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Publication #ENH1121

Disinfection of Horticultural Tools1

Geoffrey C. Dennny and Gary E. Vallad2

The purpose of this document is to provide assistance in selecting the appropriate method to sterilize or disinfect horticultural tools and implements.

The disinfection and sterilization of horticultural tools and surfaces is a good way to prevent the spread of disease-causing pathogens in gardens, landscapes, greenhouses, nurseries and farms. The habit of cleaning all tools and work surfaces (including floors) with a surface disinfectant will not only eradicate pathogens, but also limit their spread to healthy plant materials.

Disinfecting and sterilizing tools and surfaces is no guarantee against plant disease, but including these practices as part of good production hygiene can have a significant impact on the incidence and severity of a disease outbreak. These practices can reduce the size of the initial disease outbreak and can also provide a better opportunity to manage the disease successfully through other means.

Numerous types of products can be used to disinfect tools. Various disinfection products have advantages and disadvantages that should be considered before a product is selected for use. Table 1 provides a list of the most common types of products available and lists their pros and cons, as well as how the products should be used and where they may be purchased.

No matter which type of disinfectant product is selected, diligence in using the product is important. Ideally, tools should be disinfected after working on every plant. However, since this practice is not always practical, depending on the system you are using, tools should be sterilized as frequently as possible. It helps to have several tools that can be rotated between plants. One tool can be soaking in the disinfectant while the other is being used. Remember, keeping your tool clean helps prevent the spread of diseases!


Table 1. 

Common products used to disinfect horticultural tools and surfaces.






Quaternary Ammonium Salts

Very effective

Stable (solution lasts for longer period)

Not corrosive

Little residual activity

Not as effective if mixed with hard water or organic matter

Follow the label directions

Many commercial products are available from horticulture-supply vendors

Hydrogen Dioxides

Less toxic

More biodegradable

Some products recognized as “organic”


Effective on only a limited number of pathogens

Life span of solution is short

Follow the label directions

Many commercial products are available from horticulture-supply vendors

Chlorine Bleach




Fumes can be harmful

Short life span of bleach solution (about ½ effect is gone after 2 hours), requires fresh batches immediately before disinfecting tools

10% bleach solution (1 part bleach : 9 parts water)

30-minute soak

Rinse with water after soak

Grocery and hardware stores and home-improvement centers


(Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol)

Immediately effective (no soaking)

Can be used as wipe

No need to rinse


Wipe or dip tool in 70 - 100% alcohol

Grocery stores and pharmacies

Trisodium Phosphates (TSPs)


Very corrosive

10% solution (1 part TSP : 9 parts water)

Many commercial products are available at hardware stores and home-improvement centers (used to clean surfaces for painting)

Pine Oil Products

Not corrosive

Not as effective

25% solution (1 part pine oil : 3 parts water)

Many commercial products available at grocery and hardware stores and at home-improvement centers

Household Disinfectants

Easy to find

Usually not corrosive

Little research on effectiveness of products

Relatively expensive

Full-strength spray or dip, depending on the product

Many commercial products are available at grocery and hardware stores and at home-improvement centers



This document is ENH1121, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date May 2009. Reviewed July 2012. Visit the EDIS website at


Geoffrey C. Dennny, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, and Gary E. Vallad, assistant professor, Plant Pathology Department, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GREC)–Wimauma, FL, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gaineaville, Fl 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS do not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.