How to clean and sharpen pruning shears – expert tips for tools that look as good as new

Protect your pruning shears and keep them in good working order with these cleaning and sharpening tips

cleaning pruning shears using wire wool
(Image credit: Deborah Vernon/Alamy Stock Photo)

Cleaning your pruning shears is a task that should be completed on a regular basis if you want to ensure these essential tools stay sharp and in good working order. By maintaining your tools properly they should last you a good number of years, but let them go rusty and gather dirt and you risk having to replace them on a more frequent basis. 

Pruning shears (or secateurs as they are also known) are an essential piece of gardening kit, helping you to tackle everything from deadheading flowers to pruning branches on shrubs and trees. But over time these hand pruners can quickly get clogged up with dirt, plant sap and other gardening debris, preventing the blades of your shears from cutting cleanly and efficiently. 

'This can cause plants to be left with ragged cuts that can lead to infection,' says Steve Bradley, an expert for Amateur Gardening magazine. 'What's more, if soil and grime get into the moving parts of your shears, they will cause excessive wear and allow rust to develop.' Cleaning garden tools doesn't have to be tricky or time consuming, however, as our step-by-step guide shows. 

headshot of Steve Bradley
Steve Bradley

Steve has written (or co-written) over 40 practical gardening books, and was commissioned to update some of the world’s best-selling gardening books, The Expert series, originally written by Dr David Hessayon. 

Over the years, Steve has also written for most of the popular UK gardening magazines, including Amateur Gardening. He is a member of The Garden Media Guild and has a vast knowledge of gardening and enjoys sharing it with listeners to BBC local radio. He is a resident gardening expert, answering listeners’ questions during live gardening phone-in shows.

How to clean pruning shears in 5 easy steps

Whether you're about to prune roses and want to make sure your tools are in the best possible working order, or you're needing to give them a good clean after a weekend pruning your forsythia or other shrubs, it's worth doing it properly. 

Although cleaning your pruning shears with a clean cloth and soapy water can be a quick and easy way to remove dirt, there are occasions when it's better to spend a little more time giving them a deep clean to prevent them from rusting or malfunctioning. 

'Giving pruning shears a proper overhaul is a relatively quick and easy job that pays massive dividends,' says Ruth Hayes, gardening editor for Amateur Gardening. 'Several of mine become stiff over time so I often spend a pleasant morning cleaning them up and getting them moving again.'

Here, Steve Bradley offers his expert step-by-step guide for cleaning pruning shears correctly. 

1. Dismantle the pruning shears

unlocking pruning shears so they can be cleaned

It's easiest to give your pruning shears a proper clean once they have been taken apart

(Image credit: Future)

Using the key provided, start by carefully dismantling the secateurs, stripping them down to their component parts and laying them out in order on a clean dry surface.

If you don't have a key for doing this, Ruth Hayes suggests you can also a spanner or allen key.

Headshot of writer Ruth Hayes
Ruth Hayes

Ruth is the gardening editor of Amateur Gardening magazine and is horticulturally trained, with a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Her work for Homes and Gardens and Amateur Gardening, the world's oldest weekly gardening publication, involves matching gardening tasks with each season, covering everything from sowing and planting, to pruning, taking cuttings, dealing with pests and diseases and keeping houseplants healthy. 

2. Clean the blades

cleaning a blade from a set of pruning shears

The blades are a key area you will need to focus on when cleaning your pruning tools

(Image credit: Future)

Inspect and clean the various parts, paying particular attention to the blades, which are much easier to clean when removed from the handles.

'To remove any rust, you can use wire wool (available from Amazon) to get rid of it, then wipe the blades clean,' adds Ruth Hayes. 

Insider tip: If the blades are very dirty they can be covered with brown sauce or steak sauce and left overnight. In the morning the mixture can be removed with a damp cloth to reveal cleaner blades without any scraping, which could damage the cutting surface.

3. Use sandpaper if necessary

using sandpaper to remove dirt from pruning shears

Sandpaper can be used to get rid of dirt that is proving difficult to remove

(Image credit: Future)

If you find that there are traces of persistent grime along the blades that don't come away using the above steps, you can use a piece of sandpaper to help. 

Simply place a piece of fine sandpaper on a flat surface and rub the blade gently over the sandpaper to remove the dirt. 

4. Clean the pivot area

cleaning the pivot area of a set of pruning shears

Clean the areas where parts of your pruning shears lock together to ensure they can move freely once reassembled

(Image credit: Future)

Using a clean piece of cloth, clean the pivot area where the top and bottom handle will be reconnected, removing any excess grease and dirt as well as any rust particles. 

5. Reassemble the pruning shears

reassembling pruning shears after cleaning

Once all parts have been thoroughly cleaned you can begin to reassemble your pruning tool

(Image credit: Future)

Start to reassemble the secateurs, fitting the blades back into the handles before fixing the handles together using the pivot bolt and locking nut. 

The locking nut should be tightened until the spring can just force the blades to open. At this point the locking cog can be fixed into position and the secateurs are then ready to use.

Your essential kit for cleaning pruning shears:

How to sharpen pruning shears

If you're using the same tool for everything from pruning fruit trees to pruning hydrangeas, it makes sense that the sharper the blade is the easier it will be to make the cut, and the cleaner the cut will be too. 

'Cleaning and sharpening blades after every use is also key to prevent the spread of disease,' says Ruth Hayes.

Sharpening both bypass and anvil pruners is relatively straightforward:

  • 'Bypass cutting-action blades should be wiped after each use with an oiled cloth but, over time, the secateurs will tend to lose their edge and need sharpening,' says Steve Bradley. 'These are good-quality blades, precision ground by machine to form two edges that pass one another closely to cut using a scissor action. For this reason, these two surfaces should be cleaned using an abrasive that does not damage the metal, and never cleaned with a file. If the precision-ground surfaces are damaged, this will impair the cutting action.'
  • With cross-cut (sometimes referred to as half-anvil) secateurs, any sharpening should be done with a fine sharpening stone or a small file, such as this Felco sharpening stone from Amazon. 'Work along the blade from the base towards the tip on the outer edge of the cutting blade, following the original ground angle from when the blades were new,' explains Steve Bradley. 

'When using a file, the sharpening action may cause a ‘burr’ (this is where a thin sliver of metal folds over the cutting edge during sharpening) along the inner edge of the cutting blade, which can be removed by running the file once along the inner edge of the cutting blade,' adds Steve. 

Felco sharpening tool | $30.45 at Amazon

Felco sharpening tool | $30.45 at Amazon
Used and loved by our content editor Drew Swainston, a former professional gardener, this sharpening tool is ideal for keeping your pruning shears in great working order. Made of diamond-coated hardened steel, they will ensure the blades are sharp so they can make the best possible cuts when pruning in your garden. Easy to use, you simply rub the tool along the blade of your shears. 

sharpening a pair of pruning shears

(Image credit: Future)


Why is it important to clean pruning shears?

Regularly cleaning pruning shears is essential to prevent the build up of plant material, dirt and sap, which can cause the blades to stick and not cut as cleanly or efficiently as they should. 

What's more, dirty pruning shears can potentially transfer diseases from one plant to another, so it's essential to reduce this risk with a regular cleaning routine.

Having the right backyard storage for your garden tools can also be an effective way to prevent them getting dirty in between uses. 

How often should you clean and sharpen pruning shears?

'Pruning shears should ideally be cleaned after every use,' says Drew Swainston, a former professional gardener and content editor for Homes & Gardens. 'Wipe any soil, sap or debris off the shears to both keep them in prime condition for use and also to combat potentially spreading disease around your plants. This can be as simple as scrubbing them in soapy water. 

'Pruning shears that are used regularly should be sharpened at least every 4-6 weeks. Keeping the cutters sharp and clean ensures you are making clean cuts when pruning that will heal better and not be a potential entry-point for disease.'

How can you get rid of sap from pruning shears?

Pruning can often leave your shears covered in sap from the plants, which can make your tools become sticky and less effective. A simple way to get rid of it is to simply spray a light alcohol solution on your shears and then wipe it off with a clean cloth. 

Ruth Hayes, the gardening editor from Amateur Gardening, favors the method of cleaning hers with a spot of sterilizing liquid which she then wipes off with a cloth. This removes any plant sap and also sterilizes them for the next use. 

Beth Murton
Head of Gardens

For the past 20 years, Beth has worked for and contributed to a number of leading magazines and websites in the UK, including Real Homes, Ideal Home, Period Living and Grand Designs. She was the Editor in Chief of for nearly three years and is now the the Head of Gardens at Homes & Gardens. Beth's own garden is a really important part of her family's home, and she loves spending time tending to her veg patch or entertaining friends and family at a summer BBQ or alfresco pizza night.