A good hunting knife is a staple. It serves a multitude of functions from field dressing, skinning, and butchering to being your go-to tool when trekking through the wilderness or rambling about your homestead. It’s your trusty companion on all things DIY, so it needs to be clean and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

This is why knowing how to clean a hunting knife is so important as proper care and maintenance will help to keep your knife functional and greatly increase its life expectancy. An improperly cared for knife, on the other hand, is more susceptible to corrosion, and damage, and (in the case of a folding knife) may be impossible to open when you need it most.

Take care of your knife, and it’ll take care of you.

Overview on How to Clean a Hunting Knife the Right Way

General Cleaning

How to clean hunting knives with a fixed blade is a pretty straightforward process. Folding knives, on the other hand, require a bit more attention to detail and a few extra steps. 

As such, we’re going to cover the best way to clean a folding knife. The basic guidelines will be the same for fixed knife blades, so the information presented below applies regardless of what kind of hunting knife you have.

Cleaning Blood from a Hunting Knife

Blood should never be allowed to dry on your hunting knife, which means not on the blade and not on the handle, either. Dried blood and bits of tissues from gutting make the knife more difficult clean and keep it from being ready to use right away—leaving you without a knife.

An Image of knife with blood in a sink

If you don’t have access to water, at least wipe off the blade and handle as best you can while the blood is still wet. Don’t have a rag? That’s what pants legs are for. Next time you’ll remember to keep a rag in your hunting bag to wipe your hands and knife off on.

Hydrogen peroxide is frequently recommended as it is very effective in cleaning up blood (especially from cloth). But hydrogen peroxide has no place in cleaning a hunting knife as it can cause corrosion. 

If blood and tissue do dry onto your knife, warmer water will help to soften and loosen the gunk off of your knife. However, keep in mind that using boiling or hot water can damage some handle materials and prolonged soaking will damage some handle materials, such as wood, mother of pearl, and abalone. You’re better off rinsing in warm water, scrubbing with a brush, and then rinsing again until you get every last bit of gore off the knife.

Getting Started

When cleaning a folding knife, extra care needs to be taken to get rid of any pocket lint around the pivot. This should be the first step taken. Lint and built-up gunk around the pivot can make the knife difficult to open and close, while build-up around the lock can prevent the blade from locking open or locking close—and a loose, fold-up knife is just dysfunctional.

This is what makes regular cleaning and lubricating of the knife so important. Not only does it prevent build-up, but it provides you an opportunity to thoroughly inspect the knife for loose screws, corrosion, etc. so you can take care of small problems before they become huge. Ideally, you should clean and lubricate your folding knife once a month to keep it operational at all times.

An Image of Cleaning Materials for How to Clean a Hunting Knife

Lint can be removed with a toothpick, pin, or anything small—and that won’t break—that you can work in there to pry out the lint. Of course, you do run the risk of scratching the internal components so another option is to use a moist cotton swab to work the lint out gently.

Sand requires water to remove the grit thoroughly. Using warm soapy water works well, though water temperature and type of soap are not crucial. Dish soap is a good standby as it is food safe, cuts through grime and grease, and rinses clean.

That is what is really important: being sure that you thoroughly rinse out the internal part of the knife. This will flush out any grit, debris, or residual lint that could interfere with the operation of your knife.

An Image of Hunting Knife Cleaning by Soap for How to Clean a Hunting Knife

Dry off the knife as best you can and then allow it to air dry the rest of the way. Be sure that the knife is open so that the internal components fully dry out, so you don’t encourage corrosion.

Some people like to soak their knives in hot or warm water if it’s got a lot of built-up grime on it, but this isn’t necessary. Just use a scratchy washcloth or bristle brush (like an old toothbrush) to work the grime off of the blade and handle. Remember, many handle types can actually be damaged by prolonged soaking in water.

If your knife is still gritty and difficult to open, try holding the knife under running water while you are slowly opening and closing the blade in order to dislodge any grit and flush it out of there. If the knife is still difficult to open and close, it may need to be disassembled in order to clean it thoroughly. Once the knife is completely dry, it should be lubricated.

Lubricating the Knife

There are essentially two types of lubricants you should use on your hunting knife: petroleum-based wet-lube and Teflon-based dry-lube.

Wet lubricants will have a greasy feel to them while dry lubricants feel dry to the touch but leave a protective and lubricating film. Dry lubricants often come in an aerosol and also tend to attract less pocket lint.

An Image of Cleaning Hunting Knife With Lubricating for How to Clean a Hunting Knife

If your hunting knife is truly utilitarian and you use it for food, be sure that the lube that you choose is food safe. Vegetable oils (such as plain old vegetable oil, olive oil, etc.) should be avoided as they will eventually go rancid on your knife.

However, mineral oil is a good choice as it is stable, safe for internal consumption (it was once commonly recommended to ingest a small amount for use as a laxative,) and is readily available quite inexpensively.

Apply the lubricant to the pivot, locking faces, and anywhere metal will come into contact with metal. Move the blade back and forth to fully coat the pivot with oil, to get the oil into every last crevice, and to coat the lock bar fully. You really don’t need much lubricant. An excessive amount will end up on other parts of the knife, attract pocket lint and debris (resulting in more frequently needed cleaning,) and potentially leave an oil stain on your pocket. So use the lubricant sparingly, and be sure to wipe off any excess oil.

If you use your knife in wet conditions or live in an area with high humidity, your knife may also benefit from a light coat of lubricant on the blade to protect it against corrosion. This is especially beneficial if the blade is made of high-carbon steel.​

Once your knife is clean and you’ve inspected it for any necessary repairs that may need to be made, now is a good time to sharpen your knife, if needed. For a basic guide to sharpening knives, you can check out our post on How to Sharpen a Knife.

Caring for the Handle

Cleaning the handle of your hunting knife is the same as cleaning the blade and cleaning out the internal compartment of a folding knife.

As noted earlier, some handle materials will be damaged by exposure to hot water or being submerged for too long. The same can be said with harsh cleaners. This is another reason why using a mild dish detergent is your best bet for cleaning your hunting knife as it should leave the handle clean and not cause damage.

An Image of Knife Handle Caring Sample for How to Clean a Hunting Knife

After cleaning, wood handles and scales should be rubbed down with a wood polish or finishing oil to provide additional protection and care. Bone handles can also benefit from light oiling as it serves to keep the bone from turning brittle and protects it from damage.​

Final Thoughts on How to Clean Hunting Knives

Consistent and regular cleaning of your hunting knife will keep it in top working order so that you’re never left without a knife when you need it most.

As you can see from the directions we outlined above, how to clean a hunting knife isn’t difficult or even that time-consuming. Keeping that in mind and just how essential it is to have a good knife on you at all times, there truly is no excuse for having a dirty knife.

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