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The perfect way to store your tools (and an OK way that works too)


We interrupt your frantic season-end gardening for a quick message. This post is sponsored by 3-IN-ONE®  Multi-Purpose Oil and Lava® Soap, but all words and opinions are entirely my own. This post may also include affiliate links. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.

There is a “right” way to store your garden tools over winter: clean, sharp and ready to go the second you need them in spring. Now raise your hand if you’re really going to do that this year. (Note that my arms are firmly at my sides.)

The more I garden, the more recognize that although I’m always filled with good intentions (i.e. I will not let any vegetables overripen in the garden, I will mulch promptly after planting, I will never put my garden tools away dirty …), reality in the garden is a different thing entirely. Let’s be honest: A good day in the garden is one in which I don’t accidentally plant a tool that will be unearthed three years later when I’m dividing something.

Don't strand your garden tools! Clean and store them properly to prolong their life.
Don’t strand your garden tools in fall! I found this poor spade after looking for it for several minutes.

I’m going to tell you the optimal way to manage your tool storage at the end of the season, but I’m also going to give you an out. A way-better-than-doing-nothing option that’s perfect for those of us who either run out of time in the rush of the season or are just plain burned out and ready to sit in front of the fireplace for some off-season recuperation. 


There are three steps to putting your garden tools away in an ideal world: cleaned, sharpened and protected.

Cleaning is easy. I like to work soil off the metal bits with a brass-bristle brush. For handles, use a solution of mild soap and water and stiff nylon-bristle brush and then rinse and dry them well.

Sharpening intimidates people and it really shouldn’t. The key is to match the angle of the blade, and use a lubricating oil like 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil. For larger blades I like to use a whetstone (as I demonstrated here) and for smaller blades like on hand pruners, I like to use a small handheld sharpener (like I did here). 

Sharpen the blade using a whetstone
Using downward strokes, just follow the existing angle of the blade to sharpen the edge.

Of all the steps in the process, protecting your tools is probably the most important because storing them improperly for months will cause any existing problems to get worse. Keep rust at bay (and yes, even stainless steel tools can rust), by coating the blades with a thin layer of 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil (as demonstrated here)

Give wood-handled tools a quick sanding with 120-grit sandpaper (I have also used 150-grit; but you should use whatever medium-grit sandpaper you have on hand), then rub in some linseed oil. 

When you’re finished, you want to make sure you store them properly and the worst thing you can do is set them on the floor of a damp garage or shed. A good method is to fill a bucket with sand with some 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil mixed in. The sand should be moistened, but don’t turn it into a grease pit.

how to store your garden tools for winter.
Store garden tools in a bucket of sand moistened with oil

Then just plunge your tools in the bucket. They’ll be protected all winter and ready to go.

If you can manage this option, I applaud you and so will your garden tools. But let’s just say you don’t have the time for all that or you just don’t feel like doing it in fall. Don’t worry, I get it. 

I actually like to delay the big tool maintenance project until late winter on one of those unseasonably warm and sunny days when I’m looking for an excuse to be outside. It’s fun to be able to do something garden related even if the garden is still covered in snow.

Well this next plan is for you.


For this method there are only two steps: clean(ish) and protect. I’m giving you permission to skip the sharpening step until later but you are going to to want to do it before you start up again in spring.

As far as cleaning goes, just get the dirt off, even if that means just giving it a sharp spray with the hose. Make sure it’s dry. 

How to store garden tools for winter.
If you don’t have time for a “proper” cleaning of tools, just spray the dirt off as best you can.

Cleaning: Check.

Now grab some of that 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil and give the blade a rub-down with it, wiping off any excess with a rag. In the case of pruners or anything with a hinge, make sure to work some oil into the joint. 

Dry tools thoroughly before giving them a coat of 3-in-ONE Multipurpose Oil.

Protection: Check.

The storage plan should be the same no matter which approach you take, although I’d argue that the bucket of sand method is even more important when you’re cutting a few corners because it will help protect tools that might have bit of damage along the blade (because they’ve not been sharpened yet) from rusting.

Add a little 3-in-ONE Multipurpose oil to clean sand to store and protect  your garden tools.

Speaking of saving time, here’s the little secret I’ve been hiding under the patio tomato plants this summer: a bar of Lava® Soap. Washing my dirty gardening hands in the kitchen sink (the closet one to the door) was getting a little gross and constantly stranding my gloves on the counter was getting old. I just tucked a soap dish on the tomato planter and grabbed the Lava® Soap for a quick clean up at the end of the day. And it was handy for this project too because the pumice in the soap removes any oily residue.

Here’s my secret bar of Lava Soap. This little soap dish fit perfectly on a container on the deck and it hid under the tomato plants all summer for quick cleanups outside.
I got good at washing my hands with the hose this year and it saved a lot of mess in the kitchen.

If you have a little more time, you can do as much of the “perfect” option as you like, and maybe you have time to do the full process on some tools but not others. The nice part about taking the cheater approach, is that if you get a nice day late in the season, you won’t feel bad about grabbing a tool out of the sand to go do some work in the garden. When you’re finished, give it a rinse, a drop of oil and stick it back in the bucket.

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Want to take care of your garden tools? Here's the best way to do it and the next best thing if you just don't have time.

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for this blog post and I’m committed to treating my garden/lawn tools with much more respect/care that they deserve this year 🙂 Always love your IG, Youtube and blog Erin!

  2. I got sand to make this solution, but the sand that came in the bag isn’t dry. Can I still use it or will that rust my tools?

  3. Happily the kids no longer pull my tools out and leave them until I find them. Sadly, I gave up on repairing them each time. I have a lot of tool repair to do this season. I’m starting with the bucket of sand 🙂 At least I’ll get started until the right direction.

    1. For my pruners I like a little thing called a handy sharp. For the big stuff I use a whetstone that came as part of a set from Sneeboer, but I don’t think there’s anything special about that particular whetstone other than that I like the size and shape.

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