PSA: Is Your Can Opener Clean?

man Bran says:

This is a public service announcement from Home Ec 101.
Let me ask you a quick question: When was the last time you washed your can opener?*

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m the dude who, when cooking in your kitchen, scrubs the can opener before I use it. And nearly every time, I’m fighting against caked-on rusty-red sludge. Or actual rust. Really.

Help me.

Do me a favour. Do yourself a favour. Do anyone who eats food from your kitchen a favour. Please keep your can opener clean. It’s one of the things health inspectors check for a reason—I mean, you open a can of tomato puree, and as it opens tomato seeps up through the cut in the metal and smears all over the blade. Sometimes, it sloshes over the side and hits the wheel, too. If left unwashed, that stuff builds up and becomes that dark, rusty-brown home for things you don’t really want to ingest. “Unsanitary”, meet “Ew”.

Electric can openers are even worse for this, I’ve found. Cleaning them well is a nightmare—particularly if the goo has already set up well on it. You’re gonna need some elbow grease and some vinegar to get that off. If you have an electric opener and the lever/cutting wheel is removable, (unplug the machine first! and) pop that lever-piece into a bowl of white vinegar for a soak until the gunk comes off when brushed with a toothbrush. In the meantime, scrub the heck out of the main body of the opener, all around the mechanism, everything. Rinse it clean, dry it all very well so you’re not just inviting rust back in, and reassemble.

If you have one where the blade and lever can’t be removed, chuck that thing and get a hand-held one. I’m serious. Better still, if you have an electric one at all my recommendation is to chuck it and get a hand-held one. Because you really should be cleaning your can opener whenever you use it, and isn’t it a pain-in-the-butt chore with that electric one?

Manual can opener technology has come a long way since we were kids; even the middle-of-the-road brand will open up a can with less effort than you’d expend trying to clean one of those blasted electric machines, and a good quality one will open your can like a hot knife through butter. Gone are the days of busting your knuckles with some dull contraption of twisted steel. Some of the can openers on the market are actually a joy to use. …Don’t look at me like that. It’s true. And a lot (most, I’d wager, but check the packaging) of these manual marvels of engineering are even dishwasher-safe.

If you already have a manual can opener, and it’s dirty, the same trick with the vinegar and a toothbrush should work on it. Alternatively, if it’s old, and you notice it’s taking a little too much work to use it, take the opportunity to toss it and get a new one with a sharp blade and a distinct lack of food build-up. (In fact, having a sharp blade is a key factor in cutting metal—I know, it’s a shock—so if you’re having to put in a whole lot of effort, or if your opener skips or gets stuck, a dull blade might be the problem. Replace the blade or buy a new opener.)

And this time, this time, keep your can opener clean. Clean it every time. Keep the hinge well-oiled with food-grade mineral oil. It’s a tool, and tools deserve to be taken care of.

Thanks, on behalf of Anyone Who Eats Food From Your Kitchen and other interested parties. You won’t regret it.

*Tin opener, if you’re inclined to call them tins instead of cans. In my house it could really go either way.


  1. roseann on March 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    also, i highly recommend everyone who replaces their manual opener to replace it one which leaves the lids and the cans without any sharp edges.  so much safer!

  2. roseann on March 17, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    yay!  i put my kuhn rikon safety opener in a dishwasher.  no issues at all with rust or anything.  it comes out clean and nice.

  3. deneicer1 on March 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I purchased the Kitchen Aid manual can opener…and it works GREAT!  It is by far the best can opener I have ever owned.  It is probably two years old now and still working well.  I use my dish brush to scrub it off after each use which is quite simple.  I am nervous to run it through the dishwasher because I don’t want it to rust.

  4. Brenda on March 16, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    We’ve always had trouble keeping can openers clean too. Then we bought one from pampered chef and it doesn’t get all wet even with tuna it stays clean and dry after every single no more rusty can openers with crusty food, ewww…

  5. KeterMagick on March 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I only use a manual can opener…the electric ones just don’t work that well and are usually tricky to keep clean.  I rinse the can opener after every use, and wash it probably twice a week, usually because my husband has used it and put it away dirty.  If you’ve got a seriously gunked-up can opener, put some goo-gone on it and let it sit for a few minutes and the goo will come off easier.  I learned this while preparing a meal at my then-not-yet-husband’s house a few years back…it was my first clue that he and can opener hygiene were not in the same reality.  ;o)

    • DanielleB on March 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm

       @KeterMagick Gee, maybe if I tried that my can openers would last longer than 1 and 1/2 yrs!
      I use to just rinse them. I threw out my can opener a few months back. Haven’t bought a new yet.  I switched to frozen vegs. And I hate tuna fish.  I’ll have to get one sooner or  later… I’ll need one when I make chili!

      • deneicer1 on March 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm

         @KeterMagick You can always use dried beans…then you wouldn’t need a can opener at all!  😉

  6. hislovendures on March 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Yikes, I’m pretty sure my manual can opener, which I’ve had for, oh, 5 or 6 years has never been cleaned.  Gonna take care of that today – thank you for the inspiration!

    • DanielleB on March 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

       @hislovendures Mine never last that long.

  7. Salixisme on March 16, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I put my can opener in the dishwasher after I have used it.

    • Senga on March 17, 2012 at 2:41 am

       @Salixisme So do I – and that means it is in the dishwasher most nights. I naively assumed everyone did this!

  8. Thaydra on March 16, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I’ve thought this before, too!!!!    I’ve watched people open sloppy cans, and then just throw the can opener back into the drawer.  Um… eww!  I always at least rinse it well and let it dry, but more often than not it gets rinsed and thrown into the dishwasher.  I hadn’t thought about letting it soak in vinegar, though.  Is that just for removing stuck on stuff, or is it also good for disinfecting? 

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