How to Resurface a Plastic Cutting Board. Is it Safe?

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Have you ever wondered if you could refinish a plastic cutting board? You’ve come to the right place.

Plastic cutting boards can get worn down through everyday use, resulting in an unpleasant and even unsanitary surface. Food particles, knife marks, and cleaning products can wreak havoc on a plastic cutting surface.

But did you know you can resurface your plastic cutting board? Instead of tossing your board and buying a new one, you can give it new life with a few basic supplies and some know-how.

This article will cover whether you should resurface your cutting board, what methods there are, and tips for safe cutting board usage.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

Why Does a Plastic Board Need Resurfacing?

When I refer to plastic cutting boards, I might also use the terms poly cutting boards or HDPE cutting boards. The reason is that plastic covers a wide range of polymers. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is one of the most common materials, but polypropylene is also quite common. In fact, the only plastic cutting board I own is polypropylene.

Person slicing strawberries

Regardless of the specific type of plastic, they all have some common characteristics. For instance, plastic cutting boards are non-porous, so you might think they are a safer option than wood cutting boards. But the reality is a little more complicated.

A plastic cutting board won’t absorb as much bacteria as a wood cutting board, but it also allows the bacteria on the surface to persist for a longer time.

When deep crevices develop from repeated cuts, those crevices will harbor bacteria. And unlike wood, plastic won’t naturally “absorb” it, exposing your food to trapped bacteria.

Most people mistakenly believe that washing their plastic cutting board will keep it sanitary, but they’re mistaken. Plastic cutting boards are made up of tightly-packed polymers. When a knife makes a cut, it will create a gap in the surface along the cut mark. This gap allows the protein of whatever food is being prepared to infiltrate the surface.

When you wash, sanitize, and rinse the board, it will get rid of most of the contamination, but not all of it. And with food sliding around on cutting boards, you can see where this would lead to a lot of safety hazards.

The deepest part of the cut is where most of the contamination lies unchecked. Liquid cleaners can’t even reach these areas, allowing microorganisms to thrive. Sanding a cutting board allows you to refinish the surface of the cutting board and extend its lifespan. Cutting boards typically need to be discarded when they start to stain, smell, or have too many cut marks.

Is It Safe to Resurface a Plastic Cutting Board?

Although the main goal of sanding down your plastic or poly cutting board is to smooth down the surface and get rid of your knife marks, the sanding process will ultimately lead to much smaller cuts on your cutting board that food particles can get trapped in.

While most people use this material of boards to cut raw meats, you can see where that can be problematic. Even the best dishwashers will not always clean out those tiny cuts made by a sander, which will ultimately contaminate the food you cut on the board after sanding it.

A guide to resurfacing a plastic cutting board in easy steps

How to Resurface a Plastic Cutting Board

Before you get started resurfacing cutting boards, you’ll need to gather your supplies. The list is pretty simple and consists of things you can find easily at a hardware store if they aren’t already in your home.

What You’ll Need

  • Eye protection
  • Clamps
  • Drop cloth
  • Orbital sander or belt sander
  • Sandpaper (at least two grits, 25-80)
  • Metal scrubber or steel wool
  • Dust mask
  • Dish soap
  • Sponge

Step-by-Step Instructions

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you’ll be ready to get started. Be sure to follow the instructions thoroughly and not skip a step. Using improper technique can result in smaller crevices on your cutting board that can trap food particles, which can breed bacteria. Even dishwashers won’t always clean out those tiny cuts, so be sure to follow the process precisely.

  1. Before beginning, ensure that your plastic cutting board is completely clean. You can use a diluted bleach mixture to clean the surface, or even run it through the dishwasher.
  2. Prepare your work surface. Cover the area with a plastic sheet or drop cloth to catch any debris from the sanding process. Using clamps, securely affix the cutting board to the work surface so it won’t move around while sanding it. Make sure it’s clamped snugly.
  3. Begin sanding. Sand the entire surface of the board using the coarsest grit sandpaper (the lower number). The purpose of this first sanding is to sand off the stains and remove cuts from the top layer. Wear your protective eyewear and dust mask to avoid breathing in polyethylene dust.
  4. Sand again. Gradually move to fine-grit sandpaper and keep sanding until the cutting board’s surface is completely smooth. Don’t skip this step! If you leave the plastic cutting board with a semi-rough texture, you’ll be opening the door to all kinds of nasty organisms. Try to get the board as close to the original texture as possible.
  5. Clean the board while sanding. To make sanding easier, periodically wipe the surface with steel wool to remove any burs and the dust that the sander has kicked up. Unlike wood, polyethylene can statically adhere to itself which makes the sanding process more difficult. A frequent wipe will help the process and help you get that buttery smooth texture.
  6. For extra tough spots… If you have stubborn spots where you aren’t able to sand away enough of the surface to remove gouges or slices, you can carefully scrape the top layer of the board with a razor blade, knife blade, or hand plane. Only do this if necessary, and use caution! Even with a semi-rough texture, HDPE cutting boards can be slippery.
  7. Smooth the edges. Sometimes sanding poly cutting boards can leave the board slightly wonky on the edges. Take a blade and scrape any excess plastic on the side of the board to get a nice, clean bevel.
  8. Clean the board again. Rinse the board with warm water to remove any remaining debris or loose dust. Then, apply dish soap and rub the board with your hand using circular motions (not a sponge, unless you’re ready to sacrifice it to the trash bin afterward). Clean the board a third time, using dish soap and warm water. Let dry completely before using.

Watch below to see a simple tutorial on how to sand a plastic cutting board:

How Often Should I Sand My Cutting Board?

If you have an HDPE (high-density polyethylene) cutting board, it should only be sanded when you aren’t able to clean it with bleach, or if it has a lot of marks from knives. If you have a thin plastic board, it might not withstand more than one or two cycles of resurfacing. For a thicker plastic cutting board, you might be able to sand down the surface multiple times.

You will want to either sand or replace your plastic cutting board if it has too many deep grooves in it. Otherwise, you risk cross-contamination. 

Is It Worth It to Resurface a Plastic Cutting Board?

A person slicing cucumber on a green plastic cutting board

So now you know it’s possible to get a refreshed cutting surface, the question becomes, is it worth it? Why not get a new cutting board?

It all comes down to personal preference. In my experience, replacing the cutting board is more cost-effective and much less work. Plus, I don’t like taking any extra risks when it comes to food safety.

However, I don’t use my plastic cutting board on a daily basis. If I were someone who preferred plastic cutting boards, it might be worth it to invest some time in resurfacing the board cover instead of replacing them every few months.

The good news is, with some sandpaper and a little patience, you can give your plastic boards new life.

Resurfacing Plastic Cutting Boards: Final Thoughts

In the end, it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into keeping the same plastic cutting board. I personally prefer wood cutting boards, but I do have a plastic cutting board that I use for certain tasks. When it becomes too stained and marked up to use, I’ll most likely get a new board. But if I want to give my HDPE cutting board some new life, it’s nice to know there’s a way to do that.

Looking for the best non-toxic cutting boards? Check out my complete guide to the best boards of all materials.