While many manufacturers have added pull tabs to their aluminum cans, you’ll need a can opener to access the tasty treats found in cans that don’t have that convenience, and during an extended power outage, a manual can opener can be a lifeline for nonperishable foods stored in cans. These tools are important components of emergency preparedness as well as a staple in most kitchens.
Many people have low-quality manual can openers kicking around the back of a drawer, that when called into action turn out to be rusty or dull. The best manual can opener is comfortable to use, sharp, and easy to turn for quick opening of most cans. Get shopping tips and recommendations here. Some have additional features, such as integrated bottle openers and tab pullers, which are helpful but not necessary, and all should work smoothly without a struggle.
What to Look for in a Manual Can Opener
Below you’ll find helpful information about what to consider when you shop for a can opener, so you can find the best model for your kitchen and in case of emergencies.
There are two components where the material is an important consideration in a manual can opener. First is the body and cutting wheel: the wheel will be exposed to liquids within the cans as it cuts the lid, so it’s key that it be made of a metal that resists corrosion and rust. Stainless steel is one of the best choices for this location, as it maintains a sharp edge and resists stains, rust, and corrosion. Some can openers coat the stainless steel with zinc for increased durability. The other location is the handle, because you need to be able to grasp the handles and squeeze them together, so a rubberized or lightly cushioned handle is ideal. Texturized hard plastic also offers a solid grip.
Manual can openers are not complicated, but they can be bulky. It’s critical that the tool is sized appropriately for the users’ hands, because an opener that is too big will be impossible to grip, and a too-small opener will be difficult to align. Ideally, you’re looking for a can opener with an ergonomically-shaped handle that is angled well to hold tightly to the can while opening. The opener you choose should be able to fit into your available drawer space or feature a hanging hook or wall mount.
Can openers dip into the contents of every can they slice. This means cleaning is extremely important to reduce the transfer of flavors and bacteria from can to can (and eventually to you). Choose a can opener that opens wide enough for effective cleaning or plan to devote a toothbrush to cleaning, as most can openers should not be placed in the dishwasher. Extra flanges or grips on the can opener may make it easier to use, but also add spots where bacteria can collect and hide, so weigh ease-of-use against the ability to thoroughly clean the tool.
Our Top Picks
Bearing materials, functionality, and ease of use in mind, these are our top recommendations for manual can openers.
Outstanding at not just opening cans, but also crown-cap bottles, screw-top bottles, pull-top cans, and jars, the Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety Master Opener is a great all-round choice. Unlike many multitaskers, the Kuhn Rikon performs all of its assigned tasks with efficiency and speed. The can opener features ‘lock-on” technology, which means that the tool clicks on and grips the edge of the can—no need to awkwardly squeeze the handles together while trying to turn a key. The Kuhn Rikon’s long single handle offers extra grip and leverage for using the pull and twist features on other lids as well.
This opener does not cut the top of the can lid; instead, it slices around the side, leaving the edge smooth, not sharp, and reducing contact between the blade and the contents of the can for reduced contamination. The knob turns smoothly and easily until you’ve fully opened the can, at which point the resistance changes, and you’ll know it’s time to use the mini-plier lever to grip the top of the can and safely lift it away. Modern in appearance with a black or red rubberized coating for easy grip, the Kuhn Rikon offers a sleek look to your kitchen tool collection, and can also be rinsed clean easily.
Simple and effective, the Good Cook Can Opener neatly slices off the tops of cans using a side-mounted blade, preventing sharp edges. This can opener doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles: heavy-duty chrome construction surrounded by textured dense black plastic offers durability and a solid grip on the single handle—a steel ring balances against the top edge of the can to hold it steady. The blade cuts in from the side, so it does not press down into the can and come in contact with the contents, making the Good Cook opener a hygienic option. The Good Cook is available at a low cost and is ideal choice for cooks on a budget or those stocking an emergency box.
Arched, softly padded handles are the first indicator that this Lock N’ Lift Can Opener from Zyliss is designed with ergonomic comfort in mind. The cushioned grip absorbs much of the pressure from squeezing the handles and adds nonslip convenience, while the curved shape fits the hand and adds leverage. Next, a red lever on the top handle locks the cutting mechanism once you’ve clamped it into place, so there’s no need to continuously pinch the handles together. The Zyliss’ crank handle is rotated to the side of the opener for a more natural turning motion, and when you’ve finished cutting open the can, a magnet on the front snaps up the lid before it falls into the can.
A lever on the bottom of the Zyliss Lock N’ Lift releases the magnet to aid you in recycling or throwing away the lid without touching sharp edges. Its blade contains stainless steel for corrosion resistance and a sharp cutting edge, which should be protected by handwashing. Ideal for users with limited grip strength or flexibility, the Zyliss takes the awkwardness out of holding and opening a can.
For those with limited drawer space, the Swing-A-Way Wall Mount Can Opener is a great option. Mounting to the wall with an included base plate and hardware, the Swing-A-Way can opener locks flat against the wall to the left or right, neatly out of the way when not in use. When you need it, the Swing-A-Way’s smooth hinges allow it to rotate out, the handle pops up, and the opener locks in place, ready for you to present the can.
The Swing-A-Way’s high-carbon stainless steel blade cuts cleanly through the top of the can, turning smoothly with a skip-free gear feed, and a magnet catches the lid once it’s freed. The durable all-steel body is strong enough to open almost any can and includes an integrated bottle opener. Safe and effective, the Swing-A-Way is ideal for tight kitchens and garages, as well.
Featuring all-stainless steel construction and extra-soft cushioned grips, the Swing-A-Way Comfort Grip Can Opener is comfortable and easy to use. Its blade contains high-carbon stainless steel to hold its sharp edge for longer and is driven by a metal gear mechanism for non-skid performance. This opener does require the user to press and hold the handles together while turning the knob with the other hand, but the padded handles absorb some of the pressure and the gears ensure that the knob turns smoothly and easily. A built-in bottle opener on the bottom of the cutting head makes this a multitasking opener for an affordable price.
What is the Right Way to Use a Manual Can Opener?
Finding the right angle for opening can be a little tricky. Follow these steps to make the process easy:
- Place the can on a flat surface. With the turning handle facing away from the can, open the wings of the manual can opener slightly and fit the cutting wheel just inside the rim of the can. Close the wings gently to hold the blade in place and hold in one hand.
- Squeeze the wings together with one hand (usually the left) to lock the handles together and pierce the lid with the cutting wheel. You may need to reposition slightly to get the cutting wheel at the right angle to pierce. If necessary, release the handles, reposition slightly (the cutting wheel should be angled out slightly), and try again.
- Turn the knob with the hand that isn’t holding the handles closed. The can opener will ‘walk’ around the rim of the can as you turn the gear, slicing through the metal just inside the rim. You can continue until the lid is entirely detached or stop with about a half-inch of metal uncut to allow you to bend the lid up and out of the way (and prevent it from falling into the can).
- Carefully remove the lid from the can (if it has fallen in, the tip of a knife will help pop it up) or bend the lid up. Remember that unless you’re using a smooth-edge cutter, the edge of the lid will be extremely sharp, so be careful not to cut yourself.
Manual Can Opener Maintenance
Many people will just toss their can opener back into the drawer after use. This is a mistake: food debris and liquids coat the inside edge of the cutting wheel, even if you can’t see it, and will dry there, causing buildup and bacteria to develop. In addition, Acidic liquids can cause corrosion that is then transferred to the next can you open. Proper maintenance is simple—rinse promptly with warm soapy water and dry.
If your can opener has developed buildup or rust, a quick soak in some white vinegar will often dissolve or remove it, and a toothbrush dipped in vinegar or soapy water will help you reach inside to give it a good scrub. If buildup or rust has developed to a point that these techniques do not remove it, it’s time to buy a new can opener.
FAQs About Your New Can Opener
Q: How do you fix a manual can opener?
A: The most common problem with can openers is that they can get stuck or be difficult to rotate. You can use oil or cooking spray to lubricate the gears or wheels: spread a little over the working part of the tool, and it will work smoothly again. Do not use commercial lubricants, as they are not specifically food-safe. If oiling doesn’t work, it’s possible that one of the gears that turns the handle is broken, in which case you should discard the opener and choose a new one.
Q: Can manual can openers be sharpened?
A: If you’re performing regular maintenance and keeping the can opener clean and dry, the wheel should remain sharp. If you find that your blade is skipping or seems dull, you can run a piece of folded aluminum foil or sandpaper through the sharpener several times: clamp between the wheels and rotate the handle to move the foil or sandpaper through, and the material will clean and sharpen the blade.