Swiss Army Knives (SAKs) are awesome. Aren’t they? Almost anyone who has owned or used a SAK in his life has only good things to say about it. But no matter how well-made it is, a SAK does need maintenance. In fact, periodic cleaning and maintenance of the Swiss Army Knives are the secret behind them lasting for generations. Victorinox, the maker of the SAKs does recommend to clean your SAK occasionally.
So how do you clean a Swiss Army Knife? As per Victorinox, you should use warm water to clean a SAK. After cleaning and drying, use oil at the joints for smooth functioning. After that, you should also resharpen the knife blades.
A SAK being a pocket tool does get used frequently. With time, your SAK will collect dirt and also become dull. Though cleaning takes some time and effort, the process is actually very simple. I have been following this for all my SAKs for years. Just follow this guide and your SAK will be as good as new.
Step 1: Clean the Swiss Army Knife in Warm Water
Ok, I know what you are thinking. Why only warm water? Why not use dish soap? Well, Victorinox suggests warm water for cleaning all their tools.
After cleaning all my SAKs multiple times over the years, I do think that warm water is enough. You really do not need anything else to clear the dirt and pocket lint that get collected in the SAKs over time.
Take a sufficient volume of warm water in a large bowl. There should be enough water so that you can drown the whole thing in it. How warm the water should be? Just warm enough so that you can keep your fingers in the water without any discomfort.
If your SAK has any integrated electronic parts, remove the battery before cleaning it with water. If you forget to do so, the electronic functions may stop working.
You do not need boiling hot water. As you might know, metal expands when hot. Avoid your SAK from getting really hot. Also, boiling water will damage the scales of your SAK.
Then open all the tools in the SAK and submerge it in the water. Keep it there for about 30 minutes.
Now take it out of the water, keep all the tools open, and clean the inside layers of the frame, as well as the scales on both sides.
For this, you can use:
- Small paint brush
- Old toothbrush
- Cotton buds
If you do not have a brush or cotton bud, you can use plain paper to get the job done. Just take a small piece of paper and fold it to the thickness of the layer inside the SAK. It will work well enough.
Warm water will already have washed away or loosened out most of the dirt inside the layers. So it will be easier to clean out if anything is left behind.
Keep dipping it in the water while doing this till the layers and scales are completely clean.
Be careful not to cut your fingers while doing so as it needs caution to handle a Swiss Army Knife.
Once you have cleaned the inside layers and the outer scales, close all the tools in the SAK.
Now open and close the main blade of the SAK several times under the water. This will get rid of the dirt inside the joints. Keep doing this until the blade moves easily without any friction.
Follow the same process for all the tools in the SAK.
Then take out the tools inside the scales, like the toothpick and the tweezers, and clean them. Once done put them back in. This will ensure you don’t lose them while cleaning the SAK.
Once this is done, your SAK will be free of all the accumulated dirt and lint.
Step 2: Dry the Swiss Army Knife
Now that you are done with the cleaning, you need to dry it out. The best way to do it is to let it dry out on its own while keeping all the tools in the open position. Shake the knife to get rid of the excess water. You can also wipe each of the tools with a clean cloth. Just do so cautiously so that you don’t cut yourself.
After you have gotten rid of the excess water, let it dry in the sun. Open all the tools in the SAK and keep it in the sun for about an hour. This will dry out even the insides of the SAK.
To speed up the drying process, you can also use cotton buds to remove the water inside the frame or those hard-to-reach areas.
If you SAK has integrated electronics, then the electronic housing may also get wet as it is not waterproof. Remember to dry the housing thoroughly before putting the battery inside the housing again.
What about drying the SAK with a hair drier?
If you are in a hurry, you can probably use a hair drier to get rid of the excess water. However, do remember to keep the temperature low as too hot air might damage the SAK. Remember what Victorinox said:
“Exposing Swiss Army Knives to aggressive environments and high temperatures for extended periods can cause damage”
I found drying in the sun works well. So I avoid using any other means of drying a SAK.
Step 3: Oil the Swiss Army Knife
Once your SAK is dry, you are almost done with the cleaning process. In most cases, your SAK will be as good as new. However, if you still find that some of the tools in the SAK do not open or close as smoothly as it used to previously, this is the time to fix it.
You guessed it right. You have to oil your Swiss Army Knife. Once you lubricate all the joints in the SAK, it will start functioning as if it were brand new. Don’t you like how the tools in a SAK open and close into position smoothly with a distinct ‘click’? If you do, you need to lubricate the joints in your SAK.
But what lubricating agent to use?
The one recommended by Victorinox is the ‘Multi-Tool Oil’ that Victorinox itself created for its SAKs (Victorinox part no. 4.3302).
It is food safe so it would be a good choice if you use your SAKs in the kitchen. If you want the best for your SAK, this is the one you should get.
However, I use WD-40 on all my multi-tools. I do not use my SAKs in the kitchen, so I find it ok to use WD-40 on my SAKs as well.
It helps in preventing as well as removing rust. It also helps to get rid of those ‘hard to remove’ sticky and oily stuff from your multitool.
A cheap alternative will be coconut oil. I don’t know why people do not consider this option. It lubricates pretty oil. It also has an added advantage, it prevents rust. I know Victorinox steel is not prone to rust. But if you see even a hint of rust in your SAK, use coconut oil to prevent any further rusting. Also, coconut oil is edible, so it is ok even if you use your SAK for food preparation.
How do you apply it?
Pretty simple. You just have to put a little of the lubricating agent in all the hinges and joints. Then you close and open the knife multiple times to let the oil work its way in. Keep doing this until you ‘feel’ the hinge working smoothly. You have to make sure that the oil gets into every corner and joint.
Now do this for all the tools in your SAK. This may take some time if your SAK has a lot of tools. Once done, wipe the excess oil with a clean cloth.
You are done with cleaning your SAK. You can watch the following video that explains the process clearly.
Step 4: Sharpen the Blades of the SAK
Now that you have cleaned and oiled your SAK, it will look and function as new, except that the knives won’t be as sharp as a brand new one. This is especially true if you use your SAK knife a lot. Victorinox steel, though awesome, is considered soft and loses its edge with time. If that is the case with your SAK too, now is the time to sharpen it up.
Fortunately, sharpening a SAK knife is not much different from sharpening any other pocket knife. You can use traditional methods like a sharpening stone (whetstone), as well as easier methods like using a modern custom-built knife sharpener.
While using a whetstone, Victorinox recommends using the stone at an angle of 15° to 20°. However, if you are not experienced in using a sharpening stone, you can always use a knife sharpener created by Victorinox.
I have written a detailed guide on the various ways of sharpening a Swiss Army Knife and identified the best tools available in the market. Victorinox itself provides some excellent tools to get the job done. I suggest you have a look at that article.
However, If you need a quick and simple solution, just get the Victorinox Sharpy (Amazon link).
What About Cleaning with Liquids other than plain water?
Ok, now that we have gone through every step in the maintenance of a Victorinox SAK, you may think what if the SAK is so dirty and sticky that plain water just does not get the job done? In my more than ten years of using SAKs, I haven’t come across a situation when warm water could not clean my SAK.
In case there is any thick sticky substance clinging to the SAK, I have always been able to remove them with WD-40. However, if you don’t want to use WD-40 to get rid of those ‘hard to remove’ sticky gooey dirt, then you have a few options:
- You can mix some dish soap in the water
- Use Isopropyl alcohol
- Use nail polish remover
Do they work? I do not know, but as I have heard people using these to clean their SAKs, you may try them. Since I haven’t used any of them, I cannot confirm how useful they are.
Note: Keep in mind that substances like Isopropyl alcohol are flammable and hence should be used away from fire.
How Often Should You Clean Your SAK?
I usually clean my SAKs once or twice a year, but it really depends on how frequently you use your SAK and what you use it for. If you use it every day and in situations where it catches a lot of dirt, you might clean it every week or every month. If the knife gets a lot of use, you may need to sharpen it more often.
But even if you use it very sparingly, you should clean it at least once a year. A SAK even left unused in the drawer does get dirty with time and the hinges need some opening and closing to keep the joints and springs functioning properly. If you see any signs of rust (which is unlikely for a SAK), you will know that you haven’t been taking good care of your SAK.
We are done. As you can see, you don’t need professional service or a lot of knowledge or effort to properly clean your SAK.
After you have gone through the above steps, your SAK should again be in proper working condition in addition to looking as good as new.
I have been doing this for all my SAKs and each one of them has been in top-notch condition all these years.
Do remember to follow this process at least once a year. That will make sure that your SAK lasts long enough that you won’t need a replacement for decades. Who knows, you might even if able to pass it on to the next generation.