Rust is that reddish-brown nemesis of metal, that crusty, flaky coating of corrosion and oxidation that can dampen the luster of your blade. Rust is an iron oxide, a reaction with the oxygen, air, water, and moisture in the environment. Stainless steel may sound like it is completely indestructible, but that is not the case. Steel pocket knives can still get rust spots if you are not careful. The rust can make the blade hard to maneuver and practically ineffective, not to mention possible illness if you cut yourself on that rusty blade.

Rusted metal does not have to be a death sentence for your knives. You can salvage them and they can go on to live a happy life in your display case or pocket. A pocket knife is an accessory, a testament to yourself. No matter how much you care for your pocket knife, rust is very common. But, do not fret. Cleaning and removing rust from pocket knives need not be an expensive task. There is a wide range of methods to remove rust, from household ingredients to specialty products to plain old elbow grease. It is easier than ever to remove rust and keep your knives in pristine condition. Do not forget your protective gloves, now let us get to work!

Pocket Knife on a Log

Household Ways to Remove Rust

Pocket knife cleaning does not always have to involve harsh chemicals, heavy machinery, and expensive equipment. You can get rid of rusted spots by using common household ingredients such as baking soda, steel wool, dish soap, lemon juice, even a potato. Needless to say, there are many methods to remove the rust from a pocket knife. You do not need to go to the store. You might be surprised with some of the items you already have in your house. We will share a few methods to try so you can create your very own homemade rust remover with household items. For most of these options, you can do another round if the first round did not clean the rust sufficiently.

White Vinegar

Drop white vinegar onto a clean rag, sponge, cloth or towel and then apply it directly to the pocket knife blade. You can even use an old toothbrush. Distilled white vinegar is a household favorite, your neighbor probably has a five-pound jug of the stuff in their pantry. Soak your knife in white vinegar and allow some time for it to sit and get to work. If it is highly rusty, leave the pocket knife in the concoction longer. Then, scrub it with a sponge to remove rust. The acetic acid in the vinegar is a powerful rust remover. This is a super affordable way to remove the rust from your pocket knife if you are on a budget. You can add some dish soap to the vinegar for extra tough rust spots. You can also try regular vinegar but white vinegar works best.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is not just for cookies. Due to its leavening properties, baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, produces carbon dioxide which causes something like bread dough to rise. It has a somewhat similar reaction when you use it to remove rust from a pocket knife. That said, baking powder is not the same as baking soda and will not have the same reaction.

Start by making a paste with water and baking soda. Make a paste by mixing one tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water to form a paste. You do not want it to be watery, though. Keep a close eye, drop by drop, until the paste forms. It should be a thick paste or else it might just slide off your knives if it is too liquidy. Apply the paste onto your metal. Scrub the homemade baking soda paste on your blade then rinse. You will see a clear difference afterward.

Steel Wool

If you have a particularly rusty knife, a steel wool pad or wire brush might do the trick. Abrasive tools like steel wool are rougher than a standard sponge, ideal for tough rust spots. For stubborn rust, feel free to apply a touch of the baking soda paste to the steel wool or wire brush. Leave the concoction on rusted blades for a few minutes then scrub and rinse off. Much like stainless steel, the steel wool itself can get rusty so you have to watch out for that. Shake it dry after each use. If it is too rusty, toss the steel wool and replace it with a new one or a wire brush.

Raw Potato

That old potato you forgot about in your pantry might serve a purpose other than in the kitchen. Potatoes contain oxalic acid. Whoa, potatoes have acid?! The world is a strange place, is not it? Find oxalic acid in many plants such as vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds. Oxalic acid is often used to remove tarnish, ink stains, and, you guessed it, rust stains too.

Cut the potato in half and rub it on the blade of your knife. If the raw potato itself does not seem to be cutting it, add dish soap or baking soda into the mix. The baking soda acts as an abrasive. This should give the potato’s oxalic acid added rust-removing strength. The potato method is kind of like a science experiment; let your kids watch the magic too.

Salt and Lemon

You might recognize salt and lemon as the dynamic duo to complement your tequila shots but you can also use it to clean off rusty blades. Again, acid serves as the primary agent here. The acid in lemon acts as a natural bleach and cleaning agent. Pour the lemon juice and salt onto your blade and let it sit. Spread some salt on the blade to act as an exfoliating abrasive, then scrub. The lemon juice’s acid works to dissolve the rust while the salt scrapes it off. You may use limes if you have that instead of lemon. Cleaning your blade has never been so easy.


WD-40 is a household name for squeaky doors but it can also be used as a rust removal treatment. It might be your go-to method. All you have to do is spray your pocket knife blade with WD-40, leave it for 10 minutes, then scrub it with a wire brush and it will be almost like new.

The WD-40 is designed to loosen the bonds between the metal surface and the rust. Plus, it acts as a protectant for your knife after the cleaning process. It will help clean the blade, reduce friction, and protect the metal from corrosion. When in doubt on how to remove rust, do not forget about WD-40. The brand also has a specific rust remover soak that you can buy. It is non-irritating to the skin without toxic fumes. Simply leave the blade in the solution for a couple of hours or overnight if particularly rusted.

Other Ways to Bust the Rust From a Pocket Knife

Whether you are looking for something heavy-duty or you just do not have the household ingredients at home, there are plenty of products to help you remove rust. You can either find them online or somewhere local to you. Apply these tips to make the most of your blade.

Rust Remover

The homemade options with dish soap or vinegar are less abrasive than store-bought. If all else fails, you can purchase a rust remover for your knife, specifically designed to speed up the cleaning process for rusty metal. These are formulated to be safe for knives, silverware, etc. You can place the rusty blade into the rust remover to soak. For light rust, you can spray or wipe the remover onto the blades. There are a number of these rust remover products on the market.

Consult the directions on the product to make sure you use the proper amount and soak for the correct period of time to fully work, as they are different. Some require water dilution whereas others are formulated to be used right out of the jug. For some removers, they recommend cleaning your knife blade to remove oil or grease before you start the soaking process. You can find a lot of these available on Amazon or other online retailers. Pricing can range from around $10 per quart to $30+ per gallon.

How Much Rust Is Too Much?

You also have to make sure to consider the amount of rust damage to the knife. Are you fully restoring a rusty 100-year-old pocket knife you found at the flea market that is completely encrusted with layers of rust? Are you touching up some light rust spots on your favorite blade? If your pocket knife is particularly rusted, you might have to scrape away at the initial layer or do the first wipe down before moving on to a deeper clean.

Rusted Pocket Knife


Regardless of which method you use, vinegar, baking soda, or potato, there are aftercare steps to consider. Do not plop your knife in the dishwasher out of convenience. It needs a bit more attention than that. Wipe down the tool with dish soap and water. Once you clean the rust from your knife, rinse it with water to clean the soapy water and debris off. Wipe the blade and dry the knife with a soft cloth to make sure you prevent rust from forming during the drying process. You also want to check that the blade is still sharp. If not, refer to our post about how to sharpen your pocket knife blade.

Rust Prevention

The best way to clean rust from your knife is to prevent it from forming in the first place. There are a couple of best practices to consider and lengthen the life of your blade’s metal. It all starts with proper care and maintenance. Store your pocket knives in a designated area so they are not left out to be at the mercy of the elements: condensation, rain, snow, water, hot summer days.

In a low humidity environment, a beautiful knife display case can showcase your blade in all its glory while keeping it safe from any unforgiving environment. Storing your knife in a leather sheath for an extended period of time can transfer its absorbed moisture onto the blade.

Clean or rinse your knife and dry it with a soft cloth. Give it a quick wipe down after every use. Depending on the type of steel your knife is made of, you could even use mineral oil to oil your knife down before putting it away. Oiling the blades leaves a protective layer on carbon steel knives and is an important part to defend against rust and corrosion.

Removing rust from your knife blades just got easier. We hope these cleaning tips can teach you how to remove rust and clean your knives. Nowadays, there are many affordable options to remove rust. Dish soap, lemon juice, salt, and or a potato are among the most popular and common ways to remove rust. They really work too! If you tried a method that did not help remove rust from your knife, try again or work your way down the list. These are tried and true methods to clean a pocket knife.

It is completely possible to walk away with a practically brand-new looking knife after the rust removal process. The products on the market, in addition to some household hacks, can be a miracle worker on that rusty red blade and bring it back to its glory days.