How to Care for and Maintain Your Kitchen Knives

chopping vegetables

Knowing how to care for and maintain your kitchen knives properly means that they will last longer, work more efficiently, and most importantly they are safer to use. Dull, unkempt knives slip easily and that can mean stitches or worse. Keep you knives clean, sharp, and ready for use at all times. You can’t save time in the kitchen no matter how quick the recipe is to make if you have to stop and get your kitchen tools ready!

Cleaning Kitchen Knives

  • Keep your knife clean during use. Rinse it off with hot water and wipe it dry several times. This will keep food particles from sticking to the knife and making it cut less efficiently. Keeping it wiped down will also keep you from mixing ingredients and flavors that you don’t want to be mixed.
  • Never leave your knife in the sink or leave food on it to dry. Always rinse it and wipe it down if it is going to be awhile before you have the chance to wash it.
  • Use hot water and a mild soap.
  • If food is sticking to it let it soak in hot water for a few minutes before washing it. Keep the water clear and shallow so that you can see the knife clearly.
  • Knives should never be washed in the dishwasher.

How to Wash Knives Safely

  1. Don’t dump knives into a sink of soapy water. Wash them carefully and individually. If they are at the bottom of the sink you could give yourself a bad cut when you went to pick one up.
  2. Hold the knife with the blade pointed away from you.
  3. Do not allow yourself to become distracted.
  4. Slowly, using a dishcloth, wipe the blade gently from the top (dull side) to the sharp edge. This way the sharp side never comes in contact with you.
  5. Hold the handle and rinse the knife thoroughly under very hot running water.
  6. Wipe dry using the same method as you did for washing – dull side to sharp side.
  7. Put it away.

Honing and Sharpening Your Knife

There is a difference between honing and sharpening knives, although many people don’t know it. Each has a particular use.

How to Hone Your Kitchen Knife

Honing helps keep the blade sharp but doesn’t actually sharpen it. When you hone the blade you are removing nicks, spurs, and re-calibrating the angle that the blade had originally. It uses a knife steel, the long, rounded tool that may have come with your knife set.

  1. Hold the knife steel in your left hand (if you are right handed) and keep it pointing away from you.
  2. Rest the bottom of the steel on a surface that won’t cause it to slide. A dishtowel on the counter works fine.
  3. Place the end of the knife that is closest to the handle (called the heel) against the steel rod with the tip pointing out at a 20 degree angle.
  4. Slowly pull the knife down, maintaining the angle and pulling smoothly from the heel to the tip so that the edge is against the steel all the way down.
  5. Repeat about ten times on each side.
  6. Wipe the blade on a clean towel to remove any metal dust and put it away.

Sharpening Your Knife

Your knife only needs to be sharpened about once a year. You can test whether or not it needs to be sharpened by slicing through a sheet of printer paper. If it slices it easily you don’t need to have it sharpened.

You can have your knife sharpened professional for a minimal amount and if you have a really good, really expensive set of knives this may be the way to go. An expert knows exactly how to angle and sharpen the edge to like new precision. If you are a do it yourself kind of person you can sharpen it at home but be careful! You’ll need to purchase a good whetstone — expect to pay at least $40.00 for it.

  1. Place the whetstone on a wooden cutting board with the coarse side up.
  2. Grasp the knife by the handle and hold the edge against the stone, point first. Try to have it at about a 22 1/2 degree angle.
  3. Stabilize the blade with your other hand.
  4. Using moderate pressure, slide the blade forward. Keep it flush against the whetstone and at a constant angle.
  5. Repeat ten times, turn, and do the other side the same way.
  6. Use the fine grit side of the whetstone repeat on both sides.
  7. Hone the blade as above.
  8. Rinse with very hot water, dry with a soft cloth, and put away.

More Tips for Maintaining Kitchen Knives

  • Use wood, bamboo, or specialty plastic cutting boards. Glass, granite, marble, porcelain, and other materials can damage the blade.
  • When you use your knife to transfer food from cutting board to pot do so with the dull side of the knife against your hand.
  • Use the 6-8 inch blade chef’s knife for foods larger than tomatoes.
  • Always sharpen blades in the same direction.
  • Keep your knife blades protected in a knife block or special container.

Knives are one of the most important kitchen tools there are. Buying the best quality that you can afford is just a good investment. Maintaining them properly helps that investment last as long as possible.

photo credit: recursion_see_recursion via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.


  1. Great post. For whatever reason there is a lot of confusion when it comes to sharpening knives. People could save themselves a lot of headache if they would just read the instructions of the sharpeners they buy.

    Good tips on taking care of knives too. I see way too many people just throw them in the sink or run them through the dishwasher. Thanks!

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