How to Clean & Store Garden Tools

You don’t have to wait until the end of the season to protect your tool investment. It’s good practice to rinse your tools off after each use, dry them thoroughly and apply a light coat of oil to all metal parts. Use a stiff-bristle brush to clean stubborn, hard-to-remove dirt. If you make this a routine, you won’t have to do much at the end of the season when it comes to preparing your gardening tools for winter storage.

You should have a designated space or worktable where you can inspect your tools and perform any necessary maintenance. Covering the area with newspaper or plastic sheeting will not only protect the area, but it will also make it easier to clean up after you’re done.

Be sure to store your tools off the ground and away from moisture and other elements. Garages and basements with direct outdoor access are good storage places as long as they are dry. If you don’t have a place to store your tools and equipment, you may want to consider building or purchasing a tool shed.

Step 1: Check Blades

Before storing your equipment for the off-season, sharpen or replace blades on tools that cut or dig. Your digging and cutting tools’ blades get worn down over time, but filing can easily sharpen any nicked or dull blades. Hone and maintain the sharp edge of all cutting tools with a medium-grit sharpening stone. For faster cutting, wet the stone with water or lubricate it with honing oil, depending on the type of stone you’re using.

Safety Alert!

Wear heavy gloves when cleaning or sharpening sharp cutting tools. Wear goggles when using a wire brush to remove rust and dirt.

Sharpen very dull hedge trimmer blades by moving a file away from and diagonally across the sharp edge, making sure you maintain the factory bevel. Then decrease the angle slightly and hone just the last 1/16″ of the blade with a sharpening stone. If your trimmer has a serrated blade, do not attempt to sharpen it.

Most digging tools aren’t sold sharpened, so you should sharpen them from the very start. The more you use your digging tools, the duller they get. File the working edge to a 45-degree bevel with a coarse file.

Because a bow saw cuts in both directions, use a triangular file to sharpen both sides of each of the saw’s teeth to a 45- to 60-degree bevel. To keep track of where you are, file every other tooth starting at one end of the blade. Then file the remaining teeth the same way, working from the opposite end. Always file toward the sharp edge.

Helpful Tip

Clamp a pair of boards on the blade and lock it in a bench vise so you won’t have to keep changing the blade position in the vise.

Once the blades have all been sharpened and before you store these tools for the off-season, use a wire brush to remove surface rust and dirt. Wipe down the metal with light oil to protect it from corrosion, especially if you store the tools in a damp garage or basement.

Step 2: Check Handles

Check your tools’ handles for any splinters, breaks and cracks. Smooth weathered, rough wooden handles with a medium-grit emery cloth. Emery cloth doesn’t tear as easily as sandpaper. The handles should be smooth enough to slide your hand along. If the wood is very rough, first sand across the grain in a “shoe-shine” fashion. Then finish by sanding with the grain.

Helpful Tip

Wipe a dry handle down with a heavy coat of linseed oil at the end of the season to rejuvenate and protect the wood over the winter months.

Sometimes repairing a handle isn’t a safe option. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to replace the handle of a favorite, high quality tool. Don’t attempt to glue or tape a broken wooden handle. You should always replace it. Use a ball-peen hammer or a block of wood with a nail hammer to knock the tool head out of the ferule on the handle.

Safety Alert!

Never strike a metal tool with a nail hammer. It may chip off dangerous metal projectiles. Always wear eye protection when using a hammer to make a repair.

Step 3: Maintain Your Mower

Before you give your lawn mower the season off, remove its fuel by running the mower until it runs out of gas and the motor stops. Don’t just dump the fuel out. Change the oil and remove the spark plugs. Change the spark plugs if necessary. Reinstall the spark plug without connecting the ignition cable, and add a small amount of oil to the crankcase.

You don’t want to store a dirty mower. Thoroughly clean the engine and frame of the mower. Use a scraper to remove any built-up dirt and grass clippings on the underside of the mower and rinse the underside with a garden hose. Once it’s clean, check the condition of the blade. If the blade needs sharpening, use a heavy file to remove dull edges. If the blade looks a little worse-for-wear, you can simply replace it so it’s ready come spring.

Step 4: Winterize Your Grass Trimmer

Remove all dirt, grease and debris from the trimmer using a stiff-bristle brush. Tighten all screws and nuts on your grass trimmer. Drain the fuel tank, remove the spark plug and add a small amount of oil into the cylinder. Pull the starting cord a couple of times to distribute the oil. Reinstall the spark plug, but don’t connect the ignition cable.

Step 5: Prepare Other Power Equipment

If you have a tractor, riding mower or other battery-powered lawn equipment, remove the battery and charge it completely. Store your equipment inside, and consider charging the battery once or twice over the winter. That way, it’s sure to be ready when it’s time to use it.

For other equipment like leaf blowers and tillers, be sure to check all moving parts for damage or wear. Remove caked-on debris and clean thoroughly. Cover any bare metal parts with oil or rust preventive.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.