Planning & Prep

How to Clean a Knife + Other Care Tips You’ll Need

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Last Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Caring for knives properly is an important skill for any home chef to have. If you’re going to invest in a good-quality knife that lets you perfect your skills in the kitchen, you might as well learn how to keep it in pristine shape. The first step is knowing how to clean a knife safely. It may seem like a simple task, but there’s a lot more to it.

How to clean a knife safely

The best way to clean your knives is right after you’re done using them. This way, food won’t get stuck on the blade, and you’ll have an easier time sanitizing them. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Always wash knives with warm soapy water.
  2. Make sure to point the sharp edge of the blade away from you (to prevent accidents).
  3. Carefully scrub it with a sponge.
  4. Finally, rinse it and pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel.

Keep in mind that you should always clean your knives after handling raw meat or fish. Using a dirty knife to chop up vegetables for a salad can lead to food poisoning, which can be unpleasant and even dangerous. (On that note, make sure to also clean the cutting board.)

Can you put a kitchen knife in the dishwasher?

As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to put your kitchen knives in the dishwasher. Although some brands say their knives are dishwasher-friendly, they can get damaged during a wash cycle. The high temperatures, agitation, and dishwasher soap can be too aggressive for most blades.

How to remove dried food bits from a knife blade

A knife with dried food bits on it is much harder to clean. You have 2 options: furiously scrub the blade until it’s clean, or let it soak so the food bits soften up. The second option is by far the safest route because you don’t run the risk of accidentally cutting yourself if the knife slips from your grip.

What can you soak a knife in to clean it? Easy, warm water and a drop of soap—but make sure you can still clearly see the knife, so you don’t knick yourself picking it up. Submerge the knife and let it soak for a minute or two. Then, using a sponge, carefully scrub the blade until it’s squeaky clean.

Can you clean rust from a kitchen knife?

Yes, you can remove rust from kitchen knives. It will just take some time, practice, and elbow grease.

One way of restoring a rusty knife is to remove the rust layer with a sharpening stone. Use a whetstone, but make sure not to damage the shape of the blade.

A much easier alternative is to use WD-40. Spray the product on the blade, and scrub at the rusty layer with a steel wool pad. Rinse and repeat until you’ve removed all the rust.

Old kitchen knives and whetstone. Sharpening stones and an old knife.

How to care for a carbon steel knife

Most kitchen knives are made of stainless steel, but professional chefs (and many home cooks) prefer carbon steel knives. They’re more precise, hold their edge better, and are easier to sharpen. But they have 1 clear downside: they rust much more easily than their stainless steel counterparts.

Fortunately, there are some clever tricks to keep the rust away and take good care of your precious investment.

Step 1: Build up patina early on

Well-loved carbon steel knives have a dark gray or blue-ish hue. That’s because the blade is covered in a patina, a protective layer that builds up naturally over time. It’s a good thing since it keeps the blade from getting rusty. Remember: red or orange spots are a bad sign of rust, but blue or gray blotches are a good sign.

You can speed up the formation of a patina. The trick is to expose the blade to acidic foods, like instant coffee, lemon juice, vinegar, and tomatoes. For instance, you can soak the blade in a (very) strong cup of coffee at room temperature. After 8 to 12 hours, you should see a patina on the blade.

Step 2: Oil carbon steel knives regularly

Oiling carbon steel knives regularly also helps protect them from rust. Drizzle some food-grade mineral oil on the blade and rub it in using a paper towel. Make sure the oil you’re using won’t get rancid over time or turn sticky. Then, wipe off the excess. It’s a good idea to do this once a week to protect the blade.

Anointing silver knife before cutting Jackfruit

Step 3: Wash it properly

Washing carbon steel knives is surprisingly easy: use warm soapy water and a sponge, then pat the knife dry and put it away. There are just a few secrets to doing it right:

  • Clean the knife right after using it (so that food doesn’t get stuck).
  • Don’t soak the blade for longer than a minute.
  • Never let the blade air dry, since it could rust.

3 tips to make your knives last longer

Now that you know what do you clean a blade with (just water and soap), keep these 3 care tips in mind.

1. Sharpen and hone the blades

Use a honing rod to straighten the blade and a knife sharpener or whetstone to keep the edge sharp. These utensils will come in handy when you notice your knife isn’t cutting like it used to. Remember, a sharp knife yields the best results and is also safer to use.

2. Store your knives properly

Don’t store your precious kitchen knives with other utensils and cutlery. They can bump into each other and dull the blade—or worse, chip it. Instead, wrap the blade in a clean kitchen towel before putting it in the drawer, or display it on a magnetic knife strip up on the wall.

3. Prevent rust

Although stainless steel knives are less likely to rust than carbon steel knives, they can still get rusty. These tricks keep the dreaded red-and-orange spots away:

  • Always pat dry the blade instead of letting it air-dry.
  • Don’t put away wet or humid knives.
  • Oil the blade with food-grade mineral oil once in a while.

Always take good care of your kitchen utensils

If you have good utensils, you can cook almost anything in the kitchen. Investing in good-quality knives—and taking good care of them—is a great way to become an even better cook. If you need to stock up on utensils you’ll use time and time again, you can order them via Instacart and have them delivered. This way, you can get whatever you need without having to leave the house to brave the queues at grocery stores.

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