Experts say chef knives should always be hand washed.

By Michelle Preli
January 27, 2020
Justin Walker

Good knives are the engines of the kitchen—slicing, dicing, chopping, and, of course, cutting—which makes them the shining (steel) stars of meal prep. While it might be tempting to throw them in the dishwasher, press a button, and wait for the heat cycle to work its magic, this is not an ideal method for keeping your knives in top shape. Viola Wüsthof, the first female CEO of her family's knife company Wüsthof and a repository of seven generations worth of knife knowledge, says the biggest misconception about cleaning knives is that they can be washed in the same manner as other kitchen utensils. "A dishwasher can be detrimental to the quality of your knife," she says. "They are often too abrasive and based on the type of detergent used, the process can cause rust or corrosion."

Tali Ovadia, owner of The Whole Bowl, a popular chain of vegetarian food trucks, carts, and restaurants, agrees that the dishwasher is rough on knives. "You might as well stick your knife in a washing machine!" she says. "The wash cycle can bang your knife around and compromise its sharp edge. A rogue knife can also cut up the plastic coating on your dishwasher shelves and expose the metal undercoat to rust."

Related: How to Care for Wooden Spoons so They Last Forever

Clean, Don't Soak

Knives are at the center of the action when it comes to attracting bacteria, so proper cleaning is a requirement for food safety. For the home cook, Ovadia says there's no time to clean like the present. "It's best to wash or at least rinse right after use to avoid having to scrape food off later," she says. But forego soaking. "Knives should never be left soaking in water, as it would lead to rust of the blade and handle," Wüsthof explains. "Not to mention it can lead to injury."

In fact, Wüsthof never places her knives in the sink until she's ready to clean them. "This bars any contact from other dishes or pots and pans going into the sink to prevent blade damage," she says. "Placing blades in your dishwater can also be dangerous as you can't see what's beneath the water. You don't want anyone to get injured." All knives, regardless of blade or handle material, should be hand washed in warm water, rinsed, and immediately dried recommends Wüsthof.

Best Way to Dry

Using a cotton towel is the better than air-drying. "Wiping a knife dry and then immediately returning it to its storage space is highly recommended, as letting a knife air dry lets water sit on the blade for longer and opens the opportunity for the blade to be damaged while it is left out," she says. "Letting water sit on the blade can lead to tarnishing or rust, even if a knife is stainless steel."

Beware of the Blades

Don't handle the blade. Ovadia holds the knife by the handle and uses a sponge to wipe toward the blade's edge or wraps the sponge around the back of the blade and pulls the knife through. "A trick I often use is holding the handle of the knife against the edge of the sink and running the sponge along the blade in that position, says Wüsthof. "This prevents injuries as your hands are less likely to slip in this position."

Neither recommends wearing rubber gloves when cleaning a knife. "The more in touch with your knife you are," says Ovadia, "the less likely you are to have an accident." Practicing the best care and maintenance will add years to a knife's working life. Think of them as investment pieces for your kitchen, a little sweat equity is a small price to pay to keep your tools in working order.

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