How to Disinfect Your Pruning Tools (and Why You Should)

How to Disinfect Your Pruning Tools (and Why You Should)

As part of your fall gardening checklist, you’ll likely get your tools and equipment ready winter storage. It’s a good idea to wash everything before putting it away, but some tools—like those used for pruning—could also benefit from being disinfected. Here’s what to know.

Do I need to disinfect pruning shears?

Disease-causing pathogens like bacteria, fungi, and viruses can spread between plants, trees, and shrubs during pruning. Even if your pruning shears look clean, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these microorganisms aren’t still clinging to the blades, able to be transferred via your next cut.

While cleaning and disinfecting your pruning tools after each use would be ideal, it’s not necessarily realistic. But at the very least, be sure to disinfect the blades after working with any diseased plants, shrubs, or trees, as well as before putting the tools away for the winter months.

How to disinfect pruning tools

First, wash off any soil, dirt, sap, or other debris using warm water and mild dish soap or detergent, and a stiff brush when necessary. Let the tools soak in the soapy water for a few minutes if there’s caked-on mud or debris. Allow the tools to dry completely before moving on to disinfecting.

Next, choose a disinfectant. Some popular options include:

  • Alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl): Either wipe or dip tools in a solution that is 70-100% alcohol—there’s no need to rinse it off. But be careful: It’s flammable, so find something else if you’re storing it anywhere near something that could catch on fire.
  • Chlorine bleach: Mix a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, soak tools for 30 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Keep in mind bleach is corrosive and isn’t as effective against viruses as other products.
  • Trisodium phosphates (TSPs): Mix a solution of one part TSP to nine parts water, soak tools for three to five minutes, then rinse with clean water. Be sure to wear gloves (at a minimum) as TSP can irritate skin.
  • Household cleaners: They’re convenient, but it’s unclear how effective they are against plant pathogens (though better than nothing). Follow the instructions on the product’s label.
  • Pine oil: Mix a solution of one part pine oil to three parts water, and then soak the tools in the solution. It’s not as corrosive as other products, but also not as effective.

Again, allow the tools to dry completely before storing them.

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