Cleaning hand tools

Clean garden tools are more efficient to use and help prevent disease spread.

Cleaning secateurs

Quick facts

Suitable for Cultivation and cutting tools 
Timing Anytime
Difficulty Easy to difficult

How to clean hand tools

As part of your gardening routine, get into the habit of regularly cleaning your tools after use.

Cultivation tools (spades, hoes, forks, rakes and trowels)

  • Use a stiff scrubbing brush to remove any soil from the blade and shaft
  • Extremely muddy tools may need a wash down with a hose before drying with an old towel. Drying prevents wooden handles from absorbing water and swelling and metal from rusting
  • Traditionally after cleaning, tools were oiled with a thin protective film of general purpose oil, to help prevent rusting. Many modern tools are made from stainless steel, which is less likely to rust. However this does depend on the quality of the metal. Occasional oiling may be required

Cutting tools (secateurs, knives, loppers, pruning saws and all types of shears)

Blades of pruning tools become gummed up with the sap of the plants you are pruning attracting grime to the blade. This build up affects performance, causing blades to stick together over time.

  • Clean off dried-on sap with a nylon pan scourer or wire wool. Use a penetrating oil and water-displacing spray such as WD-40 to help loosen the grime
  • Once the metal is clear and smooth, wipe off the remaining WD-40 with a clean cloth
  • Tighten any loose working parts and drop some oil into the central pivot point, opening and closing it to work the oil in
  • Store in a clean dry place

Wear gloves when using oil products to prevent skin irritation or splinters from wire wool.

How to sterilize hand tools

Garden hygiene is important for preventing the spread of diseases such as Phytophthora, bacterial canker and box blight to name a few. It is important to clean all used tools that have come into contact with contaminated soil and plant material.

Good hygiene for propagation tools is essential too.

  • Stop soil transfer by brushing cultivation tools like spades at the site
  • Apply a suitable disinfectant such as Jeyes fluid, Citrox or Propellar to all used blades. To successfully kill pathogens, leave for 15-20 minutes before wiping off
  • Dry with an old towel and then oil, remembering that any brush or cloth should also be disinfected
  • Don’t forget your boots, removing contaminated soil and disinfecting the soles


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