Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.
There is certainly no shortage of toxins in the world, and it seems that new ones are being discovered all the time. When it comes down to it, there are a lot of things in the environment that can kill or damage our bodies. Thankfully, we are here to give you the information you need in order to avoid them.
What Makes A Finish Food Safe?
This term is pretty self-explanatory, as its meaning is literal. When something is “food safe,” that means you can eat food that has contacted its surface. For instance, cutting boards and wooden spoons are treated with a non-toxic sealer that improves their longevity. Things like linseed oil and wax have been popular for this purpose over many centuries.
In the past, lead was often used to aid the drying and hardening of certain oils. Any oil which dries to a hard finish is referred to as a “drying oil,” but the process can be very slow. To speed things up, they once used lead oxide, but this was highly toxic and was banned in 1976. Although lead-based dryers can still be used for certain things, they cannot be used for wood finishes.
Applying A Food Safe Finish On Wood Products
When applying a food-safe finish, it is important to follow the instructions on the container to the letter. The process will be a little bit different for each product, so don’t assume that the same approach will work for everything.
Here is a quick list of the most common food-safe wood finishes:
- Mineral oil
- Tung oil
- Walnut oil
- Linseed oil
- Carnauba wax
Using An Oil-Based Product
As you can see, most of these are oils. Oil-based finishes are more common than wax-based ones because they are far easier to apply. Not only that, but they soak deep into the wood and provide protection that a mere coating cannot match. Due to the porous nature of wood, people learned very early that it could soak up an oil and become waterproof.
First, you want to make sure that your wood surface is completely clean. Any paints, varnishes, waxes, etc. will interfere with the ability of the wood to absorb the oil. Re-oiling a wooden surface that has been oiled in the past is perfectly fine, and is, in fact, recommended. You may want to give the surface a light sanding before use as well, as this increases the glossiness of the final result.
From there, you just rub the oil into the surface and allow it to sit and cure. Curing time will vary by product, but oil-based finishes will often take 12-24 hours per coat. Some products contain non-toxic drying agents that are meant to speed up the process, but that introduces some suspicious additives into the mix. Between coats, it is essential to wipe off the excess oil or you will end up with a sticky, tacky surface that will never fully dry. When it’s all done, you should take a smooth cloth and give the surface a good polishing.
Using A Wax-Based Product
The use of beeswax is one of the oldest methods of finishing wood. When using pure wax, it must be melted before application. However, modern blends can be obtained as liquids, solids, or as a thick paste. When choosing one of these products, keep your eyes out for any ingredients that are toxic. Also, make sure that the product is labeled as “food safe.” If it doesn’t say that it’s food-safe, you should assume that it is not.
You should know that many waxes will contain solvents, but these are not usually a cause for concern. They are meant to evaporate as the wax dries, leaving little to nothing behind. You also need to watch out for anything that is paraffin-based. Paraffin, in case you don’t know, is derived from petroleum. You want only products that are made with natural beeswax for a proper finish
The use of wax couldn’t be more simple. You just wipe it on the surface of the wood, allow it to sit for a while, and then wipe it off. The longer you allow it to sit, the more deeply it will penetrate the wood. At the same time, it will also form a water-resistant top layer as it dries. Pure wax has to be reapplied quite often, and it’s not very durable, which is why it is seldom used today. If you should need to remove a wax finish, you can dissolve most of them with mineral oil or naphtha.
Using A Shellac-Based Product
This might surprise you, but shellac comes from an Asian species of bug. The female Lac bug, found in India and Thailand, secretes a hard, plastic-like substance. These are used to build tunnels and dwellings, and they can also be harvested for human use. They are usually sold as flakes of raw resin and then rendered into various consumer products.
Because it is totally natural, shellac makes a great food safe coating. The consistency varies a lot, so make sure to test your chosen product on a small piece of scrap wood first. When you know everything is fine, you just wipe the shellac onto the wooden surface with a cloth or brush.
Unlike oil or wax, it will not soak into the pores of the wood at all. Instead, it will form a hard and durable outer coating. Most people say it’s better to use the cloth for large areas and the brush for smaller areas. Even if it seems dry to the touch, make sure to wait 30 minutes to an hour between coats. After that, you just give the surface a light buffing and it’s ready to go.
Here are three products that we might recommend for you:
This product isn’t exactly cheap, but five gallons of linseed oil can last for quite a long time.
For those who do a lot of wood projects, it might be a great investment. like all linseed oil products, it creates a hard and durable film while penetrating the wood at the same time.
This particular brand gets great reviews, and this is probably due to its high level of purity. It takes 12-18 hours to dry, which tells us that there are no artificial drying agents added.
In case you’re interested in a detailed video on how to apply this great product check out this video by Wood By Wright How 2:
This one is a lot cheaper, and it seems to incorporate all the best advantages of a wax finish. This one has been rendered into a liquid, allowing it to be dabbed on with a cloth or wiped on with a brush.
The best thing about this product is the fact that it consists of pure beeswax with nothing else. If you want something that is unquestionably non-toxic, you can’t ask for better than this.
Want to see some real-life before and after shots, check this video by Homesteading Ways & Beyond:
Tung oil works a lot like linseed oil, but it’s a little easier to use. For one thing, each coat will dry a lot quicker (5-10 minutes).
Thus, tung oil is a great choice for anyone who is in a hurry to get something done. It may not provide as much shine as some others, but it does provide a greater degree of durability.
A tung oil finish will generally last a lot longer than linseed or wax. A quick demonstration on how this product completely changes the look of old and tired wood can be seen here in this video by themrhelperguy:
COVID-19 Update: How To Disinfect Wood Products
Here are a few of the most common questions that we receive on this subject:
Is Carnauba Wax Food Safe?
In a word: Yes. Carnauba wax is derived from palm trees and is thus safe for food surfaces. Just make sure that it’s not mixed with anything toxic.
Which Protects Better: Oil Or Wax?
It depends on the nature of the wood, and upon how it will be used. For instance, a cutting board has to take repeated impact from sharp objects, so you would be better off with an oil finish. A filmy finish like wax or shellac will be more likely to crack or break.
Is It Possible To Make A DIY Food Safe Finish?
Yes, and there are many people who do this. You could just buy some raw flakes of shellac and mix them with denatured alcohol. Alternately, you could follow this recipe, which is based on a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article, but we also hope that you have learned some things. In the end, it all comes down to one simple principle: Be careful what you put in your mouth! If you follow this simple principle, along with the advice presented here, you and your family should be fine.