How to remove rust from garden tools (4 Easy Steps)

How to remove rust from garden tools

Restore those rusty garden tools to brand new again with just two natural ingredients. Tool restoration is such a rewarding endeavor that gives you a feeling of self-sufficiency while saving you money at the same time. And to be able to accomplish this without harmful chemicals or back-breaking scrubbing is even better! In this article, I’ll show you how to safely and easily remove rust from garden tools, new or old, as well as how to protect them from rusting again for years to come!

Why clean or remove rust from garden tools?

Why clean or remove rust from garden tools

Hey before we get into it let’s take a minute and talk about the importance of maintaining our tools, especially the scissor-type ones. It’s ironic I know as here I am leaving my tools out in the rain to rust while preaching the importance of care. But it’s important we do it for three reasons.

  1. Cleaning up your tools at the end of the year after we’ve cut down all the spent rotting plants can not only help stop disease but also prevent fungal outbreaks.
  2. Cleaning and maintaining your tools will make them last longer, saving you money in the long run and keeping them out of the landfill.
  3. Clean tools just work better. Stop struggling to get those thick stems cut, maintained and looked after your tools like scissors and pruners will do the job better, faster and easier.

Alright, so we know the whys, how do we get started? Well, it’s a four-step process that’s easier than you think. Let me show you how.

4 Easy steps to remove rust from garden tools

1. Clean and prep

Clean and prep

Alright, guys first up we need to dry and superficially clean the tools. Remove any obvious dirt or debris as much as possible.

This is important because the cleaner the tools are now the better our first ingredient is gonna work in step two.

One optional step you can do after cleaning is to take the tool apart. If it’s got more than one piece and a lot of the higher-end tools do it’ll give you access to all the surfaces and do a more thorough job as a result.

Look at all those bits that we wouldn’t have access to if we didn’t disassemble the pruners.

2. Acid Drop

Acid Drop

All right with our tools all clean in my case these rusty pruners we’re ready for step two and our first ingredient and that’s just vinegar.

We want to soak the rusty parts of our tools in a 50/50 vinegar-water bath solution for at least four hours. The acid from the vinegar should eat away at those rusty parts making the cleaning and the restoration super easy.

Remember from chemistry 101 always add your acid to the water and not the other way around.

50/50 is what we’re after and you can just use a shallow dish for this but we’re trying to submerge all the parts that are rested.

Make sure you use enough of the solution to completely submerge all of the parts.

Okay like we said we gotta let this sit for about four hours or longer if you want to, the weak acid solution of the vinegar isn’t going to hurt the metal at all.

There are quite a few tutorials out there that are going to rely on sandpaper wire brushes or scrubbers or other abrasives. I’m really trying to avoid those things which we’ll touch on later, so this acid bath is probably our most important step.

After just a couple of minutes, the acid gets right to work on that rust. It doesn’t actually dissolve the rust particles themselves what it does is loosen up their grip on the metal making them much easier to remove.

why we soak garden tools in a weak acid

And this brings us to why we soak them in a weak acid and why we soak them for so long in the first place. We do this because we want to avoid scrubbing, scratching, or scraping the rust off the tools as much as possible.

You see by using those harsh methods like sandpaper or steel wool you’re actually creating micro-abrasions on the metal itself creating even more surface area for that rust to take hold.

For sure you can definitely sand down your pruners nice and clean but very shortly care or not the rust is gonna come back and it’s gonna come back even worse than before.

Okay back to our bath after about an hour rust particles are actually falling off on their own and the acid is fast at work for the remaining areas.

This is brilliant and after four hours where do you see the results. A substantial amount of rust has fallen off all on its own. Without any intervention on our part just soaking in that weak acid is enough to remove 90% of the rust from garden tools.

Not to mention now we can also see the benefit of taking the tools apart to get every nook and cranny clean.

Okay at this point we can remove the tools from the acid bath and move on to step three. However, if you have a particularly rusty set of tools you can leave them in a bit longer no problem.

Also, read 5 Essential Gardening Tools for Beginners (You Must Buy).

3. The Rubdown

The Rubdown

With those rusty spots sufficiently loosened now is the time to get a soft non-abrasive cloth and manually remove any of the remaining rust. If you’ve soaked it for long enough the rust should come off without too much effort.

Really try to remove all of it though, even from the little parts like screws and springs. Take your time here and really try to get all those rusted bits off. There’s really no point going through all the effort up to this point just to leave some rust on there.

4. Protection


Okay once you’re confident that all the rust has been removed and your tool is completely dry we can go ahead and grab our second ingredient and that’s vegetable oil.

Many tutorials are going to suggest a synthetic oil but you know what you can just use vegetable oil and it works just as good.

Safer for your plants and the environment, what would you rather be using around your food crops? chemical synthetic oil or a natural one.

Spread the oil on with a napkin or q-tip, trying to coat all the corners and crevices where rust may reappear. Coat the blades, the springs, all the screws, everything not much just a little protective sheath to repel moisture and keep that rust at bay.

All right after you’ve coated everything if you’ve taken your tool apart now is the time to reassemble.

Take your time, really try to tighten all those screws evenly and firmly. At this point we’re done we can safely store the tools for winter ready for action next spring.

For pruners and scissors though now is a perfect time to resharpen those blades. You can do this before the oiling process or after it doesn’t matter. Just take any 10 carbide tool sharpener hold it at a 45-degree angle to the blade and take 7 to 10 firm swipes away from you.

Long uninterrupted swipes are what you’re after you want to get rid of any little nicks and dings that these pruners may have gotten over the course of the year.

Once you’ve done one side flip the pruners over and do the other side. Again 7 to 10 long uninterrupted swipes nice and firm away from you.

Good as new, hey even though it is a simple straightforward process, let’s do a recap hitting all the most important points to remove rust from garden tools.

Quick recap on how to remove rust from garden tools

Quick recap on how to remove rust from garden tools

Restoring your rusty garden tools is quite easy and while it may take about four hours or so your time spent hands-on should be less than 10 minutes per tool.

Start by wiping off all debris and dirt from the tools you want to restore. Next, submerge the rusted tools either together or in pieces for 4 hours or more in a 50/50 solution of water and simple vinegar.

After sitting in the acid bath for a sufficient time take a soft cloth and wipe down the tools removing all the rust while simultaneously drying them.

As a final protective measure coat all the metal pieces with regular store-bought vegetable oil using a napkin or cotton swab. It’s just that easy.

It’s kind of nice to not only care for our tools but also have the ability to restore them back to near new. It feels good and it’s good for the planet happy growing guys!

Hey, thanks so much for reading guys. I appreciate the support more than you know and if you’re getting value from this article please share this to spread the word and help your fellow gardener to grow better.

I am Fenil Kalal. Professionally I have done Engineering in Information and Technology. Gardening is my passion/love/favorite hobby and I have 5+ years of experience in Gardening.

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