I understand the temptation to just stash your tools away, mud and all, after a hard day’s work of gardening. Why bother to clean them off if they’re just going to get dirty again? I’ve felt this way too, but if you want your tools to last, you need to keep them clean. And once they’re clean, they should be kept in a dry area, like a shed or garage.
When putting tools away for the winter it’s not a bad idea to give the a shot of WD-40* or some other oil (I’ve even read of people using a little bit of motor oil!) to further protect them.
For tools like shovels that may have accumulated a lot of caked on mud, tapping them on the ground will dislodge the larger chunks.
For removing the rest of the dirt, you can usually just hose it off, especially if you’re going to be using them again in a day or two.
But if you’re putting your tools away for a while, and especially if you’re packing them up for the winter, you will want to clean them thoroughly and make sure they’re completely dry.
Caked on mud and wet conditions, separately or together, lead to rust. And rust will deteriorate the metal.
Rust is especially damaging on cutting tools, like secateurs, hedge shears, and the like. The rust causes resistance so that they don’t swing open and closed as easily, and the blades don’t meet as cleanly. This was brought home to me very clearly when I swapped out my slightly rusted yard sale hedge trimmers for a shiny new pair*–I always thought pruning hedges had to be hard work but I was wrong. What a revelation and delight to use a rust free pair of sheers!
I keep a couple of old tea towels in my potting shed for wiping down secateurs and other cutting tools if they’ve become soiled.
Do note that using a wire brush on a highly polished knife like this will result in small visible scratches. I consider them part of the patina that a well used tool develops, but I thought I should mention it.
To clean off a tool with a wire brush stabilize the tool and brush it with the wire brush:
In short order the tool will be clean:
Good gardening tools are an investment, so it is wise to take care of them. And even tools that you might consider a short term stopgap until you can afford something better will work better and last longer if they’re kept clean and dry.
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