Just as “to everything there is a season,” for every job there is a tool to help get it done.
For many jobs around your home, especially those that involve gardening, that tool is a pair of shears.
Useful, as these can be, however, you can run into real problems when you start to let your shears get rusty. Even if you have the strongest set of pruning shears imaginable, all it takes is a slight buildup of rust for the blades to lose their sharpness.
Allow them to rust even further, and they can start to become dull, ineffective, and unsafe.
That’s why you’ll want to take the following steps to help you prevent your shears from becoming rusty in the first place and, if that doesn’t work, clean and restore them to their former glory.
Start with Prevention
You may not have to deal with rusty garden shears if you prevent the rust problem in the first place, so that’s where you’ll want to start.
First and foremost, you want to make sure that you are cleaning them well.
Wash your shears after using them, and allow them to air dry. That latter part is important because if you store them while they are still wet, the moisture can get trapped, making it easier for rust to form.
Use a rag or brush to clean the blades with a fair amount of dish soap, Pine-Sol, or something similar.
Once you clean the tool and it has dried, if necessary, you should consider sharpening the blades.
Most importantly, you want to make sure that you remove any sticky residue or sap that may be stuck to the shears. If you have been cutting through plant material, sap from branches may be released that can cling to the blades, causing them to become sticky and vulnerable to rusting and dullness.
In addition to cleaning, drying, and sharpening the tools, you’ll next want to turn to an oil cleaning, rust eliminating agent such as WD-40. This is one of the most important tools in your rust-fighting arsenal, and it can be employed by spraying or rubbing it on the blades with rags.
Treatment Method #1: Vinegar
If prevention doesn’t work, this is a good method with which to begin your attempt to clean your shears. Vinegar is obviously easy to get, and that combined with the methodology makes this one of the easiest and most accessible rust cleaning methods.
Place your shears in a bowl of vinegar, submerging the metal parts completely in the solution and allowing it to sit overnight. The solution should be about a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water.
Once it has soaked for a decent amount of time, take them out and scrub them with steel wool or something similar.
Sometimes even cleaning oil or vinegar isn’t a match for some good old-fashioned elbow grease, so don’t be afraid to really go to town on the metal with the steel wool or other scrubbing implement.
If necessary, don’t be afraid to leave the metal in for longer, either.
However, it is important to note that this method isn’t for everyone, or every pair of shears. Different metals react differently to vinegar, so while it should be fine with most metal alloys, with others such as stainless steel, it can corrode.
When in doubt, try a bit of vinegar and see what its effects are before plunging your shears in.
Treatment Method #2: Tea and Soda
If you don’t have any vinegar on hand (or just have a ton of Earl Grey or Coca-Cola in your fridge), you can substitute them for the process above.
The phosphoric acid in the soda can help erode the rust.
Strong black tea can also help do this.
Treatment Method #3: Lemon and Salt
The latter recipe can also be combined with salt and lemon juice.
This method works because of a bit of basic chemistry. The natural acidity of the lemon combined with the abrasive nature of the salt can help dislodge and eliminate rust spots.
To make this method work, coat the rusted over areas with salt and then apply lemon juice. Let the two mix together for around two hours before scouring it with a lemon rind or, if the rust is especially stubborn, you’ll want to turn to a metal scouring pad or something similar.
Rinse off the lemon and salt, and the rust should go with it.
Treatment Method #4: Baking Soda
Instead of a can of soda, you can try a box of baking soda to help alleviate your rust issues.
This, like carbonated soda, tea, and lemon are all best used on light rust stains. It can also be effective when used on something made of lighter metal, so if that matches the description of your shears, this may be worth a try.
Mix the baking soda with water until it forms a thick paste and spread this all over the metal. You’ll obviously want to spread it thicker on the spots where the rust is at its thickest.
Allow the paste to sit for an hour or so before using a steel wool brush or similar scrubbing implement to scour it. Rinse the paste away, dry the metal off, and voila.
We have experimented with a lot of different methods to this point.
Once again, this is a more DIY method than the more tried-and-true WD-40 and other methods mentioned above.
If you don’t have any of that on hand, however, or think you’re pretty good at DIY things and don’t mind the experimental nature of this treatment, it can work wonders.
Treatment Method #5: Power Tools
This may seem a bit extreme, but if you have an especially stubborn buildup of rust, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you have already tried the methods above and they haven’t done the trick, you may want to consider this option.
Used properly and carefully, power tools can be an effective way to knock loose caked on rust.
That being said, not just any power tool will do. You should only use drills with wire brush attachments as well as Dremels specifically designed to remove rust.
Bench grinders may work as well.
Whatever you choose, be sure to be extremely careful, always wear gloves and safety goggles, sharpen your tools before using them, and stop at the first sign of trouble.
Do not try to “force” this method to work.
Treatment Method #6: Dish Soap and Salted Potatoes
This may seem like a pretty unlikely combo, but it’s true – dish soap plus salted potatoes can equal rust-free pruning shears.
Present in all potatoes is oxalic acid, which is an ingredient used in many kinds of cleaning products, including those that can dissolve rust.
Dish soap can help with this process.
To get the most out of this method, slice a potato in half and cover the rusted part of your pruning shears with dish soap. Cover the section you have cut open with dish soap.
You can add a bit of salt or baking soda onto the potato to make it “work” better.
Rub this against the area on your pruning shears that has become rusted. Rinse everything off and dry it well.
Treatment Method #7: Metal Glo and Similar Metal Cleaners
Get something such as Metal Glo or a similar premixed solution and apply it as needed. In the absence of Metal Glo, you can try substances that work just like it.
Either way, you want to make sure you rub the material along the grain pattern of the metal to avoid scratching it up.
Treatment Method #8: Naval Jelly
Once again, we come to a method that is a bit more on the experimental side. Still, for as unlikely as it may seem, naval jelly can be really effective in getting stubborn rust stains off of your pruning shears.
To use it properly, you’ll want to spray it over the rusted area. It should dissolve the rust in about 5 to 10 minutes.
It should be noted that this method is only suitable for thicker metals. If your shears are made from thinner metals, this method may be too intense for it, and you should use one of the other, milder methods instead.
As you can see, there are a wide range of options at your disposal when faced with the problem of the buildup of rust on your pruning shears.
Which one is right for you depends on how much rust has accumulated on the shears, how sturdy the metal is, how confident you feel in your DIY skills, and the materials to which you have access.
Again, WD-40 is as tried and true a rust removal substance as there is.
If it isn’t on hand, however, any one of the methods above can help you shake loose the rust and make your tools ready to be used for whatever jobs you use them for once more.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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