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How to Care for Your Kitchen Knives

May 23, 2023

Taking good care of your kitchen knives isn't just about longevity and value—it's about safety, too.

A well-maintained knife—with a clean, sharp edge and comfortable, secure handle—is safer to use and helps you chop faster than a dull, banged-up knife. And of course, if you spend big on a nice knife, you want it to last years, even decades, right? Heck, even a $7 plastic-handle paring knife can last for a long time with proper care and maintenance. So let's talk about the basics of knife cleaning and care.

This week we’re talking not just about cleaning but also maintaining your kitchen knives so that they stay sharp and free of nicks and chips. It takes about a minute to hand-wash and dry a knife. Honing the edge on a steel or ceramic rod takes 10 seconds. But consistency is the key to making your knives last for a long time. Great knife care is about keeping your knives clean, dry, and protected every day.

The first and most important rule: Always wash your knives by hand with warm water, soap, and a sponge. Never, never, ever put your kitchen knives in the dishwasher. Doing so damages the handles over time—no matter if they’re wood or plastic.

Washing (or even rinsing) your knives between tasks also helps keep them sharp. The acid in foods like citrus fruit, tomatoes, and pickles can eat away at the blade edge, causing it to dull faster. (That's why I don't use my chef's knives to cut lemons and limes. I have little serrated paring knives for that.) Plus it's just good kitchen hygiene to clean your knives a couple of times as you work, especially if you’re cutting raw meat. Make a habit of hand-washing your knives; it’ll be second nature before you know it.

A sharp knife edge is safer than a dull one. You have more control with a sharp knife, leaving less chance of the edge slipping and potentially cutting you. And your knives will stay sharper for longer if you have a good cutting board, a honing rod, and protective knife storage.

Only cut on plastic or wooden cutting boards. These materials have enough give to help keep your knives sharp. Glass cutting boards kill blade edges because glass is very hard. I use both plastic and wooden in my kitchen, including a few picks from our guide to the best cutting boards that I really like: the TeakHaus and both the small and large OXO models.

Get a honing rod. In our guide to the best chef's knives, we write that a honing rod "doesn't actually sharpen the blade—its sole purpose is to realign the microscopic teeth on the edge that bend and get knocked out of alignment during the course of use."

We’re partial to ceramic rods in the Wirecutter test kitchen, but steel rods are effective as well. Hone your knives before each time you use them or when it feels like they’re not very sharp. Over time, you might notice that honing your knives is less effective. That's when it's time to get them sharpened (more on that later).

Proper knife storage is key. A loose knife in a drawer can get dull or even chipped by banging against other metal utensils and cutlery. An unprotected blade in a drawer is also a very effective way to slice your hand.

I use a wall-mounted magnetic strip at home because I don't have a lot of counter space. If mounting a magnetic strip to your kitchen wall isn't an option, a slotted drawer insert like this Wüsthof Small In-Drawer Knife Tray (from our Build Your Own Knife Set guide) safely cradles and organizes your knives. If you must store your knives loose in a drawer, consider these affordable plastic edge guards to protect the blades (and your fingers).

Eventually, your knives will need sharpening. You can do it yourself with one of our picks from our knife sharpening guide. You can also learn how to sharpen your knives on a whetstone, although it takes lots of practice to get a clean, sharp edge. I send my knives out to a professional sharpener that I trust. If you choose to use a pro, just do some vetting to make sure they are reputable.

I know all of this seems like a lot, but taking good care of your knives is worth it. They’re some of the most important tools in your kitchen, and if you take care of them, meal prep can become a real joy.

This article was edited by Amy Koplin, Brittney Ho, and Ben Frumin.

Lesley Stockton

Lesley Stockton is a senior staff writer reporting on all things cooking and entertaining for Wirecutter. Her expertise builds on a lifelong career in the culinary world—from a restaurant cook and caterer to a food editor at Martha Stewart. She is perfectly happy to leave all that behind to be a full-time kitchen-gear nerd.

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