Removing Rust from Knives – And a Creamy Herbal Dip requiring said knives for a lot of chopping!

rusty knife handles

Do you hand wash your knives? I know you’re supposed to, but I seem to have gotten lazy. A few years back I invested in a full knife block of Cutco knives to help a friend of a friend’s daughter raise money for college. I also got involved with Pampered Chef at work and bought some of their special santoku knives. While they may not be the priciest knives in the world, they’re an investment for our household. So for the first year or so I took care of each one. I carefully washed them individually in warm soapy water, and returned them to their own little slot. Each Santoku knife had to be handled with care because one slip and you’ve sliced yourself good! And then they also went, dry and clean, back into their little plastic shields. It was a loving relationship, really.

knives on a table
Looks like my knives on our dining room table, ready to do their thing… with a little help from me!

But somewhere along the way, they started going into the dishwasher. At first it was just after holiday meals. You know how it goes. Friends and family try to help with cleanup, so they load the dishwasher (which is a personal thing that doesn’t take lightly to criticism). To avoid controversy, or make a happy event a suddenly unhappy one, I let the dishes (and the knives) get loaded without saying anything. And before you know it, those knives are in the dishwasher regularly. Its kind of like the relationship with dryers and socks. Once they go in, there’s no controlling how, or if they’ll come out!

forks and spoons in a dishwasher
I can hear the knives screaming like Mr. Bill, “Oh nooooo!”

Example? We have one fancy Santoku knife that has entirely lost its little shield. So now it lies around on counter tops looking rusty and dangerous. It can’t go back in the drawer because someone might grab the blade accidentally, or slide a finger against it reaching for the cheese plane. Anyway, you get the picture. So today I decided to do a bit of research on getting those rust stains, that always show up on mechanically washed knives, removed from those beloved, if somewhat mistreated treasures.

rusty knives
Not knives anyone wants to cook with or eat with!

Pure white vinegar removes rust stains

This process works for minor water/rust stains on flatware. I experimented with it and the results were decent. Just fill a non-metallic container with pure undiluted white vinegar sufficient to cover your items. Allow some space, so they’re not piled on top of each other. Leave to sit undisturbed for at least 30 minutes, a few hours is even better. When time is up, discard the vinegar (or add more items). Rinse the vinegar off your cleaned items, and scrub with a brush or 2-sided scrubbing sponge until the rust is removed.

knife without rust
Look Ma, no rust!

No vinegar? Or like me you only have apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar… you get the idea… Plunging a knife into a fresh potato and letting it sit for a day is supposed to do the same thing. I haven’t tried it, but if you have potatoes around you don’t mind wasting (because I don’t think you should eat a potato that’s had a rusty knife sitting in it) it’s definitely worth a try.

Vinegar and salt as a rust solution

I’ve also read that a combination of vinegar and salt works particularly well and can be used on tools, decorative items, anything that might have collected rust over the years. I tried it on my prized Pampered Chef chef knives. With a bit of scrubbing with a two-sided sponge after about 6 hours it was amazing the difference I could see!

This process is a bit more complex. Use 1 gallon of distilled white vinegar mixed with 1 cup of table salt (you can reduce the amounts but use the same concentration level, so ½ gallon of vinegar with ½ cup salt, or as I did, ¼ gallon of vinegar with ¼ cup of salt). Mix the salt and vinegar in a plastic or ceramic container that your knives or other objects can lie flat in. They need to be covered with the solution.

rusty knife handles
So gross. And yes I did this with wooden-handled knives, but propped them up so they didn’t get soaked.

Allow to soak for 12 hours or more (you can check before then and will notice a difference, but give them a solid treatment if rust is still there). Don’t give up!

Be careful leaving aluminum items in the solution as it can be corrosive and different metals react differently. Just keep an eye on it. Also, don’t soak anything with wooden handles. It will dull, and weaken the wood, causing it to splinter and crack. See my article on caring for wooden spoons.

Also, if an item is a precious heirloom or something of great value, don’t take the chance on using something like this to clean it.

No valuable or heirloom items in the vinegar!

Once your knives have soaked, remove them and use a brush, steel wool, or crumpled aluminum foil to scrape away the rust. For shiny bright knives, I prefer something that doesn’t scratch, like a no-scratch sponge.

most of the rust on the knife is gone
It’s amazing the difference it can make. The lower half of this blade sat in the vinegar (it was too long to fit in my container to soak)
clean knife handle
This is the knife handle that was so rusty in the previous photo

When you’ve removed the rust to your satisfaction, make up a neutralizing bath of 1 gallon of water to 1 cup of baking soda. Again, similar quantities for smaller amounts of solution. Soak your scrubbed items in this solution for 10 – 15 minutes, then scrub again if needed. Finally, rinse the knives under water and dry thoroughly. Or you can do what I did, and carefully wash the now rust free knife in warm soapy water and dry thoroughly before putting away.

Lesson? If you’ve got rusty knives it isn’t their fault. Give them a second chance at life with this simple trick. They may need sharpening, and that’s a whole other topic, but at least they’ll be bright and shiny one again. Then you may want to use one or two to make this delicious herbal dip that needs a lot of chopped and minced ingredients!

Garlic Herb Creamy Cheese Dip

  • 1 TB fresh basil, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 TB fresh lemon thyme leaves, rinsed and chopped
  • ½ TB fresh dill, rinsed and chopped
  • ½ TB fresh chives, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic minced well
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper (I like the mixed color peppercorns for this)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup cream cheese

Instructions for dip:

Stir the chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic into the sour cream until mixed well. Add the cream cheese and mix on low until well blended. Put into a sealed container and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Serve with carrot sticks, cucumber slices, broccoli and cauliflower florets, snow peas, celery sticks, pepper strips, button mushrooms, and halved watermelon radishes. It’s a fresh, light, delicious way to start a meal, or accompany crackers and cheese without making a fuss!


cut up vegetables, mis en place
the start of something good!