How-To: Cleaning a really dirty pocketknife

2nd Oct 2015


Cleaning a really dirty pocketknife

Maybe it got left out in the rain overnight. Or perhaps you took it along on a hunt and forgot to clean it up afterward. However it happened, your pocketknife is all gummed-up.

The good news is that it's relatively easy to put it right, and here's how.

  1. Fill a large plastic bowl with hot water (out of the tap, not boiling) and mild dishwashing soap.
  2. Open your knife (all of the blades) and immerse it in the soapy water. Swish the knife around and carefully move the blades back and forth, open and closed. You want to work the soap solution into the pivots and the contact surfaces between the backsprings.
  3. After about a minute, remove the knife from the soapy water and hold it under hot running water. Carefully open and close the blades while you're doing this, making sure to rinse away all of the soap residue.
  4. Right away (and we mean right away), dry the knife thoroughly (and we mean thoroughly). Use canned compressed air and a soft cloth (not paper towels or tissues). Be sure to work the blades back and forth to force moisture out of the pivots and backsprings.
  5. After you're sure that your knife is completely dry, apply your preferred lubricant to the pivots. (Almost any light machine oil will do, but we recommend Benchmade BlueLube.) It's also a good idea to apply a small amount of lube to the backsprings and liners, inside the knife.
  6. Open and close the blades a few times to work the lube into the pivots, making sure that it gets between the backsprings and liners as well. The lubricant will help displace remaining moisture.
  7. Pay attention to your knife over the following few days to confirm that the blades continue to move freely. Reapply your favorite lube as necessary, but resist the urge to over-lubricate. (Excess lube will just attract more dirt.)

Here are a few other tips that may help.

  • If your pocketknife was dirty enough to require a thorough cleaning, there's a good chance that it was dull as well. After the cleanup is finished, take the time to perform a proper sharpening job on all of the blades.
  • Don't let your knife soak in the soapy water for any length of time. (The same goes for any other cleaning solution.) It may darken the scales (handle materials) or, if they're wood, cause them to swell.
  • A wooden toothpick is one of the best tools we've found for cleaning tight spots and crevices. You can turn it into a tool for drying the knife, too, by wrapping the tip in a piece of soft cloth. (A cotton swab will work as well, but be careful not to snag the fibers in joints and sharp edges.)
  • If you're tempted to use WD-40 on your knife, be careful. It may do a great job of displacing moisture that's trapped in the pivots, but petroleum distillates like WD-40 can stain or permanently damage some handle materials (like celluloid). If you do use WD-40, be sure to use the little plastic nozzle and aim it precisely at the pivots. And whatever you do. never soak your slipjoint in petroleum distillates.