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What You Need:
- Wooden cutting board
- Dish soap
- Dish towel
- Sharpening stone(s)
- Honing steel
- Knife block or magnetic knife strip
5 minutes - 1 hour
- Carefully hand-wash knife with soap, sponge, and warm water.
- Rub dry with dish towel.
- If knife needs sharpening, take to a local sharpening service, or use a sharpening stone.
- If you sharpened your blade, hone it on honing steel to get the edge in alignment.
- Store knife in a knife block or on a magnetic knife strip.
- Use with care.
Whether you ignored our sage advice and bought a "105-piece aircraft carrier knife block" or just have a few key knives to your name, you’ll need to treat them right if you want them to stay sharp.
A sharp blade not only cuts better, it's actually safer. Dull knives require more cuts and more pressure—which also mean more opportunities to slice your fingers.
But there’s more to keeping your knives in good shape than running out to purchase a whetstone. If you treat your knives well, they’ll hold their edges for longer, which means you won’t need to sharpen them as often. Knife care isn’t always intuitive, but with a little practice, you’ll be able to follow the rules of the blade with ease.
So without further ado, here’s how to get—and keep—that sharper blade.
1. Hand-wash your knives.
You wouldn't put your delicate stemware in the dishwasher, would you? Well, you shouldn't put knives in there, either.
Two hours of hot water and detergent isn't great for maintaining a knife's sharpness, and the blade edge might rub up against other utensils while it's rattling around mid-cycle. A soapy sponge rubbed gently along the blade—by hand!—should suffice. Take care to move slowly while you work—that knife is sharp and that soap is slippery.
(And seriously: No matter what you do, don't put your knife in fire. You're not a blacksmith. It may sterilize the thing, but it will also damage it.)
2. Hand-dry your knives.
A dry knife has a much better chance of keeping its edge. These things are made out of steel, and steel rusts quickly with exposure to water and air. Think you're off the hook because you bought "stainless" steel knives? Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Even true stainless-steel knives aren't really stainless; their chromium coating only slows down the advance of rust and corrosion. So don't leave your steel in the sink—a good knife should never need to soak.
But leaving your knife on the drying rack after washing isn’t good enough either. Leaving water to evaporate off your blade is just an open invitation for rust to form. So once you're done cleaning, be sure to towel the knife off by hand. That's the best way to keep rust at bay and keep your cutting edge sharp.
3. Sharpen your knives if needed.
Your non-serrated knives should be sharpened at least twice a year, more frequently if you use them every day. But how? Skip the electric sharpening machine, which removes too much metal from the blade. Instead, we recommend taking your knives out to a local sharpening service or using a sharpening stone.
If you decide to go the sharpening stone route, there are a few ways to approach the process. The experts at About Food recommend a two-minute process with a single dry whetstone, while Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggests keeping two stones in your arsenal and soaking them in water for at least 45 minutes before use.
4. Hone the blades.
Regardless of which technique you used to sharpen your knife, the next step is the same: pull out that honing steel and use it. A honing steel should be used frequently to straighten the blade's cutting edge and repair daily wear and tear, but its use is also vital directly after sharpening. It’s the best way to get the edge of your blade in alignment.
When you’re done honing, test the knife for sharpness. Kenji recommends using the knife to prep a vegetable or two to see how it feels.
5. Store your knives properly.
Knives belong in one of two places: a knife block or a magnetic knife strip. Both of these locations keep knives sharp by preventing them from bumping into items that could dull their blades. You might think throwing your knife in a drawer is good enough, but letting it jostle against spatulas, ladles, whisks, or even other blades, can really damage the edge.
To put things in context, just consider how thin the blade has to be for it to slice through the skin of a tomato using only its own weight. Most high-quality blades are in the double digits of microns or smaller in thickness. We're talking hundredths of a millimeter. Thin steel is sharp steel, but thin is also delicate.
But that’s not the only reason it's smart to keep your knife in a block or on a magnetic strip. Having knives in their proper place also ensures that you know where these preposterously sharp objects are at all times. No one wants to cut themselves on a knife while rummaging around in a drawer.
There's been a lot of debate over whether a knife block or a magnetic knife strip is a better choice for knife storage. A knife block definitely keeps your blades away from your vulnerable flesh, but it also puts the blade in direct contact with wood. If you're careful while putting your knives away, that's probably not a big deal. But we're still firmly in Team Magnetic Knife Bar. Just remember to mount it somewhere out of reach of small children and educate older kids on knife safety.
6. Remember to use your knives with care.
At the end of the day, if you treat your knives well, they’ll last longer and do a better job slicing and chopping. But treating your knives well means more than just cleaning, storing, and sharpening them correctly. You also need to make sure you’re using them properly.
How? Well, first things first: a good knife should be used for cutting, slicing, chopping, and nothing else. Most of us—Food Network chefs and home cooks alike—are guilty of using our knives to push or scrape food from the cutting board after chopping, but this is actually a big mistake. It’s one of the fastest ways to dull or damage the edge of the blade. But don’t worry—there’s an easy alternative! Simply flip your knife over and use the dull side to scrape, keeping the sharp side free from any blade-ruining friction.
Additionally, kitchen knives should only be used to cut food. Don’t use them to slice through plastic, open packages, or any other non-food-related household tasks. These can be very hard on the blade.
Lastly, your choice in cutting board matters. Opt for a wooden one, which plays more nicely with knives than plastic, glass, or ceramic boards. Wood is a softer material, allowing delicate knife edges to sink into it a bit instead of bouncing off of a harder surface. The experts at America’s Test Kitchen recommend edge-grain teak specifically, which stands up well to sharp knives and the drying effects of time, thanks to its natural oils.
So go forth and slice, dice, chop, mince, trim, and julienne! Your knives are sharp and ready—as are you.
This article was originally published on November 27, 2013, but has been significantly updated with new information and step-by-step instructions.
July 8, 2016