The Swiss Army Knife is a low-maintenance tool but it does require occasional cleaning. You may think cleaning it in the dishwasher along with other kitchen knives will do the trick. But think again, you may be doing more harm than good by putting it in the dishwasher.
Victorinox Swiss Army Knives are not dishwasher safe. The temperature as well as the cleaning agents used in dishwashers can have mild to adverse effects on the materials and each and every component of the knife. This may impact the look, reduce its longevity, and sometimes permanently damage the knife.
Officially, Victorinox recommends avoiding putting Swiss Army Knives in dishwashers.
Do not confuse a Swiss Army Knife with other cutlery knives made by Victorinox. Victorinox has said that all their household knives that have synthetic handles can be safely put in the dishwasher. But NOT Swiss Army Knives! Do not treat your Swiss Army Knife as a kitchen knife.
Let’s look at how the different parts of a Swiss Army Knife get affected when exposed to the temperature and the chemicals inside a dishwasher.
Effect On The Steel And Aluminum Parts
The main component of a Swiss Army Knife is the stainless steel alloy that Victorinox uses to make the blade and all the tools in the knife. The detergents and chemicals along with the high temperature degrade and dull the edges of all the sharp tools in the knife.
Stainless steel, especially the variety that Victorinox uses is highly resistant to corrosion. But note that rust-resistant doesn’t mean rust-free.
The extreme conditions inside a dishwasher weaken this resistance and render the steel prone to corrosion (more on this later).
To know more about the special steel and its composition that Victorinox uses in Swiss Army knives, don’t forget to read this article.
Dishwashers work by spraying water at high pressure. As such, the knives are subjected to mechanical abrasions and scratches as they collide with each other. This also leads to damaging the edges of the blades.
The separators between the layers in a Swiss Army Knife are made of Aluminium. Aluminum and dishwashers don’t go very well together.
The separators will gradually become thinner and can develop tiny holes with time. Eventually, the separators will get bent compromising the alignment of the tools, and finally, wear out and break off.
Effect On the Scales
Swiss Army knives can have scales made of Cellidor, Nylon, Alox (Aluminium), and Wood. All of these materials are affected differently when exposed to the heat and chemicals in a dishwasher.
Cellidor and Nylon scales when subjected to high temperatures and solvents will lose strength and toughness.
Multiple exposures to high temperatures along with the abrasive detergents used in dishwashers will eventually deform the scales. The scales will discolor and will be more prone to cracking and breaking.
There are multiple cases where some portions of the Cellidor scales of a Swiss Army Knife have melted in the dishwasher because of the extreme temperature.
The Aluminum or Alox scales will show the most degradation after washing in a dishwasher. Have you seen those silvery Alox Swiss Army Knives? Gorgeous, aren’t they? Just put one in a dishwasher and then check how it looks.
The salt, hot water, and other chemicals will corrode the Alox scales and remove the shine and glitter. The silvery color will turn into dull white. After multiple washes in the dishwasher, the discoloration will be so striking that it will appear as if the SAK is 50 years old.
You can check the experiment done by knivesandtools.com on the impact of washing pocket knives from three different brands in dishwashers.
Wooden scales do not fare any better. Dishwasher detergents are degreasers that strip off natural oils from the wood. Soon, you will see splits and cracks appear on the scales.
The wooden scales/handle of a Swiss Army Knife (or any pocket knife) should never be soaked in water and should be cleaned by rubbing them with a moist cloth.
Effect On The Electronic Components
Many Swiss Army Knives have electronic components in them. Flashlights, digital clocks, and even USB drives are often found in some Swiss Army Knives.
The electronic circuitry and the battery will not survive the water and harsh treatment inside a dishwasher. While removing the battery may be easy, detaching the complete circuitry of the electronic components is not possible sometimes, like in the case of a USB drive.
What Causes Stainless Steel in Swiss Army Knife to rust in the dishwasher?
Stainless Steel is rust-resistant because of the Chromium-Oxide layer that forms on the surface which acts as a protective barrier against further oxidation and the formation of rust.
The chemicals including cleaning salts and detergents, along with moisture and extreme temperature inside the dishwasher erode the Chromium-Oxide layer.
Even the high content of Chromium used in Victorinox Steel is not resistant enough against rust when the SAK is exposed to extreme conditions.
Once the barrier is destroyed, it allows iron to come into contact with air. Iron reacts with oxygen to form Ferric-Oxide or rust.
The Dishwasher Cannot Clean a SAK Properly
A Swiss Army Knife is a complex piece of engineering made from various materials and multiple components. There are various layers of tools, slip joint springs, and separating spacers, with rivets to hold everything together.
It is unlike any other utensil or cutlery knife used in the kitchen. Dishwashers are not designed to clean such items. The cleaning mechanism of the dishwasher will not successfully clean each and every nook and corner of a Swiss Army Knife.
In fact, not only Swiss Army Knives, but no folding pocket knives should be washed in a dishwasher.
The adverse effects of putting a Swiss Army Knife in a dishwasher are not noticeable immediately after the wash. But the gradual degradation will surely become noticeable with multiple washes, usually after ten to twenty.
The impact on Alox scales is noticeable rather quickly, sometimes after the first or second wash itself.
Cleaning a Swiss Army Knife yourself is a far better way of keeping your SAK clean and sharp and ensuring its longevity.
The sentimental value of a Swiss Army Knife is way more than risking its longevity in a dishwasher. After all, SAKs are known to be passed over from one generation to the next.