How To Clean Fishing Rod Cork Handles

Cork is a tried-and-true material that rod manufacturers use to make comfortable and durable handles for fishing rods. While it’s hard to argue about cork’s natural beauty or performance, it’s easy for them to become dirty or need reconditioning. 

Thankfully, it’s easy to clean cork fishing rod handles with simple household products. Basic items like dish soap, a toothbrush, and baby wipes are all you’ll need to effectively clean your cork fishing rod handles. 

Read on as we cover everything you’ll need to know to properly care for your cork rod handles, including how to condition them to keep them looking new for years to come.

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What Is Fishing Rod Cork? 

Cork is a natural material harvested from trees. For most people, the only time you encounter cork is when opening a wine bottle, but it has several properties that make it an excellent choice for fishing rod handles. 

Cork does an excellent job of transmitting vibrations, allowing anglers to feel when a fish is biting. The material is also hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t absorb sweat or moisture the way other materials do. 

Cork is also lightweight, reasonably durable, and molds to your hand over time to provide a customized fit when you’re fishing. Best of all, cork maintains its grip properties whether it’s dry or wet, so you’ll always be able to have a sure grip on your rod regardless of the conditions you’re fishing in. 

The only drawbacks to cork are that it stains and discolors easily, and it can dry out over time. Fortunately, it’s effortless to clean cork and keep it conditioned so that it will provide decades of reliable use. 

How To Clean Cork Rod Handles

Cork handles are easy to clean with some everyday household items. Here’s what you’ll need to clean your handles: 

  • Bowl of clean water
  • Toothbrush
  • Dish soap 
  • Magic Eraser
  • Cork sealer or finish oil (optional)

Step 1: Deep Cleaning 

The first thing you’ll want to do is give the grips a heavy cleaning using some dish soap and a toothbrush. Dip the toothbrush into the water and add a drop of dish soap to the brush. Work the soap to a lather, dip it back in the water, and begin scrubbing the cork handles. 

Applying gentle pressure, scrub the entire surface of the rod to loosen any deeply set stubborn stains. 

Step 2: Wash and Wait 

Rinse them off with clean water after thoroughly cleaning the cork handles. Store the rod vertically and allow the handles to dry. I like to clean my handles on a sunny day so I can dry the rods outside while I wait for the next step. 

Step 3: The Secret Weapon 

Magic Erasers are a fantastic household tool with 1,001 uses. Beyond keeping your home beautiful, these sponges do a tremendous job of removing stubborn stains that the dish soap could not lift. 

Once your rod handles are dry, you’ll be able to see any remaining stains and imperfections in the cork. Dip your Magic Eraser into clean water, wring out the excess, and gently clean the stained areas with the corner of the eraser. The stains should lift within a few passes, leaving behind clean cork handles that look brand new. 

Step 4: Condition Your Handles

To keep my handles looking beautiful for years to come, I condition them after I clean them. There are tons of products available, and some are specifically for fishing rods, while others are more general. 

U40 cork sealer is a popular rod-specific treatment that conditions and protects rod handles. Danish oil and linseed oil are excellent for rod conditioning. Many other oils will darken the appearance of your handles. If you want to keep your cork handles as light as possible, the U40 sealer is the best product.

What Should You NOT Do When Cleaning Cork Handles? 

Cleaning cork handles is easy with simple household products, but there are some things you’ll want to be sure to avoid when cleaning cork. 

Many anglers reach for heavy-duty cleaning products to get their cork looking new again, but this can have dire consequences. 

Avoid rubbing alcohol, which can cause the cork to dry out and crack. Never use bleach or other harsh chemicals. If you’re unable to get them clean with dish soap (I like using dawn dish soap) or a magic eraser, speak with your local tackle shop about replacing the handles. 


What’s the best way to preserve cork on a fishing rod?

The best way to ensure your cork handles have a long life is to clean them regularly and condition them each season. You can use many cork sealant products to condition and preserve cork handles, including danish oil, linseed oil, U40 Cork Seal, water-based polyurethane, etc.

Can you sand a cork handle on a fishing rod?

One way to remove stains and imperfections from a cork rod handle is to sand the cork lightly to remove the top layer. Before sanding, you’ll want to mask off the rod and reel seat to avoid scratching it. Then, lightly sand the handle with a fine-grit sanding block, sanding the entire handle evenly.

What happens if the cork dries out?

If the cork is left out in the sun or other hot and dry environment, the cork will become brittle and begin to shrink and chip apart. You can rehydrate cork by spraying it with distilled water daily for five to seven days. Also, consider wrapping the damp cork handle in plastic wrap to promote rehydration.

ent, the cork will become brittle and begin to shrink and chip apart. You can rehydrate cork by spraying it with distilled water daily for five to seven days. Also, consider wrapping the damp cork handle in plastic wrap to promote rehydration. 

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