Whether you are a professional chef or a home cook a honing steel is a vital member of your kitchen toolset.
Honing steels are extremely resilient pieces of kit, and if treated in the right way a honing steel could last the home cook decades.
But you do actually need to clean them from time to time to ensure they remain effective.
You should clean your honing steel after every use by wiping it down with a dry cloth. Occasionally you should use a damp cloth with a little bit of vinegar to rub out any remaining metal particles stuck in the grooves of the rod.
Looking for a new honing steel?
Check out my recommendation, the Wüsthof 10 Inch steel on Amazon here (opens new tab).
How does a honing steel get dirty
Cleaning a honing steel is not a necessary requirement because of a build-up of dirt or grime, as you might assume.
It usually more to do with the build-up of tiny metal particles which gather in the honing steel as a result of use.
Honing steels are usually slightly magnetic. When you use your honing steel it can remove tiny metal particles from the blade of your knife.
These mental particles can gather in the grooves of the steel and over time they will clog up the steel.
This can result in the steel losing its effectiveness as the grooves start to become filled by the fine metal particles and the rod become smoother.
Often people can mistakenly think that their rod is just wearing down and they might need to get a new one, when in fact the smoothness of the rod is just because they have neglected to clean it after use.
So, if your honing rod doesn’t seem to be as effective as it once was, there might just be some hope yet.
Follow the instructions below and see if your rod just needs a good old cleaning, or whether you really do need to buy yourself a new one.
How often to clean a honing steel
The easiest way to keep your honing steel clean is to give it a quick wipe after each and every use.
This needn’t be a time-consuming process, simply wipe the honing steel with a dry cloth after every use.
This will brush away the majority of those tiny metal particles and will mean that your steel can keep going for a lot longer before it needs a proper clean.
This is the easiest time to get rid of those pesky little particles before they start to really build up and clog the rod.
Giving your honing steel a quick wipe down after every use will save you time, money and frustration in the long run, I promise.
Cleaning a honing steel with vinegar
Eventually, your honing steel might become too clogged up for just wiping it with a dry cloth to remove everything.
Most honing rods are slightly magnetized, so the particles will literally stick to the rod, and over time they will accumulate.
Once you’re at that stage, just wiping with a dry cloth won’t do the job, you need something stronger.
But don’t fear, there is a very easy and cheap way to get those metal particles out of your honing steel.
A handy trick for a more thorough clean is to occasionally use a damp cloth, with a little bit of vinegar.
Rub this along the rod and you should get a deeper clean than simply wiping with a dry cloth.
Is my honing steel worn down
If you’re finding that your honing steel still doesn’t seem to be very effective, no matter how much effort you put into cleaning it, you may have to face the fact that your steel has had its day.
To test whether your honing steel has worn out, use a fingernail to scrape the grooves on the steel rod, if they feel smooth, even after cleaning, then you may indeed need a new tool.
Another method is to use the tip of a small knife blade, such as a paring knife. Put the tip in one of the rod grooves and guide it down the groove.
If it stays in the same groove the whole way down the rod then your steel is probably still good to use.
If it comes out then your rod has probably become too worn down to be effective.
How to store a honing steel
There are two basic steps to keeping your honing steel in good order.
- Keep your honing rod dry
- Store your honing rod away from knives
You need to keep your honing rod dry, otherwise it can begin to rust.
Even stainless steel can rust eventually. All that’s needed for rust to form is Oxygen, Iron and Water. So avoid leaving your honing steel wet and wipe it down dry if you do clean it with water.
As your honing steel is slightly magnetic, you will want to keep it away from anything else metallic, both because it could interfere with the magnetism of the rod (and the other objects it touches) in the long run, and because it could gather excess metal particles in the grooves simply from being stored in the wrong place.
The best way to store a honing steel is in a wooden knife block.
Do that, and follow our cleaning instructions above, and a home-cook honing steel should last for decades.
My honing steel recommendation
Honing and sharpening tools last for decades if they’re looked after properly. That’s why I would always recommend you invest in one of decent quality.
A poor quality honing rod runs the risk of damaging your knife, so if you choose a quality honing rod then there’s a good chance your knives will last longer too.
This 10-inch honing rod from Wüsthof is the only steel you will ever need. Wüsthof are renowned for their high-quality western knives, so this is the perfect kitchen partner.