Keeping Your Tactical Knife in Best Shape- Here’s How to Do It Right

Getting a dependable tactical knife is one thing, taking care of it so that you can take the best out of it is another. In order to rely on your tactical knife, you need to maintain it in good shape. Even though sharpening the knife is the very first thing that comes to mind, one should know that there are plenty of other things to do for improving your tactical knife’s performance.

What do you need for cleaning your tactical knife?

If you’re constantly cleaning your tactical knife, chances are that you’re not going to have to scrape away grimy buildup or rust. Here are the things you need for cleaning your tactical knife at home or in the outdoors:

  • Masking tape
  • Mild soap
  • Cotton swabs
  • Sponge
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Rust remover
  • Warm water
  • Baking soda, lemon juice, salt or white vinegar
  • Toothbrush
  • Lubricant
  • Compressed air
  • Towel

As a general guidance, you should only use cleaning solvents only when you need to. It’s best to stay away from the solvent made with chlorine as they only speed up corrosion. Some paint thinner, acetone and MEK are good alternatives.

How to clean your tactical knife?

Here the steps to take when taking care of your knife:

  1. Always stay safe and open the blade

No matter how dull the blade may be, you should always protect yourself (note that a dull blade is even more dangerous than a sharp ones). You need to open the blade first when cleaning your knife, especially if it’s one with assisted opening mechanism or an automatic one. If you’re opening your knife, the tension is released so the risk for any accidents is minor. This is valid especially when you have to take apart the handle for cleaning the inner parts of your knife.

Remember to open the blade on an automatic knife as a safety caution.

  1. Remove the grime and dirt in a smooth way

The more you’re using the tactical knife, the more dust, grime and dirt is going to collect. Sweat or lint from your pocket are surely not going to help either.

If you have the skills for it, you should take your knife apart, open the blade and unscrew the handle covers for reaching the internal mechanisms. You don’t want to take it apart completely as you may void the warranty so check it with the manufacturer first.

Some alcohol on cotton swabs or some pads are going to be great for cleaning the blade and the internal mechanisms. It’s best to stay away from water as it may lead to rust, especially if your knife doesn’t come with a coated blade.

Alcohol is an effective solvent for removing tape residue and various gunk from both the blade and the handle. Some white vinegar and mild dish soap is going to help as well. Once you clean the parts, make sure that they’re entirely dry before putting them together again.

Cleaning a fixed-blade tactical knife

  • Use some masking tape for taping off the blade’s edge. If the handle is easy to hold and dry, clean the edge separately
  • Dip a soft sponge in hot water, cleaning the handle and the top of the blade. Some soapy and hot water may work too. Don’t put the handle in the water if it’s made of a porous material (wood is one).
  • Remove the build-up grime or dirt with a toothbrush
  • Use a cloth or a clean towel for drying the blade

Cleaning a folding tactical knife

  • Tape off the blade’s edge with some masking tape.
  • Blow out the loose dirt and debris with compressed air. Take your time on the pivot and the locks
  • Use some soapy and hot water for washing the blade and the handle. Rinse very well and do it several times if needed.
  • Scrub the locking mechanisms and the pivot with a clean toothbrush. Dip the toothbrush in soapy warm water and rinse under moderate-pressure water.
  • Wipe down the pivot, locks and the inside of the handle with cotton swabs. Cotton swab fibers may get caught in and even disengage springs.
  • Use a cleaning solvent/alcohol for removing any dirt inside the locking mechanisms or pivot.
  • Dry the inner mechanisms with compressed air

You should follow these steps only when your knife remains assembled.

  1. Pay attention to the rust spots

If you don’t want to deal with rust any time soon, you should pay the extra buck right from the start and get a high-quality knife with a coated blade.

Any now and then, the tactical knife may develop rust spots, but you may get rid of them with a bit of help from a light abrasive and an absorbent soft cloth. Some naval jelly or WD-40 is going to be more efficient for the difficult spots.

Even if most manufacturers out there are going to add a good layer of corrosion resistance, any bare steel (bearings included) present a risk for rusting. Truth be told, the ball bearings aren’t going to rust that fast as they’re moving all the time. However, swabbing them with some alcohol is going to keep the rust at bay.

Another good thing to do is to add a light coat of oil to the blade, right after cleaning it. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and wipe it away afterwards. If you’re also using the tactical knife for cutting some edibles, it’s best that you always use a food safe oil/lubricant.

A basic mineral oil is going to be enough most of the time and there are plenty of options to choose from. Lemon juice, white vinegar and baking soda are solid choices for getting rid of rust.

  • Lemon juice and salt- combine some lemon juice with salt, wrapping the rusted area in a cloth soaked with your mixture. Immersing the blade in the mixture works too. Let it soak for a couple of hours and use a soft-bristle brush for scrubbing the rust away.
  • Baking soda and water- mix them until you get a paste. Apply the paste on the rusted area and let is work for some time. Scrub it off with a toothbrush. Don’t forget to clean
  • White vinegar- wrap the rusted area in a cloth soaked in white vinegar. Let it soak throughout the whole night. You can also soak the metal in a cup. Protect the handle if it’s a porous kind. Use a soft-bristle brush for scrubbing the areas affected by rust.
  1. Lubricate the moving parts of your tactical knife

One step you shouldn’t skip when taking care of your tactical knife is greasing its moving parts. Once you got rid of the lint and gunk, you should always add a bit of grease. A little goes a long way so don’t overdo it. You want to protect it from heat caused by friction and expand its lifespan.

When you take your tactical knife apart, simply cleaning it out, without replacing the grease isn’t going to be enough. You always want to have some grease on your knife. Put a bit of it on the ball bearings and on the pivot too. Put the parts back together so that your knife is going to roll nice and smoothly later on.

  1. Don’t forget to sharpen the blade

Once your tactical knife is clean and greased, you also need to have a sharp edge. Giving the edge a couple of passes against the whetstone isn’t going to do it for maintaining the blade nice and sharp.

Sharpening is a matter of personal taste and you should do it as often as you want. Even if the most basic way to sharpen the knife is with a whetstone, you’re going to need some practice and patience until you get it right. Maintaining a certain angle of the edge with your bare hand does take some exercise.

This is why many recommend the professional sharpening so that you eliminate one stress. For the hardcore users, the sharpening of the knife is the ultimate skill to develop in terms of tactical knife use.

You have to do due diligence and learn about the whetstones as they come with varying grits and 2 or 3 sides. Here are some tips:

  • Soak the stone on water. Once it has no more air bubbles, take it off and place it on a slip-proof surface.
  • Place your knife on the side of the stone that has the highest grit. Hold the blade as 10-15-degree angle. You use this side for grind off the rough part of your blade.
  • Once you remove the roughness, go to the finer side of the stone for giving the blade the fine edge. The grit of your stone is linked to the sharpness of your blade. Therefore, the finger the grit, the finer the edge of your blade.

There are many things to consider when sharpening your tactical knife with a whetstone so get all the info you need before practicing.

How often should you clean your tactical knife?

There is no mandatory rule when it comes to cleaning your tactical knife as it depends a lot on how often you’re using it. Once or twice a year is going to be enough for most people out there. If you payed the high dollar upfront for a high-end tactical knife, you may not have to do clean it any time soon. An expensive tactical knife is going to be made of titanium or premium metals that don’t pose a high risk for rusting.

If you’re working in the line of duty, you should clean your knife every 4 months just to make sure that everything is nicely oiled and ready to go. the rule of thumb is that, the more you’re using your tactical knife, the more is going to collect grime, dust and dirt, requiring a nice cleaning session on a regular basis.

How to keep your tactical knife in good shape at all times?

Apart from a proper cleaning and a good sharpening, you may also want to take a look at the following tips for maintaining your knife in tip top shape:

  • Clean the knife after every single use. Run a light cleaning session every few months, even if you didn’t use it
  • Never store the tactical knife in a sheath (no matter how great that is) as it may cause the moisture build up, leading to rust and pitting.
  • Don’t forget to lubricate your knife after cleaning. Apply a lightweight formula to all the moving parts. Apply a thin coat on the blade so that you reduce the risk for corrosion and oxidation.
  • Never use your folding tactical knife for prying. Use it for cutting but never use it as a crowbar, no matter how tough or rugged it is. Not folding tactical knife is made for prying.


Selecting the tactical knife that fits your job and skills is the first thing to do. Keeping it clean, sharp and taking good care of it is going to improve its performance and expand its lifespan. Sure enough, you still need to master it in order to get the best out of it, but you’re never going to be able to rely on it if it’s not taken care of the right way.


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Robert Dwayne

Robert Dwayne

To say that I am an outdoors enthusiast is probably an understatement. I am hyper passionate about everything outdoors: hiking, survival, hunting. On this website I am sharing my stories and experiences, and I hope you'll find inspiration to take up your own adventures!