There are several excellent products available in the market for cleaning garden tools. They can vary in price points, the convenience of use, and levels of effectiveness. However, you don’t have to search far and spend much money because you can find practical cleaning tools just lying around at home, such as sand, oil, and an old bucket.
To clean garden tools using sand, you must first spray them with water to remove most of the dirt. Then fill ⅔ of a 5-gallon (19-L) bucket with sand and pour 1-2 cups of oil evenly on top. Let the mixture sit for about two hours. Bury the tool in the sand, pull it out, and repeat it a few times.
In the rest of the article, I will explain the steps in detail and recommend the best materials to use, depending on availability and practicability. Read on to learn more!
1. Wash Away the Soil From the Tools With Water
Although sand can do a great job cleaning your gardening tools, it can’t deal with the heavier and thicker lumps of soil that cling to them. Therefore, it’s necessary to remove most of the dirt from your tools first.
You must also remove plant parts and sap from pruning shears and hand tools before burying them in the sand. Otherwise, you risk spreading pathogens from one tool to another and infecting your other plants.
The purpose of using sand is to make cleaning garden tools simple and easy. So you don’t have to clean your tools thoroughly beforehand. You can simply spray them with water and use a wire brush with hard bristles to remove most of the mud.
For smaller tools, you can use a rough sponge or steel wire to scrub off dirt and plant sap. After which, rinse them with water. You can also spray them with alcohol to disinfect them.
Allow your tools to dry completely before soaking them in the bucket of sand. You can leave them to air dry or wipe them with a clean cloth to avoid water stains.
2. Prepare the Materials
To get the best results, it’s crucial to use the right materials. The effectiveness of this method lies greatly in how appropriate the materials are for the purpose. For instance, not all types of sand are abrasive enough to scrub dirt and rust off the tools.
Here are some things you must keep in mind when preparing the materials:
Choose an Appropriately Sized Bucket
Shovels, spades, rakes, and other large tools obviously need a large bucket to soak their heads deep enough into the sand. However, they shouldn’t be too large. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting materials to fill spaces inaccessible to the tools.
For instance, if the head of a shovel is 10 inches (25 cm) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide, you can use a container that can accommodate sand with a depth of at least 12 inches (30 cm) and width of around 10 inches (25 cm).
If you plan to soak several tools in the sand at the same time, you may want to use a large wooden box or a plastic container.
You can use smaller buckets or old pots for tools like a hand trowel and garden shears. However, the container has to be deep enough to cover the blades of the tools.
Allow at least 2 inches (5 cm) of space between the rim of the container and the upper surface of the sand. It can help prevent spilling the sand out of the container as you remove or replace the tools.
The Sand Should Be Coarse and Abrasive
Fine sand won’t do much to clean your garden tools. Ideally, you should go for the sand type with particle sizes ranging between 1.0 and 1.5 mm.
Such size should work fine for hard blades like shovels, spades, and pruning sheers. However, you might want to avoid putting your weeding hoes in coarse sand as their more delicate blades might chip or break.
For tips on how to properly clean, lubricate, and sharpen weeding hoes like the scuffle hoe, you may check my other article here: How to Sharpen a Scuffle Hoe: DIY Guide
Also, it’s important to use sterile sand to avoid contaminating the gardening tools. When using sand from your garden or commercial sand that you fear may be contaminated, you can wash them with hot water. Temperatures between 158 and 176 °F (70 and 80 °C) should be enough to kill many harmful microbes.
You Can Use Baby Oil or Cooking Oil
Many gardeners or DIYers may recommend used motor oil. While it’s a good idea, not everybody has access to it. Some good alternatives are old baby oil and vegetable oil. However, be sure to replace the mixture once every one to two weeks when using vegetable oil.
I often use expired mineral-based baby oil. Such oil is no longer safe for human skin but perfectly safe for your garden tools. Moreover, they don’t smell bad over time.
3. Mix the Sand and Oil
An important thing to note is that the sand and oil mixture will be pretty heavy once established, so you must choose a well-ventilated area for your setup. Ideally, you should aim for a location with adequate protection from direct sunlight, rain, and humidity.
Once you have decided on the perfect location, you can start preparing your setup. There’s no perfect formula for the sand and oil mixture because the coarseness of particles can vary and affect the amount of oil necessary to saturate the sand.
I prefer using semi-coarse sand with particle sizes between 1.0 and 1.5 mm and mineral-based baby oil. Using these materials, I follow the recipes below:
5-Gallon Bucket for Large Tools:
- 12 inches (30 cm) of sand (approximately 40 lbs or 18 kg)
- 2 cups (0.5 L) of baby oil spread evenly on top of the sand
12-Inch Old Plastic or Clay Pot for Smaller Tools:
- 10 inches (25 cm) of sand (10 lbs or 4.5 kg)
- ½ cup (125 ml) baby oil
Wait for the oil to work its way down the sand for at least two hours before mixing the sand using your shovel or old rebar long enough to reach the bottom.
Remember that putting in less oil is better than oversaturating the mix. You can add more oil gradually to avoid making mistakes. Your goal is to have damp but not moist sand.
Testing Your Mixture
To test the mixture, you can plunge your gardening tools into it. If the tool pierces through the top layer of sand too smoothly but with resistance halfway down, it might be because the oil hasn’t spread in the sand evenly yet. Allow the mix to sit for a few more hours, or stir it again using the rebar.
Another issue is when you put in too much oil. One sign that the sand is oversaturated is when your mix looks gooey. In that case, it won’t be very effective. You’ll notice your gardening tool coming out coated with oil, but not much of the dirt or rust is removed.
How to mend: Add about 2 inches (5 cm) of sand and work it a few inches down the mix. Wait for the dry sand to soak up the excess oil. Depending on how saturated the mixture is, you may need to add more sand.
4. Push and Pull the Tool in and Out of the Sand-Oil Mix
To clean your gardening tools using the sand-and-oil mix, you can just plunge them in and pull them out. Repeat the process a few times and see the difference. You can also leave the tools in the sand when not in use. The oil will protect them from rust.
5. Replace the Sand-Oil Mix Every 1–2 Months
Motor oil and baby oil might not smell bad in your mix for a long time, but they can easily be used up as they coat your garden tools. You’ll know it’s time to replace your mix when the sand has more resistance and the tool comes out with less oil coating than before.
On the other hand, vegetable oil can start going bad and smelling off when left out in the open for too long. In that case, you can replace the mix once a week.
6. Rinse the Oil Off To Reuse the Sand
If you want to reuse the sand, you can remove the oil by soaking the mix in boiling water. If you used a large setup, you could soak smaller batches of sand in a clean bucket with hot water. You can follow the steps below:
- Pour enough hot water to cover about 3-5 inches (7.6 – 12.7 cm) above the surface of the sand.
- Stir the mixture thoroughly. The oil will float above the water after leaving the mixture overnight.
- Pour out the liquid.
- Repeat the process one or two more times to remove all the excess oil.
- Lay the sand out on a tarpaulin to dry to prevent compaction.
Plunging your garden tools in a mixture of sand and oil is a quick and easy way to clean and maintain them. However, you’ll need the right materials and recipe to make the mixture and ensure its effectiveness.
Remember that this process won’t work on old, abused garden tools with more severe rust problems.