When Must a Knife Be Cleaned and Sanitized

cleaning kitchen knife

Table of Contents

You don’t have to be an outdoorsman to be familiar with knives.

Most people use knives every day, even just in the kitchen. However, if you are a hunter, hiker or general adventurer, you are probably familiar with a few different types of knives. 

Whatever the case, some rules apply to all kinds of knives. For instance, you will need to clean and sanitise your knives regularly. 

Cleaning and sanitising your tools are important for a few reasons, which we will get into more detail in the article. However, the most important reason is to prevent cross-contamination. 

Whether you are a cook or a hunter, this article will help you understand the importance of cleaning and sanitising. We will explain the difference between the two and when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised. 

This guide will also explain in-depth why it is important to clean and sanitise your knives. If you are ready to learn more about this topic and keep your knives clean, let’s get started. 

Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitising 

washing knives in the sink

Before you learn when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised, you should first understand the difference between the two terms.

Many people use these words interchangeably, but they mean very different things. Understanding these terms will help you clean your knife more effectively. 


Let’s start with cleaning; what exactly does cleaning mean?

Cleaning refers to the act of removing dust, debris, allergens and chemical residue from the knife’s surface. You typically use soap and water when you clean something and scrub the surface using a cloth or sponge. 

When you clean something, you are only penetrating the object’s surface, which is why you can only remove surface particles. No matter how much you clean something, you won’t be able to get rid of the nasty microorganisms beneath the surface. This is where sanitisation comes in. 


Sanitising is another process that people use to clean surfaces. Unlike cleaning, sanitising reduces the number of bacteria on the knife surface. 

While it cannot destroy 100% of the microorganisms on the blade, the process is enough to decrease the number of harmful bacteria to a safer level. 

An important thing to know about sanitisation is that it is ineffective unless you clean the surface first. If there is still dirt and dust stuck on the surface, the chemicals you use to sanitise will not be as effective at penetrating the deeper layers.

Situations After Which To Clean and Sanitize

sanitize knives after slicing meat products

Now we know how cleaning and sanitisation are different. This section will cover when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised by listing a few main examples.

While we can’t list every situation that could arise in which you should clean your knife, we will cover the most popular situations. Let’s take a look. 

When You Use the Knife for One Type of Food

The most common situation you need to clean your knife is when you use it for one type of food. Whether that is vegetables, cheese or meat, you should always clean and sanitise the knife after cutting that type of food. 

When You Are Using One Knife for Different Foods

pocket knife sanitizing

One of the main situations that require cleaning and sanitisation is when you use one knife for different foods.

For instance, if you use the knife to cut meat and then use the same knife to chop up some veggies, you will need to clean the knife before doing so. Cleaning the knife will prevent contaminating other foods. 

After You Use It for Raw Meat

Cleaning and sanitising your knife is especially important after using it for raw meat. Whether you are using a hunting knife to skin a deer or a kitchen knife to cut raw steak, cleaning is essential to preventing contamination. 

When You Have Not Used the Knife for a While

Maybe you put away some knives for storage and need to pull some out for a new recipe. Or, you have found an old knife tucked away in the garage that will work great for your next camping trip. 

When you have not used a knife for a while, you should always clean and sanitise it. You never know what the knife has come into contact with and what kind of bacteria is on the blade. Even though the blade may look clean, you shouldn’t take that chance. 

If the Knife Is Brand New

new knife sanitize

Before you use your new knife for food, you should clean and sanitise it. Even though it may not be full of harmful bacteria, there is probably some dust on the blade that could enter your food.

Generally, always clean and sanitise it if you are unsure where the knife has been before you. 

If Someone Else Has Used the Knife

Perhaps your kitchen is an area where multiple people come and go. Maybe you live with roommates, or there are multiple chefs in your household. Or, you are simply grabbing a knife from the garage. Whichever the case, it is normal for multiple people to use the same knife. 

If you notice that someone has recently used the knife, it may be a good idea to clean and sanitise it. Even though the person before you may have cleaned it, there could be a chance that the knife is still contaminated with bacteria. 

The person may just have cleaned it and not sanitised it or did not sanitise it properly. In any case, it is better to be safe than sorry.

After Every Use

If you are wondering when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised, you may be a bit overwhelmed with all of these situations. However, there is a way to keep things simple. A general rule of thumb is to clean and sanitise the knife after every use. If you remember nothing else, remember this rule. 

Some people may believe that simply rinsing the knife is fine after cutting things like vegetables. However, you need to clean and sanitise it after every use since many different foods could contain potentially dangerous bacteria. 

If you know that many different people use the same knife as you, you should also clean the knife before and after every use to be safe. 

Why Do You Need To Clean and Sanitize 

why clean and sanitize

Now you know when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised.

However, this information won’t mean much until you know why you need to clean and sanitise your knives. Everyone knows these steps are important but may not know exactly why. Let’s take a look. 


One of the main reasons you need to clean your knives is cross-contamination. This term refers to the transfer of bacteria from one surface to another. 

Cross-contamination normally leads to the spreading of harmful bacteria to foods. Viruses can also transfer from the knife to different food items and surfaces. The main reason for cross-contamination is using one knife to cut different foods.

Even though this event does not always lead to a dangerous situation, it can. In some cases, cross-contamination can be lethal since it can lead to serious food poisoning.


cleaning knife with specialized brush

Another reason that you need to both clean and sanitise your knife after every use is that you could expose someone to allergens.

Even if the food you are working with does not contain harmful bacteria or viruses, it could still contain dangerous microorganisms that someone is allergic to.

If you neglect to clean your knives properly, someone could have an allergic reaction to food remains on the knife. 

Not All Bacteria Is Killed While Cooking

Some people do not worry about sanitising their knives since most bacteria and viruses die if the food is cooked at a certain temperature.

Even though that is true, not all bacteria will die. Even if you cook your food at a certain temperature, there is a chance that some bacteria could survive.

The heat may not reach all of the bacteria on the food. When this happens, there could still be dangerous bacteria leftover.

For this reason, it is important to try to prevent cross-contamination the best way you can, which is by cleaning and sanitising your knives.  


If you are wondering when must a knife be cleaned and sanitised, we hope that this guide has helped you learn more about this topic. 

Cleaning and sanitising your knives is important for a few reasons. First of all, properly cleaning your knives can prevent cross-contamination. It can also get rid of any allergens on the blade. Finally, not all bacteria are killed while the food is cooking.

There are a few different situations when you should clean your knives. The first situation is when you use the knife for one type of food. You should also sanitise the blade when you cut different foods and after handling raw meat.

You should also clean it if you have not used the knife for a while, if someone else has used it, or after you buy a brand new one. 

In general, always try to remember to clean and sanitise the blade after every use. If you want to be extra cautious, simple clean it before and after every use.



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