I am the world’s worst for just dropping my trowel or secateurs where I store them outside under a bench, and I am ashamed to say they are both dirty and rusty, with the blades of the secateurs getting a bit blunt.

Good tools are expensive and might be a big investment in your business or hobby requiring some care. One of the most important factors in maintaining your tools is preventing rust, and choosing where to store your tools is the first step in helping to prevent them from rusting. They should be kept clean and off the ground, where moisture is often present.

Keep Tools Clean

Keeping tools clean and using them frequently will prevent rust - when tools don’t have the chance to sit and collect dust or moisture, they are more likely to resist corrosion. Garden tools perform some of the hardest, dirtiest jobs, and will easily get covered in dirt, sticky sap and more. From secateurs and delicate bladed tools through to spades and forks, scrape any mud off first, and once the tools are clean, give them a thorough dry down with a cloth or old towel to prevent dampness.

Remove rust

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you protect your tools, rust can be your enemy, but it’s important to remember that a rusty tool doesn’t deem it useless.

Linseed oil is great for cleaning tools and removing rust from metal and stainless steel. Simply apply a thin layer of the oil to rust spots on your handheld tools and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Scrub the area with a stainless-steel brush, steel wool or sandpaper, or any sandpaper alternative. Once the rust is gone, wipe off any residual oil with a clean, dry cloth. To prevent a greasy residue from being left behind, use some warm, soapy water first and then wipe dry thoroughly.

WD-40 is also great for preventing rust, especially on metal objects such as handheld and power tools. It works well in humid regions and best of all, it's very easy to use, simply spray on and let dry.


Many garden tools have blades that will have seen a lot of action, so there’s a good chance they’ll need re-sharpening before being put back to work. All you’ll need is a flat file - size dependent on the blade being sharpened – and make sure you sharpen at the same angle as the blade. Look online for some easy lessons if you’ve not tried this before.


Sterilise your tools to rid them of bacteria, fungus and soil-borne diseases that can be transferred to your plants. Simply soak in a sterilising solution for 10 – 30 minutes, depending on the solution used. You could use bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water), but this has a corrosive effect, can produce harmful fumes and isn't as effective against viruses as some other products. Alcohol is better, either wipe or dip tools in a solution that is 70–100% alcohol. Ethanol and isopropyl alcohol are widely available at a variety of stores.

Sand them down

If your garden tools have wooden handles that are in bad shape, sanding them down to remove splinters will be worthwhile before storing them away, and even repaint – a nice little job for inside on a rainy day!

Store in a dry place

Storing tools on hanging hooks will prevent resting them on the floor where moisture can do damage. The area in which your tools are stored should have low humidity and plenty of fresh air circulating if possible, or you could even use a dehumidifier.

Here’s an easy trick - cat litter absorbs liquid, so placing an open bag or tray of it inside your shed will also help keep moisture levels down, or put silica packets into your toolbox or wherever you keep your handheld tools. These little white packets absorb moisture and are easy to use. Even a bucket of leftover sawdust can help absorb moisture. Just be careful with this one, as sawdust could be a potential fire hazard.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan