Some utensils fall victim to bacteria or lose their edge, but others are built to last for years to come.

No matter how attached you are to your kitchen tools and utensils, sometimes the best thing to do is to let them go. While some old reliables are built to last for years if well cared for, others, whether bacteria magnets or workhorses subject to wear and tear, should be replaced every year, if not sooner. We asked Thomas Joseph, VP and culinary director of Sur La Table and the Martha Stewart brand and the host of our Kitchen Conundrums series, and Mary Rogers, director of marketing communications for Cuisinart, which kitchen tools need to be replaced regularly. Plus, they share tips on how to know when it's time to trade yours in for a replacement.

whisk, grater, and other baking utensils
Credit: Getty / Carol Yepes

Sharp Observations

While construction matters, it doesn't always factor into a tool's longevity, explains Joseph. "Examples that immediately come to mind are those that peel, shred, or slice—vegetable peelers, box graters, Microplanes, and even the slicing or grating attachments for your food processor are prime examples of those that might need an assessment. Over time, the blades or grates become dull and therefore less effective," he explains. In those cases, the design may make it futile to sharpen them back to their cutting-edge form. When these tools no longer yield results, he says, it's time to swap them for new specimens.

Knives can also become dull, but there's another solution at hand. "Items like carving knives can be maintained by having them professionally sharpened or you can use a sharpening stone, which is easier to master than the electric type," says Rodgers. She also suggests washing them by hand since the dishwasher will render them rusty, noting that any hand can-opener or utensil that starts to show rust should be supplanted with fresh editions.

Rubber spatulas should also be replaced when they show signs of deterioration, like splitting or cracking—no one wants a snippet of rubber landing in their cake batter—and the same goes for wooden spoons that have weathered way too many stews (or dishwashers) since cracks and chips attract bacteria.

Soft Goods, Hard Goods

Though washed regularly, dish and tea towels don't always hold up to constant use. Be on the lookout for rips, tears, and stains. "The most worn ones can be either be repurposed for spills and clean up or upcycle them at your recycling center, where appropriate," says Rodgers. As to potholders, particularly mitten styles, inspect them every month or so, she says, depending on how often you use them since the thumb and seams can wear out, leaving you vulnerable to burns.

Baking pans and cookie sheets come in handy for everything from snickerdoodles to roasted cauliflower, but if the finish of a nonstick pan starts to peel or your aluminum pan becomes too discolored or warped, it's heave-ho time. "If you invest in good quality, thick gauge baking sheets, they will last longer than flimsy versions," says Joseph. "The thinner the gauge, the more likely the pan is to react with high heat (buckling)." Coated silicone baking sheets or parchment paper can extend their life, while dishwashers and extreme heat can erode the surface. "If you decide to go with nonstick, try out ceramic nonstick (generally touted as a 'cleaner/greener' alternative) and make sure to partner them with the appropriate tools that won't scratch the surface," says Joseph.

Multitasking Cutting Boards

Cutting boards need a watchful eye, too, no matter what they're made from. Since they can attract unwanted bacteria, a yearly replacement may be in order. Rodgers suggests using different designated boards for particular food items, some made from plastic, some made from wood. Plastic can be sterilized with food-safe scrubbing products or by washing in the dishwasher but wood pieces should never see the inside of that appliance. "When your plastic boards become highly marred it's time to replace them as you could run the risk of not properly cleaning them," Rodgers says. "Wood boards, in my opinion, have a longer shelf life than plastic." Still, those wood pieces may warp and possibly fall apart over time, especially if they're not washed and dried properly, and preserved with oil.

Invest in the Best

There are a few ways to ensure that some kitchen tools and utensils will endure. For starters, whenever possible, buy top-quality equipment. "Well-made tools will definitely last longer," says Joseph. "Seek out sturdy, well-balanced utensils and gadgets that can withstand repeated use."

And don't gloss over the manufacturer's use and care instructions—they may be critical in terms of maintenance. "Intended use is also important. Don't use them for something that's not recommended," says Rodgers. "If you respect your tools and use them accordingly, and care for them as the manufacturer intends, they will serve you well. Also, don't forget to check the length of the warranty. That often can inform you as to the expected life of the product."


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