How to Clean a Knife Properly With 8 Important Tips

No one thinks that a Leatherman or a Swiss Army knife would have the need to be cleaned often and be looked after carefully, right? These are supposed to be robust pieces of machinery that are designed to withstand the strongest forces of nature! We shouldn’t have to read up about how to clean a knife. However, this is not the case and for the most part, it’s complete hogwash, so we’d advise you to stop that train of thought and learn the truth about these knives and about knives in general. There’s not a lot to it but let’s jump right to it.

Table of Contents

Our 8 Steps on How to Clean a Knife the Right Way

1. Locate Cleaning Utensils

First things first, we’re going to need a few useful tools to help with the cleaning process. There are tons of different things you can use when cleaning knives and depending on what type of knife it is, we might need to be able to choose a couple of different ones. A few of the cleaning tools we recommend are toothbrushes (preferably old ones, you probably shouldn’t take the one you’re using now), toothpicks, Q-tip, tissue paper, and a hand towel. These are not all of the things you can use but they are items that can be found around the house pretty easily.

2. Dust It Out

This is just an easy way of saying, “Get all the obvious junk out of the knife”. If you’re learning how to clean a chef knife then this would be necessary because you can just rinse the dirt off at the sink. This step refers mainly to pocket knives for learning how to clean a folding knife the right way. You don’t want to get that bad boy wet before getting out the lint stuck in the handle piece. This will make the knife hard to open and it’ll make the cleaning that much harder. We recommend blowing aggressively into the knife after opening it up and maybe even giving it a quick swab with a q-tip. Then you’re ready to move on.

3. Run It Under the Hot Tap

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Whichever knife it is that you are cleaning, dirt would have been gathering in and around all the cracks and holes for a while. Unless you do know how to clean a knife well, in which case, I’m not too sure why you’re still reading, but nonetheless, it takes regular cleaning to make a knife remain in tip-top shape always. It’s somewhat doubtful that anyone makes a regular practice out of cleaning knives, or maybe it’s their job; the point remains that knives will have gunk and dirt in the hardest to reach places and so you might want to run it under some hot water to loosen up some of that stubborn filth.

4. Get Your Detergent Working

One thing that most people gloss over when cleaning knives is detergent. This can be plain old soap or even a more specialized anti-rust something or other. The key thing here is to make sure that you aren’t just running it under some water and thinking that t’s a job well done because we’ve got news for you. Bacteria will continue to thrive in all of the crevices unless they are killed with some form of soap. This will also remove the odors that stain the knife. Grab your toothbrush and detergent or soap and get scrubbing, until the soap turns brown – showing you that a lot of dirt and bacteria has been removed.

5. Rinse and Toothpick It

After you’ve scrubbed it, most of the bacteria should’ve come out but of course, there’s still a lot more to do when mastering the art of cleaning. So you’re going to take a couple of toothpicks a let them sneak into those tiny gaps that were missed by the q-tip and the toothbrush. Unfortunately, this is the only way to reach those areas; yes it’s tedious but you need to do it if you want your knife to be sneaky clean and last longer. One thing to be careful of is to not push too hard with the toothpick otherwise it’ll break and a shard of wood might get stuck inside the knife.

6. For Knives With Lots of Tools

Some knives come loaded with functions galore like a Swiss Army knife. It’s not easy when figuring out how to clean a Swiss Army knife because of the many tools that it holds. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to cleaning knives like these, you’ve just got to do each tool. Open the knife up and pull out all the tools and perform steps one to five until you’re confident that all the dirt and muck is out. then you’re ready to go on.

7. Dry It Out

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After scrubbing it and tooth picking it, go ahead and give it a solid rinse until all the soap and excess dirt particles are gone. Then we’re going to dry it completely. Don’t leave it wet otherwise our good friend “rust” will find you and cause a whole world of other problems. You don’t want to take it apart either because this is an expert’s job and quite frankly, we just don’t trust ourselves to do it properly. Now we’re going to grab some paper towels and a hand cloth to wipe it down thoroughly – until there are no streaks or signs of moisture. Then we’ll leave it open, in a well-vented place, and let the air dry it the rest of the way.

8. Apply Some Lubricant

After drying is complete you’ll get some oil, preferably sewing machine oil, and apply it to the moving parts of the knife. If you have a knife that’s got a wooden handle then you’ll find after it’s dried it’ll look slightly parched or old, in which case you should get some wood polish and coat it a few times to restore the vibrant look. The tools and joints inside the knife should be oiled slightly, not excessive but just right. We’d recommend one drop per joint side. Then open and close the tools a couple of times to let the lubricant oil spread nicely and you’re ready to go.


Now that that’s all done it’s worth saying that we’re glad you’re still reading because you do want to take good care of your equipment. It’s safe to say that countless tools and knives hit the bottom of the trash can far too soon. Tools can in fact last a lifetime if they’re treated well, and it starts with learning how to clean a knife in the best possible way. If you clean them well and do it regularly, you won’t have any problems, and you’ll likely save yourself quite a bit of dough every year. These techniques can be used on any type of metallic tool so don’t be shy and try it out on some of your other big toys.

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