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Clean and disinfect gardening tools and containers

Quick facts

  • Dirty gardening tools and pots can spread disease from an infected plant to a healthy one. 
  • Properly cleaning and disinfecting tools and containers can reduce the spread of plant diseases.
  • Disinfecting is important especially when working with diseased plants and plants that are susceptible to the same diseases.

Why should I clean my tools and containers?

Plant pathogens like bacteria, fungi and viruses cause diseases that can kill plants. They can be transferred to and infect plants through bits of soil and plant debris like roots stuck on a shovel, tree sap on a pruner blade, or soil left on a pot.

Sometimes it’s easy to see what you need to clean. But pathogens are microscopic and, while your tools may look perfectly clean, these microorganisms may still be on your blade or tomato cage.

Prevent the spread of disease between plants by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your tools, equipment and garden implements.

When should I clean my tools and containers?

  • In the fall before you put them away for the winter.
  • In the spring before you use them if you didn’t clean them in the fall.
  • After working with an infected plant and before moving onto the next plant.
  • After you use your tools at another garden site and before you use them at home.
Ceramic pot with soil debris on bottom.
Be sure to clean the entire pot, inside and out.
Inside of ceramic pot with soil debris
Containers can carry diseases in soil and debris.
Small bits of dirt on pitchfork tines.
Clean and disinfect tools before you use them in the garden.

How to clean with effective disinfectants

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Julie Weisenhorn, Natalie Hoidal and Annalisa Hultberg, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2020

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