Cleaning your pocket knife is a sacrament that allows you to connect with each groove, screw,  and blade on an intimate level. Time-consuming? Sure. But it is a critical ritual that keeps your pocket knife as lustrous as the day you first bought it. More than a functional day-to-day tool, pocket knives are heirlooms that can be passed down for generations. Pass along a knife you can be proud to wield and display with proper knife maintenance practices.

Battling the Elements

Cleaning Your Dirty Knife

When you invest in a luxury pocket knife, it is up to you to help maintain its pristine sheen. From opening packages to whittling a work of art, pocket knives are functional and stylish tools that come in handy in a bind. However, everyday use can get your pocket knife dirty. Even just sticking your knife in your pocket can attract lint to its most sensitive components.

If any dirt or debris accumulates in the pivot or locking mechanism, your pocket knives’ function will be severely limited. Any dirt or grime on the pivot can make it harder to open and close the blade. Any debris in the lock can prevent you from keeping your knife locked open or closed. Without proper closure, you increase your risk of injury.

In addition, you must battle the elements which can degrade the individual components of your knife, even its most Hardy and resilient ones made of stainless steel. Prolonged exposure to water, sweat, and high humidity can lead to rust on your blade. Consider the types of materials from your springs, bolts, screws, and locks when cleaning your knife.

It is safe to say, the cards are stacked against you, especially if you do not take the time to learn how to clean a pocket knife. Regular cleaning, maintenance, and lubrication can make sure your tool retains its original form and function.

So, how do you know when your knife needs cleaning? Usually, it will look visibly dirty with dirt, mud, and other gunk on its surface. However, there are instances where you cannot visibly see the debris, but your knife functions poorly. If your knife does not open and close smoothly or it is showing visible signs of rust, it is a good idea to give it a deep clean.

General Cleaning

Cleaning Essentials

  • Old toothbrush
  • Cotton swab (q tip)
  • Toothpick
  • Lubricant/mineral oil
  • Dish soap
  • Water
  • Paper towel/microfiber cloth
  • Compressed air (optional)

For everyday cleaning, wipe down your pocket knife with a dry or slightly moist lint-free cloth, paper towel, or rag after every use. Dirt, in particular, should be wiped down immediately after use. If left to dry, mud on the blade or inside the handle can Harden over time and cause scratches and wear on your moving parts.

Safety tip: Wear protective gloves when you are cleaning your pocket knife with the blade open. In addition, wipe the blade with your palm on the spine side to avoid any nicks or cuts.

Serious Cleaning

If your blade is showing a little extra dirt and wear, you can gently remove the debris using an old toothbrush with soft bristles to get into every nook and cranny on your knife. From the engraved patterns to the exquisite inlays and screws, debris is bound to end up in these open crevices. It is up to you to give your folding knife the proper care it deserves.

Scrub away dirt from your locking mechanism, inside the handle, and around the blade pivot. For stubborn dirt that cannot easily be removed, apply a few drops of 3-in-1 oil on your toothbrush, rag, or towel. If you are experiencing trouble opening and closing your locking mechanism, cleaning inside the handle can solve the issue.

It is always best to clean inside the handle when it is dry. Removing lint when wet is basically impossible. Sticking a flat-tip object inside a wet handle can potentially move it deeper into hard-to-reach places and negatively affect the function of your knife.

Pro tip: If your toothbrush cannot clean inside the handle, use a dry q tip, toothpick, or a small and thin paintbrush to wipe away the inner debris. For more high-powered cleaning, use a high-pressure can of compressed air to literally blow away the caked-on debris in hard-to-reach places.

Wash and Rinse

Generally, it is not recommended to let your pocket knife remain wet for extended periods of time. When dealing with extremely hard-to-remove dirt and mud, soap and water may be the only saving grace for your pocket knife’s original sheen.

Keep in mind, you want to thoroughly clean the knife, but you do not want to scrub it so hard that you tarnish its polish. It is a good idea to use a soft bristle toothbrush and the soft side of the sponge when washing your pocket knife with soapy water.

Run the knife under warm water or wash it in a container/bowl with warm water and a mild dish soap solution. Completely submerging the handle in water is safe for most materials, except for wood and a few other sensitive materials. A drop or two of soap is all you need to clean the entire knife.

Pay attention to the locking mechanism, inside the handle, and around the blade pivot. Feel free to use a cotton swab to get deep inside your handle. If a cotton swab is too big to fit in the handle’s small opening, you can flatten the swab’s tip with a hammer or other heavy tool to help it go through.

Safety tip: When washing your knife, the suds may not make the sharp part of your blade visible. If needed, place some tape around the edge of your knife to prevent any cuts, especially when dealing with slippery soap.

Deep Soak

Generally, it is not recommended to get your pocket knife wet, especially for extended periods of time. However, for the practically glued-on gunk, you can completely submerge your pocket knife in a container/bowl of warm water and soap if the blade’s materials can get wet. This is not the case for wood, abalone, mother-of-pearl, or some synthetic materials. Steel and titanium can be soaked in dish soap and water.

Make sure you do not leave your pocket knife in the water for too long and that your water temperatures are significantly below boiling levels. If the residue still will not get off, it is time to bring out the big guns.

Extra Tough

For spots that just will not go away, a little bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab or rag is a good way to clean the caked-on and sticky debris such as tree sap. While alcohol evaporates pretty quickly, it is recommended to immediately rinse your knife after you clean it with rubbing alcohol.

Keep It Together

If you are getting impatient with the dirt and debris stuck inside the handle, do not be tempted to disassemble your knives for a deep clean. Breaking apart your knife usually voids any warranty you may have. If you truly want professional-grade cleaning, get in touch with the pocket knife manufacturer and inquire about their cleaning and maintenance services.

Let It Dry

Leaving your knife wet for extended periods of time can cause excessive wear and rust on your blade. When you wash your knife in soap and water, it is best practice to let your pocket knife dry completely. Do not get impatient and use your knife before every last drop has evaporated from its surface. Any trapped moisture can cause corrosion and affect the opening and closing of your handle, especially if it is made of wood and other sensitive materials.


Once your pocket knife is completely dry, you can apply a thin coat of oil on the blade, pivot, and any moving parts. Avoid getting oil on the handle since it can adhere easily and make it slippery. You can choose from a variety of lubricants available, although most are petroleum-based. Common lubricant choices can also be used on firearms, sewing machines, door hinges, and other moving parts.

Some users have noticed that wet lubricant easily attracts grit, pocket-lint, and hair. If this is the case, dry lubricants, commonly teflon-based, avoid attracting lint. They are available in aerosol cans or grease tubes and dry on your knife’s surface for the ultimate protection. If you will be using your knife for cooking, invest in a food-safe oil. Consider mineral oil or vegetable oil.

How to Oil Your Blade

Most importantly, do not overdo it on the oil. Use considerably less product than you think you may need. If you use more, it may be hard and time-consuming to remove. However, if you use a small amount, you can incrementally add more to your liking. Wet lubricants only require at most a couple of drops. If you have a dry aerosol lubricant, a single light spray is enough.

When oiling your parts, one area to focus on is the pivot. Apply a small bit of lubricant and cycle the blade (open and close) to work it inside. Oil usually has an application device, but you can also use a toothpick to apply it. Some knife users have had good results with using a 1cc medical syringe for precise application.

How Often?

When to oil? The answer to this question varies based on the frequency of use and how often you clean it. Generally, a knife should be oiled after every cleaning. If your knife is in a storage compartment and not being used, oiling it every two to three months should be enough. If you will be placing it in storage for a while, make sure to lubricate it first. Finally, if you are in an area near saltwater or high humidity, it may need more frequent oil application.

Wipe It Down

When you have scrubbed, rinsed, dried, and oiled the blade, give it a final wipe down. A final wipe ensures you have not used too much oil on the blade. You can use paper towels or a soft microfiber cloth to wipe off the excess oil from the blade’s surface. Wiping off any extra oil can reduce the risk of rusting. Even high-quality stainless steel is prone to rust without proper care.

Storage for Longevity

Improper storage practices can negatively affect the look and function of your knives. Many pocket knives come with a snug sheath where you can carry around your blades. However, when you are done using them and return home, it is critical that you give your blades a cursory wipe and store in an open and dry case or drawer. If you leave your knives inside the sheath indoors,  it is more likely to attract moisture and lead to rust. Check out our blog resource on how to display your pocket knife.

Rust In Peace

How to Clean a Dirty Knife

Addressing rust is a whole separate beast. Over time, moisture can develop rust on the blade. But fret not, just because there is a little rust on it does not mean it is completely useless. Rust usually just affects the surface. If you catch it early, it will not do any permanent damage to your blades. However, if you wait to clean the rust, it can cause pitting in the blade, rendering it useless. For a rust-free blade, follow our pro tips on how to remove rust.

Maintain a Sharp Blade

A big part of keeping and maintaining your pocket knives in working order is the sharpening process. Sharpening blades can be done in a variety of ways. Generally, knife sharpeners come in a range of coarse and fine surfaces. Sharpening your own blade can help you connect with your tool but requires a careful hand. If you absolutely do not trust yourself, go with a professional sharpening service to get the job done to avoid damaging your knives. Check out our blog resource on how to sharpen a blade for a detailed rundown of the process.

Upgrade In Style

If your pocket knife is too old and there is no way of resuscitating its original appeal, it may be time to upgrade your tool with a new and improved knife model. William Henry offers heirloom-quality pieces with an edge. Made from exotic and sustainably-sourced materials, each pocket knife appeals to a bolder and more daring side of ourselves.