Cleaning a Sticky Salad Bowl

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2012

Here's how to clean a wooden salad bowl to good-as-new condition.

Years of exposure to oily salad dressings can leave wooden salad bowls with a gummy, rancid residue that all the soap and hot water in the world can’t wash off. To find a better solution, we hunted around in our cupboards for the most gunked-up wooden bowl we could find and subjected it to several treatments—rubbing it with baking soda, scrubbing it with lemon juice and salt, and wiping it down with alcohol—but the sticky buildup wouldn’t budge. In the end, we decided to get tough and found that the best way to restore our bowl to good-as-new condition was to completely remove the accumulated layers of oil with sandpaper and start fresh. Using medium-grit sandpaper (80 to 120 grit), gently rub the bowl’s surface until it turns matte and pale; thoroughly wash and dry the bowl; and give it a new coat of food-grade mineral oil (don’t use vegetable oil or lard, which quickly turn rancid and sticky). With a paper towel, liberally apply the oil to all surfaces of the bowl, let it soak in for 15 minutes, and then wipe it with a fresh paper towel. Reapply oil whenever the bowl becomes dry or dull.

It’s fine to use mild dish soap and warm water to clean well-seasoned wooden bowls; doing this will help maintain the seasoning and prevent oil buildup. Dry the bowl thoroughly after cleaning and never put it in the dishwasher or let it soak in water; otherwise, it can warp and crack.

WOODEN BOWL TLC: Rubbing it with sandpaper and coating it with mineral oil restores the wood's surface.