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How to Clean Your Gardening Tools

by Barb Hopkins

Most gardening tools last for years if maintained properly. Garden tools such as spades, pruning shears, rakes and hoes need simple but regular maintenance.

Remove soil and debrisgarden tools

Before storing any tools for gardening at the end of a long day planting tomatoes or trimming your bushes, you should remove any caked-on soil and debris. One of the easiest ways to clean caked-on dirt from gardening tools is to give the tool a sand bath.

Fill a heavy-duty plastic 5-gallon bucket ( has them for less than $5) about two-thirds full with sand and a small amount of motor oil. Dip your dirty tools into the sand/oil mixture to remove grime. The oil will help keep the metal tools from developing rust and can make it easier to slip the tools in and out of the sand.

Handle care

Inspect wooden-handle gardening tools regularly for rough spots. Run a piece of sandpaper over the wooden handle every two weeks to keep it smooth and splinter-free. Once a month and before storing the tools for winter, rub the wooden handles with a light coating of linseed oil to keep them from drying and cracking.

Check your heavy-duty plastic and metal handle tools on a weekly basis also. Make sure the handles aren’t wobbly and loose. A loose handle can result in a spade, hoe or rake head detaching while working in the garden.

Keep tools rust-free and sharp

Trying to prune bushes, tree limbs and other plants can be a tiresome chore if the blades of your loppers, shears and pruners are dull or the hinges are rusted. After each use, run a cloth coated with WD-40 along the blades and at the joints. Never store these garden tools with bits of leaves, berry juice or sap stuck to the blades. If your tools become coated in sap or berry juice, wipe as much as possible away with a damp cloth. Dry with a clean cloth and then wipe again with the oil before placing in storage.

Sandpaper can be used to remove rust from metal garden tools. Simply rub the rusted areas with the sandpaper, and then treat with a light coating of WD-40. Steel wool also can be used to remove rust.

The Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture suggests sharpening the blades of your gardening tools to a working edge, not a super sharp razor’s edge. A working edge is considered slightly blunt with an angle measuring about 15 to 20 degrees. If you’re not comfortable sharpening your own tools, your local hardware store may offer the service.


At the end of the growing season, never store your gardening equipment dirty. Take the time to clean each tool, removing soil and other grime. Check wheelbarrow or gardening cart tires for looseness, and be sure your hoses are emptied of any water. Store your gardening equipment up and off the garage or shed floor. has many garden tool storage solutions—from shelving to tool hooks designed specifically to hold rakes, shovels and more.


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