When you’re on a hunt, it’s difficult to say which piece of kit is the most essential in your loadout. But, there’s a good argument to be made that a dependable, functioning hunting knife should always be the first thing you pack.
The last thing a hunter needs is to find themselves down range with a dull knife blade that’s no good for cutting paracord, sharpening stakes, or field dressing.
Ideally, if you’re like me, your favorite hunting knife is precious, and you take the time to sharpen and clean it whenever you can. Still, if you’re not, that’s just fine: today, we’ll look at how to clean a hunting knife, not only the blade but the whole piece of kit, both at home and in the field, to make sure you’re never caught short.
When to Clean Your Hunting Knife
You should clean your hunting knife as soon as you’ve finished using it every time you use it. You should never put your knife away dirty; you shouldn’t be jumping awake in the middle of the night, scared that you didn’t get every last drop of buck blood off your blade!
The problem with a good hunting knife is that it comes out of the package so sharp that even after months of consistent use, you may not even realize how much the blade has dulled after losing that initial edge.
A build-up of dirt, blood and bodily fluids from your successful hunts will negatively affect your hunting knife’s performance.
The basic test for the keenness of your blade is to run it through a sheet of paper. The paper should glide into two slices. If the paper tears, then your blade is sub-par. This might indicate a dull blade, but a build of grime on the hunting knife can also cause it.
Before we go over cleaning a rusty knife or maintaining a dirty knife in the field, let’s look at general preventative care for hunting knives.
Preventative Hunting Knife Care
Before we look at how to clean a hunting knife correctly, it’s essential to make the cleaning process of your hunting knife part of a schedule to ensure proper maintenance.
Your cleaning schedule will vary depending on how frequently you use it. The more you use it, the more you’ll need to clean and maintain it.
It’s easy to forget to wash your blades and think they’ll last forever, but taking a half hour out of your day now and then to give your knives a thorough clean can expand their lifespan by years.
How to care for a hunting knife
Your regularly scheduled hunting tool cleaning schedule doesn’t have to be too involved and can be completed in a few easy steps:
- Give your hunting knife a thorough preliminary inspection to identify any chips or cracks in the blade or handle.
- Please give it a thorough scrub; warm water and a dishcloth will do for a clean knife blade.
- Make sure your blade is completely dry. This stage is crucial as any water left behind on the blade can lead to rust, which is another ball of wax when it comes to cleaning.
- Apply a light coat of protective oil to the knife’s blade, vegetable oil, or mineral oil to create a layer against dust and lint. You can also apply oil to the handle, as even the oils on your hands can act as a corrosive material over time.
Cleaning a Moderately Dirty Hunting Knife With Soap
You should use more than warm water if we’re talking about a hunting knife with a grime and dried blood build-up.
A buck knife’s blade with moderately dried blood should be cleaned with warm soapy water.
There’s no need to use baking soda if you haven’t first tried hot water and dish soap or a light camping soap.
As before, use a soft cloth to dry them immediately and apply mineral or vegetable oil.
Using Rotor Oil To Cure a Moderately Dirty Hunting Knife
Now, if you’ve got rotor oil lying around, some of us do, you can use it as an effective cleaning alternative.
Apply a layer of rotor oil to the entire length of your hunting knife, from the blade’s tip to the bottom of the handle. Then rinse this coating off in warm water.
Repeat this process, taking time to wipe your hunting knife down with a dry cloth. This should remove grime from a moderately dirty buck knife. If you’ve left any excess oil, use another dry cloth to take it off by hand.
Cleaning an Extremely Dirty Knife
So it’s come to this, you’ve tried soap and water, and that’s not cutting it. You’ve neglected your hunting knife and forgotten your regular cleaning responsibilities, and now you’ll have to put some elbow grease into getting it back up to speed.
Luckily there are a few techniques that, with a bit of sticktoitiveness, can get your blade ship shape.
You can use baking soda for an extremely dirty knife or a knife that’s picked up a rusty coating.
- Start by using warm water to remove any excess dirt from your buck knife, toweling off any excess dirt the water doesn’t remove.
- Mix a solution of equal parts baking soda and water into a paste. You can also use lemon juice for the extra citric acid kick that can remove rust.
- Use a scrubbing pad to scrub this paste onto the dirty areas of your hunting knife, using up all the paste and ensuring you give it a proper scrub.
- Use a white vinegar and salt solution to remove any persistent stains and pat down with a dry cloth, leaving it to air dry thoroughly afterward.
How to clean a rusty hunting knife
Step 3 of this technique can also be used on hunting knives with light rust build-up if you use a rougher brush or, in extreme cases, a steel wool brush. If you’re using steel wool, always be mindful of how hard you scrub: you don’t want to damage your knife any further.
Use white vinegar
If the baking soda approach doesn’t work, you can use it as a primer for baking soda. Both techniques are effective, and the order you use them in won’t matter.
Soak a dishcloth or towel in white vinegar and wrap it around the stainless steel of your hunting knife. Leave it to soak for about five minutes; any longer, the acetic acid in the white vinegar could damage your knife.
Remove the towel, and rinse it down with warm water. If you’re not happy with how clean your hunting knife is, you can try using the baking soda method or repeat it now that the vinegar has lifted the rust.
How to Clean a Bloody Hunting Knife
Allowing a build-up of blood on your hunting knife is asking for trouble. Blood can stain the steel, lead to rust, and is very unhygienic.
When you’re field dressing an animal, chances are you’re not just going to pick up blood but little chunks of guts too. This combination will be challenging to clean off if allowed to dry, especially if you forgot soap in your loadout.
You can use a few different approaches to clean blood if you’re in the field without a brush, and a rag will lift blood off your hunting knife and wiping it across your pant leg.
If I can get some, I like to use a clump of wet grass as a good alternative in a pinch, you can use a stream as well.
Ensure you clean your blade correctly once you’re home, using a steel wool brush to remove any sticky, dried blood.
Cleaning Folding Knives
Everything we’ve covered so far will work on the blade of a folding knife, but the folding mechanism adds a few extra things you’ll need to consider when keeping them ready.
Clean the folding mechanism
Folding knives are handy thanks to their ease of use and portability, but the upshot is that you’ll need to be extra diligent when cleaning them.
The folding mechanism is especially prone to picking up dirt and moisture, and it is easy for you to forget about this because it takes more work to identify just by looking closely. The folding mechanism can also attract pocket lint: combine this with grime or blood, and you’ll soon find the mechanism gunked up and not very effective at folding or unfolding.
Use warm running water to try and loosen any problem build-ups. You can also use the point of another blade to loosen up any persistent bits of debris that are lessening the function of your folding mechanism or preventing it from closing.
Cleaning the handle cavity
The empty space on your folding knife handle can also be a magnet for dirt and foreign bodies that could damage your blade. This job can be accomplished easily with regular cleaning using running warm water to rinse the cavity. You can use a wire to remove any debris that water won’t cut through.
It’s easy to forget about this part of your blade as we don’t see it very often, but if neglected, the built-in sheath where your knife spends most of its time will gather grime and debris that could corrode or chip your blade. As with every aspect of hunting knife care, consistency is vital.
How To Clean a Hunting Knife Handle
We’ve covered all the ground you’ll need to keep your knife blade clean and ready for use, but we mustn’t neglect the handle. Any prolonged usage without attending to the handle materials can lead to corrosion over time, which you may overlook until it’s too late.
Hunting knife handles come in a few different varieties, and each needs a slightly different approach.
Leather is not especially waterproof, so it’s best to use as little water as possible with leather handles. Avoid running hot water onto it directly: instead, get a sponge wet with a small amount of warm water and gently rub the handle down with it. Pat it down afterward and leave it out to air dry.
Wood can take more water than leather and will be easier to clean for the most part. Warm running water and a dishcloth, or scrubbing pad for heavier dirt, are ideal for wooden handles. After cleaning, wood handles will need a few hours in a warm room to air dry.
In this case, you can be as thorough as you want. The materials in synthetic handles are highly resistant. Clean these like a wooden handle with hot water and wipe with a stiff brush.
How Do I Clean a Hunting Knife Sheath?
The inside of your leather sheath will likely pick up dirt, pocket lint or viscera from your knife, and once it’s stuck inside the leather, you’ve got no idea it’s there, upsetting the PH of your steel.
The first rule to keeping your sheath clean is never to put the blade back inside while it’s dirty. Use whatever you have to hand to clean as much muck off your blade as possible to prevent the inside of your sheath from becoming harmful to it.
You can use warm water to rinse the inside of your sheath gently, then wrap it in a dry cloth and put it somewhere warm to air dry naturally. Drying it too quickly may damage or warp the leather.
You can also try using pressurized air to blast debris inside the sheath if you want to avoid water altogether.
Should I oil my hunting knife?
A thousand times yes! If you want to make your cleaning efforts worthwhile, preserving them with a thin layer of a gentle, protective oil is essential. Wait until your blade has dried, then apply the oil in a thin layer with a clean cloth.
Mineral oil is best for additional protection from corrosion and rust. You can use cooking oil, but it can form a sticky coating that could go rancid on your blade.
Can I use WD40 on my knife?
This lubricant is excellent for removing dirt, but you shouldn’t use it on any knife that will come into contact with food. If you’ve got a backup knife for cutting wood for a fire or paracord, then use WD40 on that.
I always recommend bringing a second knife for rougher jobs to prolong the life of your dressing knife.
How do I remove stains from a hunting knife?
For spot removal of stains, you can use the same techniques we covered for extreme dirt or dust removal. Wet a soft cloth with white vinegar and wipe it down the blade; you can also soak it in a baking soda and water solution for 15 minutes. As always, ensure it is completely dry and oiled when you’re satisfied.
We’ve covered every aspect of how to clean a hunting knife and keep it primed for your next hunt.
The key to a smooth, razor-sharp knife is staying consistent with a scheduled cleaning habit. Regular, minimal cleans will save you from having to do a big industrial job to remove caked-on dirt or rust.
For more information on hunting knives and what makes a good hunting knife, visit our website for all the information you need when selecting this crucial bit of kit. Happy hunting, folks, and make sure to maintain your tools!