Why Do Garden Tools Rust? 5 Reasons

Many garden tools are made of metal, and unfortunately, metal is subject to rusting under certain circumstances. If you’ve recently noticed rust forming on your garden tools, you might be wondering why that is.

Garden tools are prone to rusting when they are exposed to water for extended periods. Rust formation is a natural oxidation process that occurs with the metal. Neglecting to apply protective oil, leaving tools in rainy conditions, or storing them in high-humidity environments can contribute to this process.

The rest of this article will discuss why garden tools rust in greater detail. It will also discuss the best ways to remove rust from metal tools, so be sure to read on if you want to learn more!

Reasons Garden Tools Rust

Rust is a type of corrosion that occurs when certain metals, such as steel, come into contact with oxygen and moisture. This reaction is called oxidation, which happens when iron atoms combine with oxygen atoms to create iron oxide, or rust. High humidity can speed up this process, as it provides more moisture for the reaction to take place more quickly.

In many cases, the moisture that causes rust comes from rainwater and humidity. Since many garden tools are made of steel, rusting is a common problem.

Below, let’s look at the 5 main reasons garden tools rust:

1. Lack of Oil

When it comes to metal garden tools, an important thing to do often is apply oil. Once you apply oil to the surface, it acts as a barrier and cuts contact with any outside oxygen. Oil can also repel water. 

Since the metal now has no contact with oxygen or moisture, it can’t rust. This is why oiling your tools is always worth the effort, and it’s super quick and easy to do.

Another benefit of oiling your garden tools is that it keeps them lubricated. This is especially important for tools that have moving parts, such as hedge trimmers and shears. Oiling them ensures that you can use them smoothly without dealing with any squeaky noises or stiffness.

2. Leaving Your Yard Equipment in the Rain

Leaving yard equipment exposed to moisture for extended periods can cause rusting. This is particularly true if you live in a rainy area and leave your tools outside.

Tools can rust relatively quickly when they’re left out in the rain all the time, so it’s essential to leave them sheltered once you’re finished using them. The easiest solution is to leave them in a toolbox or anywhere that’s completely dry.

If you’ve accidentally left your tools outside for an extended period, clean and dry them thoroughly before storing them away. This will help prevent rust from forming on the metal parts of your tools.

3. Humid Environments

High humidity in an area leads to moisture in the air which causes rusting of garden tools due to metal’s reaction with water.

A humid environment could be outdoors or indoors. For example, you might be keeping your tools in a humid basement. If that’s the case, you should move your tools to a different part of your house with a more controlled humidity level.

In some cases, the humid environment might be outdoors. It’s important to note that the air can still be moist even if it doesn’t rain. In that case, you should move your tools indoors where the climate is less humid.

4. Not Drying Tools After Use

The use of garden tools often involves coming into direct contact with soil or other sources of moisture. If the tool is not thoroughly dried after use, it becomes more susceptible to rusting.

Similarly, when using a metal rake to work with wet leaves after a rain shower, the rake tends to get wet and stays damp unless it’s appropriately dried after use. Although it may not seem crucial at first, the problem can worsen over time.

To avoid rust from forming on your tools, it’s important to dry them completely after each use. You can use a dry towel or cloth for this, but it’s crucial to ensure that the tools are completely dry before storing them. Neglecting this step can still result in rust formation over time.

5. Lack of Cleaning and Maintenance

Although water causes rust in garden tools, not cleaning and maintaining your garden tools enough will also increase the risk of rust forming. This is especially true if your tools get dirty after use and you don’t clean them right afterward.

Any dirt and debris you leave on your tools may contain some water, which can be problematic. The simple solution is to clean your tools whenever they’re dirty. You can use bleach or another cleaning solution if you’d prefer to clean them.

You can soak them in bleach and water for a few minutes and then rinse them with water. Once rinsed, it’s essential to dry them thoroughly before storing them away.

Of course, it’s not necessary to do a bleach wash after every use. If you use your tools often, you can sometimes wash with plain warm water or a mild soap.

Cleaning will also help wash away any buildup that may have been on the tools, such as a buildup that would eventually lead to rusting.

Rust Removal and Maintenance Tips

One of the best ways to remove rust on yard equipment is the white vinegar method.

Here are some basic steps:

  1. Submerge your rusty tools in white vinegar. – I had great success wrapping a piece of cloth around the rusted parts and pouring the vinegar on the fabric until it was completely damp.
  2. Let them soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Once you remove them, the rust should be softened.
  4. Scrub the rest off with a toothbrush or any brush until all the rust is gone.
  5. Rinse off the tools and dry them.
  6. Oil the tools with multi-purpose oil.

After using this method, your tools should look much better than before! More importantly, they will be rust-free.

Another method is the baking soda method. Be aware that this method works best for mild cases of rust.

Here are the steps to follow if you’re interested in trying this one out: 

  1. Wet the tools in water.
  2. Apply baking soda, focusing on the rustiest areas.
  3. Leave for about 1 hour.
  4. Scrub the baking soda into the rusty parts using a brush or other scrubbing object.
  5. Clean the tools once you’ve removed all the rust.
  6. Dry the tools thoroughly to prevent further rusting.
  7. Oil the tools with multi-purpose oil.

No matter what method you use to remove rust, it’s always good to oil your tools afterward. This will protect them from further rusting and other damage, so it’s highly worth it. Some types of oil you can use include multi-purpose oil, flaxseed, or tung oil.

You can also use other oils that you may have lying around your home. For example, vegetable oil is a suitable lubricator and protector for garden tools, and you likely have this in your kitchen!

I’ve written an extensive guide about how to keep garden tools clean, sharp, and rust-free. Don’t miss it: How To Keep Garden Tools Clean, Sharp, and Rust Free (9 Helpful Tips)

Can You Use Rusty Garden Tools?

You shouldn’t use rusty garden tools because the rust can fall onto plants and other things in your garden. Plus, many garden tools with rust will be stiff to use, making the job more complicated than it needs to be. You should always remove rust before using your tools.

However, most plants won’t be affected by a rusty tool. The only time when it might be dangerous is if your rusty tool comes into contact with vegetables you’re growing. If some of the rust transfers onto the vegetables, you might consume some.

Since rust isn’t considered safe to ingest, you should specifically avoid using rusty tools near edible crops. This is especially true if some of the rust on your tools is crumbling because it will be more likely to fall off and cause contamination.

Rust may also make it more challenging to use particular tools. For example, garden shears with rust might be difficult (or even impossible) to open and close. In this instance, removing the rust before using them is worth it.

Does Bleach Remove Rust?

Bleach doesn’t remove rust on garden tools, and it may even make it worse. The best things to use for rust removal are white vinegar or baking soda. Although bleach is a good cleaning solution for garden tools, you should only use it in cases where there’s no rust present.

This is because bleach reacts negatively to rust, making the problem worse. Rust is one of the few things that bleach can’t fix.


The main factor that causes rusting in garden tools is if they’re wet for long periods.

To avoid rust, be sure to remember the following:

  • Never leave tools outside, especially in the rain.
  • Dry tools after each use.
  • Dry tools after washing.
  • Oil tools to create a protective barrier.
  • Keep tools away from humid environments.

If rust forms on your garden tools, use white vinegar or baking soda to remove it. White vinegar works best for tougher rust stains, so many people prefer that method.

Although you can use bleach to clean tools, you shouldn’t use it on rusty tools.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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