How to Use a Can Opener

By Charlotte King

A can opener is an essential tool in every kitchen because it allows you to easily open metal cans and jars. There are many different types of openers out there, with some of them looking strange enough to leave you wondering how to use them.

Most can openers follow the same principle: you have to puncture the lid of the can and cut along the rim by turning a knob. Sounds pretty simple, don’t you think?

We’ve put together this guide to help you learn how to use four different types of can openers step-by-step. If you’re ready, let’s begin!

How to Use a Manual Can Opener

How to Use a Can Opener

You can usually find a traditional can opener in the kitchen drawers of any home. These handhelds can openers pierce the lid from the top with the help of a cutting wheel, and then slice it from the can.

Learning how to use a manual can opener is quite easy, so let’s get started.

Components of a Can Opener

Being familiar with the different components of a manual can opener is important to understand the instructions on how to use it. It may look like a simple kitchen tool, but it actually includes four different parts:

  • The levers are the two arms that clamp onto the side of the can.
  • The handle is composed of an axle and a notched wheel that allow you to turn the can.
  • The wedge is the circular wheel that cuts into the can.
  • The knob is the piece that allows you to turn the wheel and cut the lid of the can.

Step-by-Step Instructions to Use a Can Opener

  1. Place the can on the countertop or another stable flat surface.
  2. Open the arms of the can opener to separate the cutting wheel from the notched feed wheel. 
  3. Place the cutting wheel on the top of the lip of the can. Make sure that both the cutting wheel and the feed wheel are aligned and perpendicular to the side of the can, not at an angle.
  4. Hold the can steady with your non-dominant hand, and firmly squeeze the arms of the can opener together with your dominant hand until you feel that the cutting wheel has pierced the lid.
  5. Use your non-dominant hand to turn the knob of the can opener clockwise, so that the wheel begins cutting through the lid. The can will rotate naturally as you work your way around.
  6. Keep turning the knob until you’ve cut the lid. You can either cut around the entire can, in which case you’re going to need a butter knife to pry it out, or leave a tiny bit of the lid uncut, for which you should use a butter knife to lift the cut section of the lid, then your fingers to pull the lid back.

The cut lid can be very sharp, so be cautious when working with metal cans. If you prefer a safer option, go for a smooth-edge can opener. (Check out the next section of this guide.)

How to Use a Smooth-Edge Can Opener

Smooth-edge can openers, sometimes called safety can openers, operates like a traditional handheld opener, but the mechanism is placed in a way that allows you to cut through the side of the can instead. The notched feed wheel on a smooth-edge can opener should be placed on the lid at the lip, and the cutting wheel goes on the side of the can. This way, the can opener cuts off a thin ring of metal.

As regards the turning knob, some models have it on the side, like traditional handheld openers, while others have it on the top. Most of these openers will have a notch called “lid pliers” that can be hooked beneath the lid to lift it off without risking your fingers.

This kind of can opener is operated just like a traditional one:

  1. Place the can on a stable surface.
  2. Latch the feed wheel onto the can’s edge.
  3. Turn the knob to cut the can open on the side. The opener will rotate around the can naturally as you cut through it.
  4. Use the lid pliers to lift the top off.

How to Use a Kuhn Rikon Can Opener

However, the Kuhn Rikon can opener is a multitasker that can be used not only to open cans but also crown-cap bottles, screw-top bottles, pull-top cans, and jars. Most models of Kuhn Rikon have one long single handle, instead of the two that more traditional models feature, but you can find those as well.

This tool doesn’t cut the top of the can lid, but rather it slices around the side. We like this one because it leaves a smooth edge behind and reduces the contact between the blade and the food.

Without further ado, here’s how to slice lids off cans using a Kuhn Rikon can opener:

  1. If your Kuhn Rikon has two handles, open them.
  2. Place the can opener flat on top of the can, with the knob facing upwards, and the metal blade of the opener flat against the side of the can.
  3. Turn the knob clockwise to cut the can open. If you meet any resistance, try applying a bit of pressure by turning the knob harder.
  4. Go all the way around the can, and once you’ve reached your starting point, remove the can opener. The can won’t look like it’s been cut, so don’t worry about that.
  5. Turn the can opener so that the knob is facing right instead of down.
  6. Attach the pinchers located on the side of the can opener.
  7. Use the small button on your Kuhn Rikon to open and then close the pinchers to grasp the edge of the lid. On the version that has two handles, simply use those same handles to open and close the pinchers.
  8. Pry the lid off gently to prevent food or liquid from spilling.

How to Use a Butterfly Can Opener

Butterfly can openers look strange enough at first glance that you might think there’s no way that contraption can actually be used to open cans. Well, you’ll be glad to know that these manual openers are actually incredibly simple to use:

  1. Place the can on a flat, stable surface.
  2. Pierce a starting hole with the church-key, that is, the sharp and pointed key located at the end of the can opener’s larger handle.
  3. Secure the hole tightly by closing the handles of the can opener.
  4. Spin the lever to open the can and then the opener will rotate around the can naturally as you cut through it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Opener

How can I clean my manual can opener?

Cleaning your manual can opener thoroughly after every use is crucial to prevent food residue from building up. You can wash it with hot water and dish soap, or, if you want to disinfect it, mix a tablespoon (14 g) of bleach with a gallon (3.5 l) of hot water. Spray your can opener with this solution, making sure to coat the wheels, and let it sit for a few minutes to disinfect and soften any gunk. Then, wipe it clean, rinse and thoroughly dry your can opener.

How can I maintain my can opener?

Can opener maintenance is not difficult at all!  After washing it with hot water and dish soap, make sure to rinse it well and dry it thoroughly with a kitchen towel to prevent rusting. Before storing it back in the drawer, allow the wheels to air-dry completely by letting the can opener sit with the handles open.

If you don’t want to wet the can opener, there’s another way to clean it. Fold a paper towel into a long piece that can be easily (and carefully!) inserted under the blade. Draw it through to get rid of all the food residue, and repeat for the other blade.

How can I open a can without a can opener?

Depending on the type of can, there are a few things you can try, but the easiest and safest method is using a spoon. You should keep in mind, though, that it requires some muscle strength.

Grip the spoon handle with four fingers, resting your pinky in the spoon bowl for more stability. Rub the bowl of the spoon along the crimped edge of the can and wear a hole in the metal that’s big enough to insert the utensil, and then cut all the way around the lid.  Pry the lid up as far as you can to simply scoop out the contents and enjoy them.

In the extremely rare case that you find yourself without a spoon, follow these same instructions with a screwdriver, a pocket knife, or even a fork. These are more dangerous, as they have pointed ends and sharp edges, so be careful.

If you’re trying to open a canning jar, here are some useful ideas you can try.


As you can probably see by now, learning how to use a can opener is extremely easy! With some practice, you’ll be opening those metal cans open in just a few seconds. Just remember to keep an eye out for jagged and sharp edges, or go for a smooth-edge can opener if you don’t want to be worrying about accidentally slicing your fingers.

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