Cleaning a Toolbox The Right Way: Here’s How I Do It!

So, your favorite toolbox has become greasy and dirty? And you don’t quite know how to clean it or what ingredients you should use. Don’t worry, mate, for this article will deal with everything you need to know to clean your toolbox properly.

As a matter of fact, you don’t need to go through a lot of humdrum to restore your toolbox or tool chest to its former glory. What kind of tool storage solution you may have doesn’t matter that much. The principle will be the same.

Cleaning a Toolbox The Right Way

A Basic Rundown of the Process – How We’ll Clean a Tool Box

Before we delve into the fun stuff, let’s take a moment and discuss briefly what awaits you. At first, we’ll talk about the preparation, like what are the things you should do before cleaning your toolbox or tool chest. We’ll call this the preparation stage.

Then, we’ll see what products you should use. And what steps should one follow to revive their favorite tool storage systems? So, without further ado, let’s start with the preparation stage.

The Preparation Stage

After you’ve finally decided to bring your old-greasy toolbox back to life, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This stage consists of three tasks. What are they? Let’s find them out step by step…

Empty the Boxes

First, you have to open each drawer one-by-one and empty it. But don’t do it hastily, and it’s better to take your time. Because the small tools are pretty hard to grab sometimes, and you don’t want to leave them in the drawer while cleaning everything.

It’s wise to start in chronological order. Either start from the bottom or the top. Empty each shelf with care. Keep every box’s contents separate, for it’ll be easier when you place them in the box later. Then, you won’t have to waste time figuring out what goes where.

Take Out All the Shelves

So, you’re done emptying the box? Now, gently pull each tray out. Don’t go to war or rage mode if they don’t come out swiftly. If they’re stuck, it’s probably because of the dirt. You have to be patient about the whole process.

The drawers are usually locked with either a lever or tab system. For the former, simply pull a shelf towards you while gently moving it up and down. And for the tab mechanism, you just have to press them on both sides, and they should come out easily.

Now that we are done with those two tasks let’s get on with the third. And this one is all about gathering the right ingredients for your toolbox.

Knowing the ingredients

Here, you can’t go with your usual instincts. You have to be careful of some stuff. You can’t just throw water all over the box. Wipe it with a soft towel and call it a day. Dirt is not that easy to clean. They are adamant and quite hard to get rid of. So, you have to use other liquids to get rid of them.

Now, which ingredients should you use? Well, based on the material of your tool chest, they will react differently to what ingredients you will use.

Usually, people use phosphoric acid to clean and polish their toolbox. You can also use the good-old dish soap if you can’t get your hands on phosphoric acid. They tend to work just fine.

Not to mention, you can also use regular white vinegar, especially if you own a toolbox made of stainless steel. Don’t have it? Well, there are alternatives to that as well. For instance, you can use regular olive oil or even club soda. Nope, I’m not joking. They do work perfectly. We’ll discuss how you can use every one of these ingredients later.

Now, if these ingredients don’t seem to get the desired results, you must start looking for some chemicals. In this case, WD-40 should do the trick. And that’s pretty much what you need to clean your toolbox.

Besides them, you’ll need some basic things like soft towels, sheets of plastic so that your surroundings don’t get messy, and brushes.

So, let’s go over the ingredients once more, and then we’ll discuss them in detail. But, first, we have the ingredients available in every household. They are dish soap, white vinegar, olive oil, and club soda. And if they don’t work, you have to take refuge in commercial chemicals like WD-40.

The Basics of Cleaning a Toolbox Like a Pro

Yes, we’ll discuss using every cleaning agent mentioned above after this short detour. Here, we’ll say the basic rules you can apply to clean any toolbox or tool chest.

Let’s assume you’ve everything you need to start the cleaning process. You have emptied the box’s content and the shelves. You have the liquids ready, and your gloves and masks are on.

Step One

You can begin by laying the dust sheet on the floor and ensuring they don’t move about. Next, place your toolbox and its boxes or trays carefully on it.

Step Two

In step two, you’ll become the less evil version of Walter White. Here, you’ll mix whatever you choose to go with… vinegar, dish soap, and club soda with your household cleaner. Once you’re done mixing, you can proceed to clean your tool chest.

Step Three

Grab yourself a clean piece of cloth and use this to apply this mixture to the casing of your toolbox. Keep doing it until you’ve covered the entire mesh properly. If there are any stubborn stains, use some club soda in your mix and let your inner Heisenberg out.

You can also use a brush if you’re not comfortable. A brush will give you a better grip. Using a brush, you can also exert the necessary force to scrub off adamant stains on your box.

Step Four

Once you’re done cleaning the outside, it’s time to concentrate on the inside. However, don’t start spraying or applying wet clothes on the interior straightway. You must vacuum the inside first to get rid of dust and debris.

After that, the process is the same as step three. Now, to prevent any damage to the interior of your toolbox, you might want to shift to a less powerful ingredient like fairy liquid and warm water. And if the stains are too powerful, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water.

Now, you can start working on the compartments of the toolboxes. If you have used foam to organize the tools better, remove them and place them away from the cleaning area. And then you can clean them one by one in the same process.

Step 5

After you’re satisfied, pick up a soft dry cloth and give your box a nice rub. Make sure everything is dry. You can keep them out in the sun for some time as well. And that’s it. Reassemble everything, and you’ll have yourself a nice and clean toolbox.

Now that we know the basics let’s move on to the next part: how to use the ingredients properly.

Liquid Tool Box Cleaners and How to Use them?

There are many ways to approach this. But it would be best if we use an example that everyone can relate to. For that reason, let’s go with a stainless-steel toolbox and see what ingredients you can use to clean this.

In addition, we’ll also take on several popular toolbox materials such as metal, aluminum, and plastic and how to clean them. Now, returning to the stainless-steel toolbox, you can clean it with stuff you can find around your household. How? Let’s find out…

White Vinegar and Olive Oil

White Vinegar should work just fine unless your toolbox is grossly oxidized. Hopefully, if that’s not the case, you’ll need a spray bottle, a soft cloth, and, yes… white Vinegar.

The process is fairly simple. You spray a little bit of Vinegar on the box and then wait a bit. Remember, don’t spray the whole box at once. Instead, go section by section, and don’t let the Vinegar dry.

After spraying a small area, clean that portion with a soft cloth. When you wipe the wet portion with the cloth, ensure you do so in the same direction as the grin. You don’t want any additional grain, do you? You can also use a soft bristle nylon brush instead of the cloth.

Rinse and repeat the process until you’re happy with the result. Now, how do you get rid of annoying scratches with vinegar mixture? Well, in that case, you have to use a block sander and decent polish. You just have to be careful while polishing, though.

After you’re done cleaning, don’t forget to oil your toolbox. It’ll give the box an extra layer of protection from oxidation and give it back its lost glory once more.

If the white vinegar doesn’t seem to work for you then you can use olive oil instead. Nope…you don’t need to get anything fancy for this. Just like vinegar any regular olive oil will do the job. The process is the same: Spray…wait a moment…and wipe with a piece of a soft cloth.

Baking Soda

Let’s imagine a scenario where the vinegar and olive failed to bring results. In that case, baking soda might do the trick for you. Normally, people use this to clean extremely dirty toolboxes. Yes, baking soda is that powerful. So, how do I use it?

Actually, you can adhere to the same process that we discussed just a while ago. The only difference is that you have to clean all the dirt you can by using a vacuum or brush. After that, make a mixture of baking soda and water.

Carefully apply the mixture to the area you intend to clean, and then rub it with a soft nylon bristle brush or microfiber cloth. You have to put some pressure to get rid of tough stains.

Don’t hesitate to use more mixture on the same area if you’re not satisfied with the result the first time. Finally, wipe the surface with a soft dry cloth, stand back, and admire your work.

Dish Soap

Okay, dish soap can clean your tool chest as a whistle. Now, you can either use it independently with water or with baking soda. If you don’t have baking soda, you can only try dish soap and water mixture.

All you have to do is mix the dish soap with mild-hot water and wet your toolbox with the mixture. Then grab a soft nylon brush and dip it in the mix. Next, shake the extra solution off the brush a little and scrub the toolbox with it in a gentle circular motion. Lastly, dry the box with a fine chamois cloth.

Tip: If you want better and faster results, given that the toolbox is extremely dirty, you can use baking soda and dish soap together with warm water.

Coca Cola

Nope, your eyes are fine, and you’ve read that word correctly… Coca Cola. Just pour it onto your toolbox and then spread it over the surface using a piece of cloth.

Now, wait for a minute or two. Then, grab a stiff scrub brush and scrub the dirt away. It works like a charm every time. After you’re done, rinse the entire toolbox with water and dry it off with a cloth.

Food for thought: If regular coke can do this kind of damage to the rust and dirt, imagine what it does to your liver.


This is endgame stuff. If none of the above have worked for you, then it’s time to bring out the big gun. The WD-40 is a bit pricey, yes.

However, working with it is fun and straightforward. First, clean all the dirt and debris using a brush or vacuum. And then, spray this product on your toolbox and rub it with a soft cloth along the grain.

Repeat the process until you’ve cleaned the entire area. Finally, use any oil polish to prevent your toolbox from getting dirty easily again.

Cleaning Different Kinds of Toolbox: Metal, Aluminum, and Plastic

This part might seem overkill, but to get rid of doubts, let’s do this. Here, you’ll see how you clean different kinds of toolboxes based on their build materials. So, let’s start with metal.

Metal Toolbox

You can use anything from the list you’ve seen above. You can use dish soap, vinegar, olive oil, or WD-40…no problem. Just brush off any dirt and debris and then use any of the mixtures from above. And that’s it.

Aluminum Toolbox

Again, the process is the same. You can go with any mixture you like. First, clean all the debris with a brush and vacuum the same as before. Then use your preferred combination and wait for 5 minutes. During this time, the dust and dirt will be loosened up.

Now, you can use a brush or a putty knife to scrub off the dirt from all the corners. Then, repeat the process until the whole mesh is nice and clean. And finally, dry it off with a clean piece of cloth. However, one thing I haven’t mentioned is phosphoric acid. You can use this on aluminum surfaces, no problem.

Just water the whole box and then let it dry completely. Don’t apply anything while it is wet. Instead, get a decent metal polish, nylon scrubbing pads, and some phosphoric acid. Do wear latex gloves and goggles for protection.

To apply it, just pour the acid in a diamond shape on the dry surface and wait for it to turn white. After that, spray water on that surface and use that metal polish. Finally, finish the cleaning process by wiping it with a soft cloth.

Plastic Toolbox

This one is simple. Choose a clean solution that is not abrasive, and you should be fine. Just vacuum your toolbox correctly and use your liquid mixture with a sponge. Don’t use any steel wool or abrasive scrubber to avoid any scratches.

Use this process to clean the interior and slowly work your way to the outside. Clean the compartments next and let everything dry before using them.

Wrapping Things Up

A Toolbox is one of the most important things for a workshop. It safely houses all the tools and keeps them secure. It is also the most used if it travels with the worker from place to place. No matter how careful you are dealing with it, it’ll accumulate dirt over time and lose its original shine over time.

So, take some time off from time to time and give your toolbox a proper cleaning. It’ll give you the opportunity to have an idea of the arsenal you own and enable you to try organizing things better. After all, it doesn’t take that much time to clean a toolbox anyway.


My name is Michael M. Militello, and I want to help you find the right tools and the best products for your next project! As a professional tool expert here in Houston, TX, With my vast tool experience, I can help you choose the right brand, model, and size for the job. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. You can reach me here on my blog and also on Facebook, Twitter , and Pinterest. I look forward to hearing from you!

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