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Carbon steel knives are famous for their durability and the ability to retain their sharpness. However, their high carbon content makes them susceptible to dreadful orange rust. Along with reducing the knife’s durability, red rust can also make the knife appear less visually appealing. So it goes without saying that carbon steel knives need proper care to remain durable and corrosion-free.
Many individuals who own a high-carbon knife aren’t familiar with a proper care routine for their blades. Luckily caring for a high-carbon steel knife isn’t tricky, and with the proper knowledge, you can do it too. So, if you are looking for a care guide for your carbon steel knife, keep reading for practical tips.
Before understanding how to care for a knife, it is essential to understand your cutting tool. As the name suggests, a carbon steel knife has a high carbon content. High carbon steel is known for its hardness; so naturally, the knives made from this type of steel are durable and long-lasting.
When forged by an expert, a carbon steel knife can withstand most heavy-duty applications without chipping or wearing out. The high durability of these blades makes them suitable for heavy-duty applications both in and outside the kitchen.
A high-carbon steel blade isn’t too flexible, so avoid putting excess strain on the knife. Instead of bending like a stainless-steel knife, a high-carbon knife may crack or break under large tensile stress.
However, most kitchen and even outdoor applications aren’t going to push your carbon steel blade to its limits. So it is implausible for a carbon steel knife to break during regular use. With that said, the high carbon content in a knife does increase its risk of rust and discoloration.
That is why it is essential to maintain all your carbon steel knives and other utensils well. We will explain some essential care tips that will help you keep your carbon steel knife in great shape in the next section. Before we explain how to care for them, it is important to understand that not all rust is bad rust when it comes to carbon knives. In some cases, your knife may develop grey or black discoloration on its blade called Patina. The black discoloration shouldn’t be confused with rust and corrosion as it can resist red rust and make the knife more durable.
Now that you know what a carbon steel knife is and the different types of rust it may develop, let’s learn how to care for it.
Now that you know what makes carbon steel knives unique, you can start caring for them. As mentioned earlier, caring for a carbon steel knife is relatively easy and takes up little time.
Here are some care tips you can follow to prolong the life of your carbon steel knife:
Cleaning your blade while in use: The most straightforward tip to keep your carbon steel knife rust-free is cleaning it during usage. Develop a habit of wiping the knife off with a cloth after every use, especially when cutting acidic items such as citric fruits. The acidic nature of these foods can accelerate the oxidation process and cause an onset of rust.
Note: Using a clean cloth to wipe the blade is essential. Using an unclean cloth can do more harm than good since it may contain elements that can accelerate the process of rust.
Avoid using a knife block: Knife blocks are the go-to method of storing stainless steel blades and keeping them safe. However, if you have a carbon steel blade, you should avoid using a knife block, especially one made of wood. The reason you should avoid knife blocks is the risk of moisture exposure.
Since knife blocks are placed in the kitchen, often near the sink, moisture can build up inside the knife slots. Storing your carbon knife in a knife block filled with moisture is a recipe for rust and corrosion. Therefore, it is best to hang a carbon knife using a magnetic strip away from the sources of moisture. Doing this will eliminate the possibility of rust and keep your blade sharp and rust-free.
Coat your carbon steel knife with oil: Carbon knives benefit greatly from a mineral oil coating, preferably after each use. Once you have finished using your knife, you can wash and dry it completely. Now use any food-grade mineral oil and add a layer of the oil onto the entire blade of the knife.
Avoid using oils that may become sticky or rancid over time; instead, use food-grade mineral oil or a dedicated knife oil.
Sharpen the knife by hand: Another great way to ensure your knife stays sharp and durable is by keeping the blade sharp. If you have used carbon steel tools before, you will know that carbon steel is very easy to sharpen.
Unlike stainless steel knives, a high-carbon blade doesn’t chip, and the metal can be honed perfectly using any natural sharpening stone. We don’t recommend machine sharpening for carbon steel because it can generate heat, which can weaken the blade. You can also use a honing rod if you want to hone the blade between your sharpening sessions.
Call in the experts: If you are new to maintaining a carbon steel knife and aren’t familiar with the correct sharpening techniques, you can always get a carbon knife expert to help you. Professional knife sharpening and maintenance services can sharpen and hone your carbon blade periodically so you can handle the day-to-day cleaning and oiling.
Let Patina settle in on your knife: Most people assume that any discoloration of their carbon steel knife is bad news. However, a discoloration known as Patina looks like rust but protects the blade’s integrity.
While rust is red or orange, Patina is usually grey or black. Patina keeps the harmful orange rust away and serves as a shield for your knife’s blade. So if you don’t mind the discoloration, let Patina settle in on your carbon steel knife, as it can greatly reduce the blade’s maintenance.
Oiling a carbon steel knife helps protect it from rust and corrosion, which is essential since carbon steel is more prone to these issues compared to stainless steel. How often you should oil your knife depends on the frequency of use, environmental factors, and storage conditions.
Regular use: If you use your knife on a daily basis, oil it at least once a week or after every use, especially if it comes into contact with acidic or moisture-rich stuff. Wipe it clean and dry thoroughly before applying a thin layer of food-safe mineral oil or a dedicated knife oil.
High humidity or coastal areas: If you live in an area with high humidity or near a coast, consider oiling your knife more frequently, as moisture in the air can accelerate rust formation.
Proper storage: Store your knife in a dry and well-ventilated area. Avoid storing it in a sheath or case that traps moisture, as this can lead to rust. Additionally, if you don’t want to spend money on knife oil then consider storing it by wrapping it in a dry cloth.
You must always use a food-safe oil like mineral oil or a dedicated knife oil, as some other types of oil can become rancid or sticky over time.
Carbon steel requires more maintenance compared to stainless steel, but with proper care, it can be a long-lasting and high-performing material for knives.
Yes, you can wash carbon steel knives with soap and water, but it’s essential to follow proper cleaning and drying procedures to prevent rust and corrosion, such as making sure that you use mild dish soap, don’t scrub the surface too much, and dry the knife thoroughly after washing it with warm water.
No, placing a carbon steel knife in a dishwasher is not advisable. Dishwashers expose knives to prolonged moisture, high heat, and harsh detergents, all of which can severely damage the blade. The moist environment promotes rust, while the aggressive detergents can strip protective oils from the steel, leading to further corrosion. To maintain a carbon steel knife’s integrity and ensure its longevity, hand wash it with mild soap and warm water, dry it immediately, and apply a protective oil coating regularly.
Using a carbon steel knife with acidic foods is acceptable but requires caution. Acidic substances, like citrus or tomatoes, can react with the steel, promoting a quicker patina formation and possibly affecting the knife’s flavor neutrality. After cutting acidic foods, immediately clean and dry the knife to prevent excessive corrosion.
To sharpen a carbon steel knife without damaging it, use a whetstone or honing rod appropriate for the knife’s hardness. Maintain a consistent angle (usually between 15-20 degrees) and gently slide the blade across the stone or rod, ensuring even sharpening along the edge. Avoid aggressive or rapid movements, as these can lead to uneven edges or nicks. After sharpening, strop the blade to remove the burrs and polish the edge. Regular, careful sharpening will preserve the knife’s integrity and cutting performance.
The hardness of carbon steel, measured on the Rockwell scale (HRC), significantly affects its maintenance. Harder steel (higher HRC) retains a sharp edge longer but can be more brittle and challenging to sharpen. Softer steel (lower HRC) is easier to sharpen and more durable but may require more frequent honing. Understanding your knife’s hardness helps determine the appropriate sharpening tools and techniques, ensuring effective maintenance and prolonged edge retention.
Professional services for carbon steel knife maintenance are often available at local knife shops, cutlery stores, or specialty culinary retailers. Additionally, many online platforms offer mail-in services where you can send your knife for sharpening, repair, or restoration. Searching for “professional knife sharpening services near me” or consulting with culinary professionals and fellow knife enthusiasts can also lead to recommendations for reputable service providers.
Now that you know how to care for a carbon steel knife, you can purchase your first high-carbon blade. This guide is meant to provide carbon steel knife care tips for enthusiasts who want to use a carbon blade regularly.
We also encourage carbon steel knife owners to allow the natural formation of a patina on their blades if they don’t mind the discoloration. While the patina may affect the overall appearance of the blade, it can help protect the knife from rust and corrosion, thus prolonging its useful life.