Survival Knife Care [2023 Complete Guide]

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

A survival knife is critical for, well, survival. In most cases, it is the most essential, irreplaceable, and versatile tool in your survival toolbox.

Because you need to be able to rely on your survival knife for a huge range of activities, it’s crucial to learn how to care for it properly.

Proper care ensures that any knife is sharp, rust-free, and ready at a moment’s notice.

Survival knife care is important both in the field, and at home.

Proper knife care doesn’t require a lot of equipment or complexity, but if it is done infrequently or improperly, you can shorten the life of your knife.

In any survival situation, there are just a few simple steps and rules to follow, that ensure that your knife is sharp, strong, and ready for anything, any time.

Survival Knife Care

Survival Knife Care

Keep Your Survival Knife Clean

Keeping your knife clean is the most important step to caring for it and prolonging its life. Dirt, oils, moisture, and bacteria can all damage the blade.

Because cleanliness is so important, here are the most important things NOT to do when cleaning your knife:

  • Don’t clean a survival knife in the dishwasher. Dishwasher detergents can be abrasive and will dull, damage, or corrode the blade.
  • Don’t sheath the knife if it is wet or dirty. Sheathing a knife that is wet or dirty transfers dirt, bacteria,  and moisture inside the sheath, where they can damage the blade and get it dirty again every time you put it away.
  • Don’t soak a survival knife in water. Prolonged soaking can damage the blade and the handle.
  • Don’t touch the blade with your fingers. Your skin has naturally acidic oils, which can stain or corrode the blade.
  • Don’t use abrasive scrubs or scouring pads to clean the blade. Abrasive cleaning can scratch or damage the blade.

With all those don’ts out of the way, here’s the right way to clean a survival knife

Always clean a knife before replacing it in the sheath

If you are using your knife in the field, always clean it before re-sheathing it. Even if the blade looks clean and has only been lightly used, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of cleaning it before re-sheathing it.

In most cases, this can simply be done by wiping the blade down with a clean cloth, removing any dirt or moisture.

If you are in the field and need to remove tougher dirt, like bacteria, tree sap, grease, or other hard-to-clean items, it’s a good idea to use alcohol wipes. Isopropyl alcohol cleans ink, grease, sticky messes, and is a disinfectant. It also dries quickly, making it a good choice for survival knives.

If your knife has a pivot, or any parts that need to remain lubricated, avoid getting alcohol on those parts; it will remove the lubrication.

Cleaning a survival after use

If you have used your knife in the field, clean it again once you get home, just to make sure it’s in peak condition before storing it.

To clean your knife at home, use mild dish soap and warm running water to clean the blade and the handle. Visually inspect the blade to make sure that there is no dirt or debris left in any of the nooks or crannies. Dry it thoroughly after cleaning.

Deep cleaning a survival knife

If your survival knife has seen some hard use or gotten extremely dirty, you may need to do a deeper cleaning. In some cases, this can mean disassembling the knife and cleaning all the parts before re-assembly.

For most knives, you can use alcohol to remove tough, sticky messes. If alcohol isn’t working on glue, gums, grease, or tar, you can clean your knife with a more powerful solvent like Goo Gone.

You may also need to use a toothpick or small scrub brush to remove stuck debris from small, hard to clean areas.

Deep cleaning can also allow moisture to get into small crannies and crevices that can be difficult to dry.

You may want to use compressed air to remove moisture from small, hard-to-reach areas.

Survival Knife Care

Keep Your Survival Knife Oiled

Oiling the blade gives it a coating that protects it from rust. It also helps to prevent friction, and makes it easier to use the knife. If you have used solvents to clean a survival knife, particularly if it is a folding knife, it’s especially important to oil it right after cleaning.

To oil your survival knife, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You only need a very small amount of oil. The idea is to create a thin film of oil over the entire blade, and this can be done with a very small amount of oil.
  • Avoid getting oil on the handle. This can make the knife slippery and hard to control. Handles made of rubber and some plastics can also be damaged by oil, so only oil the blade.
  • Choose the right oil. For a general-purpose survival knife, you can use a wide range of household (but not automotive) oils. WD-40 will work fine for most survival knives. However, if you will be using your knife for any food-related purposes, use a food-grade mineral oil or a silicone lubricant instead.

If you want to also protect and preserve the handle, you can treat it with the right protectant based on what it’s made of:

  • Rubber or plastics: these can be preserved and protected with treatments like ArmorAll
  • Wood: use linseed oil
  • Leather: mink oil will keep a leather handle soft and supple
  • Bone or horn: these should be cleaned with soap and water and left un-treated

Remember to only use a small amount of oil on the blade, and a small amount (if any) of protectant on the handle, to avoid slipperiness.

Keep Your Survival Knife Sharp

Not only will keeping your blade sharp ensure that it’s ready whenever you need it, but sharp blades are also safer to handle and easier to control than dull ones.

You may not need to sharpen your blade after every single use, but you should test its sharpness and see if sharpening is needed.

Survival knives don’t need to be razor sharp (and some survival knives are made of steel so hard that it’s nearly impossible to achieve razor sharpness), but your blade should always be able to cut through a sheet of paper in a single smooth motion; if it is unable to, it needs to be sharpened.

Survival knives should generally be sharpened at an angle between 25 and 30 degrees, for maximum power and strength in use, rather than the finer angles used for cutting softer materials.

But always use the angle that works best for the steel of your specific blade, and your specific needs. A slightly rougher blade may be better for specific survival tasks like batoning or cutting rope.

While you may prefer to have your knives professionally sharpened, it’s always a good idea to at least learn how to sharpen your survival knife yourself.

Everyone who uses a knife eventually develops preferences, and sharpening your own knives lets you craft the exact edge you are looking for.

Additionally, in the field, you may need to use a smooth stone or a leather belt to sharpen your knife, and it’s a skill you should master as necessary for survival.

Store Your Survival Knife Properly

In between uses, survival knives should not be stored in the sheath. Even if the blade is dry, some sheaths can attract humidity from the air, and potentially corrode or damage a blade over long storage periods. Leather also has chemicals that will damage a blade.

In order to store the blade properly, it’s a good idea to make your own storage sheath out of cardboard. Cardboard is sturdy, protects the blade, and allows moisture to evaporate. Survival knives should be stored in a cardboard sheath whenever they are not in use.

For long-term storage, place the knife inside the cardboard sheath inside a plastic bag, along with a desiccant or silica gel to ensure that it stays dry.


Keeping a survival knife sharp, clean, oiled, and dry will keep the blade in peak condition and ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Proper care means the difference between a survival knife that you can always count on, and a knife that will let you down when you need it most.

When it comes to survival, choose the best knife you can, and then take great care of it. After all, someday, your blade may need to take care of you.


Special offer for our visitors

Get your Free Survival Gear Guide

We will never send you spam. By signing up for this you agree with our privacy policy and to receive regular updates via email in regards to industry news and promotions