and tomorrow and seal it back up should be as good as new.
OK, question- what's wrong with some garlic smell??
It wasn't the smell that bothered me, the banana and pineapple having a garlic taste however was a little strange.
Yeah, the leftover taste issue is why I managed to convince myself to get more than one BoardSmith board. Probably not absolutely necessary, but I'm certainly enjoying having more than one great board to work on :)
I did the same thing. I cook with garlic and/or onions at least once a day. Waiting a day for a baking soda-type treatment is more than a little irritating. I just live with a little garlic/onion smell. BTW, my boards all look great even after experimenting with baking soda. Using a peroxide or bleach-type "cleaner" can kill some smells but it can also just change the smells since it really isn't "cleaning" anything.
Btw, I was talking to a custom board maker in Canada the other day and he recommended treating a new board with mineral oil but then using some beeswax mixture before finally putting it to use. The beeswax provides just enough protection to reduce penetration of garlic oils. It won't prevent all absorption, but gives some resistance so a prompt cleaning will help prevent most oils from absorbing. Once you notice the water not beading on the board, reapply some beeswax/oil.

I know a lot of people use some beeswax on their boards, and I was wondering if they felt that adding this wax to the wood helped reduce odor absorption.

With that said, on one of my boards I didn't use any beeswax solution, and the board is starting to smell of garlic pretty bad right now. The other day, I cut some strawberries and they had a garlic taste. That was really disgusting.

So here is my action plan from this thread and others: I am going to (1) cover my board in salt (overnight for each side) to draw out as much of the existing oil as possible (2) do one of those slurry washes with baking soda but not the over night treatment (3) re-sand the surface (4) re-oil everything to make the wood happy again and (5) apply 20% beeswax/oil solution to protect against future smells.

Does that sound good, or does anyone have a further courses of action?

Get a separate board for garlic and onions! (the solution is always more tools!)
Another list that I am on is known as "The Support Group From Hell". I think that this place fits that as well!
i only find that my boards (a maple Boos and an end grain birch Ikea that i picked up several years ago and heavily refinished) pick up smells when they need a waxing. i'd suggest sanding, oiling a few times, and then coat with a bee's wax paste. i make for own paste, originally for my vulcanite pipe stems (50% or so white bee's wax and 50% or so mineral oil, by volume), and it works great on my boards. i just heat the paste, rub it on the board with a cloth, let it sit, and then buff it off with a rag.
I am in the process of buying three new boards from three different vendors.

Sounds like a vendor test.

BTW Bees wax will help with odor absorption, but will not stop it entirely. Anything that will add to the water repellency of a board is always helpful.
Sounds like a vendor test.

BTW Bees wax will help with odor absorption, but will not stop it entirely. Anything that will add to the water repellency of a board is always helpful.

Not really a vendor test. I just like to play with many different wonderful things. I already have one of your amazing boards, and now I am replacing some of my smaller ones to make them more manageable (in terms of weight and height) for the lady of the house.

Sounds like a vendor test.

BTW Bees wax will help with odor absorption, but will not stop it entirely. Anything that will add to the water repellency of a board is always helpful.

it works well enough for my tasks. several years ago, my girlfriend went to sop up a drop of Amish maple syrup that had fallen on to my board one Sunday morning, only to find that it tasted half of maple syrup and half of garlic. that hasn't happened since i started using bees wax often. :)
Bees wax certainly helps, and does keeping the board properly oiled, but I think one of the best ways to minimize garlic and onion odors on the board is to follow The Boardsmith's advice from the FAQ section of his website:
How do I sanitize the board? - After each use, wash with a quality dishwashing detergent and warm water. Wet the surface, apply the detergent and wash. Rinse thoroughly. (Do no leave hot water running over the surface for an extended period of time!) A solution of 1 tablespoon of Clorox to one quart of water is sufficient to sanitize. Spray on, let it sit and then rinse. Or, mix a 1 : 1 ratio of vinegar and water. Spray on, let it sit and then rinse. Or, coat the surface with salt overnight. The salt will absorb the moisture and kill the bacteria.
Don't be afraid to wash your hardwood cutting board with detergent and warm water. It will not hurt it (I've been doing it nearly every time I've used my Boardsmith board for the last two years, and it looks nearly new -- see photo). Of course, washing the board will require a more frequent application of mineral oil and bees wax.

Just a follow up to original situation.

I ended up not taking up David on his generous offer. I guess I felt that I had gotten myself into it and he has enough stuff to do so why make it his problem? Again I really appreciated the offer by David to fix it and I'm sure it would have been fantastic but in the end I found a buddy with a belt sander and we sanded it down. David is right when he says that the belts clog real fast with all the mineral oil. after over a dozen belts she ended up looking and feeling pretty good. I've given her about 8 coats of mineral oil and here is how she looks.



All's well that ends well.

Regards, Sean.

BTW how do you get the pictures to show up instead of the links?