How to Clean a Pocket Knife So It Shimmers

A pocket knife is a pretty nifty tool. It can be opened when you need to turn your pants into a pair of shorts and can be closed when you want to keep the thing from stabbing you while it’s in your pocket. However, being a tool (and especially because it has moving parts), it’s susceptible to becoming a useless chunk of rusty metal.

Even if your blade spent its entire lifetime in a pocket and never got used once, it would still gather lint and other treasures that could render it no good. A regular cleaning of your knife will save it from becoming a donation to your local dumpster and could even help preserve it for generations to come.

If you’ve been wondering how to clean a pocket knife, then you’re in the right place. I’ll be covering some simple steps you can take to make your edge shinier than ever. That said, let’s jump right into it.

Why Exactly Should I Clean My Knife?

There are many reasons to clean your knife, including the fact that it will last longer if it isn’t ridden with dirt. But even if you don’t care about how long your knife lasts, a dirty knife is a dangerous knife and nobody should have one of those.

For example, lint stuck inside the handle could keep the blade from locking and lead to injury. Or maybe you use your knife as a utensil, in which case it could become contaminated. You just never know what could happen with a knife that’s out of shape, so it always a good idea to keep it up to par.

Some Things to Consider

Before you grab a rag and start scrubbing away, here are a few things to keep in mind:

How dirty is your knife? You shouldn’t douse your blade in water if you don’t need to. Sometimes a damp rag will be good enough.

What is your handle made of? If it’s made of a material such as wood, you won’t want to leave it soaking it water or else you could ruin it.

Is the blade stainless steel? If it’s not, you’ll want to be extra faithful with the oiling. Carbon steels are more susceptible to rusting.

How to Clean a Knife

Now we’re ready to jump into the cleaning process. It will vary depending on just how dirty your knife is or what it has been exposed to. For example, if your knife has rust on it or has been exposed to salt water, acidic liquids, or other chemicals, then a deep cleaning is likely in order. If it just has some mud on it, then your job will be a lot easier.

To start off, here are some things you may need to get your blade clean:

toothpicks or compressed air (for tight places)

toothbrush or small paintbrush (for gentle scrubbing)

paper towel or rag (for tougher scrubbing)

mild soap in warm water (for general cleaning)

hand sanitizer (for sticky things)

oil (to loosen things up and prevent rust)

Step One: Remove the Gunk

Clean Out the Gunk

Before getting your blade wet, it’s a good idea to get rid of the big chunks inside the handle. I’d recommend using a toothpick because it gives you the most control, but compressed air would be good if you don’t want to risk jamming any lint into small crevices. This step can help prevent locking mechanism failures, which could be dangerous.

Step Two: Scrub It Down

Wash It

Depending on how dirty your knife is, you may want to submerge the whole thing in the soap water or just wipe it down. Using a rag or paper towel, scrub everything until it sparkles and then use a toothbrush to get all the edges and tight spots. Just be sure to keep your palm against the spine of the blade when cleaning it so that you don’t cut your hand.

If you have any sticky substances on your knife, you’ll want to use a cleaner such as hand sanitizer (Goo Gone also works). Just put a little on the sticky spot and it should rub right off.

After your knife is as clean as it can get, rinse it off well and dry it off as much as you can with a towel. Then let it air-dry until there’s not a drop of water left (you could use compressed air to speed up the process).

Step Three: Lubricate It

Lubricate It

This part is important to keep your blade working smoothly and to prevent rusting. What type of oil you use depends partly on what you use the knife for, but it mostly boils down to preference. In general, sewing machine oil or gun oil will work fine for a pocket knife, but if you want specific brands, any of these would work:

Quick Release (~$15/oz)
Nano Oil (~$54/oz)
Tuf Glide (~$18/oz)
Blue Lube (~$10/oz)
EDCi Knife Formula (~$5/oz)

Also, urea grease supposedly works well for knives too (as if there weren’t already enough options), just be sure you don’t use WD-40 (it was created as a water repellant and works as a lubricant for a while, but it will turn into a sticky film over time).

If you use your knife as a utensil, it’s important to use lubricant that won’t make you sick if you ingest it. Any mineral oil or even vegetable oil will be safe, but it’s likely that the oil will go rancid if you don’t replace it regularly. If you want a more stable option, FrogLube is a good choice—it’s made out of natural, food-grade ingredients.

After you’ve decided on a lubricant, apply a very small amount to the pivot and open and close the blade a few times to get it worked in. It’s also a good idea to apply a little lube to the blade itself, especially if it’s not stainless steel. After you’ve oiled the thing, wipe off any excess lubricant with a rag and your knife is all clean!

How to Revive a Rusty Blade

If you’re in possession of a blade that’s plagued with rust due to exposure to chemicals, lack of proper oiling, or the fact that you found it sitting in a puddle outside, not all hope is lost. Depending on how aged the rust is, there’s a good chance your blade can be restored to its former glory.

Your oxidized blade should first be cleaned following the first two steps above (be sure to dry it). You’ll then need to decide on a cleaner, some options being Metal Glo or WD-40. You could also try baking soda if you’re on a budget. After you’ve chosen your weapon, apply the substance to the rusted area and let it sit for a while (about an hour) and then gently scrub it clean.

Some alternate methods would include using a rust eraser, which is basically a rubber block for scraping off rust, or sticking your blade in a potato for a while (potatoes contain oxalic acid, which can fight rust).

Until Your Next Cleaning

Now that your knife is all ship-shape and Bristol fashion, all that’s left to do is get it dirty, grimy, and full of lint—because that’s just how life works. Of course, now that you’re an expert knife-scrubber, that shouldn’t be a problem for you. It would also pay off to wipe down your blade whenever it gets dirty so you don’t end up with a mud-crusted cutting contraption. 

Hopefully you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or concerns (or just like typing), then be sure to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

8 thoughts on “How to Clean a Pocket Knife So It Shimmers

  1. A great article you have there!

    Many might not see the need to clean their knives especially when they don’t often use it. But cleaning it will increase the life span of the knife and prevent one from contacting germs when accidentally Peirced by the knife.

    The factors to consider when cleaning your knife and the step to follow stated in this article is really helpful especially how to revive a rusted knife. Thanks.

    1. Hi Lizzychris,

      I never thought about cleaning a knife to prevent cut infections, but that’s definitely a valid point. Of course, nobody would want to get cut in the first place, but better safe than sorry I guess. And, like you said, a clean knife will just last longer.

  2. Cleaning pocket knives can be a hassle. I’ve had cuts on my fingers trying to open the blade on one that was rusty. I should have used a glove but I did not bring one with me as I was in the woods. You did well explaining the steps on how to clean them. For utensil usage, I use olive oil or coconut oil to lubricate them. But they have to be stainless steel like you’ve explained.

    1. Yikes! Cutting yourself with a rusty blade is no joke. Chalk up one more point for a clean knife. Olive oil and coconut oil would definitely do the trick, but of course they don’t last as long as other lubricants.

  3. I so much love my Pocket knive, its always very useful to me  I remember the last time we had a little complication in the cab, the knives was 100 percent helpful and superb. Cleaning it is one thing I never really take serious which I never knew would have much  effects on my knives. I will surely follow these tips on how to sharpen my pocket knife. This article has been really helpful. Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Sheddy,

      I’m glad you found this article helpful. You never know when you’ll need a knife and it’s important that it’s in top shape when you do. Also, you can’t enjoy a shiny knife when the blade is smudged with gunk.

  4. It’s smart to take good care of these pocket knives so that they will last long into the future!

    I hadn’t considered that a pocket knife needs to be kept clean to work the best, but it does make sense that a dirty knife could be a dangerous knife. Thanks for breaking down the things to keep in mind as you figure out the best way and products to use to clean your pocket knife. 

    I appreciate the section on oil types and costs as well. Very helpful info.

    1. Hi Aly,

      I’m glad you found this post helpful! Anything with moving parts needs to be taken care of and a pocket knife is no exception. Oiling it is also important, but there are lots of oils that are expensive for no real reason. There are times when getting a name brand product just isn’t worth it.

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