Help, My Garden Tools Are Rusted: How To Clean Rusty Garden Tools

Help, My Garden Tools Are Rusted: How To Clean Rusty Garden Tools

After a long season of garden projects and chores, sometimes we forget to give our tools a good cleaning and proper storage. When we return to our garden sheds in the spring, we find that some of our favorite garden tools are rusted. Read on to learn how to clean rusty garden tools.

Help! My Garden Tools are Rusted

Prevention is the best solution for rusty garden tools. Try to clean your tools well after each use with a rag or brush, water, and dish soap or pine sol. Be sure to remove any sap or sticky residue. After cleaning your tools, dry them and then spray them with WD-40 or rub down with mineral oil.

Store your tools hanging on hooks in a dry airy location. Some gardeners swear by storing their tools blades down in a bucket of sand and mineral spirits.

However, life happens and we can’t always give our favorite garden trowel the TLC it deserves. There are many folk remedies for removing rust from tools with simple kitchen ingredients like salt, vinegar, cola and tin foil. When you really love that garden trowel, you don’t mind trying a few until you find the one that returns it to its full shiny glory.

How to Clean Rusty Garden Tools

The most popular method for cleaning rust on garden tools is with vinegar. Soak the tool overnight in a mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Then with steel wool, a brush or a crumpled up piece of tin foil, rub the rust off in a circular motion. When the rust is gone, rinse the tool in soapy water and then just clear water. Hang in to dry, then rub it with mineral oil or WD-40.

Another interesting rust removal recipe involves just using a can of cola and a crumpled piece of tin foil or wire brush to scrub away the rust. The phosphoric acid in cola dissolves the rust.

There’s also a recipe that calls for using strong black tea – first to soak the tools in and then to scrub the rust away.

Using salt and lemon juice is yet another popular method of cleaning rusty tools. This recipe uses 1 part table salt, 1 part lemon juice and 1 part water a homemade rust solution. Rub on with steel wool, then rinse and dry.

Can You Renew Rusty Garden Tools With Power Tools?

If you’d like to add a little power and speed to your rust removal project, there are wire brush attachments for drills and Dremel tools specifically designed for rust removal. A bench grinder with wire wheel and buffing wheel attachment also works great on rust removal. Always wear safety goggles and gloves.

With any of these rust removal methods, be sure to clean your tools thoroughly. Don’t leave any sticky residues. Keeping tools sharp can help decrease damage that leads to rust, so it’s a good idea to sharpen your tools while you’re giving them a good cleaning.

How to Care for Garden Tools

Photo by: kryzhov / Shutterstock.

A regular maintenance routine keeps your garden tools in good working order and helps them last longer. Tools not only need to be sharp, but also clean and sterile. Tools that are exposed to plants or soil with bacterial, fungal or insect infestations can spread those problems throughout the garden. It only takes a few minutes after each gardening session to take care of your tools and protect your garden the next time they are used.

METHOD 1: Scour, Scrape, and Sand

If you don’t mind using a little elbow grease, you can physically remove rust with abrasion. Choose an effective scrubbing material when dealing with light to moderate surface rust problems. Deeper rust issues may require more than just muscle, but this physical solution is a good first step.

STEP 1: Remove dirt and grease with dish soap.

Start by cleaning the rusted tools in soapy water to remove dirt and grease. Then, rinse the tools with water and dry thoroughly.

STEP 2: Scrub the rusty tools with an abrasive pad.

For light rust, scrub the surface with a scouring pad, sandpaper, or steel wool. Always start with the coarsest abrasive to remove the built-up rust and pockmarks, then switch to a finer grit to smooth out the grooves caused by the coarse grit. If you still see rust, it’s time for a more heavy-duty course of action.

STEP 3: Use a drill-powered wire wheel to buff away stubborn rust.

For more serious rust problems, coat the surface of the tools with kerosene to function as a cutting lubricant. Wait several minutes. Then, attach a wire wheel to an electric drill to buff away the stubborn rust. Finish off with fine-grain sandpaper to remove any leftover residue. If the surface rust is gone, your work is done. But if the problem persists, you may need a stronger chemical solution.

Photo: via Josh Larios

How To Clean Pruning Shears So They're Rust And Bacteria-Free

Pruning shears are one of the most important tools to have in your garden. From cutting away unwanted branches to helping snip your favorite flowers to put in a vase, this tool is a gardener's best friend. Unfortunately, because it is used so often, the blades can become dirty, rusty and carry bacteria that can infect healthy plants. But you can prevent this outcome with our easy tip.

First use warm water and two teaspoons of dish soap to scrub away sap and dirt from the blades with a stiff brush. Next, rinse the solution from the blades with clear water. If you see there is some rust already on your shears, use steel wool to buff off rust spots. Then, soak the blades for three minutes in a small pail with water and one teaspoon of bleach. This will kill any plant disease organisms on your blades. After you soak the shears, be sure to dry them well. Lastly, spray the shears with some lubricant oil to prevent any future rusting. Be sure to hang up your secateurs when storing. Follow these tips every time you use your pruning shears and you'll have a garden tool that's clean and safe for your garden!

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4 Tips to Prevent Tools from Rusting

While there are a variety of different methods for removing unwanted rust, one solution tops the rest: prevention. The following tips will help you stop a rust problem before it starts.

  • Remember to always dry your tools immediately after use, and even spray them with a rust inhibitor like WD-40 (available on Amazon).
  • Store your tools in a clean, dry place. Dust attracts moisture, and moisture leads to rust. Yes, you need to dust your house and your toolbox too!
  • Keep your toolbox moisture-free. Use silica gel packs (available at your local home improvement store) to absorb excess moisture. Or, use an old-fashioned wooden toolbox instead. The wood will absorb any excess wetness.
  • Finally, for maximum protection, invest in a dehumidifier to control the climate and limit the humidity. Beyond saving your metal tools, it will keep you comfortable as you tackle your next to-do with your rust-free equipment.


Care for pruners, loppers, or shears

In addition to daily maintenance, pruners should be taken apart and deep cleaned at least once each season. This can be done at the end of the season before storing tools for winter.

  • Unscrew the nut that holds them together and wash all parts separately in soapy water.
  • Soak in vinegar and water and scrub with steel wool to remove any rust rinse and dry.
  • Soak in bleach and water to sanitize rinse and dry.
  • Rub with boiled linseed oil and reassemble.

How to Clean & Sharpen Your Tools

Keep your tools sharp

Cutting or pruning with dull blades often results in damaged branches that have been ripped or torn apart, making them more susceptible to disease. Keep your pruners and other cutting tools sharp with a specialized pruner-sharpening tool or a sharpening stone . Other tools such as hoes, shovels, and knives can be kept sharp with quick touchups from a sharpening file , followed by a sharpening stone.

  • Push the file or sharpener in the same direction (not back and forth) across the blade and follow the original bevel angle.
  • Further smooth filed edges with a sharpening stone.
  • Wear eye protection and heavy gloves when using any sharpening equipment to protect against metal slivers.

Wood handles

Don’t forget to take care of the wood handles as well. Minor cracks can be reinforced with heavy duty tape, such as hockey-stick tape. Any severely cracked handles should be replaced immediately to prevent an injury if it should break while being used.

  • After each use, wipe down the handles with a damp cloth.
  • Check for cracks or weakening at seams between the handle and the tool head and address any issues.
  • Seasonally, or as needed, lightly sand and apply boiled linseed oil to condition the handles.

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