Best Wood Bowl Care How To (clean, maintain, restore)

Wood Bowl Care Complete Guide Clean Maintain Restore

Wood bowl care is important. Whether you own a wood bowl (or many) or if you are a wood bowl turner, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to preserving our bowls.

What is the best way to clean a wood bowl?

For regular wood bowl cleaning use warm water with mild dishwashing soap and lightly scrub the bowl surface with a soft non-abrasive sponge or cloth.

Rinse the bowl thoroughly in clean, warm water and hand dry with an absorbent towel.

That’s the primary process of wood bowl cleaning. Continue reading to learn all the details for deep cleaning, maintaining, and revitalizing your wood bowls.

Wood Bowl Care Basic Cleaning

5 Wood Bowl Maintenance Don’ts

To maintain your wood bowl, here are some things to avoid.

  1. microwave
  2. dishwasher
  3. soaking
  4. abrasive scrubbing
  5. harsh chemicals

1) A microwave heats at a molecular level and can heat the internal wood cells inside the bowl walls.

Large swings and uneven distribution of heat in wood can create movement, which can result in cracks. Not good.

2) Also, similar to the microwave, the dishwasher incorporates extreme heat to clean dishes and will damage a wood bowl.

Not to mention the harm caused by the dishwasher spraying and bombarding the bowl with water for an extended period.

3) Do not let your wood bowl soak or stay wet for a period of time. Wash and dry the bowl as quickly as possible.

4) Abrasive or rough textured dish scrubbers can scratch the surface of a wooden bowl. Use the softer sponge surfaced cleaners only or a soft washcloth.

5) Wood is a living breathing thing, even in bowl form. Harsh chemicals on the wood surface can be absorbed into the wood and potentially damage the finish and the wood. Mild dish soap works best.

Wood Bowl Care Dont Do List Not

Deep Clean Your Wood Bowl

A well-used wood bowl can acquire a build-up of dirt and debris over time, especially if it is not cleaned and seasoned regularly.

If your bowl has food stains or a funky odor, it’s time to do a deeper cleaning.

You need to attack the bacteria that is causing the stains and odors to remove the issue.

Here are two ways to kill that bacteria and restore a clean bowl.

Cut a lemon in half and rub lemon juice over the entire bowl surface.

Another option is to use white vinegar mixed at a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water. Wipe this solution over the entire bowl.

After you use the lemon or vinegar deep cleaning method, let the bowl sit for a minute or two and then rinse the bowl thoroughly in warm water. Use the soap cleaning method above to clean the entire bowl.

Wood Bowl Care Deep Clean

Do wood bowls need routine maintenance?

Wood contains natural oils as well as finishing oils. It’s easy to tell if a wood bowl needs oil. A wood bowl will look dry and dull if it needs oil.

To get a wood bowl looking fresh and new again, you need to season the wood surface with an oil that will soak into the wood cells.

Seasoning a wood bowl is a process used to protect the bowl’s surface and maintain its luster. Seasoning makes bowls last much longer.

How do I season a wood bowl?

If you’ve just cleaned your bowl, let it air dry for several hours, then apply a thin, even coat of finishing oil.

An excellent all-purpose oil to use on a food-used bowl is Danish oil, which is boiled linseed oil. I use Tried and True brand oil because it is made with no additional additives or chemicals, and I love the results it produces.

If you’d like to add water resistance to your bowl, try the Tried and True Original Oil which contains beeswax. Tried and True Original Oil is my favorite food-safe water-resistant finish, check out this article that tells all about Tried and True.

There are many food-safe oil products available to restore your wood bowls. One very popular food-safe wood finish is Mineral Oil. Here’s a link to check out this product.

Walnut oil and coconut oil are also available to revitalize your wood bowls, cutting boards, and other wood products.

Good Wood Bowl Habit

It’s a good idea to gather all your wood bowls, cutting boards, utensils, etc. once a month and inspect them.

If a wood bowl looks dull wipe it down with oil. Let it sit for five to ten minutes and then wipe off any excess oil, or follow the product instructions.

New bowls or recently sanded and restored bowls may need multiple coats of oil applied every couple of days until the luster of the wood surface is restored. Again follow the finishing product instructions.

How do I restore a wood bowl?

If you have an old neglected bowl or found one at a sale and you want to revitalize it and make it look new again, start by doing the deep clean process described above.

Once the deep clean is complete, take a close look at the bowl. If the wood surface is fuzzy or rough, you will need to sand the bowl.

Start with a medium sandpaper such as 180 grit, and sand the entire bowl. Then move through the finer sandpapers like 240, 320, 400 grit sanding the whole bowl with each grit.

Once the bowl surface is entirely smooth, begin applying the food-safe wood finish of your choice to the whole bowl.

Apply enough coats of finishing oil until the wood looks rich and vibrant again.

Wood Bowl Care Reapply Oil Finish

Cooking Oil For Finish

Can I Use Cooking Oil On My Wood Bowl?

In short, no.

Most cooking oils will go rancid and spoil in a relatively short period of time.

Because cooking oils oxidize faster than wood finishing oils, they are not a good option for a wood bowl finish.

Olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, and most other cooking oils will go rancid and potentially become sticky and smelly.

While rancid oil on your bowls will not likely hurt you, it’s still not a desired characteristic for something you’ve worked so hard to make look beautiful.

Repairing Wood Bowl Damage

Cracks and chips can occur over time, and especially if a wood bowl is well used and loved.

Repairs can be made to cracked or broken areas by first cleaning the entire bowl and then using various gluing techniques to reattach and fill the damaged areas.

Take a moment and read the article Wood Bowl Repair How To Fix Damage for a detailed explanation of this process.

Food Safe Wood Bowl Care

Everything mentioned in this article pertains to wood bowls intended for food use and that are finished with a penetrating and absorbent finish, usually a food-safe oil.

Please be aware that there are also wood bowls finished with film finishes like varnish and lacquer. While these bowls can be used with food, they are typically designed for aesthetic purposes only, a.k.a. “artwork.”

The problem arises when these film finishes split or crack, and moisture and bacteria begin to form between the film finish and the wood surface.

It is impossible to clean these chipped and cracked areas thoroughly, and that can make film finishes not safe for food use.

Do not try the above cleaning tips on wood bowls finished with varnish or lacquer. Wipe down these bowls with a damp clean, soft cloth as needed.

If you’re not sure if a bowl is coated with penetrating oil or a film finish, run your finger over the surface. Oil finishes allow the wood grain to be felt.

Film finishes cover and coat the wood grain and feel smooth. Varnish finishes can even feel a bit like plastic.

Wood Bowl Care Cleaning Restore Maintain

Wood Bowl Care Conclusion

Wood bowls are beautiful to display and use daily. If you are like some of us, you have wood bowls that feel like part of the family.

The best way to maintain good wood bowl care is to keep them clean and well oiled. I’ve found that bowls regularly used usually get taken care of better than those tucked away in a cupboard.

Also, having your food-safe finishing oil close at hand makes the seasoning of wood bowls a snap.

Try pouring some of your finishing oil in an easy to use dispenser similar to a ketchup bottle.

When you see a dull wood bowl, squirt on some oil and wipe it into the wood surface.

Cleaning, maintaining, and restoring wood bowls really is that easy.

Here are other ways to fix wood bowls:

Happy (and Clean) Turning,

20 Responses

  1. Hi Kent. Great article! I purchased some wood bowls at a yard sale. They have a sticky, oily residue. I read an article about putting them in the oven to bake out the oils. Is this something I should try?

    1. Diane,
      Thank you for writing and sharing! You might want to try a different approach first. Heating the wood can cause issues and wood movement.
      I suggest using a degreasing hand soap, like Dawn first and see how that goes. Scrub with a 3M non-abrasive cleaning pad. Then if the initial residue is reduced a bit, sand the wood thoroughly. Finally, apply an oil-based food-safe finish, like Tried and True Danish Oil.
      All the best to you!

  2. 1969 wedding gift burl walnut, Billings, MO salad bowl has the 2nd to base ring with a section detached. It was originally pieced and glued ( I imagine), and I think my over-oiling hasn’t helped. It’s also sticky- I used Dawn with some success. It previously separated complete at another ring. Are there .craftsmen who could repair it?

    1. Hello Ann,
      Actually you can do it. If you get three or four different sandpapers, you can restore the bowl. Use 120 grit paper to take off any rough or sticky areas. Continue sanding the whole bowl with 180 grit, 220 (or 240) grit, and finally 320 grit.
      Use wood glue to reattach the base. Titebond III is water-resistent. I haven’t heard of a ring being glued on, usually they are turned as part of the whole bowl. Either way, glue any loose parts and then apply an oil-based finish. I recommend Tried and Tried Original. Just follow the directions.
      I hope this helps!
      Happy Turning!

        1. Ann,
          Ah, this is a segmented bowl. You can still sand and glue it back together. Add some pressure while the glue dries. Clamps the bowl or place something heavy on it.
          Hope it turns out great for you.

  3. Might the directions offered to Carolyn, using sand paper and Tried & True, work to remove knife cuts on Monkey Pod wooden plates?
    Thank you.

  4. I bought a bowl in Africa twenty years ago and it has developed a white film on it. I tried to clean it but it has come back months later. What is it and can I get the bowl back to its original condition again? I’m really perplexed. Thank you.

    1. I’m sorry but I don’t know what you might be experiencing. Without knowing the wood and finish used, I could only guess.

  5. I picked up a salad bowl that has a film finish coming off. Is it possible to strip the film finish off and then refinish it with an oil finish? And how do I do it manually/with minimal tools, ie, only my hands (and sandpaper, if needed)

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Yes, film finishes are nice because the wood should be in decent shape underneath. Hand sanding is the best way to restore the wood. You could use a disc mandrel on a drill, just be careful not to remove too much wood in any one area.


  6. I have my grandmother’s dough bowl, which is very dirty. I’m not planning to use it for food, so after I clean it thoroughly could I put a polyurethane finish on it? Would I need to condition it with oil before applying polyurethane? it is very dry.
    Thank you!

    1. Hello Marjorie,

      I would not use polyurethane because it is not easy to touch up or fix late if needed. Use Tried and True Danish Oil, see my recommended gear section. Apply several thin layers until an even finish appears. Best of luck for you and enjoy the heirloom.

      Happy Turning!

  7. Hi,
    I have a vintage wood punch bowl set that was my mothers. She never used it, just always set it out as decoration. I am having a reception and would love to serve punch in it and use the goblets but I’m afraid that the red punch would stain and ruin it. Can I use it? Is there a way to get the red out if it leaves a stain? I’d really like to use it but I don’t want to ruin it. Any help would be most appreciated. Everything I find on the internet has to do with salad bowls and stuff, not punch bowls. Thank you.

    1. Hm? This is interesting. There are many variables at work here. What type of wood? How is it finished? I’d say put a small amount of punch in the bottom and see what happens. You might be able to sand it clean if it does indeed stain, but it might not stain. All the best to you.

  8. A beautiful vintage salad bowl set in Walnut has discoloration from soaking in water. Is is salvageable? I’m clearing out my parents estate, and I like what you said about how a bowl can feel part of the family.

    My phone (texts or calls are the best way to reach me b/c there’s no internet here.)

    1. Carolyn,
      First, be sure the bowl is completely dry, then sand the surface throughout with 180 or 220 grit sandpaper and then 320 grit. Apply Tried and True Original finish according to the label and I think you might be surprised. All the best to you and Happy Turning!

  9. Love all your info on maintaining the wood bowl. I just bought a ‘Kneading bowl in Belize. It is made from a beautiful mahogany. I brought it home, cleaned it with a mild detergent and warm water, and dried it with a cloth. When it had air-dried for about ten minutes, I rubbed it with coconut oil. The cloth came away with a film of reddish-brown on it. I tried rubbing it over and over but the cloth still came away stained. Is this some type of finish? How can I remove it? I can’t use it to knead dough in because I don’t know what this substance is.

    1. Hi Jeanette,
      Hm? That’s interesting.
      It sounds like it might be the wood color. I agree, I wouldn’t want that on my bread either.
      Perhaps try cleaning it again and using a linseed oil (also called Danish oil) or a cutting board oil and see if that solves the issue.
      Best of luck with it.

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Kent Weakley-Turn A Wood Bowl-About
Hi, I’m Kent

Hi! I’m Kent, a husband, dad, papa, graphic designer, photographer, artist, traveler, birder, dark chocolate lover and I’m addicted to turning wood bowls! Learn more about me, see the online courses I made for you, and join our group on Facebook. Ready for your wood bowl adventure? Click here to Get Started

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