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How to Clean Rusty Garden Tools | 5-Step Effective Guide

Sometimes we forget how to properly clean and store our rusty garden tools after a long season of garden work and chores. As a result, they get all rusted up and can’t be used as easily as they should. The blades don’t perform well, making it more difficult (and a bit hazardous). The one tool I always seemed to be replacing was my garden trowel because I’m using it all the time and often leave it outside.

Are you in the same situation, and do your rusty garden tools hinder your efforts in your garden? If yes, then you have landed at the right place. In today’s article, I will give you a quick guide on how to clean rusty garden tools.

How to clean rusty garden tools

No matter what, rusty garden tools can be an unpleasant sight to have. No, you don’t have to get rid of them! Now you can clean them at home and have them back as brand new. First, we need to know what rust is.

Table of Contents

What Is Rust And How Is It Associated With Gardening Tools?

How to clean rusty garden tools

Rust is a form of iron oxide formed whenever iron or any other metal alloy with traces of iron comes into contact with air and moisture. It creates a rough brownish surface with a rough texture. This process is known as rusting, and the layer formed is known as rust.

Most gardening tools like weed removal tools are made of metal and, most usually, iron. Because these tools are used in the garden and are exposed to moisture and oxygen, they tend to rust more than often.

Why Are My Garden Tools Getting Rusty?

Gardening tools are most prone to rusting because they are exposed to weather conditions. When exposed to moisture, air, and water, the metal used in gardening tools may corrode.

The most common source of rusting in the garden is rainwater or irrigation water. Apart from this, air also has some moisture in it. When this moisture (water droplet) and air (O₂) interact with the surface of iron (Fe2+), it makes them rusty and stale.

How to clean rusty garden tools | 5-step effective guide

Other major reasons for rust accumulation might be the clay, salts, sand, and other organic matter the soil has. For this reason, it is advised not to leave gardening tools on the lawn for longer times.

You don’t have to purchase any expensive cleaners, nor do you have to buy new gardening tools every now and then. You can bring your gardening tools back to life by using the ingredients from your kitchen. Keep on reading to know more!

What Things Do You Need For Cleaning Rusty Garden Tools?

Along with some rusty gardening tools, you need to have other key components to clean off the rust from these tools. You don’t have to spend a lot of money at the hardware store. Here are some things you’ll need to get rid of stubborn rust.

  • Safety gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Soft clean rag
  • Soaking tub
  • Mineral oil or WD-40
  • Scouring pad
  • Lemon
  • Baking Soda
  • Vinegar

Step-by-Step Guide to Clean Rusty Garden Tools

Hopefully, you have already gathered all the items you will need for removing rust from garden tools. For your convenience, I have simplified the process into five quick steps.

Step 1: Vinegar Bath

How to clean rusty garden tools
Picture Credits: WikiHow

Before you begin, make sure you have your safety gloves and goggles on—tape on the handles and other delicate parts of the tools. As vinegar is acidic in nature, it might destroy other parts.

All you have to do is soak your gardening tools in a bucket of vinegar. Make sure the tools are fully submerged into the solution. Soak these tools for around 12 to 24 hours in this vinegar solution.

This soaking time will also depend on the type of vinegar used and the level of rust your tools have. For some tools, the required time might only be an hour or two. You can leave the tool overnight. The rusty layer from the tool will fall off by the morning, while some will be soft and easier to remove by hand.

Step 2: Scrub off The Rust

How to clean rusty garden tools
Picture Credits: WikiHow

Now, remove your tool from the vinegar tub. You have to start by using a mild scrubber. For that, I suggest using lemon and salt. Just dip half lemon into salt and then scrub this onto the tools having rust.

Make sure you gently scrub the surface. For a better and shiny look, you can also include baking soda. In the same manner, dip a lemon into the baking soda and scrub this mixture onto the tools.

Using a heavy-duty scouring pad, get rid of the remaining bits of rust from the tools. Because you have already bathed them in vinegar and scrubbed them with lemon, the rust will be much easier to come off.

If your tool has a moving part like pruners, make sure you clean the nooks and crannies inside using a scouring pad. By this time, you will be able to get rid of most of the rust from your tools. Wash with clear water to remove any residue of the rusty flakes. For tools with some heavy rust layers, you can repeat steps 1 and 2 until the rust has vanished completely.

Step 3: Drying Process

How to clean rusty garden tools
Picture Credits: WikiHow

In step 3, you have to dry off the tool you have just cleaned off completely. As I have already discussed, rust can accumulate because of the moisture on the surface; therefore, make sure you completely dry it off.

Using a clean, soft rag, dry the tools thoroughly. If there are any pivots or joints, carefully dry them as well. These are the points where moisture can accumulate and make the tool rusty again.

Step 4: Sharpen the Tools

How to clean rusty garden tools
Picture Credits: WikiHow

This step is for those who have pruners and loppers that have turned dull over time. You can improve the sharpness of these tools using a file or whetstone sharpening stone. Be careful while doing this step.

Step 5: Lubricating Process

How to clean rusty garden tools
Picture Credits: WikiHow

Lubricating your tools is an important process to avoid them getting rusty soon. You can use machinery oil that we usually use to lubricate machine parts. Or you can use the WD-40 solution if you have it at home.

You just have to pour around 2-3 drops of oil into the blade and wipe them with a clean rag. Ensure that you have distributed the oil evenly into joints and blades.

A rule of thumb is to oil your tools with multi-purpose oil after each use. This will add a protective layer to your tools. Therefore, your tools will remain rust-free and clean. An easy way to keep a lot of your tools oiled and in good condition is to get a bucket, fill it with some wood shavings, then add oil to the shavings until they are just moist. You can now place your tools in the bucket like it is shown in the image above.

How Can Vinegar Remove Rust?

Vinegar can remove rust because acetic acid is present in it. This acid reacts with rust and forms salt. We all have a vinegar bottle in our kitchen that we only used for seasoning until now.

Vinegar is among the best cleaners for almost anything because of its acidic nature. If you go to the market, you can find two kinds of vinegar. Different types of vinegar might vary among each other because of the percentage of acetic acid they have.

For example, distilled white vinegar has around 5 to 8 percentage of acetic acid. In contrast, vinegar spirits will have about 5 to 20 percent of acetic acid. Every vinegar has distinct properties and can be used for various purposes.

Are Cleaning Vinegar and White Vinegar Same?

How to clean rusty garden tools

As I told you before, types of vinegar might vary depending on the concentration of acetic acid. Cleaning vinegar and white vinegar are somehow the same. Still, the cleaning vinegar is much more acidic in nature than the white vinegar one.

The acetic acid percentage in white vinegar or any vinegar in your kitchen would be around 4-5 %. As for the cleaning vinegar, the acetic acid percentage would be 6%.

How to clean rusty garden tools | 5-step effective guide

There is not much difference in concentration, but this actually makes the product 20 times stronger. Most people use their kitchen vinegar for cleaning. If you are looking for top-notch results, then you should opt for cleaning vinegar.

The acetic acid in cleaning vinegar acts directly on the rust and breaks it down easily with little to no effort. The more acidic the solution, the better will be the cleanup process. Make sure to use your safety gloves while you are using cleaning vinegar.

How to Prevent Garden Tools from Rusting?

Gardening tools are mostly placed outside and are prone to moisture. So you cannot get rid of rusting completely because it is a natural process. Therefore they are definitely going to rust anyways. The tool hack mentioned in this video is a simple way to prevent your garden tools from rusting.


With safety measures, we can somehow prevent garden tools from rusting way too soon. Here I have compiled some of the best tricks that worked wonders for me.

  1. Make sure you clean and dry your gardening tools after every use. Don’t forget to scrape off that dried mud after a gardening day.
  2. Dry out the joints and pivots thoroughly as they are the points where moisture might lock in.
  3. Don’t forget to lubricate your gardening tools every now and then. This will create a protective barrier against moisture.
  4. Stop leaving your gardening tools open in the garden after using them. Always dry them and store them in a place that is free of moisture.

I’m guilty of number 4 all the time and I’m going to blame my age and memory. The one tool I seem to leave stuck in the dirt, and one I have to replace often is my garden trowel. The last time I went to the hardware store the choice of trowels was enormous, so I decided to write a complete guide to trowels to help out. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to Properly Store Garden Tools?

Garden tool storage

Many of your gardening tools will be free of rust if they are properly stored. You can have a rack for them or even a small shelf to keep them in the best place possible. I recommend hanging hooks at the back of the door and hanging your tools.

Trust me, it will look aesthetic, and there will be no messy space. You can have help from the pegboards as well. They are great for having your tools all in one place.

What Things to Consider Before Cleaning Gardening Tools?

Clean and store garden tools properly

It might feel like the last thing you want to do after a hard days work in your garden, but trust me, you will save a lot of time, money, and effort if you clean all your tools before storing them. You need to disinfect the tools with a solution of two cups of chlorine bleach and one gallon of water. If the handles are detachable, remove them at hand. When using tools with sharp blades, handle them carefully.

When to Replace Gardening Tools?

Replace garden tools

You might want to consider replacing damaged or broken gardening tools. However, this doesn’t mean you need to go out and purchase a brand new tool. Many of them can have parts replaced or even sharpened, both of these options will cost a lot less than a new tool.

Final Words

To sum it up, as a gardening enthusiast, I would love to have all of my tools in the best shape possible. And honestly, who wouldn’t love that? If you want to have your gardening tools working again, then follow the 5-step guide on how to clean rusty garden tools mentioned above. Don’t forget to follow the preventive measures as well.

Alice belock

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