It doesn’t matter if you have a small shed just for a few gardening tools, or a large shed fit enough to store your vehicles, jet-skis, ATVs and boat – sheds are a great way to add that little extra space for the things you ‘need’ in your life. However, large or small, there are still maintenance issues to think about for your shed, and one of these issues is rust and corrosion.
Although not usually a top priority for many shed owners, rust and corrosion pose a serious issue for your shed and can lead to unnecessary rebuilds of your storage facility if not maintained and prevented properly. Whether you live in a coastal region near saltwater, or hot and humid regions, there are a few things you can do to ensure your shed stays rust and corrosion-free this winter.
Whether you have small hand tools for jobs around the house or dozens of power tools for heavy-duty construction, you’re probably storing them in your garage to keep them safe. However, even keeping them in your garage doesn’t always keep them free from rust.
The most important thing to remember is that you can prevent rust by choosing the correct tools, storage options, and cleaning methods.
Your metal tools can rust, even if they’re stored in your garage. Moisture and oxygen lead to metal oxidizing and corroding. Even though it’s inevitable that your tools will develop rust, you can take steps to prevent it by lowering the humidity, circulating the air in your garage and adding a protective coating to your metal tools.
When winter rolls around in cold climates, we rarely give much thought to the tools we’ve stored in the garage, barn, shop, or shed. This can be an expensive mistake because many tools can suffer damage of some type if they are kept in the cold all winter long. That’s especially true of power tools that you may use in sub-freezing temperatures.
What Types of Tools Will Rust in a Garage?
Most metal tools will develop rust. That’s just a fact of life.
Not only is rusty metal dangerous, but it also corrodes your tools. Once that corrosion starts, it starts to eat away at your tools, weakening them.
Even brand new tools can start to dull and break down in a matter of months.
Before you know how to prevent rust on your tools, you need to understand what corrosion looks like on different types of metals.
- Iron: Any tool comprised at least partly of iron can show rust within 3 to 5 days when it becomes damaged. Small nicks or porous surfaces can invite oxygen and moisture, two of the primary causes of rust.
- Steel: Iron is a major component of steel, so it makes sense that steel is also susceptible to rust. Fortunately, most stainless steel tools are treated to be resistant to rust. Even still, you should take precautions to help prevent it.
- Copper: Copper doesn’t rust. However, it does oxidize, which is a form of corrosion. Copper wiring for electrical jobs is common precisely because it’s so difficult to break down. Unfortunately, it’s less durable as steel, so your hand tools probably aren’t made of copper. Still, you can find some special tools made from copper, so it’s important to take care of them too.
- Aluminium: Aluminum won’t rust, but it can develop an oxidized corrosive layer. Most aluminium tools are made to resist oxidizing for quite some time, assuming you store the tools properly and don’t mistreat them.
Although rust is technically only found on iron and steel tools, it’s important to know that any tool that’s exposed to moisture will have some sort of corrosion.
No matter what your tools are made of, it’s important to care for them to prevent rust – even if you store them in the garage.
How to Stop Your Tools From Rusting (Even in Your Garage)
The best way to get rid of rust is to prevent it. If you keep rust from forming on your tools, it doesn’t matter if you store them in your garage or the closet.
Here are a few simple suggestions to prevent rust. These should help increase the life of your tools.
- Use an anti-corrosive spray cleaner: Everyone’s favourite, WD-40 was designed to help remove rust. Although the basic, red-cap WD-40 will work just fine, the WD40 Specialist Corrosion Inhibitor Spray is designed specifically to prevent corrosion. Just spray a thin coat on your tools and let it dry. It’ll help prevent corrosion for several months.
- Prevent damage: We like to think of our tools as indestructible, but they’re not as tough as you might think. Small dents and chips from throwing them into your toolbox will eventually invite rust. A little toolbox organization will go a long way in helping keep them safe from damage.
- Dehumidify your garage: One of the best ways to stop your tools from rusting is to remove the moisture from your garage. If you live in a humid environment, as I do, then a dehumidifier is a must-have. You can check out which one I use in my garage here.
- Circulate the air in your garage. Another way to cut down on moisture in the air is to move that air around. If you can place a couple of fans around the room, you’ll be able to keep your tools dry. The combination of a dehumidifier and a garage fan will usually be more than enough to prevent rust for a long time.
- Keep your tools in an enclosed container. To most people, this means a toolbox, but anything that keeps them away from the open-air will help. Neglecting to store your tools properly in the garage is asking for rust and corrode to take hold.
Cleaning Rust Off of Tools
If your tools are already showing signs of rust in your garage, the best thing to do is to catch it early. If you can remove the rust before it starts to crack the metal, you can still restore your tools.
Check out this easy 4-step process to remove rust from the tools in your garage:
- Make a dense, compact ball out of aluminium foil. It has to be compact enough to the point that it doesn’t become misshapen when you’re scrubbing it against your tools.
- Mix a few drops of dish soap in a bowl with warm water. It can’t be cold because it won’t loosen the rust that’s built upon the metal.
- Dip the aluminium foil ball in the soapy water and scrub it against the rust. Use circular motions to prevent linear scratches. It’ll loosen the rust enough that it’ll come right off.
- Repeat step three until you’ve achieved the desired results, then dry your tools off with towels before you store them in the garage. Any bit of moisture left on the tools can be a bad sign for rust to come back again.
Another option is to use a soaking solution like WD40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak. It lets you soak your tools and let it do the work to break down the rust. The liquid strips away rust, leaving behind fresh, clean tools.
Here are some tips for storing tools safely in the wintertime
Hand Tool Storage
Generally, most hand tools won’t suffer damage from being stored in a cold garage or shed. Freezing temperatures, however, can make many metal or plastic parts brittle and particularly susceptible to breakage if you use them at very cold temperatures. To avoid this, get into the habit of taking hand tools out of cold storage before use; let them sit inside the house for an hour or more before use.
Also, keep in mind that metal tools can rust. Big swings in temperature and humidity can accelerate that process. If you are worried about rust, try to find a good spot inside the house for tool storage. If you do store them indoors, make sure to clean them carefully before storing them, and perhaps apply a fine oil or rust protector to all metal surfaces.
In regions with very cold winter temperatures, the air is typically fairly dry and not likely to rust tools over the course of the winter. But if you bring them into the house, especially to store them in a basement, rust can then be a problem. And if you live in a coastal area where winter air is damp rather than bitterly cold, rust is more likely. If you are storing your tools in damp conditions, consider using a dehumidifier in the space where you are storing your tools.
Garden Tool Storage
Rinse off and dry your garden tools, and if you see spots of rust, remove them with a wire brush or steel wool. Rub a light oil, such as WD-40 over the metal parts. Wooden handles can crack and splinter in the dry conditions of a cold winter; now is the time to check them for splinters, sand handles smooth, and coat the wood with linseed oil. Shovels and other digging tools should be hung up on the wall above the floor. Thoroughly wash out and rinse garden sprayers.
Lawnmowers should be cleaned of all grass residue clinging to the underside of the deck, and power tillers should have their blades cleaned of dirt and polished clean of rust and corrosion.
Power Tool Storage
Any powered machinery will face some stress if it is used in very cold conditions, and your power tools are no different. At the heat of the motor, the stress of metal parts going from very cold temperatures to very warm may cause some tools to suffer an early death if this pattern happens frequently. For this reason, it is better to store power tools indoors if they will be used over the winter.
Most tools with electrical motors contain oils and grease which should be allowed to warm up a bit before using the tool. So if you have stored a saw or other piece of power equipment in a cold space, bring it indoors for two hours or so before using it. Lubricants will be more effective if they are allowed to warm up to room temperature before using the tools. This applies even if the tools will be used outdoors—bring them indoors first to warm up before taking them back outdoors to cut or drill.
Pneumatic tools usually come instructions on what kind of lubricants to use if the tools will be used outdoors.
Cordless Power Tool Storage
Try to keep cordless power tools and their chargers inside during cold weather. Freezing temperatures seem to accelerate battery discharge, and many cordless tools come with a warning that the chargers won’t work when cold.
Lawnmowers, chainsaws, and other tools powered by gas engines have their own set of guidelines for storage in the winter. If not properly winterized, gasoline left in an engine can gum up the carburettor or other parts, unlubricated engine parts can corrode, and moisture may affect the ignition systems. A standard winterizing procedure:
- Drain the gasoline (or add a gasoline stabilizer). The gas that stands in the tank for more than one month can form a layer of varnish on the inside of the fuel components, and draining the gas reduces this problem. Or, you can add a can of gasoline stabilizer to the tank.
- Change the oil on 4-stroke engines. This will keep dirt and other particles in the oil from sticking to parts of the engine.
- Seal the fuel cap. Engines emit small amounts of fumes even when they aren’t running. Cover a vented fuel cap with a piece of aluminium foil to prevent evaporation.
- Disconnect spark plugs and batteries. If the batteries are removable, take them out of your mower and store them indoors for winter.
Heating the Workshop Space
If you regularly work in a garage or outdoor workshop, equipping the space with a heater is a good idea. You can either heat up space to a comfortable temperature just before work sessions, or you can keep the heaters running all winter at a low setting to keep the temperature just above freezing. Tools need not be at full indoor room temperature to operate well—a temperature just above freezing is all you need.
What to do if you already have rust
If you’ve noticed signs of rust already, you don’t have to tear your whole shed down. Instead, you can take a few steps to see if you can remove the current rust and help to prevent future rust from occurring.
- Using a steel brush, dip it in white vinegar then scrub away at the rust. The acid in the vinegar will eat away at the rust, and the scrubbing motion will help to get it off the surface. You may need to do this a couple of times depending on how severe the rust is.
- If there are holes in the shed’s metal sheeting, not all is lost. You can try and repair it by using an epoxy repair putty made for steel and metal surfaces. These types of products are great for patching small areas, and most of them can be sanded and painted over. Just be sure to check the product instructions.
- After assessing the area, use a pressure cleaner to wash away the surface. You want to make sure the area is as clean as possible and free of any dirt, grease, grime or mildew.
- Using a tack cloth, wipe the area you want to protect once it is dry. If chalk rubs off onto the cloth, this is when you will need to scrub any of the chalky areas with a steel brush. Once this has been completed, re-wash the surface with a pressure cleaner again.
- Once the building is dry, use a primer or finish on the area. If you’re going to be painting the shed a different colour, use a primer. If you simply want to protect the shed from rust, use an acrylic finish made for metal buildings.
- Allow this coat to dry for at least two hours or follow the instructions of your product. From here, you can apply a second coat to the shed.
It is ideal to complete this process for the whole shed to ensure there are no further instances of rust or corrosion in any other areas.
How to remove rust?
Thick rust can be removed with a wire brush, steel wool or a scouring pad. There are also various commercial products available to chemically remove rust from tools, which usually contain an acid that attacks the rust itself. Grandmother would likely say a good scrubbing with a paste of lime juice, and salt will work just as well. You can also try putting the tools in regular Coca-Cola for a few hours. After cleaning, the iron surface will likely be damaged and pitted due to the rust having eaten at it. Polishing can put some shine back on the tool, but it will not replace the lost metal.
Avoid items that encourage dampness
If you want to keep your shed free from moisture to ensure that it remains in top condition for many years to come, there are a few things you can do.
If your shed has gutters installed, always make sure the gutters are clear of debris and that rainwater can easily flow away. Leaves and branches sitting in your gutters are only going to hold moisture and lead to potential mould and mildew growth. This growth won’t just stop at your gutters, so it’s important to keep gutters properly maintained.
Keep elaborate gardens and soils away from the shed. You might think it will be nice to plant a beautiful garden bed surrounding the edges of your new shed, but unfortunately, it’s not ideal for shed longevity. It is best to keep a clear area around your shed, as soils and gardens are likely to retain water, and therefore moisture will be sitting next to your shed. Think about when you go to tend to your garden by watering it. You would be adding water directly next to your shed, if not actually onto the side walls. If possible, also keep the area clear of any debris, long grass, leaves or branches, as they too can cause moisture to be near your shed. Always keep the area mowed and tidy.
It may seem like a daunting task, but with a few simple checks and possibly a little help from some extra equipment, you can ensure your garden shed or garage stays moisture and damp-free this winter, and for the entire year. While some locations are more susceptible to moisture in the backyard shed, it’s all easily preventable with a well-built foundation.
If you go through the building process correctly, choose the right materials and have a solid foundation, a lot of the extra work doesn’t even need to be considered. Remember, windows aren’t just to make your garden shed look beautiful – they’ll also add an extra way for you to keep things dry. Depending also on what you’re storing, you may need to invest a little extra into electrical fans or dehumidifiers. Keep the location around your shed moisture-free, and for a quick and cheap solution, add a bag of cat litter to your shed to keep humidity inside down. Keep all of these tips in mind, and you’ll have a shed with no rust or corrosion for years to come.