How To Clean A Pocket Knife


A pocket knife is an essential tool for any camper or backpacker and serves a variety of purposes in the outdoors. From slicing food to trimming twigs for kindling and even self-protection, a pocket knife can be an outdoorsman’s best friend and is an important part of their survival gear and tools. However, a pocket knife will only serve its purpose if it’s clean and sharp. That’s why it’s important to take proper care of it, and this includes knowing how to clean a pocket knife properly and thoroughly.

Cleaning a pocket knife takes some effort, but it really isn’t all that difficult. The process can be a little trickier for pocket knives with wooden handles and those that have developed rust, but we’ll discuss that in detail later in this article.

1. Collect Your Cleaning Items

To clean your pocket knife, you’re going to need the following items, all (or at least most) of which can be found right around your house.

  • An old toothbrush
  • Round toothpicks
  • Cotton buds or Q-tips
  • Mild detergent or dishwashing liquid
  • Rag or paper towels
  • Lubricant (you can use a sewing machine oil, mineral oil, etc.)

2. Remove the Lint and Gunk

Your pocket knife is bound to accumulate lint and gunk over time, particularly around the pivot screw, the sleeve (where the blade hides when the knife is closed), and in the grooves between the handle grips and the handle body. Sometimes, when a knife has trouble opening or closing, the problem is usually caused by lint and gunk getting stuck in the pivot screws so cleaning them out should solve the problem.

It is recommended that you use a round toothpick instead of a flat one to pry the lint and gunk out. Round toothpicks have pointier ends than flat toothpicks and don’t break easily. Also, be sure to do this with a dry knife. Wetting the lint and gunk sometimes makes them harder to cleanout.

3. Rinse the Knife

After removing the lint and gunk, go to a sink and rinse the knife using warm water. Make sure that you run the warm water inside the sleeve as well to flush out loose lint, gunk, and dirt.

4. Scrub the Knife

Put a drop of mild detergent on the toothbrush (don’t put the detergent directly on the knife), and then gently scrub the entire knife with it. Start with the blade including the spine, and work your way to the handle. Be sure to scrub every edge and groove and to remove any crud, dirt, or sand. You can use cotton buds to clean the inside of the handle and the hard-to-reach corners there.

Be careful when handling the knife as you brush it. It may slip from your hands and you’ll end up cutting yourself.

5. Wash the Knife

After scrubbing the knife and you’re satisfied that you’ve cleaned out every dirt and debris from the blade, handle and other parts, then it’s time to rinse and wash away the soap. You’ll want to use warm water because this is much more effective when it comes to removing oils and soap residue than cold water. Also, don’t just run the knife under flowing water. Instead, gently rub the knife with your fingers or a towel to ensure that you remove all the oils and soap residue.

6. Dry the Knife

Once you get all the oils and soap residue out, dry your pocket knife using a dry rag or paper towels. Be sure that you wipe away all droplets of water from the blade, otherwise they will leave some unsightly watermarks. You can also use some of the cotton buds to clean the blade sleeve since this area will be difficult to reach with a rag or paper towel.

You must get all traces of moisture out to keep your pocket knife from developing rust. Also, be very careful when drying your knife to prevent cutting your fingers.

After wiping your pocket knife dry, leave it open and let it air dry for a few minutes or until you’re satisfied that it has fully dried.

7. Lube the Knife

Check that the knife is fully dried before applying lubricant to it. There are some knife-specific lubricating products sold in the market, but you can also use sewing machine oil, gun oil, or other similar items instead. Apply the lubricant to the pivot screw, the blade, and other moving parts of your pocket knife.

Use the lubricant sparingly because a small amount can go a long way. Using too much will also make the knife too oily and slippery even days after you clean your pocket knife.

8. Wipe it all down

Once you lubed the blade and all the moving parts, wipe away any excess oils using a dry rag or a paper towel.

Dealing with Rust


Just because your pocket knife is made from stainless steel doesn’t mean that it won’t rust. As the name suggests, it’s “stainless” not “stain-proof”. It will rust much less frequently and less severely than iron, but it will still develop rust when not cared for properly. Rust begins on the surface of the pocket knife and works its way inwards. From there it corrodes the metal and will ultimately lead to the deterioration of the blade.

If your pocket knife has developed rust, you’ll first want to check how severely rusted the metal is. If the rust appears to be a thin layer on the metal’s surface, then you should be able to easily remove the rust and still have a great looking pocket knife afterward. If the rusting is so severe that it has started eating through the metal, then you may want to consider putting it away and getting yourself a brand new pocket knife.

IF the rusting is just light, then you can use those rust removal products being sold in the market. Be careful to read the instructions and follow them to get the most out of it. Depending on how severe the rusting is, it may take a few tries before you get the rust out completely. Be patient though and give it some time.

After you’ve gotten all the rust out, clean and wipe your pocket knife. Be sure to thoroughly dry your knife because you don’t want to leave any bit of moisture considering that it is how rusting begins in the first place.

Wooden Handle Knives

Some of the prettiest pocket knives have wooden handles, and if you have such a knife then you’ll want to put extra effort into taking care of it. For one, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t soak the handles in water regardless of how dirty it is. Excessive moisture will cause your wooden handles to warp and crack, and even lead to the development of wood rot. Also, you’ll want to wipe the wooden handles with mineral oil or linseed oil. Doing so gives it extra protection against moisture. It also keeps your wooden handles shiny and looking great.

Taking Your Pocket Knife Apart

As much as possible, avoid taking your pocket knife apart when cleaning it. Some people think that they need to do so to properly clean their pocket knives, and though this may be true to some degree, it comes with several consequences that may end up doing more harm than good to your pocket knives.

For one, it may void the warranty that came with the pocket knife when you purchased it. Some pocket knife manufacturers are fairly strict concerning taking apart their products, especially when it’s not done by certified personnel. Second, you may have trouble putting the knife back together after taking it apart. Everyone knows that it is much easier to take apart things than to put them back together. Besides, some pocket knives will require specialized tools to dismantle and build.

If you really think that you’re pocket knife needs to be dismantled, check your warranty documents first. Some pocket knives manufacturer has excellent warranties and will gladly fix your pocket knife for you if you send it back to them. They will take the knife apart, clean every part thoroughly, and even sharpen the blade before sending it back to you.

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A pocket knife is an important tool that every camper or backpacker should have. Sure, your multi-tool may come with a knife, but it is sometimes recommended that you bring a separate pocket knife all the same. More important than having a pocket knife though is knowing how to take care of it, and it all starts with knowing how to clean a pocket knife. Cleaning a pocket knife may sound tedious, but it actually isn’t. And all the effort you put into doing so will definitely be more than worth it. As with any other tool, take care of your pocket knife and it will take care of you.

More Camping Reviews:


  1. How to Clean and Maintain a Pocket Knife, Gear Patrol
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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!