Plastic Cutting Boards: Do They Really Dull Your Knives?

Cutting boards are an essential tool in any kitchen. But with so many options on the market, how do you know which type is best? Plastic cutting boards are affordable, durable, and easy to clean. However, some cooks argue plastic dulls knives faster than wood. Is this true? Let’s examine the facts.

Introduction

Cutting boards provide a safe, sturdy surface for slicing fruits, vegetables, meat, and more. For decades, wood was the most popular cutting board material. But in the 1980s and 90s, plastic cutting boards emerged as a hygienic, low-maintenance alternative. Today, plastic makes up over 50% of cutting board sales.

Despite their prevalence, plastic cutting boards remain controversial. Critics argue they quickly dull sharp knife edges. This article explores whether plastic cutting boards actually damage knives compared to wood alternatives. We’ll analyze evidence from scientific studies and expert sources to shed light on this debate. Read on to learn the truth about plastic cutting boards and knife sharpness.

Why Plastic Cutting Boards Could Be Problematic?

Many home cooks believe softer plastic cutting boards dull knives as you slice into them. In contrast, hardwood surfaces are thought to keep blades sharper. This assumption is based on the relative hardness of the materials.

The hardness of a material is measured scientifically using the Rockwell scale. The higher the number, the harder the material. The hardest steel knives measure around 60-62 on the Rockwell scale. In comparison, the hardness of:

  • Plastic cutting boards: 83-105
  • Wood cutting boards: 1-4

As you can see, plastic cutting boards are far harder than wood. This means excessive contact with plastic during slicing could gradually degrade knife edges. Let’s examine why hardness matters when it comes to maintaining sharp blades.

How Knife Sharpness Works?

Sharp knives have very fine, narrow edges. These delicate edges do the actual cutting. Maintaining this razor-thin edge is crucial for optimal performance and safety.

Knife edges degrade through regular use over time. Small amounts of metal are removed and deformities develop along the edge, making it thicker and blunter. This process is known as dulling.

Harder materials accelerate dulling because they rapidly wear away tiny amounts of metal as you slice. Think of it like sandpaper grinding down the delicate knife edge with each cut. In theory, the close hardness match between steel knives and plastic boards could cause excessive dulling.

Evidence That Plastic Dulls Knives Faster

Many home cooks stand by the belief that plastic cutting boards severely dull knives. In fact, America’s Test Kitchen did an in-house test comparing brand-new knives used on wood and plastic. They found the plastic boards did dull the blades faster.

ConsumerReports.org lists plastic as a material to avoid for cutting boards because it can damage knife edges. They suggest wood or bamboo boards to extend knife sharpness.

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Shun Knives, a premium Japanese brand, instructs owners to use their knives only on wood or bamboo cutting surfaces in their care guide. The guide specifically warns against plastic, glass, marble, and granite boards to prevent premature dulling.

Among professional chefs, plastic cutting boards are controversial. Grant Achatz, head chef at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant, banned plastic boards from his kitchen. He believes they quickly destroy sharp knife edges. Many other chefs share this stance.

Scientific Research on Plastic Cutting Boards

While home cooks and experts provide anecdotal evidence, scientific research paints a more complex picture.

One key study from UC Davis and Michigan State used electron microscopes to visually examine knife edges. They sliced items 10,000 times on wood and plastic boards using 3 different blade materials. Surprisingly, the board material didn’t impact dulling. The key factor was the properties of the blade itself.

In another study experienced testers cut 5 substances 300 times each on wood and plastic boards. They couldn’t visually distinguish or feel a difference in sharpness between blades used on plastic vs. wood.

Both studies concluded proper blade material matters most for retaining sharpness, not the cutting board. However, critics note these studies used brand-new boards. Plastic boards develop deeper knife marks and grooves over time which could accelerate dulling.

More research is still needed to conclusively compare knife longevity on plastic vs. wood boards during regular, long-term kitchen use.

Factors That Impact Knife Sharpness

While the cutting board surface plays a role, many other factors impact how quickly knives become dull.

  • Blade material: Harder, high-carbon stainless steel retains sharpness longer than softer stainless alloys. High-end knives are typically made from superior materials like high-carbon steel, powdered steel or laminated steel.
  • Manufacturing quality: Finely honed, precision-made blades stay sharper than poorly sharpened, mass-produced knives.
  • Usage habits: Cutting hard materials like bone dulls knives faster than soft foods. Likewise, improper techniques like twisting the blade while cutting degrades sharpness quicker.
  • Frequency of sharpening: Frequent sharpening maintains a razor edge. The sharper the blade, the less dulling occurs during use.
  • Cleaning method: Harsh scrubbing or tossing knives in the dishwasher can damage the thin edge.

As you can see, many factors are at play when determining how quickly your knives become dull. While cutting board material matters, it’s not the sole factor.

Pros and Cons of Plastic Cutting Boards

Pros and Cons of Plastic Cutting Boards
Pros and Cons of Plastic Cutting Boards

Now that we’ve explored the knife-dulling debate, let’s examine the pros and cons of plastic cutting boards overall:

Pros

  • Inexpensive – Plastic boards cost significantly less than wood. You can buy a set for under $20.
  • Sanitary – Plastic doesn’t absorb juices, bacteria, and microbes like porous wood. Boards made from antimicrobial plastic resist 99.9% of germs.
  • Low maintenance – Plastic boards don’t require oiling, sanding, or wood sealers. Just toss them in the dishwasher to clean.
  • Durable – High-quality plastic boards resist stains, deep knife marks, and warping better than wood alternatives.
  • Lighter weight – Plastic boards are easier to lift and maneuver than heavy wood boards.

Cons

  • May dull knives faster – While research is mixed, plastic is likely harder on knife edges than wood.
  • Can harbor bacteria in cuts – Any deep scratches and knife marks in plastic boards can trap bacteria if not cleaned properly.
  • Not as aesthetically pleasing – Plastic lacks the visual warmth and rustic appeal of natural wood boards.
  • Can develop odors – Plastic absorbs food odors and remnants that produce unpleasant scents over time.
  • Not eco-friendly – Most plastic boards are made from PVC and contain controversial phthalates. They aren’t biodegradable or easily recyclable.
  • Less grip – Plastic boards are more slippery than wood, increasing the risk your knife blade slips while chopping.
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As with any product, plastic boards have advantages and disadvantages to weigh up. Your priorities and needs in the kitchen determine which material is better for your lifestyle.

Tips for Preserving Knife Sharpness

Regardless of which cutting board you use, certain tips will keep your knives sharper for longer:

  • Invest in quality knives made from hard steel alloys like high-carbon stainless steel. Match your knife set to your experience level.
  • Use proper cutting techniques to avoid unnecessary wear. Make clean slices without twisting or dragging the blade. Let the knife do the work!
  • Hand wash knives gently and avoid putting them in the dishwasher. Use a soft sponge and mild soap.
  • Sharpen knives frequently using a whetstone, electric sharpener or professional sharpening service. Establish a routine for consistent sharpening.
  • Consider using a flexible knife guard when storing knives in a drawer or blade block. This prevents dulling from blades rubbing together.
  • Use separate chopping boards for produce, meat and fish to prevent cross-contamination. Alternate between a few boards to minimize knife marks in each one.
  • Replace heavily scarred, warped or discolored boards. Deep scratches and uneven surfaces accelerate dulling.

By caring for your blades properly and sharpening them regularly, you can maximize sharpness regardless of your cutting board’s material.

Conclusion

The debate over plastic cutting boards and knife dulling boils down to priorities. If you mostly use soft steel knives and sharpen them infrequently, a wood board may be better for preserving edges. But plastic boards have sanitation and convenience benefits for many busy cooks.

The good news is you don’t necessarily have to choose. Using separate boards for varying tasks, rotating between a few boards, and replacing boards regularly alleviates excess wear and tear. With proper knife care, both plastic and wood boards can provide an ideal prep surface.

At the end of the day, maintaining sharp blades through quality knives, proper use and frequent sharpening remains most crucial. By keeping your knives razor-sharp and clean, you can chop with ease and safety on any cutting board material.

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