How To Clean Garden Tools

Keeping your garden tools clean and well-maintained is crucial, just like with any item you spend your hard-earned money on. By doing so, you’ll not only extend their lifespan but also improve their performance.

Storing your garden tools in a shed is a good practice, but it’s also important to clean them regularly. Once you develop the habit, it will become second nature to you, and you’ll find yourself doing it without even thinking about it.

shed with tools
Tools in a shed.

Think about it for a moment – when you buy new clothes, you wear them, they get dirty, and then you wash them to keep them looking good. Neglecting to do so causes them to deteriorate due to the dirt buildup.

The same goes for your gardening tools. Leaving soil on them will accelerate their deterioration, mainly due to rusting. A small amount of effort in cleaning them can make a significant difference in the long run.

How to Clean Your Garden Tools Using Water

It’s highly recommended to clean your garden tools with water after use, regardless of whether they’re forks, spades, or edging shears. Any tool that comes into contact with soil or grass will benefit greatly from a good water clean.

Usually, soil can be easily removed by spraying the tools with water from a hosepipe or by tipping water over them and rubbing off the soil. However, if the soil is very clay-like and sticky, or if it is caked and dried on, you may need to use a stiff brush in addition to water to clean the tools thoroughly.

A stiff brush is the best tool to quickly and effectively remove dirt when used with water. It’s also a good practice to keep 2 or 3 old towels around to dry off your tools after cleaning. Neglecting to dry them off may cause the tools to rust.

Tools left out in the open will rust.

Maintaining Your Metal Garden Tools with Oil

In addition to cleaning your tools with water, it’s a good practice to apply a bit of oil on your metal tools. This not only helps prevent rust but also stops dirt from sticking to the metal.

To do this, use a general-purpose oil on a cloth and apply it to the metal parts of the tools such as fork tines, spade/shovel head, or blades of secateurs and shears. After rubbing the oil in, wipe away any excess and let it soak in properly.

If the tools are in bad shape, you may want to apply a second coat after the first one has soaked in.

Another option for oiling your garden tools is to use boiled linseed oil, which can be applied to both the metal and wooden parts of the tools.

To use, simply wipe the oil onto the surface and let it sit for around 10 minutes before wiping off any excess. You can then decide whether to apply another layer or not, depending on how the tools are looking.

Because boiled linseed oil contains a small amount of solvent to prevent hardening in the can, it’s best to let the tools sit for up to 24 hours before using them. This will allow the solvent to evaporate and avoid contaminating the soil.

You don’t need to oil your tools after every use, just keep an eye on their condition and decide when it’s necessary.

After cleaning, drying, and oiling your tools, it’s a good idea to hang them up. This not only allows them to breathe but also protects any sharp edges from getting damaged or being in the way.

You can use hooks in your shed or van to hang your tools, or nails on the beams along the top of the wall. This will keep them out of harm’s way and protect them from moisture that could be a problem if they’re left on the floor or leaning against the wall.

Using Oil on Tools with Moving Parts

For hand tools with moving parts, such as secateurs, edging shears, or hedge shears, it’s a good idea to apply a few drops of oil to the pivot point or moving part after cleaning.

Just a few drops of 3-in-one oil should be sufficient. Apply the oil and work the moving part so that it spreads evenly. After about 10 minutes, you can wipe off any excess with an old cloth. Keep the cloth in a handy place so you can use it again.

When cleaning cutting tools, keep an eye out for sap on the blades. Sap may not come off easily with water, so you may need to use a little paint thinner on a cloth to remove it before washing the tool with water and applying oil to finish.

Maintaining Tools with Wooden Handles

If you own tools with wooden handles, it’s important to apply oil to the wood at least once or twice a year, or more frequently if you use them often. A study by NC State University has shown that the sun can damage wood, so leaving your tools lying around in direct sunlight is a bad idea.

I prefer to use boiled linseed oil to rub onto the handles of my wooden tools. After sanding the wood, it’s recommended to apply another coat of oil the following day.

Never leave tools with wooden handles outside, as exposure to the elements can damage the wood. While rain may seem like the biggest threat, the sun can also dry out and crack wooden handles over time.

How to Remove Rust from Garden Tools

Rust is the enemy of any gardener’s tools, and it can quickly ruin them if left untreated. Tools tend to rust when they are:

  • Left dirty with soil or garden waste on them
  • Left out in the elements
  • Not dried off properly before storage
  • Stored improperly while touching the floor or poorly leaning against walls

The severity of the rust will determine the best method for cleaning the tools. If there is only a thin layer of rust, a sheet of sandpaper (80-120 grit) should do the trick. For slightly thicker rust, a wire brush may be necessary. If the rust is very thick and has made the tool’s surface uneven, using a wire brush manually can be a time-consuming task. In such cases, using a battery-powered drill with a wire brush attachment can make the job much easier and quicker. However, wearing the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves and goggles, is crucial.

If your tools are very rusted and you don’t have the resources to clean them yourself, you can always take them to a garden machinery shop for cleaning and sharpening, though this will come at a cost.

To prevent rust from forming on your tools, be sure to keep them clean and dry before storage.

Maintaining Power Tools

When using electric power tools, ensure that all wires are in good condition.

Petrol-powered tools should be checked at the spark plug cover, and make sure that the spark plug is not too dirty, or it may be difficult to start.

Chainsaws require chain oil to keep the chain lubricated while in use to prevent overheating due to the high speed of the chain rotation. After using the chainsaw, brush off any debris, and apply lubricant again before wiping it dry and storing it.

Before using hedge trimmers, apply lubricant to the blades, and brush off the blades after use. Apply lubricant again before storing it.

Lawn mowers should be checked underneath around the blades and rollers, as well as the grass catcher, and cleaned out. If the grass is damp, it will inevitably build up underneath, causing problems if left uncleaned.

If the mower is petrol-operated, lean it back to check underneath, and do not tip it to its side as it could damage the engine. You can scrape away any buildup or clean it up with a hose or a brush.

At the end of the season, when the mower won’t be used until spring, run the petrol down as it deteriorates over time if left. Check the air filter for any grass and inspect any cables. Also, disconnect the spark plug lead, and apply oil to any moving parts that need it. In spring, connect the spark plug lead and change the oil and put new petrol in if possible.

Check the blades for any dullness or chipping. If they need sharpening and you can’t do it yourself, you can always find a professional to do it. They may even come to you or pick up the mower and drop it back off. Just make sure they are reputable.

In Conclusion

I hope this post will help you keep your beloved garden tools in excellent shape so that you can enjoy their benefits for a long time.

It is not as daunting as it may seem to maintain your tools and keep them in good working order. It is better than having to buy new ones every time you want to do some gardening because you neglected your old ones.

Treat them like you would treat anything else you own, such as your clothes, cutlery, or TV.