I found some old gardening tools (trowel, fork, cultivator, secateurs). The paint is flaking off, and the metal has rusted. For context, this is in a hot and humid tropical climate. What can I do to restore these tools so that they can be used without adding paint flakes and metal rust to the soil?

Gardening tools

  • Note: rust on soil is good (but if you have already a iron rich soil, so often in a volcanic soil). In fact most metals are good micronutrients (but lead and other heavy metals). If you are concerned in paint: remove it, else let's soil do it for you. Note: WD-40 and other products may help, but I think the residuals (in the tools and in water) are worst than rust. Commented May 28 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


Rust is really not an issue/concern for "getting into soil" as it's a major component of many soils naturally.

You can remove the paint (and rust if you like) many ways. Wire brushing or sandpaper for mechanical removal, chemical paint strippers and citric or phosphoric acids to remove rust, electrolysis which will remove rust, and in many cases paint as well (possibly not really well adhered paint, though.)

For the secateurs, sharpening and oiling or waxing should be sufficient. You can also replace the blade on better quality ones.

If you clean and oil (use something food-safe) or wax the tools before long-term storage further rusting will be reduced. Some people go as far as having a dedicated box of oily sand that they'll run digging tools through before storage. Don't run the secateurs through a sandbox, of course.


If you do care about removing the rust and keeping it off,

  1. Wire brush off all the surface that you can, including scraping loose paint. Don't bother if not doing the next steps.
  2. Optional - Treat it with a "conversion coating", for example brand name Ospho. This basically converts iron oxide (red/black rust) into iron phosphate, which doesn't propagate like rust does. In functional effect kind of like anodizing aluminum. This is nasty crap, mostly phosphoric acid but usually has chromates too, so don't dump it.
  3. Spray it with lanolin, or rather an easily sprayable product based on lanolin (for example "Blaster Surface Shield", "Wool Wax", anything that is lanolin in an aerosol can). Other waxes and heavy oils also work but not as well. Spraying is just nice for complete coverage and minimal slop. Be aware most non cosmetic lanolin products smell absolutely vile
  • 1
    Phospheric acid should be treated with some respect - but it is in fact more-or-less a fertilizer (its used in commercial greenhouse operations to adust the pH of the nutrients - and of-coursse, has Phosphorous - ie the P in NPK. You could probably soak it in phospheric acid rather then get a brand name coating - but make sure you take adequate protection - you don't want this to get into your eyes - even when its been somewhat diluted.
    – davidgo
    Commented May 24 at 10:55

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