Keeping your pocket knife both sharp and clean are essential for maximizing the lifespan of your knife. More importantly, keeping a clean sharp knife is essential for safety. A dull and dirty knife can be difficult to use and can result in unsafe practices in order to make the desired cuts. Similarly, when a knife is dirty, the pivot and lock can be obstructed causing improper locking of the blade when in an open position thus creating a dangerous situation. Whether you are attempting to clean a traditional Swiss Army Knife or multi-tool or you want to clean a single bladed pocket knife, having a clean and sharp tool is essential.
For more tips on sharpening your pocket knife, read How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife.
Prepare yourself with a few simple cleaning supplies from around the house, such as:
-A small brush (an old toothbrush works great)
-Lubricant (mineral oil, sewing machine oil or gun oil)
-Mild soap and warm water
In most cases it should not matter if you have a wooden, metal or plastic handled knife. Later we address extra precautions to care for a wooden handle in order to prevent any cracking of the wood and for the best finish. We are also assuming we are cleaning regular grime and gunk, not removing rust, though this is specifically addressed at the bottom.
Toothpick out the lint and other gunk first!
For both a single bladed knife and a multi-tool style knife, begin by opening the knife and carefully using a few toothpicks to remove any lint or gunk trapped within the handle. Sometimes, if the locking mechanism is not working properly, this may be sufficient to restore a proper action of the lock. It is best to begin with a dry knife so the material does not become wet and stuck, becoming more difficult to clean out.
Rinse it and scrub it down!
Once you have picked and scraped out any grime using the toothpicks, you will want to move to the sink. Run the knife under some warm water, flushing the inside portions of the handle. Use a small drop of a mild soap on your brush and carefully, but thoroughly, scrub down the entire knife. It is extremely important to pay close attention to the lock mechanism at this point, as you want to be sure to remove any dirt, sand, or crud from around the lock in order to prevent a safe and secure catch when in the open position. Use the brush to scrub down the entire blade and handle as well.
Clean each tool individually, then clean the inside.
If you are cleaning a multi-tool or Swiss Army style tool, we recommend beginning the scrubbing process by opening a single tool at a time. Work through the different tools one by one, opening, scrubbing, and then closing them. Once you have cleaned each tool, we prefer to carefully open them all and again scrub and clean the tools and more importantly, the inside of the body. This is where the q-tips come in handy, you can use them to clean out the inside area, getting into corners and grooves. Rinse the knife thoroughly and then carefully dry it with a towel.
Dry the entire tool thoroughly! Let it fully air dry!
Do not disassemble your knife to clean the insides, as this will void the warranty provided by most companies. If you have a serious problem with your tool, most companies have excellent warranties and will fix your tool if you mail it back to them. In fact, most of the time if you mail it back, they will fix it, clean and professionally sharpen the blade. Not a bad deal!
Lube it up! But do it sparingly!
Once the knife is thoroughly dried, you are ready to lubricate the pivot, blade and any moving parts. There are several options of lubricant that you can use; most are petroleum based products that are the same as any lube you might use for a sewing machine or as gun oil. While these may work the best, if your knife is also an eating utensil, you may want to consider a food safe lube. Again, there are several options of food safe lubricants; we prefer mineral oil, though in a pinch, you could use vegetable oil as well.
Wipe it all down
Apply the lubricant sparingly, dabbing it onto the hinges and moving parts. Don't use too much, a little goes a long way here. Use the paper towels to wipe off any excess oil from the surface. It is a good idea at this point to wipe down the blade, tools, and the handle in order to prevent any future rusting. Even if your tool is stainless steel, in the right conditions, or with improper storage, even stainless steel can rust; but, there is no need to go crazy, a small amount will be sufficient.
At this point, if you have a wooden handled knife, it will be especially important to wipe the handle down with some sort of oil; mineral oil is a perfect option, though linseed oil is also preferred by many craftsmen for finishing woodwork. There are several food grade products available that would be great options for a wooden handle.
Lets face it, cleaning your knife is not a difficult process, but it is a very important one. Properly caring for your tool not only ensures it will function properly, but it will also help you maintain a higher level of safety.
What about rust?
If your blade suffers from rust, you will need to determine how badly it is rusted and how much effort you want to invest in saving it. Rust, or iron oxide, begins on the surface of iron or steel. However, with sufficient time that rust will begin to move inwards and corrode the metal, causing pitting and ultimately, the complete deterioration of the blade. If the rust seems to be just a thin layer on the surface, then you will likely have great results.
Begin by cleaning the knife as described above. Again, be sure to thoroughly dry the entire tool, as moisture is the root of the problem, to begin with.
There are several products on the market that help with rust removal and are designed specifically for knives. We recommend Metal Glo in combination with a green scrubber pad, the sort you use in the kitchen. Apply the Metal Glo directly to the blade or to the scrubber, and massage it in. When done, wash the knife again, thoroughly dry and air dry it, and you should be ready to use it. Another tool that works well for removing light rust is something like the Rust Eraser - this is a great tool for quickly and easily removing light rust.
As long as your blade is not severely rusted, to the point that the metal is pitted, corroded or damaged, this should work well. It may take a few tries to remove all the rust; if it is fairly bad, be patient and give it some time.
Need a new knife?
Check out the Best Pocket Knife to compare all of the models that we tested. For more in-depth information about buying one that suits your needs, read How to Choose a Pocket Knife. For more tips on sharpening, read How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife.