How To Clean Garden Tools - What To Use and How To

It is important, as with anything you spend your hard-earned money on, that you keep your garden tools clean and well looked after. You’ll find that not only will they last you for a much longer amount of time, but they’ll also do a much better job.

garden tools in a shed

It’s not a difficult thing to do, believe me. And when you get into the habit of cleaning your tools it becomes like second nature to you, and you’ll no doubt find you’ll be cleaning your tools every time they need it without giving it a second thought.

Just think for a minute……………. When you buy yourself new clothes, you wear them and they get dirty so you wash them and dry them and they’re clean to wear again. When you don’t wash them, then not only will they not look good but, they will start to deteriorate due to the dirt on them.

The same applies to your gardening tools. The dirt left on them will make them deteriorate much quicker than if they’re cleaned and looked after properly. Soil left on tools is the biggest cause of rusting.

Something that takes a minimal amount of time to do makes a massive difference!

Cleaning Garden Tools With Water

It is always a good idea to clean your tools with water after using them. Forks, spades, edging shears. Anything that gets soil or grass on will benefit from a good clean with water.

Most often the soil is easily washed off, either with a spray from the hosepipe or just tipping water over them and rubbing the soil off. If however the soil is very clay-like and sticky or the soil is quite caked and dried on then you may need to give the tools a brush as well as water.

A stiff brush is the best to quickly clean off tools when used with water. It’s also a good idea to keep 2 or 3 old towels around, its good practice to dry off your tools after you’ve cleaned them. If not then they may start to rust.

Oiling Your Metal Garden Tools

It’s also a good idea to wipe a bit of oil onto your metal tools as well, as this will help to not only prevent rust, but also it helps to stop dirt sticking to the metal.

Just use a bit of general purpose oil on a cloth and rub onto the metal parts of the tools. E.g. The fork tines, spade/shovel head or the blades of secateurs, shears etc. Once rubbed in then wipe away any excess and let it soak in properly.

Depending on how the tools are looking, you may want to wipe on a second coat after the first has soaked in.

We recommend using the following inexpensive 3 in 1 oil :

Alternatively you can use Boiled Linseed oil. This can be used for the metal and wooden parts of tools.

Wipe on the oil and leave for 10 minutes or so, then wipe off any excess. Once it has soaked in then you can decide whether to apply another layer or not.

As Boiled Linseed Oil has a small amount of solvent in (to stop it hardening in the can) it’s best to leave the tools for up to 24 hours to let it evaporate, thus not letting it contaminate the soil.

By no means do you need to oil your tools like this after every use, just keep an eye on how they look and then make the decision if they need doing or not.

I always like to hang my tools. Especially after cleaning, drying and oiling as it not only lets them breathe easy but stops any sharp edges (fork tines, spade edge) getting damaged or from just being in the way.

I have hooks up in the back of my van for hanging tools and also I use nails in my shed to hang the tools from the beams along the top of the wall. This keeps them from harms way and protects them from moisture which could always be a problem if they’re just left laying on the floor or leaning against the wall with the ends on the floor.

Using Oil On Moving Parts

Any hand tools with moving parts like Secateurs, Edging Shears, Hedge Shears etc. could do with a couple of drops of oil on the moving part or pivot point after they’ve been cleaned.

Just a couple of drops of 3-in-one oil will be fine. Once applied just work the moving part so it gets in everywhere. After 10 minutes or so you can wipe off any excess with an old cloth. Keep the cloth handy somewhere so you can just re-use it each time.

When cleaning any cutting tools keep an eye on the blades for sap. Sap may not clean off easily with water so may need a bit of paint thinner on a cloth to clean it off before using water and then oil to finish up.

Tools With Wooden Handles

If you have tools with wooden handles then these need to rubbed with oil at least once or twice a year, or more depending on how often you use them.

I use boiled linseed oil to rub onto the handles of my wooden tools. When you’ve sanded the wood first then you’ll probably want to apply another coat of oil the following day.

Tools with wooden handles should never be left outside as all the elements will damage the wood. You may think that only the rain will affect the wood, but the sun can cause just as much damage by drying and cracking the wood handle.

How To Clean Rust Off Garden Tools

One thing that will finish off your lovely gardening tools quickly is rust.

Rust comes about when tools are:

  • Left with soil or garden waste on.
  • Left outside to the elements.
  • Left inside but laying on the floor or poorly leaning against walls.
  • Not dried off properly before being put away

Depending on how badly rusted the tools are will decide on how best to clean them.

If there is just a thin layer of rust then it can usually be removed with a sheet of sandpaper 80-120 grit sandpaper should be sufficient.

If the rust is slightly thicker than using a wire brush is usually effective. Sometimes the rust will be pretty thick and has made the tool surface uneven. This you may find on tools that have been sitting in the shed for years or maybe tools you see for sale in second hand shops or car boot sales. Although you could clean these up by toiling away for hours with a wire brush, it will be a very time-consuming job.

I like to use my battery powered drill with a wire brush attachment as this cleans up the tool nicely and in a fraction of the time it would take using a wire brush by hand.

Make sure if using a drill with the wire brush attachment that you wear the correct PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Gloves and goggles are a must as not only will you have specks of rust flying up, but you also get tiny strands from the wire brush attachment coming out, and the last thing you want is one of those in your eye.

If you have tools that are quite badly rusted and you don’t have the means of cleaning yourself then you can always find a garden machinery shop around that will be able to clean/sharpen for you, at a price of course.

Power Tools

With electric power tools then make sure all wires are in good condition.

Petrol powered tools will need to be checked at the spark plug cover and also make sure the actual spark plug isn’t too dirty otherwise you could have trouble getting it started.

Chainsaws have chain oil you put in to keep the chain lubricated all the time while using, this is needed to stop overheating because of the speed the chain rotates. You should always still brush off the chainsaw after use and when it’s cooled down a bit.

With hedge trimmers I always spray on some lubricant before using. After I have finished using it then I will brush off the blades and then spray again with lubricant before wiping dry and putting away.

Lawn mowers should be checked underneath around the blades and rollers and the grass catcher and cleaned out. If the grass is damp at all when cutting then grass will inevitably build up underneath and will cause problems if left.

If the mower is petrol operated then just lean back to check underneath. Don’t tip onto it’s side as this could damage the engine. You can scrape away any build up or even get the hose or just some water and a brush to clean it up.

At the end of the season when the mower won’t be in use again till spring make sure you run the petrol down as it deteriorates over time if left. Check the air filter for any grass and give any cables a look over to check they’re OK. Also disconnect the spark plug lead. Any moving parts that look like they could do with a little oil then put some on and work it in. In spring connect up the spark plug lead and if possible change the oil and put new petrol in.

heck the blades are still sharp and not blunt or chipped anywhere. If they need sharpening and you can’t do it yourself then you will always be able to find a professional to do it. Sometimes they will come to you to do, or will come and pick up the mower and drop it back afterwards. Just make sure they’re a reputable person or firm and not just somebody who’s knocked on your door offering you a blade sharpening service.

To Finish

I hope this post will help you keep your much loved garden tools in great shape so you’re able to enjoy their benefits for a long time to come.

It really isn’t as daunting as it may seem to keep your tools clean and in good working order, and it’s better that then having to go out and buy new ones every time you want to do some gardening because you neglected your old ones so badly.

Look after them like you would look after anything else you own, your clothes, cutlery, T.V’s etc..