How To Clean a Can Opener

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Add handheld can openers to the list of things in my kitchen that I didn’t even know were dirty until I set out to learn how to clean them (other line items on the list: my sponge and my sink). I just grabbed it out of the drawer to see if it was dirty, and sure enough, I found the gears all gunked up and flaked with rust. Gross. But I am happy to report that it can be cleaned — it’s easy and super-satisfying, too!

If your can opener is beyond the point of being saved, you should think about replacing it. Here are three of our favorite options.

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Start with a dirty can opener. (Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How To Clean a Can Opener


  • Mason jar or other tall, narrow container
  • White distilled vinegar
  • An old toothbrush
  • Dish soap
  • Dish towel


  1. Soak it: Put your can opener, gears-down, into the Mason jar, then add enough vinegar to cover the working parts. (I found that the Mason jar used less vinegar than if I had put the whole thing in a bowl.)
  2. Let it sit: Wait at least a few minutes (or hours, if your can opener is really bad). You should start to see some satisfying bubbles coming off of the gears, and maybe even some gunk floating to the bottom of the jar. (Full disclosure: I waited about two minutes and got good results.)
  3. Scrub: Bring the jar over to the sink. Pull the can opener out of the jar, dunk the toothbrush into the vinegar, and scrub the gears with the toothbrush. When the toothbrush turns brown, rinse it off, dunk in the vinegar, and start again. Repeat until the toothbrush looks really clean!
  4. Add soap: Add some dish soap to your toothbrush.
  5. Scrub again: With your soapy toothbrush, give everything another scrub, then rise. (I found this got rid of any lingering greasy bits.)
  6. Dry the gears: Dry the metal gears with a dish towel (or else they’ll rust!) and admire your good-as-new can opener!