Cleaning garden tools tips

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Garden Tool Care and Maintenance

Take care of your garden tools and they will take care of you! Well, that’s easy to say but if you’re like me, the last thing I want to do after a day of gardening is clean and oil my garden tools…my mind is clearly set on showering and putting my feet up with something cold to drink.

Seriously, your garden tools will last a lot longer (especially wood handles) if you show them a little love every once in a while, so take a little time to clean, sand, sharpen and oil your garden tools.

Clean – Round up all your tools, a bucket of warm water and a wire or stiff bristle brush. Start with the brush and knock off the majority of the dirt on your tools. Once you have the dirt removed, scrub the remaining of with the warm water. Then rinse and let them air dry or wipe them with a towel.

Sand – Once your garden tools are dry, it’s a good time to sand any wood handles. Moisture, whether it’s from water in the soil, dew or rain will raise the grain of the wood, making it feel rough. Gardeners that live in high humidity regions will also see/feel this “grain raising” more often. Just about any sandpaper will work for this, but I suggest starting out with an 80 grit paper and finishing off with a 120-150 grit for a nice smooth handle surface.

Also, now is a good time to take care of any rust on your tools. A wire brush is a good option for knocking off the majority of rust, especially in those tight spaces, but you’ll find that the 80 grit sandpaper will do a better job. If you have a small electric sander, this process will go a lot faster.

Sharpen – Now’s a good time to have a look and sharpen any tools that need it. You can sharpen your tools with range of tools, but most gardeners find that a flat file (available here or at your local hardware store) will handle all their sharpening needs.

Before you start, a word about safety. Please wear eye protection. The smallest sliver of metal in the eye can be very painful. Also, wear some heavy gloves to prevent those same slivers of metal from your hands and to prevent cuts from your newly sharpened tools.

Garden tool sharpening can be a dangerous operation if you don’t have the tool secured properly, so secure it in a vise if you have one, clamp it to a table or just get someone to sit on it. Just make sure it’s secure before you start sharpening. Every tool blade typically has some sort of edge bevel on it, so try to file it at the same angle that is already there. Too much (steep) angle will indeed make your tool very sharp, but because the leading edge is so thin, it will be subject to damage by the smallest of stones, so try to stick with the angle that is there.

Oil – Let’s start by saying, do not use any petroleum based oil on your garden tools…you’ll just end up transferring that oil on your tools to the soil in your garden. Here at Garden Tool Co., we only use Boiled Linseed Oil. It’s a natural product from the seeds of the flax plant (except for the solvent used to keep it from hardening in the can…it evaporates after application) and can be used on the metal and wood parts of your tools. Just apply it liberally all over you tool, let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe off excess. Gardeners that live in drier climates should oil their handles more often to prevent your handles from drying out and cracking.

Rust on any of your tools is the result of oxygen and water reacting with the metal, so the purpose of the oil is to create a barrier between the metal and oxygen/water.

That’s it, protect your investment in garden tools and they will last a very long time.

How to Care for Garden Tools

After the last leaf is raked and the final bulb is planted, it’s time to settle your tools in for a long winter nap. To keep your tool blades sparkly and free of dust during hibernation, all you’ll need is a little sand and oil. Follow these three easy steps to ensure your treasured tools will be in great shape for another season working the soil.

Instructions:

Image zoom Step 1

1. Fill an old pot or bucket (large enough to hold all of your metal-blade tools) with dry sand. Mix lubricating oil such as WD-40 or vegetable oil with the sand until it is thoroughly moist. Gather your tools and use a putty knife or steel-wool scrubbing pad to remove large clumps of caked mud from the blades.

Image zoom Step 2

2. Plunge your hoes, shovels, trowels, forks, and metal dibblers into the sandy mix. Place the pot or bucket containing the tools in a cool, dry place for winter storage and let the mix do its work. Keep wooden tool handles from splitting and drying out during the winter months by rubbing them with linseed oil before storage.

Image zoom Step 3

3. When spring rolls around, remove the tools from the mixture and wipe down the blades with a piece of burlap or coarse cloth. If you don’t want to overwinter your tools, you can just plunge them into the mixture several times to remove debris in the fall and then polish with a coarse cloth and hang for storage. Keep the sandy mixture for use anytime you want to spruce up your tools.

Let’s take the time to care for garden tools the same way we care for our plants, getting them prepped for the coming season with 5 simple steps and maintaining them throughout the growing months.

This article is sponsored by 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil.

I’ve gardened for years growing both food and flowers, but I have a dirty little secret – literally. It’s my tools and how I’ve treated them – they’ve been left out in the rain, dumped in a burn pile (and then burned!), and stored caked with dirt.

It’s not like I was trying to be stupid with my tools – we do pay good money for them after all. There’s just always so many other things to get done in the garden between the planting, watering, mulching, harvesting, and pruning. I thought I was good getting the tools at least back into the shed – sometimes.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this, right? I’ve seen some of my gardening friends deal with the same issues (“Now where did I leave my pruners?”) and have commiserated with some of you who’ve told me that you’ve left expensive tools outside, too.

This year, though, I’m determined to turn over a new leaf on caring for my garden tools (maybe because they will be getting an even harder workout creating a garden from scratch at our farmhouse fixer!). I think part of the problem is that I never really knew what to do to take care of them and it just seemed like it would be time consuming.

But after a bit of research about the best ways to get garden tools ready for the season – and keep them that way throughout the summer – I found that there are just five simple things to do to care for garden tools with basic supplies.

That’s totally doable and can actually fit into my garden routine easily. Are you with me? Let’s determine this is the year to care for our tools like we do our plants!

I’ve created both a video and photo tutorial for you so you can see just how easy it is to keep your garden tools looking great for years.

How to Care for Garden Tools Video

5 Steps to Care for Garden Tools

Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them and purchase I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.

1. Gather Tools & Supplies

Find all your tools and inspect them. If any are too far gone, put them on the replacement list. Then grab the simple supplies needed to care for your garden tools and maintain that for the gardening season:

  • Metal file. A basic single cut file is sufficient. The one shown is just what we had on hand, but this inexpensive set with handles looks much easier to use.
  • Wire brush. Choose one with a handle and small to medium head that will be able to get in crevices.
  • 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil. Around since 1894, you may have a bottle of this in your stash already and it is fantastic for getting anything metal to look great and work great again. The easy-to-use drip spout enables precise application, with no overspray or splatter and makes tools shine – just check out the before and after pictures below!
  • Rags. Cotton or terry will absorb best.
  • Soapy water. For caked-on dirt. If your tools aren’t too dirty, this is optional.
  • Optional nail brush. A brush this size is good for cleaning small tools like pruners – you’ll want to use one to keep them clean throughout the season.

2. Clean

Of course, this should be done in the fall, but if you’re like me, a-hem, your tools will need a good cleaning.

  • Use soapy water and the wire brush to clean off smaller hand tools.
  • For larger digging tools, use a strong spray of water from a hose, scraping off excess with the wire brush as needed.
  • Use the rags to thoroughly dry the tools.

TIP: it’s moisture that causes rust, so drying them well after every cleaning is key even throughout the season.

3. Sharpen

  • Sharpen your garden tools with a metal file on just the edges, filing the blade at a 20-degree angle.
  • You can also use a whet stone or a motorized sharpener depending on the tool needing sharpening and the equipment that you have – I’m just keeping it simple with a small single-cut file.

4. Protect

  • With a clean cloth rub in a small amount of multi-purpose oil along the edges to seal and protect the tool from moisture and rust.
  • For digging tools use a rag and oil to coat the entire metal working surface, like all the tines of a digging fork and the front and back of the scooping part of a shovel. This will keep dirt and roots from sticking to your shovel as you work, actually making your job easier in the months ahead. That’s a win-win, right?

5. Store Well

  • Keep tools indoors, preferably hanging up when possible.
  • For small hand-held tools, you can keep them in a pot filled with sand mixed with oil to help clean and condition the metal between uses.

Additional tips for pruners, the workhorse of the garden:

Between winter clean up and harvesting, our pruners probably get the most work of any garden tools during the entire gardening season. For that reason, we often spend more money on quality pruners.

To keep them going through the entire growing season, get in the habit of doing these two things regularly:

  1. Keep a nail brush or scrubby near an outdoor hose to wash them well after each use, drying well. I have seen mail-boxes used in gardens for storing tools and things like this, which I think is brilliant!
  2. Replenish the lubrication on the pivot point a few times a year – at the beginning of the season, once or twice in the middle and then at the end before storing for winter. This is a case where 1-2 drops of a penetrating oil like the multi-purpose oil applied with the narrow spout right where you want is better than a lightweight spray that will evaporate quickly.

My Biggest Tip: Don’t give up on old pruners!

The pair pictured above had been left out in the rain and rusted to the point where they didn’t open and close anymore. I honestly thought they were dead! After a good washing, sharpening, and coating the pivot with oil I was shocked that they were working again almost as good as new. Yay!

Garden Tools Before and After

How about some before and after photos? There really is a difference and it’s making me realized that I can’t ignore my tools if I want them to work for me and not against me.

Taking the time to care for garden tools not only helps our tools last, they can also make gardening easier as we’re using them. Sharper tools protected with oil work better, slicing through dirt without gumming up and cutting branches cleanly.

And that’s a good thing, right? We gardeners need all the extra help we can get!

Disclosure: I received product and/or compensation for this post. As always, the opinions, thoughts, and projects are all mine and I will NEVER promote something I don’t love and think you will find helpful – promise! This post also uses affiliate links that earn commission based on sales, but doesn’t change your price. to read my full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.

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This shovel could use a little TLC.

Properly maintained quality garden tools are a joy to use and can last for generations. And, like most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Regularly cleaning and oiling your garden tools will prevent rust, keep them sharper, and allow the handles to stay strong.

But if you’re like me, sometimes you’re not as diligent as you should be—putting your tools away dirty or leaving them outside in the weather. Then before you know it, they’re on the fast track to the trash bin.

Here’s how to get a shovel, or other garden tools, in shape and keep them that way.

Gather Your Weapons

To clean and maintain your tools, you’ll need the following:

  • Cleaning Supplies: Detergent, garden hose, sprayer, sponge, old rags or towels.
  • Cleaning Tools: Steel wool, scrub brush, wire brush, and a rotary wire brush attachment for your drill.
  • Sandpaper: (80 and 120 grit) Made to work on both wood and metal.
  • Sharpening Tools: A fine metal file and a sharpening stone to hone edges.
  • Lubricating Oil: Such as boiled linseed oil, tung oil, motor oil, lamp oil, or cooking oil. Boiled linseed and tung oil are probably the best choices, but you can use what you have on hand.
  • Safety Equipment: Wear gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask when working on tools.

Step 1: Clean Tools

Start by giving your tools a good scrubbing to remove any mud and grit from the blades and handles. Dry with old towels, then set them aside overnight so they dry completely to avoid trapping moisture.

Step 2: Remove Rust

Use steel wool or a wire brush to scrub away any rust that has accumulated on metal parts. A rotary wire brush attachment chucked in a drill can make the job easier. As a rule, you want to remove the rust with as little grinding and scraping of the steel as possible to keep tools from becoming thinner and weaker over time.

Step 3: Sand Tools

Smooth worn wooden handles with medium grit sandpaper to remove splinters and deteriorated finish. You can also use sandpaper to remove any remaining rust from surfaces and crevices and to lightly polish the metal. When finished, thoroughly wipe down the tools to remove any wood or metal sanding dust.

Step 4: Sharpen Tools

Use a metal file to lightly sharpen the edges of tools. Again, you don’t want to grind away too much of the metal, just use it to smooth out nicks, remove burrs, and give a nice clean edge. On some cutting tools (like hedge clippers and axes), you’ll need to follow up with a sharpening stone lubricated with oil for a finer edge.

Step 5: Oil Tools

Using a clean rag, apply lubricating oil to both the wooden handle and the metal blade. Rub the oil into the surface then wipe off any excess. The oil will help prevent rust and condition the wood to keep it from absorbing water and prevent cracking. After the handle has dried, apply a second coat of oil to the wood if needed. Tools with fiberglass or composite handles will only need a good cleaning.

Some gardeners prefer to sand wooden tool handles and reapply a coat of exterior finish such as spar varnish. If you do refinish your tool handles, make sure the wood is completely dry first. I prefer using oil simply because I’d rather do a quick wipe down, rather than taking the time to sand the wood, apply finish, and wait for it to dry, but it’s really a matter of preference.


That’s more like it! Now, to keep it that way.

Preventative Maintenance

Now that your gardening tools look like new, take the time to keep them that way! At the end of every gardening day, spend a few minutes to:

  • Rinse off mud and soil with a garden hose. Clinging wet soil is the main cause of rust on garden tools.
  • Scrub away stubborn soil with a scrub brush, and use paint thinner to remove sap and pitch.
  • Wipe tools dry with a rag or towel, or let them dry in the sun while you finish your chores.
  • Hang tools up rather than standing them on their edges.
  • Periodically wipe on a light coat of oil or spray surfaces with a penetrating oil. You can also put tools in a sand bucket to keep them clean and sharp.

6 Simple Tips for Maintaining Your Gardening Tools

This post is in partnership with 3-IN-ONE® and Lava Soap®. All thoughts and words are my own.

When novice gardeners ask for advice on gardening tools, my response is always to buy the best you can afford. Shears and pruners can be found at your local discount stores, but these small hand tools are among the most abused in your garden. It’s worth the extra few bucks for tools that will last through many seasons and perform well under constant use.

Subsequently, you’ll want to take good care of them to not only protect your investment, but also reduce the chances of spreading weed seeds or soil-borne pathogens around your yard. I know — easier said than done, right?

But tool maintenance doesn’t have to be total drudgery. If you take a few minutes after every use (even every couple of uses) to care for your tools, you’ll save yourself hours of elbow grease at the end of the season.

Here are six simple tips for maintaining your gardening tools this season:

1. Make a habit of cleaning your tools after each use. It can be as simple as hosing down your shovels or wiping the sap off your pruners with a clean rag. Taking a few seconds for these little tasks will keep your tools in tip-top shape and ensure they’re ready to use the next time.

I always keep a stack of rags (usually cut-up old T-shirts or towels that have seen better days), a stiff brush, and some steel wool on hand expressly for cleaning my tools. They live in the garage next to all my gardening gear so I never have to go searching for them.

In peak gardening season, I also keep a bar of good ol’ reliable Lava Soap® by the sink for quick and easy clean-up. I’ve tried plenty of other soaps (including fancy ones and expensive ones), but nothing comes close to being able to scour the grime off my hands after digging in dirt all day.

The magic ingredient in Lava Soap® is pumice, which gently scrubs off sap, grease, glue, and paint while moisturizing hands at the same time. In this house, where we constantly have a flow of projects indoors and out, it’s a must-have.

2. Store your tools in a dry and protected area, preferably hanging on a wall. I’ve been guilty of leaving my tools outside on the ground and even in the rain — and then I really pay for it when rust takes over.

Moisture is the enemy of gardening tools, so remember to bring them under cover when you’re done using them. Wet soil is the main culprit of corrosion, so it’s always good practice to rinse off any mud clinging to your tools and dry them thoroughly before storing.

If you live in a particularly humid climate or receive a lot of fog, it’s a better idea to bring your tools inside a garage or shed to prolong their life.

3. Clean and oil your pruning shears (secateurs) frequently. These hard-working tools are especially prone to rust from sap and residue build-up on the blades. Use a stiff brush or scrubby pad to loosen dirt from the crevices, then wash the blades with warm soapy water and dry them thoroughly.

Apply a few drops of lubricating oil like 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil to the pivot joints and blades, and wipe off the excess with a towel. This is the same stuff your grandparents probably used in the tin can, only it’s now packaged in a plastic bottle. I always have a supply of it on hand for lubricating the moving parts on my various shears, dissolving rust on steel blades, and protecting tools from corrosion.

A lot of people simply use olive oil (or something similar) for this, but olive oil turns rancid and gets gummy. 3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil does triply duty as a cleaner, lubricant, and protectant, and a small bottle seems to last forever! It’s my go-to for garden tool maintenance. You can also use it to coat your shovels and hoes as a rust preventative — an ultra thin layer is all you need.

In fact, if I only had time to do one thing to maintain my tools throughout the season, I’d just wipe or scrub them down with a couple drops of 3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil after each use. And that leads me to my next tip…

4. For the lazy gardener’s shortcut, fill a bucket with clean sand and stir in just enough 3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil to lightly dampen it. You want the sand to be slightly moist, not look like an oily mess. Place the bucket in a sheltered area near your garden.

When you’re done using your tools, brush off any debris and then stick the tools (blades or tines down) into the sand. The grains help keep the blades nice and sharp, while the oil prevents rust from forming.

This is an excellent way to store tools that hibernate for the winter, but I also like it for quick and easy tune-ups of my most-used hand tools, like my pruners and hori hori knife.

For those of you thinking, But that’s why I have stainless steel tools! Know that stainless steel can still rust if not properly taken care of throughout the year. “Stainless” doesn’t necessarily mean free of stains; it merely means the metal stains less than ordinary carbon or alloy steels, and some grades of stainless steel are more prone to corrosion than others.

The sand bucket is also a good trick for keeping track of small tools, as they tend to be misplaced a lot around our yard. By making a habit of depositing the tools in the bucket every time, I always know where to find them.

5. At least once a year, give your tools a quick sharpening. Local tool shops and garden centers sometimes provide this service, but it’s just as easy to pick up a sharpening device, like a flat file, whetstone, or carbide knife sharpener, and make a few passes over the cutting edge of your blade when it’s feeling dull.

It only takes a few seconds (and three to five passes of the sharpener) to smooth out any burrs, and a carbide sharpener (like my favorite, the Speedy Sharp) is so lightweight and portable that you can keep it in your pocket or tool apron for quick tune-ups as needed.

Once sharpened, wipe down the blade with a smidge of 3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil so it’s good to go.

6. Don’t neglect wooden handles. At the end of the season, inspect the handles on your loppers, spades, forks, and other gardening tools for signs of splintering. If necessary, sand them smooth. Use a clean rag to apply a finishing oil (such as tung oil or boiled linseed oil) and let it soak in for several minutes, reapplying as necessary until the wood cannot absorb anymore oil. Wipe off any excess oil before storing your tools.

For more tips, follow 3-IN-ONE® on Facebook and Instagram. where you can buy 3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil. where you can buy Lava Soap. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Garden Betty.

Tool Sources

3-IN-ONE® Multipurpose Oil | Lava Heavy-Duty Hand Cleaner with Moisturizers | Behrens 4 1/4-Gallon Galvanized Steel Pail | Kamaki Clipper | Fiskars Multi-Snip with Sheath | Felco F-6 Classic Pruner for Smaller Hands | Fiskars PowerGear2 UltraBlade Pruner | Fiskars Cuts + More MultiPurpose Garden Scissor | Nisaku Hori-Hori Stainless Steel Tomita Weeding Knife | Fiskars Big Grip Garden Knife | Speedy Sharp Carbide Knife Sharpener | Stanley 8-Inch Mill Bastard File | ARS Whet Stone for Pruning Tools

How to clean and sharpen old pruners

Dull, dirty or rusty hand pruners that don’t open and close easily can ruin your day. Keeping your pruners dirt-free and sharp helps you cut smoothly, preventing stress on your hands. And a clean cut heals better on the plant and minimizes the risk of infection or disease. Watch our video and read the steps below to see a how to clean and sharpen pruners quickly and easily.

See more of our How-To articles

How to clean and sharpen pruners

  1. Clean pruners with warm dish soap and water or spray the blades with Scrubbing Bubbles® bathroom cleaner to remove dried sap. If your pruners have rusted, soak them overnight in white vinegar to dissolve the rust.
  2. Scrub with a wire brush to remove dirt and rust. Loosen nuts or even disassemble the pruners to clean more thoroughly between the blades.
  3. Rinse pruners after cleaning off dirt, debris and rust.
  4. Buff with steel wool to take off any remaining rust or sticky sap.
  5. Dry with an old towel or sock.
  6. Sharpen the bevel with a diamond file, following the exact angle of the existing bevel. Run the file from the base to the pointed tip several times.
  7. Lubricate pruners with a few drops of oil such as WD-40® or 3-in-1 oil in between all moving parts. Now they should be clean, sharpened and ready to go!

Now check out our Flower & Plant Guide

Sterilizing Pruning Tools: Learn How To Sterilize Pruning Tools

When plants display symptoms of disease, it’s a good idea to prune out the diseased, damaged or dead plant tissue. However, disease pathogens can catch a ride on your pruners or other tools, possibly infecting the next plant you use them on. Sterilizing pruning tools between uses can help prevent the spread of diseases in the landscape. Continue reading for helpful suggestions on how to sterilize pruning tools.

Pruning Tool Sterilization

Many gardeners ask, “Do you need to clean garden tools?” To maintain proper function, prevent rust and reduce the spread of plant diseases, garden tools should be kept clean and frequently sanitized. After each use, soil, sap and other debris should be cleaned off garden tools. Rinsing or washing pruners regularly will not prevent the spread of many different plant diseases. For this reason, we recommend regular pruning tool sterilization.

To sterilize pruning tools, their cutting parts are usually dipped, soaked, sprayed or wiped with a disinfectant known to kill off plant disease pathogens. Different disinfectants work better on certain plant diseases than others. Some disinfectants may kill off plant pathogens but can also be harmful to the tools and unhealthy to the handler.

When Do You Need To Clean Garden Tools

Whenever you see any signs or symptoms of disease on a plant, you should sterilize any pruning tools you have used. Oftentimes, orchard growers will carry a bucket shallowly filled with disinfectant to dip or soak pruning tools in between cuts or plants. If you are pruning several shrubs or trees, this bucket method prevents the spread of disease from plant to plant and also allows you to carry all your tools easily.

Though some retailers of garden tools sell specialized sanitizers, most gardeners and growers use common household items when sterilizing pruning tools. Below are the most common disinfectants used for pruning tool sterilization, as well as their pros and cons.

Bleach – Bleach is very inexpensive to use as a garden tool sanitizer. It is mixed at a ratio of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. The tools, or at least the tool’s blades, are soaked in the bleach water for thirty minutes, then rinsed and hung to dry. Some cautious gardeners will even dip their pruner blades in bleach and water between each cut while pruning prized plants. The problem with bleach is that it gives off harmful fumes and it will damage the metal, rubber and plastic of some tools in time. It can also damage clothing and other surfaces.

Isopropyl Alcohol – It is also inexpensive to use 70-100% isopropyl alcohol to sterilize pruning tools. No mixing, soaking or rinsing is necessary with alcohol. Tools can simply be wiped, sprayed or dipped in isopropyl alcohol for immediate effectiveness against most pathogens. However, it also has unpleasant harmful fumes and can be flammable. Still, most experts recommend isopropyl alcohol for sterilizing garden tools.

Household Cleaners – Lysol, Pine Sol and Listerine are sometimes used to sterilize pruning tools. While they are a bit more expensive than bleach or rubbing alcohol, they are usually diluted to use in pruning tool sterilization. However, the effectiveness of these products on plant pathogens has not been scientifically determined, although many gardening experts recommend using these common household products for sterilizing pruning tools. Some household cleaners can be corrosive to garden tools.

Pine Oil – Pine oil is non-corrosive and not expensive. Unfortunately, it is also not effective against many plant pathogens. One part pine oil is mixed with 3 parts water and tools are soaked in the solution for 30 minutes.

Whichever sterilizing product you choose to use, be certain to follow the label’s safety precautions.

How to Clean Garden Tools

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

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So you’ve bought good quality tools for your gardening hobby, and to propagate plants, but how do you maintain them and make them last longer?

Good quality tools cost more, and are made with longevity in mind. They are tough, strong and long lasting, but they are only as good as the maintenance they receive.

Some of the ways you can keep tools in good shape are simple. Don’t ever leave your tools abandoned after a job.

Clean them, and put them away in a dry place. This not only makes them last longer, but they’re ready for you to use next time.

Cleaning larger garden tools consists of scraping off any soil or dirt that is on the surface. Some people use a spray of water to do this, others brush them with a wire brush. A small scraper takes care of soil stuck onto the blade of a shovel or spade.

Either way, get the dirt out of the rivets or where pieces join. Left there, it can rust the steel and weaken the tool.

Smaller tools like pruners and loppers, bonsai scissors and grafting knives should be sprayed with WD40 or other penetrating oil, left for a few minutes, then the excess wiped off with a clean rag.

If there is sap or debris caught in them, use steel wool to wipe it off. Another spray of the oil, and the tool can be stored in a dry place.

During pruning, if you’re doing a lot of it, any time you cut a diseased branch there’s the likelihood of transferring pathogens to the next cut you make.

To prevent this spread of disease organisms, dip the blades of the tool in straight rubbing alcohol also known as isopropyl alcohol. This will kill bacteria and fungus spores.

A garden shed with hooks to hang tools on for storage is a good place to store tools, especially for the winter. Basements and unheated carports are okay, as long as they’re not damp.

If you make a habit of always putting your tools away, they’ll be ready to use next time you need them.

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How to Clean Your Garden Tools

The winter is the perfect time to assess your garden tools, give them a thorough cleaning, and replace any broken ones you might have.

Winter weather is just around the corner in many parts of the country, making this the ideal time to clean and repair your garden tools so they’ll be good as new come springtime. Keeping them well-maintained guarantees that they’ll be in good condition when you need them most. By caring for your tools now, you’ll give yourself plenty of time to repair the broken ones and replace the ones that are beyond saving.

Cleaning Your Tools

It all begins with bucket of water and a garden hose. Thoroughly wash your garden tools by using the high-pressure setting on your hose to blast away any caked-on dirt and clay. Use a butter knife, steel wool, or a stiff brush to scrub away the particularly stubborn clumps. Keep scrubbing away until the tools are clean.
To clean tools that are caked with sap, pitch, or other sticky debris, use a rag dipped in paint thinner. Listen to your favorite music or podcast to help pass the time while you clean. Once you’ve rinsed your tools off, let them air-dry outside on a towel in the sun.

Keep Your Blades Sharp

The more often you use your blades, the more often you’ll need to sharpen them. Most hobby gardeners will only need to sharpen the blades on their tools once a year. You’ll want to sharpen soft metals, like the metal of your shovels, to a 45-degree angle using a metal file (a few long strokes should do the trick). Only sharpen your tools after they’ve dried completely.
For hard metals, like those on your pruners and other cutting tools, use a whetstone. Before you start, look at the blade to note its angle and determine the best place to begin filing. Wet the whetstone before you start the sharpening process, and make sure it stays damp throughout. Once you’ve finished sharpening your blades, clear all the metal bits and debris off with a stiff brush.

Remove Rust

Unless you rinse off your tools and hang them to air-dry after every use, you’ll most likely have to deal with rust. Luckily, there are many ways to deal with it. While some gardeners swear by treating tools with linseed oil or soaking them in a weak vinegar solution, others recommend soaking them in a three-percent citric acid solution for 24 hours. Others still say soaking tools in a strong black tea is the best way to remove rust. Whichever method you use, be sure to wipe the tools off after you soak them, and use steel wool to remove rust deposits. Be sure to scrape in circular motions.
After you’ve removed the rust, apply linseed oil to the moving parts of your tools to ensure they stay in working condition for next year.

Keep Wooden Handles Looking Like New

If your tools have unpainted wooden handles, sand them using medium grit (80 to 120) sandpaper to remove dirt and smooth their finishes. Use a new rag to rub linseed oil on each handle to protect the wood from future wear. If the handle is dry, you may need to use quite a bit of oil, as the wood will soak it up quickly. Keep an eye on the handles over a 24-hour period and apply more oil as needed. Wipe any excess oil off the handles the next day. If you don’t have linseed oil, you may be able to substitute flaxseed oil.
Once you’ve applied the oil, let the rag dry between uses. You may want to permanently hang it near your tools, so you can apply the oil as needed next year during the growing season. While you’re treating the wood, assess your tools for wear and tear and consider replacing broken or split handles. You can often find replacement parts at your local hardware store or garden shop.
If the handles of your tools are painted, give them a touch-up using a water-based varnish or paint. Or, sand the paint off and oil the wood with linseed oil, then repaint them.

Keep Your Tools in Good Condition All Year Long

Ben Franklin famously said: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By the same token, it’s often less work to clean your garden tools at the end of the year if you’ve taken steps during the growing season to care for them.
Don’t Wait to Clean Them

Pass your tools under the garden hose when you’ve finished using them to prevent dirt from building up. Wipe them off afterward, or let them dry in a sunny spot. Keep a stiff brush near your tools to make it easier to scrub away dirt and clay before they stick to them. This will also prevent your tools from rusting.
Store Tools Smarter

Hanging tools or storing them upright in a dry environment away from the elements will allow air to circulate around them and prevent rust and grime buildup. You can also store tools in a bucket of sand and mineral oil to ensure they stay rust-free after cleaning them. Store cutting tools with their sharp ends facing toward the ground, and keep their blades covered when they’re not in use.
Clean Cutting Tools Frequently

Wash your cutting tools in soapy water and use a stiff or nail brush to clear debris off of them. Prevent diseases from spreading from plant to plant by wiping your blades down with a 10-percent bleach solution, a commercial household disinfectant, or a 70-percent isopropyl alcohol solution.
Keep Your Tools Sharp

Sharp tools inflict less damage than dull ones. If you do a lot of cutting in your garden, sharpen your tools frequently with a whetstone or another sharpening device. It’ll create less work for you in the long run and cause less damage to your plants.

6 Tips for Taking Care of Gardening Tools

Gardening can be messy, not to mention damaging to your shovel and other gardening tools over time. Luckily there are simple steps to keep your gardening tools clean and usable time and again.

How to Care For Your Gardening Tools

  1. Clean with a Barbecue Brush
  2. Use Sand to Prevent Rust…
  3. …Or Use Car Wax
  4. Bleach Disinfectant
  5. Moisturize Garden Tools
  6. Store Your Hose Properly for Maximum Usage

Let’s explore each tip further.

1. Clean with a Barbecue Brush

To clean digging tools easily, invest in a barbecue brush with a scraper attachment. Use the scraper to remove layers of mud from the tool as you dig, and use the brush to brush off the dried dirt before you put the tool away.

2. Use Sand to Prevent Rust…

Don’t just toss your garden tools in a bin or bucket when you’re done with them; they’ll eventually rust. To prevent this, submerge the metal parts in a bucket of sand whenever the tools are not in use. (Better yet, add some mineral oil to the sand.) Make sure the sand is stored in a dry place where rainwater can’t get into it, though. If you decide you don’t want to store your tools in sand, then a good thing to do is to toss a handful of tea leaves in whatever container you keep them in. For whatever reason, the leaves will help keep the metal nice, new, and rust-free.

3. …Or Use Car Wax

Make sure your garden shears never rust with a little car wax. Just rub a little paste over the shears (including the hinge) to prevent them from ever getting stuck again.

4. Bleach Disinfectant

Use a solution of bleach and water to disinfect pruning shears after you’re done so you don’t spread diseases between plants. Rinse with tepid water until the bleach is gone.

5. Moisturize Garden Tools

Care for wooden garden tools as you would your skin—moisturize! Over time, wood dries out and splinters. Apply a thin coat of linseed oil to wooden handles on rakes and shovels; it’ll keep them safe and usable. A little goes a long way, so use the oil sparingly.

6. Store Your Hose Properly for Maximum Usage

Your garden hose will last twice as long if you store it coiled, rather than folded. Try coiling it around a bucket. Note that the hose will be easiest to work with when it’s neither very cold nor very hot outside.

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