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We’ve all neglected our multi tool at one time or another; put it away without cleaning it, dropped it in the sand, dunked it in water, let pocket lint build up in the pivots, or let it go too long without sharpening. Follow this guide and your multi tool will be your trusty companion for decades.
How to Clean a Multi Tool
Step 1 – Initial Cleaning
Start with a dry multi tool and remove all the visible lint and grime. You need the tool to be dry so you don’t push things deeper into the pivots and corners.
- Compressed air works the best in combination with a toothbrush, Q-tip, or toothpick.
- Wipe down the handles with a microfiber cloth and then wipe each tool individually.
- Hold the cloth against the pivot and open/close each tool again to wipe the moving parts.
- You don’t need to be super thorough on this step, just get the big stuff that you can see.
- If you find rust that can’t be removed by wiping with WD-40, stop here and jump to How to Remove Rust
Step 2 – Regular Cleaning
Salts and acids are the enemy of your multi tool. Any time your tool is exposed to sticky things or harsh liquids (for example tree sap, fruit juice, or shop chemicals) you should do a quick wipedown to clean and re-protect as soon as possible. The longer you let it go the more likely you will have difficulty cleaning or worse yet, have permanent damage. For most situations, a regular cleaning will be sufficient. If you are unsure, start here because you can always follow up with a deep cleaning if necessary.
- Flush your multi tool with warm soapy water. We put 2 inches of soapy water in a container when washing our tools and use the faucet to flush the pivot to remove any sand, dirt, and other grit.
- Use a toothbrush to scrub each tool, the pivot joints, and the slots inside the handle.
- Give your multi tool a rinse with warm, clean water.
- Dry it off with a towel and blow out it out with the compressed air, or let it air dry with the tools splayed as much as possible for air circulation.
- At this point, any stickiness or grittiness should be gone from your multi tool. Give it a good inspection and open/close each tool to make sure everything is smooth and clean.
Step 3 – Deep Cleaning / Degreasing
Usually only necessary if you have neglected your multi tool and the action is very gummy, or you have issues that are not cleaned up by the soapy water during regular cleaning.
- Working in a well-ventilated area and following proper safety precautions, use denatured alcohol to remove all the grease and lubrication from the pivot joints.
- Denatured alcohol is a strong solvent and should also remove any sticky, tarry residue from your multi tool, as well as many stains and discolorations. For severe cases, you may want to let the tool soak overnight (be sure to check material compatibility, especially any plastics or handle materials).
- Allow your tool to air dry, you can use compressed air or a fan to accelerate the process but do not use a heat source that could ignite the fumes.
How to Remove Rust
Always start with a relatively clean and dry multi tool before using these procedures, we want to minimize the unknowns that may react with the chemicals used below. These methods start with the most gentle and get progressively more aggressive. Start with the first method and work your way down if needed.
Method 1 – White Vinegar
White vinegar is a staple that everyone should have around the house, it is cheap, non toxic, and one of our favorite cleaners. This method will remove most surface corrosion/discoloration from stainless steel and return it to bare metal.
White vinegar also works great for removing rust spots from kitchen knives, flatware, and cookware!
- Use a shallow container (or tall, narrow cup) and fill with enough white vinegar to cover the affected areas.
- Soak for 5-30 minutes and then scrub the rust location. Repeat if necessary.
- Rinse and dry.
Adding salt to the vinegar (1 tablespoon of salt per cup of vinegar) increases the acidity of the solution to chew rust faster – use with caution.
Method 2 – Baking Soda
If a 30 min vinegar soak and scrub doesn’t work, try this baking soda paste. Baking soda is a gentle abrasive that will not scratch stainless steel but other grit may be present, scrub with the grain to avoid swirl marks.
- Mix approximately 1 part water with 2-3 parts baking soda to form a thick paste and apply to the affected area.
- Let sit for 2-3 minutes and then begin scrubbing –
- Rinse and dry.
Method 3 – Vinegar and Baking Soda Combined
Here’s how to clean rust that is inside the pivot joint of your multi tool and you can’t reach it to scrub.
- Dip the pivot joint in vinegar and work the joint open/close
- Prepare 1 cup of warm water with ~1 teaspoon baking soda and stir well
- Remove the multi tool from the vinegar and place into the water/baking soda solution
- Work the pivot open/close
Why it works: The baking soda (base) neutralizes the vinegar (acid), releasing carbon dioxide gas. This also happens with the vinegar inside the pivot joint, where the fizzing action from the bubbles will help remove the rust. Once the fizzing action stops you are left with essentially just water.
Method 4 – Commercial Rust Removers
If the vinegar and baking soda methods are not successful, your corrosion has gone beyond just surface corrosion and started pitting. For these severe cases, we recommend using Evapo-Rust Rust Remover (Amazon link). We’ve used Evapo-Rust to clean grill grates and even some heavily rusted hand tools left recovered from the barn. It is non-toxic, relatively inexpensive, and works quicker than other options. Evapo-Rust is our go-to solution for really difficult rust problems.
How to Lubricate a Multi Tool
Cleaning your multi tool also removes its protection against rust and corrosion. ALWAYS re-apply your lubricant/protectant of choice after cleaning.
Put a bead of lubricant across the entire width at the top of the joint and then open/close each tool 4-5 times each. Let gravity assist the flow of lubricant and keep the joint upright as you work the action. Afterwards use a cloth to wipe the excess lubricant move to the next joint. Once all pivots are lubricated use the cloth to wipe all exposed metal on the multi tool.
Best Lubricant: Nano-Oil (available on Amazon) by StClaire is like WD-40 on steroids because it is made from nano-bearings that stay behind and don’t evaporate. The Light formulation (10 weight) is what we use on all our multi tools.
Best Protectant: Tuf-Glide CDLP (available on Amazon) by Sentry Solutions is a dry lubricant that bonds at a molecular level to the surface of the steel and protects it from oxidation. After applying, we like to set our multi tool aside for 24 hours to let the mineral spirits fully evaporate. Tuf-Glide is truly dry with nothing for dust and dirt to stick to.
Both Nano-Oil and Tuff-Glide come with a needle tip for precise control where and how much is dispensed. A little bit goes a long way so I buy the small pen applicator size and it lasts me a couple of years, although you will find other uses for it I promise you.
There is nothing wrong with using Rem Oil, WD-40 or good ‘ol 3-in-1 oil – just be sure to wipe off any excess.
Food Safe Lubricants: If you use your multi tool for food be sure to find a food-safe lubricant and protectant. Mineral oil is a good option (don’t use vegetable or olive oil, they have organic compounds that go rancid with time). Alternatively, we had good results with FrogLube (available on Amazon) when we tried it on a fishing trip a few years back.
Multi Tool Cleaning and Lubricating FAQ
Can I use other degreasers beside denatured alcohol? You can use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, IPA) but it is less effective as a solvent compared to denatured alcohol. White vinegar and citrus cleaners are also effective degreasers, but don’t leave your multi tool soaking in these weak acids for extended periods. Brake cleaner and other industrial parts cleaners can also be used but have toxic compounds.
Why not just take my multi tool apart and clean it? Disassembling voids the warranty on your multi tool. Also, multi tools are not as simple as you might think from just looking at the outside. They have complex stacks of internal spacers, springs, and pins that need to be properly aligned to function correctly. If you decide to disassemble your multi tool keep track of each piece and where it goes.
Can I put my multi tool in the dishwasher? You can but that doesn’t mean you shoul. We don’t recommend cleaning your multi tool in the dishwasher because you can cause damage and manual cleaning is more effective. If you decide to put it in the dishwasher don’t use detergent (the grit is abrasive) and just run it through a wash cycle with air dry. Also, don’t let your wife catch you…