How to Clean a Pocket Knife: A Detailed Guide

How to Clean a Pocket Knife -
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You probably know that a dull knife is a dangerous knife, but did you know that a dirty knife is equally dangerous? A pocket knife has moving parts, and its function can be hampered by pocket lint or rust gathered around the locking area or pivot.

Dirt on the pivot makes it more difficult to open, while dirt around the locking area keeps the knife from opening or closing completely. Both of these things could cause serious injury to you and permanently damage your pocket knife. Cleaning the knife is essential to keeping it in proper working condition. Even stainless steel runs the risk of rusting depending on what it has been exposed to.

Learn how to clean a pocket knife below.

Cleaning the Knife

When cleaning, you should focus on the blade, the pivot and the locking surface, which is where most dirt accumulates. Pocket-lint is likely to adhere to the corners and edges, but you can remove it using a toothpick, Q-tip (cotton swab), screwdriver, or any other probe.


To remove grit, sand, and grime, you should wash the knife in warm, soapy water (with a mild liquid detergent like dishwashing fluid) using a soft-bristled brush (an old toothbrush works perfectly). Brush down the entire knife (wear gloves to protect yourself from cuts), paying close attention to the blade, edges and handle scales. Make sure to rinse it well to remove all traces of soap.

Usually, these steps are enough to restore your knife to its original color and luster. If, however, you still have some stubborn grime and dirt after cleaning as above, try to soak the knife in warm soapy water for a half-hour to loosen the grime. Be careful of soaking if your handles are made from natural materials like abalone, wood, or mother-of-pearl. Even synthetic knife handles will be damaged if left in water for too long. The water should be warm as hot water can damage the knife.

If, after cleaning, the knife is still gritty or gets stuck when opening or closing, you’ll need to disassemble the knife for more thorough cleaning. You will need special tools, and the process varies according to the knife you’re using. Most manufacturers will void your warranty for disassembling the knife, though. Contact your manufacturer for a thorough cleaning service if your warranty is still active.


To dry the knife, shake to remove excess water and wipe off excess water with a clean lint-free microfiber cloth. Allow the knife to air-dry completely before moving to lubrication. You’ll need longer drying time if you soaked the knife. Lubricating the knife without allowing adequate drying time may leave it susceptible to corrosion.

Lubricating the Knife

Your pocket knife has moving parts that are prone to friction. Friction makes it harder to open and close your knife, which is why regular lubrication is necessary. You’ll want to lubricate the moving surfaces – primarily the locking surfaces, the slides, and the pivot.

Choosing the Lubricant

Ideally, you should use wet, petroleum-based lubricants, equivalent to gun or sewing machine lubricants. However, if you use your knife to cut foodstuffs, be sure to use food-safe lubricants such as food-grade mineral oil or any vegetable oil. Some vegetable oils aren’t stable in air, and risk going rancid – it’s best to use food-safe mineral oils like woodblock oil.

You can also use dry lubricants, which have the advantage of attracting less pocket lint. These are usually Teflon-based (PTFE) lubricants that come with aerosol spray cans or grease tubes. They dry onto the surface of the knife to leave a protective film of lubrication.

Applying the Lubricant

A little goes a long way with knife lubrication – you don’t want any excess oil spilling into the warm environment of your pocket. Apply one or two drops to the pivot and then start rotating the blade to work the lubricant into the pivot area. If you have a lock-back or mid-lock knife, target your blade’s tang at the spot where the blade attaches to the lock bar.

If your knife is made from high-carbon steel, apply a preventive lubricant coating to the blade and wipe down to leave a thin film. This prevents rust, and it is a crucial maintenance step if you use it in places with high humidity or around water. If you have liner locks, apply the lubricant to the underside, ensuring that it reaches the locking faces and works into the pivot.

Maintaining Your Pocket Knife

Clean your pocket knives regularly if you have high-carbon or true-carbon knives to prevent rusting. You should clean your pocket knife at least once a month, but more often if you live in high-humidity regions or you use the knife often. Clean it every time you use it to cut anything exceptionally dirty or sticky.

For knives with wooden or natural-material handles, you can keep the handle in good shape by rubbing them down with wood polish or using a finishing oil like Linseed oil or Danish oil.

Finally, keep your knife sharp – a dull knife is a dangerous knife. You’ll use a lot more force to make a cut, and this increases your risk of injury. Sharpen your knife often using a honing stone, so that you never need to re-profile the blade.

Store your knife is a cool and dry place, with the blade locked in properly to avoid injury. Keep away from moisture, and always allow to air-dry and then lubricate should the knife come into contact with moisture.


Knowing how to clean a pocket knife is as easy as washing it with warm water and soap at least monthly – more often depending on how dirty it looks. The same rules apply to knives as to other equipment – half the job of proper maintenance is simply keeping the tool clean. Cleaning regularly makes your job easy every time you’re due for a clean.

To conclude, keep your knife in tip-top shape by only using it for the intended purpose – avoid using your knife like a screwdriver or using a hammer on it. Doing this would damage the blade and make your blade useless.

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