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How to clean, maintain and store garden tools
Learn how to look after a selection of important garden tools
Garden tools will last a long time and continue to perform well if you clean and maintain them regularly.
Most tools are susceptible to rust and, like pots and seed trays, can carry disease and fungal spores, so it’s important to keep them clean throughout the season whilst you’re using them. One key thing to always remember is; never put your tools away wet.
Hand tools are simple to maintain. Always wipe or wash off any soil, clippings or other plant material from the blade or tool surface.
Dry and then wipe all metal parts with an oily rag, minding the sharp edges, or spray them with lubricant. Cutting tools will need sharpening from time to time, and this is covered in more detail later in this guide.
Power tools, and petrol-engined tools in particular, require more attention. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for everyday care and make maintenance part of your regular routine – it’s best not to wait until something goes wrong.
Spray metal surfaces with a light coating of general-purpose oil to prevent them rusting. After spraying, turn the tool on to allow the oil to work its way into all the right areas.
If any of your garden power tools don't start first time, perform correctly or makes unusual sounds, don't use it. It might just need a clean and lubrication or it might be time to top up fuel or change a blade, belt or filter. If you’re not sure what to do, don’t forget to check the product’s trouble shooting guide for tips on fault correction. If you need a replacement part, contact the manufacturer or your local approved service dealer.
Always use an RCD (residual current device) when using an electrical power tool. An RCD will cut off the energy supply in a fraction of a second if it detects an earth leakage, caused, for example, by accidentally cutting through an electrical flex with a hedge trimmer or other tool, reducing the risk of a fatal electric shock.
How to clean and maintain a lawnmower
Looking after your mower will give your grass a cleaner cut and extend the mower’s life. Here are our tips on how to keep your mower in tiptop condition.
Before you start, always check the instruction manual and its schedule of maintenance. Observe all the mower’s safety precautions before undertaking any cleaning or maintenance.
If you are in any doubt about what to do, have your mower serviced by a local servicer once a year to get the best out of your mower.
Always disconnect the spark plug or unplug electric mowers before turning them over to clean the blade and undercarriage.
After every cut, remove grass and soil from the blades, roller and grass box with a stiff brush. If it’s stubborn or built up over time, use a scraper to loosen the debris. Sharp lawnmower blades are essential for a better cut, which in turn promotes a healthier lawn. A blunt blade tears grass instead of providing a clean cut.
Check your blades every now and then and sharpen with a fine metal file. Damaged or badly worn blades can be replaced, and you should refer to the product instructions on how to replace and balance the blades. Before removing a blade to sharpen it, it’s a good idea to mark the bottom of the blade with permanent pen or tape. This is because blades are often replaced upside-down, and when this happens, the sharpened blade will not cut the grass.
Cylinder lawn mower blades are best sharpened by a professional, or if they are chipped or in a bad condition, get them replaced.
Spray a little general-purpose lubrication oil onto height adjusters and blade fixings. Turn them slightly to prevent them from stiffening up. Check the operating manual to see what other parts need lubricating.
Once a year, remove and clean or replace the air filter. This is usually made from foam or paper, and foam filters can simply be washed with hot soapy water and left to dry. Once dried, put it in a small plastic bag and add a tablespoon of general-purpose lubrication oil onto the filter. Squeeze the bag around the filter so the foam absorbs the oil. Remove the filter from the bag and wrap it in a paper towel, squeezing out any excess oil from the filter. Place the filter back in the mower and you’re done for another year.
Always check the lawnmower oil level and top it up when required. Without enough oil, the engine will burn out and damage the mower beyond repair. Oil should also be drained and replaced every spring.
There is usually a drain plug underneath the mower to drain the oil, if not, tilt the mower and drain the oil through the fill hole. Don’t forget to check your product manual for the recommended oil to use when replacing or topping up.
After the last cut of the year, disconnect the spark plug lead and empty the fuel before storing the mower over winter. When the new season starts, add fresh fuel and refit the spark plug, but don’t over tighten it. Spark plugs should also be replaced every couple years to help the mower start up first time.
When the mower is not used for long periods or when the fuel has to remain in the tank a long time, for example over winter, the fuel can become stale causing the mower starting problems (see Chainsaw maintenance: Stabilising fuel in petrol or diesel engines fro more information).
To overcome this issue, add a fuel enhancer to stabilise and prolong the useful life of the fuel and reduce starting and running problems. Simply mix in a small amount with the fuel. As a guide, 100ml treats 5 litres of fuel. Fuel enhancers can be used with all 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines as well as petrol / diesel grass trimmers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws, leaf blowers etc.
How to clean and maintain chainsaws
A chainsaw needs regular maintenance, not only to perform at its best, but also to reduce the chance of an accident.
Before you start any cleaning or maintenance, always switch off the engine, unplug from the power source or remove the battery pack from the chainsaw to reduce the risk of starting the power tool accidentally.
Here’s our top tips on how to maintain your chainsaw, don’t forget to refer to your product manual for specific maintenance and servicing instructions.
- Always wear protective chainsaw gloves when handling the saw’s chain.
- Always let the chainsaw cool completely before filling with fuel or attempting any repair or maintenance.
- The chain should be cool before adjusting the chain tension. As a hot chain cools, it will shrink.
Brush away dust and debris with a soft brush and wipe down with a dry cloth after every use and when filling up the oil or fuel tanks. Keep the handles dry, clean, and free from oil and grease otherwise this can lead to a loss of control when using the chainsaw. Keep the air filter in good condition by washing the filter every 5 to 6 hours of combined usage and replace it when recommended.
Make sure the saw chain is correctly tensioned. A slack chain can jump off the guide bar and injure you so it is really important to make sure the chain is correctly tensioned.
Check the chain tension before use, after the first few cuts and regularly during use (every 10 minutes). Refer to the operating manual for the correct tensioning instructions.
Keeping the chain well lubricated reduces premature wear on both the chain and engine and operating the chainsaw with no oil will result in extensive damage.
Always check the oil level before use. Place the chainsaw on a flat surface and clean the oil cap with a cloth to prevent debris from falling in. Only use the recommended oil and fill until the reservoir is full. Check the operating manual for the recommended chainsaw oil.
Bar guide maintenance
Poor cutting techniques, little or no lubrication and incorrect chain tension are the main causes of bar guide problems which can all be avoided.
The underside of the bar is prone to the most wear, and we recommend turning the bar over every time the chain is changed or sharpened so that it will wear more evenly.
Keep your chain sharp
Using a blunt chain not only makes the task longer but also leads to excessive wear and higher fuel consumption. These problems can be resolved by sharpening the chain regularly or by replacing.
Chainsaw chains can be sharpened with a manual or powered sharpening tool or with a hobby tool and chain sharpening attachment. It’s better to sharpen little but often, rather than waiting until the chain becomes too blunt. The angles of a saw chain can vary depending on the type of chainsaw you have so always check the instruction manual for guidance on how to sharpen. It’s time to replace a chainsaw chain when the chain smokes (when lubrication and tension is good), you get crooked cuts or there are cracked or missing teeth.
Check out our self-sharpening chainsaw with its unique built-in self-sharpening system to sharpen your chain on the saw, on the job, in seconds.
Takes your chain from dull to sharp with a simple pull of the red PowerSharp lever.
Stabilising fuel in petrol or diesel engines
When a petrol or diesel garden tool is not used for long periods, the fuel can become stale and cause starting problems, rough running and cause the motor to frequently cut out. It is important to use ‘fresh’ fuel in any engine and avoid using fuel that is older than 30 days old.
Problems often arise if the power tool is stored over winter without emptying it of fuel first or if old fuel is used to top up existing fuel. To overcome this, mix in a small amount of fuel enhancer to stabilise and prolong the life of the fuel as soon as it is purchased. As a guide, 100ml treats about 5 litres of fuel for a couple of years.
Always shut down the engine and allow it to cool down before carrying out any refuelling or maintenance. Never remove the cap while the engine is running or hot. Always refuel outdoors.
How to clean and maintain grass trimmers
A grass trimmer or brushcutter is hit with a fair amount of flying grass and dirt whilst doing its job around the garden, so it’s important to give it a clean and to stop grass mounting up under the guard and limiting it’s cutting capacity.
Before you start, ensure the grass trimmer is off or unplugged and put on a pair of protective gloves. Allow the engine to cool before starting any maintenance.
Use a soft brush to brush away any grass from the trimmer’s casing. A vacuum cleaning can also be used to clear out any debris from around the ventilation slots and filter.
Turn the trimmer over and remove any build-up of grass from under the guard and around the line feed or blades with a stiff brush.
Cutting lines and plastic blades can become brittle over time and should be inspected and changed when needed. It’s worth checking your supplies too so you have an extra spool of cutting line on hand for when it does run out.
Don’t forget to check the maintenance manual for advice on cleaning or replacing any air filters, spark plugs etc that are specific to your trimmer. This should be done at least once a year, depending on usage.
Before storing away your grass trimmer for the winter, give it a thorough clean and lightly spray the metal surfaces with a little WD-40, leave it on for 10 minutes before wiping dry. If you have a petrol grass trimmer, see Chainsaw maintenance: Stabilising fuel in petrol or diesel engines , above, for tips on stabilising the fuel when the trimmer is not used for long periods.
How to clean and maintain hedge trimmers
Hedge trimmers can collect a lot of sap and debris on the blade, which can make it far less efficient if it isn’t cleaned up regularly. Over time, the blades can also become blunt, but both of these issues are easy to resolve with a little bit of care and regular maintenance.
Before you start, make sure the hedge trimmer is off or unplugged, put on a pair of good quality protective gloves and set the trimmer on a flat surface. Allow the engine to cool before starting any maintenance.
Check the blade and remove any twigs, leaves or other debris. To remove sap, spray the blade with a resin-cleaning solvent and wipe it clean with a dry cloth.
If the sap is stubborn, dip the blade in a bucket of hot, soapy water for a few minutes before drying and spraying with WD-40.
If the blades are blunt, use a sharpening file along with an oilstone or whetstone. Sharpen each blade with the file, no more than 10 times per tooth. It’s important that the file only sharpens in the direction of the cutting edge. Turn the hedge trimmer over and remove any build-up from the bottom of the blade with a handheld oilstone or whetstone.
Once all the blades have been sharpened, spray the blades again with some WD-40.
Petrol hedge trimmers
If you have a petrol hedge trimmer, see Chainsaw maintenance: Stabilising fuel in petrol or diesel engines, above, for tips on stabilising the fuel when the hedge trimmer is not used for long periods.
Cleaning steel hand tools
More often than not, your digging tools will be coated with damp soil, mud or dirt after use. Try not to leave dirt to harden as it will make the tools more difficult to clean later on. Instead, wash or wipe tools down at the end of the day, dry them off then wipe the metal with an oily rag to keep the steel from rusting. Stainless steel tools won’t rust and so do not need oiling.
Protecting wooden handles
Prevent bare wooden handles from drying out and splintering by rubbing down with boiled linseed oil on a rag, wearing protective gloves. Allow the handle to absorb the oil for 10 minutes before applying more. Rub the handle with a clean cloth until it feels dry before storing away in a cool dry place to cure over night.
Aim to do this a couple of times a year, once in spring and again towards the end of the year but don’t wait until the handles show signs of cracking or splitting. Not only will your tools last longer, but they’ll feel better in your hands too.
How to store garden tools
Garden tools are best stored in a dry and secure place and tool hooks are ideal. Garden tools come in various sizes and shapes, instead of piling them up in a jumble you can keep them sorted by storing them on a tool rack or on hooks attached to the wall of a shed or garage.
Store your tools securely – not only from thieves, but also from children as curious fingers cause accidents. Small hand tools should be kept out of reach and out of sight. Lock up sharp or pointed tools as well as all power tools.