To give your kitchen the ultimate cozy look, nothing beats wood countertops. They're a warm and inviting alternative to more sterile options such as concrete or marble. Of course, that doesn't mean that a giant block of walnut or maple works only in a rustic kitchen. Depending on the type of wood and finish you choose, wood countertops can fit into just about any style of kitchen. Plus, they're affordable and can be refinished if they get nicked or stained.

So if you're on the precipice of a kitchen remodel, here's what you need to know about wood countertops.

Photo by Leah Ward Interiors

Advantages of wood countertops

Homeowners love wood countertops for their warmth and versatility. Typically they’re made from hardwoods such as walnut, cherry, birch, teak, oak, and maple, or even occasionally bamboo. And if you're lucky enough to find a one-of-a-kind piece of reclaimed wood with which to create your countertop, it's likely to become one of the star features of your home.

“One of the most beautiful kitchens I ever designed included an island with a walnut countertop,” says architecture and design consultant Chad James. “To this day I can’t get over the richness and warmth that [wood counters] provide to a space.”

If price is a factor in your kitchen remodel, opting for wood countertops can save you some dough. The cost depends on the type of wood you choose, but prices typically range from $30 to $60 per square foot, according to Home Advisor. That's less than the cost of marble countertops, which can set you back anywhere from $40 to $100 per square foot.

Photo by Chervin Kitchen & Bath Inc.

But are they sanitary?

Since wood is a soft, organic material, it probably turns into a bacteria metropolis after coming into contact with water and food over time, right? Not so, says Debra Johnson, a home cleaning expert at Merry Maids.

“This one might be a shock to some, as many people believe butcher block countertops harbor bacteria and germs more than other materials, but this actually couldn’t be further from the truth,” Johnson says.

They’re sanitary because they’re usually finished and sealed with a coating that prevents moisture from seeping through the surface, Johnson says.

“You can rest assured that your butcher block countertop is bacteria-free if you keep up with regular cleaning,” she says. “Even just a damp microfiber cloth and spritz of white vinegar will do the trick.”

Wood countertops need to be sealed

Because wood is a softer material, it’s more vulnerable to damage like scratches and stains than stone. Some homeowners like the pattern of scratches that emerges over time, but you’ll need to refinish your countertops every 10 years or so if you cook regularly.

Make sure your wood countertops have been properly sealed from the get-go with a waterproof, durable sealant. Otherwise they can suffer water damage and stain. Even then, you’ll want to avoid letting water pool on your countertops for long. Chemicals in your treated water can damage the wood over time. And never place a hot pot directly on your countertop. Always use a trivet or heat-resistant pad.

Photo by Fisher & Paykel


To maintain your wood countertops, Johnson recommends using a damp microfiber cloth with a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid.

“For a deeper clean, spray white vinegar on the countertop and wipe clean with a dry microfiber cloth,” Johnson says. And to remove food residue, she runs a plastic spatula across the top to scrape it away. Then she wipes down the surface with a damp microfiber cloth. "Always wash your countertops immediately after use to prevent staining," she adds.

James points out that wood countertops need to be oiled every month if you’re going to work with food on them regularly. You’ll want to use a high-quality mineral oil, which is safe for food. While that bottle of olive oil is right there and looks like a handy substitute, the residue of any food oil will go rancid over time.

 | Jan 18, 2018