Help, My Garden Tools Are Rusted: How To Clean Rusty Garden Tools

Detail of the old rusty clippers - garden shears
Image by Michal Boubin

By Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

After a long season of garden projects and chores, sometimes we forget to give our tools a good cleaning and proper storage. When we return to our garden sheds in the spring, we find that some of our favorite garden tools are rusted. Read on to learn how to clean rusty garden tools.

Help! My Garden Tools are Rusted

Prevention is the best solution for rusty garden tools. Try to clean your tools well after each use with a rag or brush, water, and dish soap or pine sol. Be sure to remove any sap or sticky residue. After cleaning your tools, dry them and then spray them with WD-40 or rub down with mineral oil.


Store your tools hanging on hooks in a dry airy location. Some gardeners swear by storing their tools blades down in a bucket of sand and mineral spirits.

However, life happens and we can’t always give our favorite garden trowel the TLC it deserves. There are many folk remedies for removing rust from tools with simple kitchen ingredients like salt, vinegar, cola and tin foil. When you really love that garden trowel, you don’t mind trying a few until you find the one that returns it to its full shiny glory.

How to Clean Rusty Garden Tools

The most popular method for cleaning rust on garden tools is with vinegar. Soak the tool overnight in a mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Then with steel wool, a brush or a crumpled up piece of tin foil, rub the rust off in a circular motion. When the rust is gone, rinse the tool in soapy water and then just clear water. Hang in to dry, then rub it with mineral oil or WD-40.

Another interesting rust removal recipe involves just using a can of cola and a crumpled piece of tin foil or wire brush to scrub away the rust. The phosphoric acid in cola dissolves the rust.

There’s also a recipe that calls for using strong black tea – first to soak the tools in and then to scrub the rust away.

Using salt and lemon juice is yet another popular method of cleaning rusty tools. This recipe uses 1 part table salt, 1 part lemon juice and 1 part water a homemade rust solution. Rub on with steel wool, then rinse and dry.

Can You Renew Rusty Garden Tools With Power Tools?

If you’d like to add a little power and speed to your rust removal project, there are wire brush attachments for drills and Dremel tools specifically designed for rust removal. A bench grinder with wire wheel and buffing wheel attachment also works great on rust removal. Always wear safety goggles and gloves.

With any of these rust removal methods, be sure to clean your tools thoroughly. Don’t leave any sticky residues. Keeping tools sharp can help decrease damage that leads to rust, so it’s a good idea to sharpen your tools while you’re giving them a good cleaning.

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