Jessica K. of Windsor asks: Do you have some suggestions on how to clean my new and used garden tools?
Keeping your gardening tools clean helps prevent rust, keeps the edges sharp and removes caked-on soil and sap. Good tools can be expensive, so to avoid the need for frequent replacement, keep them clean and in good working order.
All garden tools should be cleaned and wiped down after use to remove soil. If you won’t be using certain tools for awhile, give them a thorough cleaning and inspection before storing them. If pruners or saws are used to prune or remove a diseased plant, they should be cleaned and disinfected before using them on a healthy plant. A squirt of Lysol spray will work. Some gardeners say dipping the tool in bleach diluted with water and wiping it dry, before using it on the next plant, also works. But be aware that bleach can damage blades, so be sure to rinse and clean the tool thoroughly when you’re done.
Use a strong spray from the garden hose to remove soil. Scrape off stuck-on mud with a trowel or plastic scraper. To remove residual soil, fill a bucket with hot water and add about one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of water. After removing the stuck-on soil, place the tools in the bucket and let them soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the tools and dry them with a microfiber cloth or an old towel. Look over each tool thoroughly for signs of rust. If you spot rust or pitting, use a stiff wire brush or steel wool to scrub it off. Wipe the tool with a little vegetable oil to help loosen the rust while you scrub it off. If any tool feels sticky, the safest product to remove it is a citrus based cleaner. Turpentine, lighter fluid or Goo Gone are good backups. When cleaning, pay close attention to the hinged areas.
For tools with wooden handles, those handles will eventually begin to dry out, split and loosen from the metal components. Once or twice a year, use a medium-grit sandpaper to sand down the handles to remove the rough spots and splinters. Rub the handles with linseed oil for a protective barrier to help repel water. If they’re in really bad shape, most wooden handles can just be removed from the metal component and replaced with a new handle.
Tools that have moving components, like pruners or shears, need oil to keep the moving parts working correctly and smoothly. Place a drop or two of machine oil on the hinged parts. It’s also a good idea to take these tools apart once a year and rub down the screws and bolts with a machine oil. This will help remove the hard-to-see rust and any mineral deposits.
Any of your gardening tools that have an edge — like hoes, pruners and shovels — will need sharpening every so often. The large blades and edges can be sharpened with a 10-inch flat mill file. The smaller, finer edges can be sharpened with a whetstone.
Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at email@example.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.