Do I Really Need to Clean My Knife Block?

Yes. Yes you should. But how often? (More often than you think.)

Published Sept. 10, 2021.

A typical wooden knife block has slots for all of your kitchen knives—and some blocks also hold a honing rod, shears and your steak knives, too. But all those narrow, deep, dark slots can harbor dirt and dampness, and encourage bacterial growth. The block itself sits on the kitchen counter right beside your food prep, and it’s all too easy to put knives away before they’re fully dry and maybe not perfectly clean. It’s no wonder that the National Sanitation Foundation, or NSF, reported that knife blocks were among “the germiest kitchen items.”

So what’s the best way to clean your knife block? Not the dishwasher. Wood is organic material, so it will absorb water and swell. As it dries, the wood shrinks and is very likely to crack (that’s why cutting boards split, too). The typical cleaning cycle of a dishwasher will keep the wood damp for too long, while dishwasher detergents will damage or strip finish off the block. Plus, dishwasher jets can’t really reach to deep-clean the knife slots. 

Here’s a better way. Using a skinny but firm bottle brush and hot, soapy water (use liquid dish soap such as our tested winners by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and Dawn), scrub each slot, then rinse under the tap. Also wash the exterior of the block with a sponge and hot, soapy water—top, bottom and sides—and rinse well. Remember: “hot and soapy” is the key to breaking up dirt and killing bacteria. The physical act of scrubbing and rinsing also help sweep away harmful germs.

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Don’t leave the block soaking wet: Pat everything as dry as possible with a clean dish towel, and prop it up to air-dry for a few days, flipping it over periodically, so it can dry fully, inside and out.

In the meantime, wash your knives, especially around where the blade joins the handle and any other nooks or crannies. Scrub the shears and honing rod, too. Don’t put anything back until blades and block are completely dry. And after this, always carefully scrub and dry knives before sliding them into the block. 

If your block is very dirty, after the scrub and rinse, follow up by sanitizing. Use ⅓ cup bleach in 1 gallon of hot water. Soak the whole block for just 1 minute (or you could fill only the slots and let them sit 1 minute, if the slots are closed at the bottom) before rinsing and drying thoroughly. 

If the surface of the block looks parched and dull after it’s fully dry, you can recondition the wood by rubbing on a thin coat of mineral oil and wiping nearly all of it off again with a paper towel or soft cloth. Make sure it doesn’t feel greasy. Let the oil soak into the wood overnight and then buff the surface again before using the block. 

How often do you need to clean your block? Try to do it once every four to six weeks. If it sounds like too much work, consider a different knife storage solution that doesn’t involve dirt-trapping slots. Our favorite universal knife block holds knives on its exterior using magnets, or check out a magnetic knife strip or individual blade guards

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