When it comes to protecting the health of the little ones and avoiding the ingestion of products or compounds that can be harmful to health, little concern exists.

In any kitchen or home there may be many wooden items that come into contact with food or that a child can put in his mouth. Household utensils or utensils, such as cutting boards, glasses, cutlery, plates, bowls, etc. Surfaces such as benches, monitors or boxes. And, of course, wooden toys.

This wood must be treated and these finishes must fulfill a dual function, on the one hand, protecting the wood, nourishing it and preventing to a certain extent the proliferation of bacteria or microbes. On the other hand, they must be non-toxic products, which when they come into contact with food do not contaminate them and make them harmful to health, or that can cause damage to a child’s health.

Edible Oils

By these, we mean oils that are normally used in food, for example, olive oil, sunflower, almond, walnut or sesame. These nourish the wood and make it slightly waterproof.

They fulfill their function, but the result can be improved and the finishing renovations must be quite frequent. Although, on the other hand, they are products that we have at hand at home, they have a very low cost and their application is very simple and quick.

A disadvantage of these oils is that they get old. It is due to the oxidation of the fats they contain, and this will end up affecting the food. Therefore, cleaning and renovations should be more frequent.

Forms: Mainly used to protect the cutting boards. It is a rare toy finish.

Linseed or flaxseed oil

This type of oil is widely used in the world of carpentry for the protection of wood. Once applied, the wood dries and seals partially.

The result will be a slight darkening of the wood to amber tones, with a rustic appearance and a slightly harder surface.

A disadvantage of flaxseed oil is the drying time, which depending on oil, wood and environmental conditions can take several days.

Note: Flaxseed oil is used in many areas and is commonly found in combination with toxic products (usually intended to speed drying). Therefore, we must pay attention and buy it only in the purified state and suitable for food use, if we are going to use it on wood that will come into contact with food. This type is also marketed under the names of raw, cold-pressed linseed oil …

Forms: Toys, cutting boards, benches …

Tung oil

This oil is obtained from the seeds of the tung tree, native to the Asian continent. Although unknown to many, its use is widespread because it is a common compound in all types of finishes for wood (varnishes, teak oil, Danish oils …)

Naturally, it dries (does not evaporate) and hardens creating a protective layer.

As with flaxseed oil, we can find it in combination with all types of chemical products or compounds. For use on wooden toys or cutting boards, we should buy 100% natural.

If it is necessary to dilute it, taking into account that it is somewhat viscous, we can use citrus solvent (from orange peels).

Forms: Wooden toys and surfaces that may be in contact with food but not handled. Because they create a coating, it is not an ideal finish for cutting boards.

Mineral Oil for Wood

protect the cutting board with oil

This is by far the most common food-grade finish for wooden surfaces and utensils. Contrary to what it may seem, it is not an oil of natural origin, it is a derivative of petroleum, just like car oil. Although in this case it is highly refined and purified, so much so that it is even a common component in cosmetic products (baby lotions, cold creams, etc.) and food (yeast, candies, etc.). Despite this, it is a tasteless, colorless, odorless and totally safe product.

A major advantage over edible oils is that mineral oil don’t get oldbecause it is chemically stable.

Like the oils mentioned above, the application is very simple. With a cloth or even a napkin dipped in oil, spread it on the wood while absorbing. The layers will continue to be applied until the wood continues to absorb the oil, usually 2-3 layers.

Forms: Wooden toys and all types of surfaces that come into contact with food.

Beeswax

The Beeswax is a natural and traditional finish for wood. Its characteristics include the ease and speed of application, the ability to nourish and protect the wood and its low price.

Obviously, this protective layer offers limited resistance and is easily removable, so renewals must be especially frequent. However, ease of application and speed make up for it.

Carnauba wax

Another common type of wax for applying finishes to toys and wooden surfaces is that of carnauba, also known as Brazil wax. It is obtained from the leaves of the carnauba palm (copernicia prunifera)

It is used not only as a finish for wood, but also in some foods, shoe polish, automobile polish, cosmetic industry, etc.

It offers a slightly harder and more durable surface than that of beeswax.

Forms: Toys and wooden surfaces in contact with food.

Combinations of wax and oil

It is a very popular option that seeks to combine the benefits of both types of products. We can find all kinds of mixtures, and even some in spray format that facilitates and speeds application.

A combination that offers excellent results is mineral oil and beeswax. Either applying the oil first and then a layer of wax, or using a mixture of these products directly.

The result is a hydrated and resistant wood, well sealed to prevent the proliferation of bacteria. It can be used in all types of wooden articles: bowls, spoons, cutting boards and even toys.

Food grade varnish

There are different types of varnishes whose composition and characteristics make them suitable for contact with food, at least they are able to comply with the regulations of some countries for this.

It is usually a two-component varnish (the varnish + hardener itself) that creates a particularly hard layer.

The uses normally contemplated are food shelves and displays, food transport boxes, cooperage, trays … That is, basically surfaces where food can be placed. In these fields it is a perfect solution, especially in businesses such as bakeries or greengrocers, since the need for maintenance and retouching is reduced to a minimum.

Although there is no mention to the contrary, personally I would not use it on surfaces that by their nature will suffer attacks, such as cutting boards. The varnish may come off during cutting and then be transferred to the food.

Regarding the types of varnish, we can find mainly epoxy and food grade polyurethane varnishes.

Shellac or Shellac

It is a finish of natural origin, obtained from the secretions of an insect.

It is a very traditional product in the carpentry world, used mainly in crafts, joinery and musical instruments.

The result is a protective layer in a bright amber tone. Offers little resistance to heat, water and cleaning products.

It is mainly sold in dry flakes that are subsequently dissolved in alcohol. And here’s the key to using it as a finish on wooden toys. Instead of using denatured alcohol as a solvent, we should use pure alcohol (also called cereal alcohol or ethanol), which is used for alcoholic beverages. Obviously, this alcohol evaporates after application.

Forms: Wood toys. It is not a good choice for cutting boards because they deteriorate very quickly.

Giving color: wooden toy stains

paint wooden toy

So far, we’ve seen finishes that are transparent or that change color very little. However, we all know that what matters to children is colors.

To color or paint wooden toys we have different options:

Food colors. If you are concerned about the adverse effects that wood dyeing can have, food dyes are the best option, after all, they are made to eat: coffee, saffron, paprika, blackberries, dyes for paellas, saffron …

It is easy to use. We mix with water in the proportions we want for the intensity of the color and apply with a brush. Drying is relatively quick, however, a possible disadvantage of using water as a base is that we lift the wood grain. If this happens, fine sandpaper with great delicacy is usually enough.

Liquid watercolors. It is also a safe option, very easy to use and with a much wider color gamut. These are the typical paintings that children use in schools to make their first drawings and crafts.

Paints for wooden toys. There are different types:

  • Milk paint or milky paint. It is so called because it contains casein, a milk protein, along with clay and natural pigments. It is sold in powder and mixed with water. It is advisable to apply a layer of wax next to protect the surface.
  • Ecological inks. They are paints made with natural and non-toxic products. They must be labeled as safe for use in toys. In this case, it depends on how much we trust the sector and the regulations of each country (I also don’t want to call it mistrust).

Finishes and compounds to avoid on toys and cutting boards

Few words like VOC (VOC – volatile organic compounds) or lead cause a lot of fear in the field in question. If you are considering using a finish that may contain some of these compounds, forget it, they are toxic.

We must not forget that, even if a product is labeled as VOC or lead free, it can contain other potentially toxic compounds.

Beware of previously treated and / or modified wood. Most wood-based boards, such as chipboard, MDF, OSB or plywood, require the use of adhesives, resins and other compounds that can be toxic. For example, formaldehyde.

But the thing does not stop here, the desire to reuse and / or recycle may lead us to use wood that may have been subjected to all types of treatment to make toys or surfaces that will come into contact with food. For example, most woods that are used for packaging, pallets, etc. should be fumigated and treated to prevent the spread of insect pests.