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 rust if they are in contact with water for extended periods. Essentially, the water reacts with the metal, which eventually creates rust. Specific reasons may include leaving tools in the rain, not oiling tools, or keeping tools in a humid environment.

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 forms when certain metals, like steel, are exposed to oxygen and moisture. In this case, the moisture typically comes from humidity and tap or rainwater. Since many garden tools are made of steel, rusting is a common occurrence.

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

1. Lack of Oil on Garden Tools

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 Garden Tools in the Rain

One major cause of garden tools rusting is when you leave them out in the rain for extended periods. This is especially true if you live somewhere that experiences a lot of rain. If that’s the case, your tools likely won’t have any time to dry because of the continuous rain.

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

Another major cause of rusting in garden tools is a humid environment. When an area has high humidity, there’s a lot of water content in the air. And as you now are aware, water and metal create rust.

A humid environment could be outdoors or indoors. For example, you might be keeping your tools in a basement, and basements often have humidity problems. 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 Garden Tools After Use

There are many things you might be using your garden tools for. Let’s say you use one of your tools, and it comes into direct contact with the soil. For the most part, all soil will have some amount of moisture. So if you use your tool in this way and then don’t ensure it’s fully dry afterward, it will be more susceptible to rusting.

Or let’s say you’re using a metal rake to rake leaves, and the leaves are wet from a rain shower. The rake will get wet in this case, and it will remain wet for an extended period unless you dry it after using it. You might not think it’s necessary at the moment, but the problem will worsen over time.

It’s quick and easy to ensure that tools are dry after each use, so it’s definitely worth your while. You can dry them off with any dry towel or cloth, but you must ensure they’re fully dry before storing them away. Otherwise, rust can still form.

5. Not Cleaning Garden Tools Enough

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.

Best Way To Remove Rust on Garden Tools

One of the best ways to remove rust on garden tools is the white vinegar method. Here are some basic steps:

  1. Place your rusty tools in white vinegar.
  2. Let them soak for 30 minutes to an 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.

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 a few minutes.
  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.

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 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)

Should 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 on Garden Tools?

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.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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