How to Clean Garden Tools

Gardening tools on white surface

Eco Warrior Princess / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Every gardener with a green thumb knows that having the proper tools in the best condition will contribute to a beautiful garden. Whether it is a shovel for digging holes for planting, pruning shears or fungus-free planters, each tool contributes to the success of the gardener and the survival of the plants.

Cleaning gardening tools helps prevent rust from forming, keeps edges sharper, and removes disease-laden soil and sap. Cleaning garden pots and containers helps prevent cross-contamination from fungus, aphids, and other problems that can prevent plants from thriving.

How Often to Clean Garden Tools

Ideally, garden tools should be cleaned after every use to remove soil. It is most important to give every tool a thorough cleaning and inspection at the end of the growing season before storing it.

If tools are used to prune or remove a diseased plant, they should be cleaned immediately before being used to work around a healthy plant. Keep a bucket filled with one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water in the garden to disinfect the tools by dipping them in the solution and drying well before using to work on the next plant.         

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Garden hose
  • Putty knife or plastic scraper
  • Stiff wire brush or steel wool
  • 10-inch flat mill file
  • Whetstone
  • Old cloths
  • Bucket(s)

Materials

  • Chlorine bleach
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Turpentine, lighter fluid, or Goo Gone
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Linseed oil (optional)
  • Machine Oil
  • WD-40
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sand

Instructions

  1. Wash Away Soil

    Use the blast from the garden hose to remove soil. Scrape away any stuck-on mud with a putty knife or plastic scraper.

  2. Soak in Soapy Water

    To help remove residual soil, fill a bucket with hot water and add about one-half teaspoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of water. Add each tool after removing heavy soil and let them soak for 15-20 minutes.

  3. Rinse and Dry the Tools

    Rinse every tool with cool water and dry with a microfiber cloth.

  4. Inspect for and Remove Rust

    Check each tool for any sign of rust. If rust or pitting is present, Use a stiff wire brush or steel wool to scrub away rust spots. Lightly coat the tool with vegetable oil to aid in loosening the rust while you scrub.

  5. Remove Gooey Sap

    If the tools feel sticky, it could be plant sap or insect residue. Dip an old cloth in a bit of turpentine, lighter fluid, or Goo Gone. Wipe down the tool paying close attention to hinged areas.

  6. Disinfect Tools

    Before storing tools, they should be disinfected to kill bacteria and fungi that can cause problems. Mix a solution of two cups of chlorine bleach and one gallon of water in a bucket. Submerge the tools and let them soak for 10 minutes. Rinse well and dry completely with an old cloth.

Tips for Keeping Garden Tools in Top Condition

Whether your tools are brand new or treasured favorites, some maintenance and care beyond cleaning can help them work better and last for many years.

  • Store Tools Correctly

    Most gardening chores are seasonal but even if you know you're going to be using the shovel or trowel or shears the next day, don't leave them outside in the garden. After cleaning, return them to your storage area so they will remain dry and, hopefully, rust-free.

    To keep small trowels and hand-tools rust-free and easy to find, fill a large flower pot or bucket with sand and add one cup of vegetable oil. Mix well and then insert the metal ends of the tools into the oiled sand.

    If possible, hang larger tools from hooks or a pegboard to prevent warping of the handles and to keep metal components off the floor and dry.

  • Care for Wooden Handles

    If your tools have wooden handles, the wood will eventually begin to dry out, split, and loosen from the metal component. Once or twice a year, sand the handles with medium-grit sandpaper to remove rough spots and rub them with linseed oil. The oil adds a protective barrier to help repel water.

    Most wooden handles can be replaced by removing the metal component and installing a new handle.

  • Oil Moving Components

    Any tool with a moving component like snips, shears, or pruners needs oil to keep moving parts working smoothly. This can be done by placing a drop or two of machine oil on the hinged parts.

    It is also beneficial to take these tools apart once a year and rub down all of the components (screws and bolts) with machine oil. This helps remove any hard-to-see rust and mineral deposits.

  • Sharpen Blades and Edges

    Any gardening tool with an edge—shovels, hoes, snips, pruners—will need to be sharpened occasionally. Large blades and edges can be sharpened with a 10-inch flat mill file and smaller, finer edges can be sharpened with a whetstone.

    Begin by wiping down the blades with WD-40. File the edges at a 20 to 45-degree angle following the original bevel. Finish by wiping down with a soft cloth to remove any metal shavings.