How to Clean Rusty Garden Tools

One year, your tools are pristine; the next, they’re riddled with rust. We often skip the cleaning process because let’s face it, it’s not as fun as gardening. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why you should clean garden tools
  • How to clean rusty garden tools
  • How to remove rust from garden tools
  • How to prevent rust in the future

Why Clean Rusty Garden Tools? 

Although it’s no one’s favourite job, cleaning your tools is an integral part of gardening. But why?

1. It Keeps Tools Sharp

Keeping your tools clean will keep them sharp. A clean cut while pruning will help your plant to heal more quickly. Sharp tools are also easier and much safer to use.

2. It Prevents Disease 

When tools are rusty and unclean, it’s easy to spread diseases from one plant to another. If you want your plants to stay happy and healthy, clean those tools! 

Cleaning Rusty Garden Tools

Step One: Soak Your Rusty Tools


When it comes to soaking your tools, there are several options:

  • Vinegar (recommended)
  • Salt and lemon juice
  • Black tea
  • Coca-Cola

Vinegar is considered the best way to remove rust from garden tools, so that’s what we recommend! Make up a weak vinegar solution with equal parts vinegar and water. 

If you’re using salt and lemon juice, create a solution composed of 1 part salt, 1 part water, and 1 part lemon juice. Black tea and Coca-Cola can be used as they are – you don’t need to add anything.

Place your rusty tool in a big container, and pour your chosen soak over the top. Make sure all those rusty bits are fully submerged. 

You want to leave your tools to soak for a good while – 24 hours if possible! But use your judgement; if you’re using a strong vinegar solution, or the tool isn’t too rusty, it may only need a few hours of soaking. 

It’s easy to get impatient in this step, but allowing adequate time for your tools to soak will save you some hard work later. Trust me, it’s well worth it!

Step Two: Remove The Rust – Scrub!


Most of the rust falls off in the soak, but some stubborn bits may still hang on. The best way to remove the remaining rust from your garden tools is to sand them down. 

For this, you can use:

  • A scourer
  • Aluminium foil
  • Sandpaper
  • Steel wool

Whatever you use, the key here is a circular rubbing motion. 

This stage can be hard work, but it’s essential to be precise and persevere. The small gaps and joints are the perfect hiding places for rust. 

And for goodness sake, be gentle! You don’t want to scrub so hard that you begin to damage the metal.

Step Three: Dry Your Tools and Apply Lubricant


Once you’ve removed all of that pesky rust, it’s time to dry your tools. Get a clean rag and dry them thoroughly, remembering all of those little nooks and crannies you scrubbed so diligently earlier!

Once completely dry, apply multi-purpose oil to the blades and joints. Pay extra attention to the tiny gaps. Then, just rub the oil into the tool’s surface with another clean rag. 

And voilà, your garden tool is rust-free and ready to go!

Keeping Your Tools Rust-Free

It’s good practice to keep your tools clean, and it saves you time in the long run. Here are three things you can do to keep your tools rust-free:

1. Clean After Use

Dirt, water, and other types of residue are often the leading cause of rust. To save yourself buying new ones every year, clean your garden tools before and after use. 

This means brushing off the excess dirt and rubbing them down with a clean, wet cloth. 

2. Store Indoors

Store your tools in a garage or other indoor location where they’re not exposed to moist air and water. Try hanging them on hooks rather than laying them on the floor, as this will keep them from getting damp.  

3. Lubricate Regularly

Lubricating your tools as we did in step three will help to prevent rust on the blades and cracks forming in the wooden handles. Remember to do this regularly to keep your tools in tip-top shape!

Soak, Scrub, Dry!

We tend to avoid cleaning our garden tools like the plague, but it doesn’t have to be as arduous as we think. Repeat with me: soak, scrub, dry! Following these three simple steps will keep your tools shiny, your shed clean, and your plants happy.

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