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Cleaning and storing garden tools for winter

Tiffany Daneff / 30 November 2016

How to clean and store your garden tools before putting them away for winter.

Garden tools for cleaning
Clean up your gardening tools before storing them away to keep them in top condition

Before you start you’re going to need:

  • Clean cloths/rags (old sheets ripped into squares or t-shirts are perfect)
  • A spray bottle filled with a disinfectant solution (9 parts water to 1 of bleach) – to clean blades and ensure there is no spread of disease
  • A can of a proprietary aerosol lubricant such as WD40 and or some simple cheap vegetable oil such as sunflower
  • Washing up liquid and hot water for washing off caked-on mud
  • Steel wool
  • Sandpaper
  • Danish or linseed oil for wooden handles
  • Wet and/or drystones for sharpening blades or a flat file. You’ll need a variety to enable you to sharpen rough edges and finer more delicate blades such as those on secateurs.

Clean and repair

1. Secateurs and delicate bladed tools will need cleaning, oiling and sharpening. Felco offers a full tool service for their secateurs for £19.99. You can find out more about Felco's service here.

2. Spades and forks must be scraped clean of mud or they’ll be ruined when you take them out of the shed to use in the spring. The trouble with rust is that it makes your work harder, every push of the blade into the earth is that much more effort. If the mud and muck is too tricky to scrape cleanly away you might have to dip the blade into a bucket of hot soapy water and brush it clean before drying it thoroughly with an old towel. You might need a second wash and dry before sharpening the edge of the blade and oiling. Really tough mud might require a wire brush. Bad rust spots can be removed with steel wool.

3. Wooden handles will also need brushing and washing of mud. If the handle is in bad shape you can sandpaper it down before oiling with linseed or Danish oil. Really dry wood might need oiling daily until it feels better. Broken or loose wooden handles should be replaced. You can find replacements in hardware stores or online. Try Quality Garden Tools for replacement handles.

4. Rusted metal handles can be given a new lease of life by painting (or spraying) on a couple of coats of hammered metal paint.

5. A sharpened blade will save time and your back. Clean tools (as above) before sharpening, and make sure to sharpen at the same angle as the blade. Use the stone or file to remove any nicks in the blade edge.

Read our tips for cleaning wooden furniture

Storing your tools

If you can be bothered it is well worth sorting tools before storing. Hang from pegs or store in old crates. Just be careful to avoid a situation where you might knock a heavy tool that could land on your feet.

Store tools where it is dry or they will rust, however well you’ve prepared them.

Cordless tools

Ensuring all power is off brush or wipe off debris with a soft brush and damp cloth. Sharpen blade edges then wipe metal with a clean oiled cloth before storing.

Cordless tools should be stored with batteries removed somewhere where temperatures won’t drop below freezing

Lithium batteries should be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight


Handpush mowers will need brushing clean taking care not to trap your fingers in the rotating blades. Do wear gloves and use a stick (not your fingers) to poke out any tricky debris. Unravel any trapped couch grass. Sharpen blade edges carefully and finally wipe with a clean oiled rag. Spray moving parts with lubricating oil.

Petrol mowers need the fuel emptied before storing

Store machines in a dry shed or garage

Make sure with all power tools to check and follow manufacturers’ cleaning and storage instructions.

Good habits to get into

A bucket of dry sand or grit. Keep this by the garden shed so that you can just stick muddy tools straight in. Jiggle about spades in the sand/grit to loosen stuck on soil. Doing this means you can leave the proper clean up until you feel you have the time. (Some people add a little machine oil to a bucket of dry sand to help prevent rust and use this to store tools that are going to be used regularly.)

Keep a bucket and hard brush close to the garden tap as a reminder to give muddy tools a quick wash and scrub.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.