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How To Clean a Hunting Knife

hunting knife with wooden handle on wood table
Keep your hunting knife ready for the field by cleaning and maintaining this important tool properly.

You just got back from a hunt for a huge buck. It went great and you got your kill. The hunt took days and the tracking was fierce.

You made it back home and you’re cleaning up your gear. You see your Reaper Buck Knife and there is WAY more blood on there than you remember. It is your go-to knife and you definitely wiped it down in the field.

The Buck Knife is totally dirty and you’re going to have to clean that bad boy up. Some people, aka hunters, say crazy things, like to use the dishwasher, but do NOT put your knife in the dishwasher.

Look: knowing how to properly clean your hunting knife will allow you to spend decades of hunting with it. Aside from cleaning, it also needs proper maintenance and storage in between those camping trips to extend its life.

Hunting knives, as tough as they are, still need a little TLC. Did you know that even your hands can cause corrosion on your hunting knife? This is because sweat in your hands contains ammonia and salt that may cause your knife to rust.

The number one rule with your hunting knife: never put your hunting knife away unless it is clean and dry. (You also need to lubricate your knife regularly as added protection against rust and corrosion.)

Cleaning and maintenance of a hunting knife may sound too complicated–it’s just a knife, right? But this is actually pretty straightforward. Your investment in your hunting knife will pay off better if you know how to clean this important tool the correct way.

Taking the time to clean and maintain your buck knife is a worthwhile investment. Doing this regularly means you have a sparkling clean hunting knife for all of your hunting adventures.

Stay warm in the field with hot coffee. You’ll need the Best Coffee Thermos for Hunting.


Keep Your Knife Sharp

You should keep your knife sharp and in good condition. It won’t necessarily make the knife easier to clean if it is sharp but regular maintenance is always a good thing. Normally, after you sharpen your hunting knife you will clean off the metal dust and oil up the metal parts of the blade.

Your hunting knife is one of the most valuable tools you have in the field. Keep it sharp with the Best Hunting Knife Sharpener to be ready for any situation.


How Do I Clean a Moderately Dirty Hunting Knife?

How dirty your hunting knife is pretty relative. For me, what counts as moderately dirty means it has just a small amount of dirt and grime on it that can easily be washed off.

Cleaning a hunting knife in this condition should just be as simple as rinsing it off with warm water in the sink and drying it. In this situation, drying your hunting knife very well after cleaning it is actually even more important than the actual cleaning itself, since any moisture that remains will cause rust and corrosion on the blade.

If it’s not extremely dirty but just water isn’t cutting it (see what I did there?), keep it simple and use some warm water and soap. I use a mild, natural all-purpose camping soap. I use great care in NOT getting my knives all wet. Rust is treatable if it happens, but it is always better to just prevent it altogether.

Dry your knife with a soft cloth immediately after cleaning it. Then, use your favorite lubricant to add a thin layer of protection to the blade. Firearms oil can be used–again, use a very light coat. You can also use mineral oil in a pinch…and some people actually prefer it.

Here’s an easy guide to knowing whether your hunting knife is moderately or extremely dirty: if it doesn’t get cleaned with the methods in this section even after a second washing, then your knife is extremely dirty.

Method 1

Materials:

  1. Warm (not hot) water
  2. Scrubbing pad
  3. Dry cloth (preferably thick)

Steps:

  1. Rinse off the dirt and grime on your hunting knife with warm running water. You can use your fingers to rub off particles of dirt, but be careful!
  2. Gently use a scrubbing pad, running it to lightly over the blade of your knife. This should remove any remaining dirt or grime.
  3. After getting rid of all the dirt, dry your hunting knife thoroughly with a dry cloth. Be sure that no moisture that can cause rust remains on the knife.

Method 2

If you have rotor oil in the garage, you can try this other method. Use rotor oil only to clean the knife and not as a lubricant for long-term storage (more on this later).

Materials:

  1. Rotor oil
  2. Warm water
  3. Thick, clean cloth

Steps:

  1. Apply rotor oil to your hunting knife from the end of the handle to the tip of the blade.
  2. Rinse off the oil in running warm water.
  3. Repeat the process, applying oil from the end of the handle to the blade tip.
  4. Rinse off the oil with water again. Be sure to rinse the knife well to remove all the oil.
  5. The blade should now be free from dirt and the rotor oil itself. If there is still dirt and oil residue, take your dry, thick cloth and run the knife’s blade through it carefully. This will take care of all the lingering residue.

How Do I Clean a Very Dirty Hunting Knife?

Cleaning extremely dirty hunting knives requires a bit more patience, time, and elbow grease. This method may require quite a bit of scrubbing on your part to remove stubborn dirt–even dirt that has caked on your blade. The good thing is, there’s a great chance you already have the baking soda, vinegar, and salt you will need already in your cupboard.

Materials:

  1. Warm water
  2. Scrubbing pad or sponge
  3. Baking soda
  4. Vinegar (optional)
  5. Salt (optional)
  6. Dry cloth

Steps:

  1. Rinse the hunting knife with warm water to get rid of the dirt on your knife. Use your fingers carefully to scratch off any dirt particles that still remain.
  2. Gently use a scrubbing pad or sponge to clean the dirt or grime that did not come off by simply rinsing the blade.
  3. Now that you have gotten rid of the greater part of the dirt, start the deep cleaning process. In a small container, mix equal parts baking soda and water to create a paste. You can start with a tablespoon of each.
  4. Dip the scrubbing pad or sponge onto the paste and rub it on the blade. Continue doing this until you have used all the paste.
  5. Rinse the knife with water. If any stains remain, you may want to use equal parts vinegar and salt to step up the cleaning process. If you’re already satisfied with how clean your knife has turned out, proceed to Step 7.
  6. Wash the blade with the vinegar and salt solution and use a sponge to remove any residue or stains.
  7. Use the dry cloth to dry your hunting knife thoroughly. I cannot overemphasize enough the importance of drying your knife after cleaning it.

Oh, and Metal Brite is a polishing agent and it does a great job on hunting and Buck style knives. The Buck website even recommends Metal Brite. It does a number of things –

  • Removes rust
  • Removes oxidation
  • Removes discoloration

Stay away from any cleaner or cleanser with chlorine. If you must sanitize, you can use a very low dilution of bleach, then wash it off with soap right after you finish up.

Here is a great video about cleaning a hunting blade.

https://youtu.be/uwSr5s3gzlQ

How Do I Clean Blood Off a Hunting Knife?

You should always clean the blood off not only the blade, but also on the handle, of your hunting knife. Blood should never be allowed to dry on your buck knife. It is not only unhygienic–yuck!–but dried blood can stain or prematurely rust the blade.

Allowing animal blood to remain on your blade makes cleaning the knife more difficult. It’s made worse when, aside from dried blood, your blade has bits of dried guts of a game animal, too. Dried blood also will prevent you from being able to use your hunting knife again right away. It’d be no problem if you happened to have an extra knife in the field, but what if you don’t?

If you’re in an open field or outdoors and you don’t have access to water, wipe off the blood from the blade and handle as best as you can with a clean rag. If you don’t have one, use your pant legs.

Once home, here is what you can do to remove the blood from your hunting knife.

Materials:

  1. Warm water
  2. Liquid dish soap
  3. Stiff brush

Steps:

  1. First, rinse your knife off in warm water to loosen any animal remains or dirt off the knife. Do not use hot or boiling water, as both can damage the knife handle. Don’t soak the hunting knife for a prolonged time, either.
  2. Squeeze a few drops of dish soap on both sides of the blade. Scrub carefully with a stiff brush.
  3. Rinse with warm water. Pat dry with a dry rag. Again, be sure to dry your hunting knife thoroughly.

    hooked tip of hunting knife closeup
    Don’t allow blood to dry on your knife blade in the field. Wipe it off with a rag or on your pants and clean it thoroughly as soon as you can.

How Do I Lubricate a Hunting Knife?

A hunting knife needs to be lubricated to prevent it from getting rusty and to protect it against further corrosion. Folding knives particularly need frequent lubrication to keep their joints and other moving parts moving smoothly and easily.

Oil is also used in knife sharpening because it lowers the heat produced by friction. It also can keep any metal shavings away from where you are working.

If you use your hunting knife to slice and prepare food, make sure that the lube you’re using is food-safe. That said: it’s recommended to not use vegetable oil or olive oil, as they can turn rancid on your knife. Use mineral oil instead, as it’s stable, safe for human consumption, and readily available.

Steps to lubricate a hunting knife:

  1. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the pivot or locking surfaces of the hunting knife. Don’t let it seep out onto the blade or handle. Too much lubricant, especially if you’re using the wet type, will only attract pocket lint and debris. You will then need to clean your knife more often.
  2. If the blade of your knife is made of carbon steel, you can also add a preventive coat of lubricant. This will help prevent corrosion, especially if you live or hunt in an area with high humidity or near or around water.
  3. Wipe away any excess oil with a dry cleaning cloth.

How Do I Care for the Handle of a Hunting Knife?

What to use for cleaning the handle of your hunting knife depends upon what material it’s made of.

Some of the common materials of knife handles and how to clean them:

  1. Plastic or micarta handles need just a little soapy water and a dry cloth for drying.
  2. Metal (usually brass, silver, or stainless steel) handles can be cleaned with a dry cloth, Bar Keeper’s Friend, and some good rubbing and buffing.
  3. Wood handles must be rubbed with mineral oil to make them waterproof and bring out the luster of the wood.
  4. Bone, horn, and ivory handles require a slightly damp cotton ball and light rubbing to remove grime and dirt. You need to immediately dry the handle after the cleaning process.

After cleaning a wooden handle, you should rub it down with linseed oil to give it additional protection. Bone handles will also benefit from rubbing a little oil on them to protect them from turning brittle. Handles made from plastic and other synthetic materials do not need such oiling.

Apply the oil with a clean cloth, making sure not to over-apply; just a couple of drops will do. Allow the oil to be absorbed, then rub the handle with another clean cloth or a clean corner of the rag you used to apply the oil.


How Do I Store a Hunting Knife Correctly and Safely?

The best way to keep your hunting knives in pristine condition–besides cleaning and lubricating them regularly–is to store them properly. If you carry your knife daily or just use it fairly often, you should definitely keep it in its sheath to protect both the handle and the blade.

However, if you want to store your buck knife for a longer time, ditch the sheath that came with the knife and make an improvised sheath using cardboard and tape. This is an easy and effective secret that hunting knife owners who are in the know do when they store their hunting knives.

It takes little time and effort to make a cardboard sheath to protect your hunting knife. Cardboard is actually pretty sturdy and, more importantly, won’t trap any moisture that might accumulate in another type of sheath.

Don’t make the mistake of storing your knife in a leather sheath. It’s a great way to carry your knife with you, but it’s not great when you need to store your knife for an extended time.

Why is this? Your leather sheath may have been manufactured using corrosive chemicals. But, even if it wasn’t, leather still absorbs and traps moisture. This will lead to corrosion on your knife.

Make sure to store your knife in a dry place and one which is not cramped. Humidity may cause your knife’s blade to rust. Cramming your hunting tool in a junk drawer may cause the knife to bump into and collide with other objects, possibly damaging your knife (or vice versa).

If you want some recommendations on the best, USA made hunting knives, check out this article.


Conclusion

Regular cleaning and maintenance of your hunting knife can extend its life and improve its functionality.

Part of regular maintenance includes oiling your buck knife to prevent it from corroding. Folding knives need this oiling more than other knives in order to keep their joints and other moving parts moving correctly.

Also, don’t neglect the handle of your hunting knife. The methods of caring for it depend on the material it is made of (see above). After cleaning the handle, you need to rub it down with oil to give it additional protection. Handles made from rubber or any synthetic materials need not be oiled.

Finally, storing your hunting knife properly and safely will keep it both rust-free and sharp. The best way to store it for an extended time is in an improvised cardboard sheath, not a leather one.


Frequently Asked Questions

What's the safest way to clean a sharp knife?

Cleaning a sharp knife can be as easy as rinsing it in the sink and drying it. But, do this slowly and carefully while keeping the blade pointed away from you or your fingers. If you’re too afraid of cutting yourself, you can lay the knife on the countertop and wipe each side one after the other.

When washing or drying the knife, make sure that you don’t have anybody part on its path if it slips.

Should you oil knives?

Yes. Oiling knives, especially if the blade is made from carbon steel, is necessary to protect them from rust and corrosion. It is an important part of maintaining knives.

Mineral oil is the best oil to use in oiling knives. Although you can use cooking oil or olive oil, it is not recommended since they can form an undesirable sticky residue. Besides, they can turn rancid on your knife.

To oil a knife, make sure to completely dry the knife particularly on both sides of the blade. Then, apply the mineral oil with a clean cloth. You can oil your knives as often as every after each use or as seldom as every few months.

Can I use WD40 to clean my knife?

You can if, and that’s a big if, you don’t use it to cut food or anything you ingest. The chemicals in WD40 such as solvent and liquified petroleum gas are quite harmful if it comes in contact with the food you eat due to improper washing. Besides, your food will taste funny.

WD40 also contains mineral oil to prevent rusting and corrosion. Why not just use plain mineral oil instead? It may require more application to be more effective but at least it’s not toxic.

How do you remove stains from a knife blade?

Soak a non-abrasive white cloth with a small amount of white vinegar. Wipe the cloth down the blade of the knife to remove the stains. Then, rinse and dry with another clean cloth.

You can do a baking soda soak if you want to step up the stain removal. Pour a tablespoon of baking soda onto a sink with 1 inch of hot water. Make sure that the baking soda has completely dissolved. Put your knife to the bath and leave it there for a maximum time of 15 minutes. Rinse the knife and wipe dry.

Can I lubricate a knife with olive oil?

Not recommended. Olive oil can be used to clean the blades of knives and but is not useful for lubricating. Food-based oils like olive oil will go rancid and will form a sticky or gummy residue. This is not how you would want your cleaning to turn out.

Olive oil can also get a bit acidic. This can cause corrosion in the blade or handle of the knife thus defeating the purpose of lubricating a knife. For lubricating and storage, use mineral oil instead. It is readily available and it doesn’t cost much.

Is gun oil good for knives?

As with WD40, you can use gun oil on a knife but only if it is not going to come in contact with food. Stick to mineral oil which is the best oil to use in oiling knives.

Or, you can now buy a knife maintenance kit that comes with an oil knife. It’s popular to use for kitchen knives and can be used for other fixed-handle knives. Just a drop of it is enough to cover one side of the blade of a large knife.

Do not use just about any oil to lubricate a knife especially if the blade will have to touch your food. Always make sure it is food safe.


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