How to Remove Rust From Garden Tools

Rose Morrison

Feb 17, 2023

How to Remove Rust From Garden Tools

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Your garden might look perfect, but that doesn’t mean your tools are equally inviting. They may have rusted after months or years of work in damp soil or exposure to rainstorms. You don’t have to replace everything just to get rid of the rust. Remove rust from your garden tools with these quick tips instead.

1. Soak the Tool in Vinegar and Salt

Rust is an iron oxide that hates acetic acid. When it touches acetic acid and kitchen salt, the rust disintegrates on contact and strips away from any surface. Store-bought white vinegar is a natural source of acetic acid, so it’s an excellent resource for anyone hoping to turn rusty garden tools into their shiniest belongings. Add ¼ cup of salt per liter of vinegar to even out the solution.

Find a big container of white vinegar and pour it into something like a paint tray or bowl. Soak your garden tool in it for at least 12–24 hours at a minimum. Bigger tools can soak in a bucket or a tied-off bag for the same amount of time.

2. Scrub the Rust Away

After your tools soak for a day or two, pull them out of the vinegar and salt mixture. You can use a scrub brush, wire pad or another hearty tool to scrub the lingering rust away. It should come off quickly.

Be aware that the vinegar and salt solution will cause your hands to sting or turn red if you have dry skin. General contact can also be a skin irritant. Use waterproof gardening or dishwashing gloves to protect your hands and spend as much time as you need scrubbing the rust off your tools.

3. Add Lubrication Where Necessary

Some garden tools have gears or pivot joints so they can do their job. It’s crucial to add lubrication to those points after the rust is gone. The vinegar might otherwise strip whatever previous lubrication existed and make them harder to use. Dry the tools completely before adding oil to ensure it goes where it needs to be.

4. Review Your Progress

After restoring your tools, look closely at them under a bright light or magnifying mirror. Is there any lingering rust in tight corners or layered components? You can always soak them again and scrub them with a fine-point tool to make your gardening supplies look brand new.

Storing the tools in a waterproof container is the best way to keep the rust from returning. Consider if your current storage arrangement led to the rust before moving them. They may need an airtight plastic container if you have to keep them in the same spot that’s prone to water, misty or humid conditions.

5. Seek More Powerful Cleaning Solutions

If your vinegar experiment doesn’t work as well as you hoped, other budget-friendly options will save your garden tools. Evapo-Rust makes a rust-removal solution that’s gentle enough for antiques and Fox Trot has a gentle rust remover that comes with brushes and also removes calcium or lime deposits. 

Clean Your Rusty Garden Tools

Anyone can learn to remove rust from garden tools with simple steps like these. If you’re within walking or driving distance of a grocery store, you’re in luck. Stock up on white vinegar and salt to make the annoying rust disappear. You’ll transform your tools overnight and learn a lifelong maintenance trick for your favorite hobby.

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