Cleaning steel knitting needles

knitting needles
© F H Powell 2015

We were recently asked – Can steel knitting needles be cleaned and if so what is the best way to clean them?

Many people will find that over time steel knitting needles can become dull and tarnished. This can be caused by oil (and sweat) from the hands transferring to the knitting needles, which in turn attract small particles of dirt and over time a dark residue can build up on the needles. If the needles are left for long periods of time between usage, some of these residues can eat into the needles and cause rust patches to form.

If there are small patches of rust on the needle, you can gently rub away the rust with fine sandpaper or glass paper until you start to see bright metal, don’t overdo this or you will start to wear away the needle. Sometimes if there is a lot of rust you will not be able to save the needles. Years ago some knitters used to rub needles over sandstone in the walls of their houses, both to remove rust patches and re-sharpen the points.

To clean the needles use a standard metal polish, work it well over the whole needle and rub off the polish with a soft cloth. You may need to repeat this several times to remove all the dirt, especially if the needles are old or well used. Be careful cleaning some of the very fine needles as these may bend or become caught in the polishing cloth.

With very fine double pointed needles put two needles together when cleaning and gently rotate between finger and thumb in the cloth as you polish, so both needles are completely cleaned. By cleaning in pairs the needles are less likely to bend, as they are effectively twice the thickness and so have added strength if accidentally caught in the cloth.

To prevent the needles from rusting or tarnishing, polish the needles with a wax based furniture polish (spray furniture polish works just as well as solid wax) and clean off excess wax/polish with a soft cloth. You will notice the needles become shinier. Make sure you clean off all the excess wax/polish before using the needles or this will transfer to your hands and therefore your knitting.

Commercially produced aluminium needles cannot be cleaned as described above due to the coating which is applied to the needles, this could be rubbed off during the cleaning process.

If you clean your needles before storing them for a long time, this helps prevent rust. It may also help if you store your needles wrapped in cotton cloth and sealed in plastic bags.

Steel crochet hooks can be cleaned in the same way, but be careful around the hooks, where polish and wax can build up in the hook itself. Hooks can also become tangled in the polishing cloth if you clean too vigorously!