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How To Clean Pocket Knives

How To Clean Pocket Knives

Cleaning Your Pocket Knife

No matter how the old saying goes, cleanliness is not, in fact, next to godliness. There are many virtues that outstrip superior sanitation, such as honesty, bravery, integrity — and being prepared for any practical or self-defense situation with a sharp, ready-to-go knife. Ah, but therein lies the proverbial rub. OTF knives offer numerous benefits to someone who wants to be ready for any eventuality, such as easy concealment, the simplicity of one-handed deployment, and superior safety. But many of an OTFs advantages won’t work as well (or simply won’t work at all) if the knife isn’t clean.

In this article, we will discuss the inherent drawbacks of carrying a dirty knife, what kind of supplies you should have on hand in order to clean your folding pocket knife or OTF, and specific cleaning steps you should follow.

Why OTFs Won't Function Optimally When Dirty

In *Wuthering Heights*, Emily Brontë’s tortured character Heathcliff intones, “I shall be as dirty as I please, and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty.” Although Brontë almost certainly had more in mind here than mere physical filth, the quote could very easily apply to the regular use of pocketknives in general and OTFs in particular. Blades have a troubling tendency to draw dirt, grit, lint, and rust to themselves. Some of this is simply part and parcel of using them, and sometimes even the chemical composition of an individual’s sweat can corrode, etch, rust, or dirty a blade. Other times it owes to the ways in which users carry them. Pants pockets and pouches in bags tend to collect bits of dirt and grime, and those tend to end up on and in your knives.

But dirt does more than just make an OTF unsightly. It can actively impede its proper functioning. Here’s how …

A dirty knife will rust faster. Even if you own a knife with a stainless-steel blade, don’t think that it’s immune to oxidation. Stainless steel resists rust, but if you fail to clean it regularly and properly, even it can become pitted and spotted. This can occur even when you’re not getting it properly wet.

 A dirty knife won’t open easily. Whether you’re using a classic folder or an OTF, accumulated dirt will make it more difficult to open. Gunk will clog joints, causing them to stick, and latches will fail to engage properly.

A dirty knife may have a duller edge. Suppose that you use your OTF to open box after box after box. If you don’t pause to clean it, the adhesive from packing tape may very well adhere to its cutting edge.

A dirty knife can cause infection or illness. Let’s imagine that you use your knife to cut an apple or prepare a meal or even dress out game. Then (God forbid) you retract the blade without pausing to clean it. Engaging in such tasks will necessarily dirty your OTF even if you do wipe it down, but failing to perform even a cursory cleaning may spread bacteria, infection, and illness.

A dirty knife won’t look as attractive. While this is an aesthetic consideration rather than an operational one, it still counts: Dirty blades often stain, rendering them less than presentable.

What Supplies Will You Need to Clean an OTF or Pocket Knife?

Hopefully the previous section convinced you that you need to clean your OTF. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of specialized equipment in order to remove gunk, and a few common supplies that you likely already have on hand should suffice. OTFs usually require one or two extra items that you won’t need with more common pocket knives, but they’re hardly exotic.

In order to clean any pocket knife, you should have the following:

  • A clean cotton cloth
  • A small, soft brush (e.g., a toothbrush)
  • Some sort of soap
  • A water source
  • Several toothpicks
  • Several swabs
  • An oil-based lubricant
  • A precision screwdriver
  • A small plastic container

If your OTF or pocket knife has begun to rust, you may also want to use a rust remover. Several effective removers include …

  • WD-40
  • Bar Keepers Friend
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • A potato
  • An onion
  • Lemon juice

While sharpening may not technically be part of cleaning a knife, it’s none the less an important step in maintaining it. So when you’re cleaning your OTF, you may want to have a knife-sharpening it or a set of whetstones with you as well.

How Do You Clean a Pocket Knife?

After you’ve selected a clear space where you want to clean your knife, begin by firing it. (We’re assuming that you’re trying to clean an OTF, but if you’re not, know that most of the steps will carry over.) That way you won’t experience any accidents when you open up its handle and remove its various parts for cleaning — which is the second step. As you unscrew the knife and disassemble it, place the small, easily lost parts like the screws, slide, and springs in your small plastic container.

Once you’ve opened your OTF, you should use your cloth, swabs, and toothpick to remove all lint, fuzz, grime, dirt, and general nastiness. Then you ought to gently scrub the blade with your brush and a little soap. If you have any rust that you need to deal with, now is the time to put to use any anti-rust agents; some sandpaper may help remove the larger rust spots. After wiping the components down and letting them air dry, it’s time to sharpen your blade. (Read our article about how you can sharpen your OTF.) Finally, apply a judicious amount of an oil-based lubricant and reassemble your knife.

Cleaning your OTF needn’t be an onerous task. However, it is an important one that you should engage in often if you want your knife to remain in top working order.

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