The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to clean your gardening tools with ease

Photo: Tool cleaning stationWhat do you think this is? Well it’s not a bucket going to a fancy dress party dressed as a cardinal. This old metal bucket with the broad lid from a rainproof chicken feeder has transformed the dull process of cleaning my new gardening tools at the end of the day.

In the past mud clung to the hand forged tools. An oily rag worked 90% if I was not too impatient for my supper. But my cleaning process wasn’t efficient. When you are tired a quick clear up/clean up is an essential part of garden happiness.

Then Paula, who writes the excellent blog Weeding for Godot made this comment on the blog
“I’ve read about folks keeping a bucket of sand into which a can of clean motor oil has been poured for dunking cleaned garden tools- I think in this day and age, I’d be more likely to use a cooking oil tho’.”

This got me thinking. The sand would loosen any recalcitrant mud that refused to be wiped off. What I needed was a strong bucket or wooden box deep enough to plunge the biggest head of my new tools – these are very sharp and could easily cut through the sides of a plastic bucket.

I remembered that I’d inherited an old metal bucket from my aunt Pickles.  It had been knocking around in the garden for years and eventually I found it upside down beside the oil tank. Battered but still serviceable and rather decorative in a vintage sort of way.

The next time I was in town I bought some silver sand (sharp sand contains salt and I reckoned that this would corrode the tools). I half filled the bucket with sand and added just a cupful of motor oil (another of the spoils held in the barn) and stirred. The mixture was very sloshy so I filled up the rest of the bucket with sand and stirred until I had the perfect consistency of sand and oil. To test that you have got this right simply dunk a tool into the bucket and if a light coating of sand remains on the tool you are there.

At the end of the day I remove most of the mud with a heavy bristled scrubbing brush. People used to use these to scrub washable floors in the olden days and they are an important tool in a painter and decorator’s armoury for removing moss, lichen and ingrained filth (don’t ask). Then I plunge each tool into the sand and oil mixture and quickly wipe each tool with an oily rag –and the rest of the ingrained  mud falls off with the sand in seconds. Very satisfying. Pa in Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingles Wilder would have been proud of me.
The small green gardening shed is too small to accommodate the bucket and it needs to be protected from rain. Hence it needs to wear a hat. And even if I have a vast garden shed in the future I think that I’ll keep the bucket outside as it looks so friendly.

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  1. Geodyne

    I have to confess I’m another who never cleans their gardening tools. But this idea is brilliant, and one I may well borrow.

  2. Cottagegardenfarmer

    My spade thinks itself lucky if it makes it to the shed! It’s still out there tonight and oh dear it’s raining too!

  3. Paula

    Hey- I’m glad it worked for you!

    Is now a good time to admit that I haven’t been properly cleaning my tools of late?

    I’m sorry; it’s just at the end of a long day in the garden and with Johnny Walker calling me, I often just set them aside because I know I’ll sully them again tomorrow….

    I guess I’d better start cleaning my tools. *sigh*

    My tools thank you for making me feel guilty about this!

  4. Stephanie in AR

    What an excellent idea! I’ve purchased a new garden spade based on your post & though not the same brand the smaller size and sturdier hand is much easier to work with, now I can clean it properly.

    This is our second year with a heavy clay garden spot (formerly pasture). I’ve been digging potato trenches (from another post) and think we may finally get some potatoes. Another benefit – I may lose the extra good bye jiggle from my arms.

  5. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Wait a minute — you’re supposed to clean gardening tools?

  6. Cookie Girl

    I love homemade remedies – this is excellent.

  7. casalba

    Now that is one great tip! I agree – it also looks good.

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