How to Use a Can Opener
And how to clean it — remove that disgusting gunk once and for all.
By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.
Can openers are a simple yet essential kitchen tool. Even if you own one of the best can openers, it’s possible you’ll encounter a totally unfamiliar one at a friend’s house or vacation rental. No worries, below, we’ve outlined a guide on how to use every kind of can opener. Follow these best use care practices to ensure that you’re opening cans safely and extending your can opener’s life.
How to Use a Handheld Can Opener
Note that most handheld can openers are designed for right-handed users, though left-handed can openers are available from specialty retailers.
- Place the can on a flat countertop.
- Spread the arms of the can opener. This separates the sharp cutting wheel and the notched feed wheel.
- Line up the two wheels. Rest the cutting wheel on the top of the lid on the right side of the can (with the knob on the outside). Ensure that the cutting wheel and feed wheel are aligned and perpendicular to the side of the can (not at an angle).
- Squeeze the can opener’s arms together. You should hear the cutting wheel puncture the can lid.
- Turn the knob clockwise. The feed wheel will grip the lip of the can and the opener will cut through the lid. Keep turning the knob until you’ve cut the lid around the entire can or left a tiny bit uncut. (The can will rotate as you work your way around.)
- Safely pry off the lid. Use a butter knife, taking care not to cut yourself on the sharp edge of the can.
How to Use a Smooth Edge or Safety Can Opener
Smooth-edge or safety can openers operate like traditional handheld can openers but cut through the side of the can rather than the top.
- Place the can on a flat countertop.
- Line up the two wheels. Line up the notched feed wheel at the lip of the lid and line up the cutting wheel on the side of the can.
- Turn the knob. Depending on your make, the knob may be on the side or the top of the can opener. As you cu the lid and open the can, the opener will naturally rotate around the can.
- Use the notch lid pliers to remove the top. The can opener will cut off a thin ring of metal; hook the pliers beneath the lid and remove the top.
How to Use an Electric Can Opener
- Plug in the can opener.
- Position the can against the opener. Raise the lever, then line up the can with the opening, ensuring that the can lies flush against the back of the can opener and that the wheel and blades are lined up.
- Lower the lever and clamp the can into place. The cutting blade should line up with the inside of the can’s lid and the magnet should rest on the top of the lid.
- Turn the power on. The cutting blade should puncture the lid and the can opener will automatically rotate the can. You may need to keep a light grasp on the can as it turns to reduce the risk of spillage. Once the can has finished rotating and cutting, the lid should be separated from the can.
- Holding the can, lift the lever to release it from the can opener.
- Remove the lid from the magnet.
How to Clean and Maintain a Can Opener
Wash your can opener after every use and allow it to thoroughly air dry before putting it away. General guidelines follow but be sure to consult your user manual for best use and care practices for your model.
For Handheld Can Openers:
- To clean: Use a sponge to wash the entire can opener (handles, gears and wheel/blade) with dish soap and hot water. To clean more deeply, use a scrub brush or toothbrush to clean the gears and both sides of the blade. Dry the can opener with a dish towel and spread the handles open on a clean towel and let it air dry. Allowing the can opener to dry completely before storing it will help prevent rust.
- Avoid putting can openers in the dishwasher as this will cause the gears to rust. Dishwashing detergents can also dull blades which can affect the can opener’s performance.
- To remove rust or gunk: If your can opener is rusty or has accumulated gunk, soak the can opener in a jar or bowl filled with white vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a few hours (or overnight if it’s really rusty). To remove the rust and gunk, scrub the gears with a toothbrush or small cleaning brush, then rinse with warm water. If any residue remains, apply a little bit of dish soap or baking soda to the gears and scrub again. Then dry with a dish towel and allow to air dry completely before storage.
- To extend your can opener’s performance: You can periodically apply a small amount of food grade mineral oil to the gears using a dish cloth.
For Electric Can Openers:
- To clean: Wipe the can opener with a soft, damp cloth and dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth.
- To remove rust or gunk: If your model’s piercing lever/cutting wheel is removable, unplug the can opener and follow manufacturer instructions for removal. Wash the piercing lever/cutting lever in hot, soapy water, then rinse and thoroughly dry. If the cutting wheel isn’t removable, use a toothbrush dipped in baking soda and scrub to remove any accumulated residue or rust. Wipe clean with a soft, damp cloth or wet paper towel and dry with a clean, dry cloth.
How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener
If you find yourself without a can opener, here are a few tricks to try.
Use a Spoon
Grab a large, sturdy spoon (like one made from stainless steel) and grasp it by the base of the utensil (where the spoon bowl meets the handle). Hold the can with the other hand and rub the tip of the spoon bowl firmly into the edge of the can, right inside the rim. Continue to rub a small area of the lid until it gives. Repeat until you have an opening large enough to peel back the lid. Take care to avoid the jagged edges to prevent cutting yourself.
Use a Screwdriver and Hammer
If you need to open a can that just has liquid (like soup or coconut milk), use a flat-head screwdriver to punch a hole large enough to pour out the contents. Hold the screwdriver firmly in one hand, lined up along the rim of the can. With your other hand, use the hammer to gently tap the top of the screwdriver handle to puncture a hole in the metal.
Use a Pocketknife or Box Cutter
Take extra care with this method! Use the pointy blade of a pocketknife or box cutter to pierce the top of the can, then continue around the edge until you’re able to pry it open (use dish gloves or a kitchen towel to avoid cutting your hand on the jagged edges).