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Clean Garden Tools Now to Ease your Work Load Later

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 22, 2017

Submitted by: Brenda Postels
Interim Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties

Clean Garden Tools Now to Ease your Work Load Later
By Brenda Postels, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/22/17) — Ideally, gardening tools should be cleaned after each use.  At the very minimum, spades, rakes, hoes, trowels, and any other tools that come into contact with soil should be hosed off with water after each use. With the garden hose nozzle adjusted for maximum pressure, average garden soil washes away easily. To remove heavy clay soil, some scrubbing with a hard bristle brush also may be necessary. Before putting tools away for the winter, give them one last scrub using something abrasive, such as steel wool, to get off any leftover debris including rust.

During gardening season, you may want to go the extra mile and use disinfectants to keep diseases, fungi, insect eggs, and weed seeds from being unwittingly spread around the garden. Do not use bleach to clean your garden tools as bleach is an oxidizing agent, which means it is corrosive.  In addition, bleach can harm the health of your plants. Any bleach left on the tools will damage the tissue of the next cut.   Choose a disinfectant that is effective, readily available, affordable, relatively safe to handle, and won’t harm your tools or clothing.  Many household cleaners fit this description.  Listerine, Lysol and Pine-Sol in particular have demonstrated to be moderately safe and extremely effective in killing pathogens on the tools while not being corrosive to metal.  Bleach-free wipes are another good option, as well as rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.

Even after washing and drying, steel tool heads are still susceptible to rust when exposed to oxygen. In fact, as a general rule, the better the grade of steel used, the more vulnerable it is to rusting. So, considering the high cost of quality gardening tools, it just makes sense to keep rusting to a minimum, especially for tools with a sharp edge, as rust will eat a sharp edge away.  Therefore, after cleaning, thoroughly dry and give a light oil coating. During gardening season wipe off excess oil, or dirt will cling to the surface. Do not use motor oil to lubricate your garden tools as you don’t want to transfer engine oil to the soil that you are gardening in.  Instead, use a natural oil such as linseed oil, Tung oil or mineral oil.  Keep a sturdy bucket full of sand moistened with oil in your shed, and just plunge the cleaned tool into the sand a few times. That's usually all it takes to both polish and oil your tools at the same time.  These oils also work very well for conditioning and protecting the wood handles of your tools.  The wood will readily absorb these oils and will not be as prone to cracking and splintering.

Invest in hooks, racks, and shelves, or make them yourself out of recycled lumber, and get into the habit of hanging up your tools after use.  Keeping tools off of the floor helps prevent moisture from rusting and dulling and will last many times longer.  A few hours of work this fall will ensure your tools are in tip-top shape and ready to “hit the dirt” come spring!

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