10 Tips for Keeping Your Workbench Clean

workbench with rusted tools

A dirty workbench is also a dirty work area. If you combine dirt with clutter, you end up with a workbench no one appreciates. Not you, not your partner or spouse, not the friends who come over to help you on your DIY projects. So do not be that person who fails to keep a clean the workbench. Be the kind of person whose clean work bench facilitates smooth projects from start to finish.

Below is a collection of 10 tips you can start putting to use right now. The more you can employ, the cleaner and less cluttered your workbench will be. Also note that everything you read here begins and ends with tool storage. Without adequate storage options, keeping your workbench clean will be harder than it has to be.

1. Set Up Multiple Storage Options

A workbench without adequate storage is an invitation to clutter. Without a place to put each piece, you are likely to just throw your tools on the workbench after you finish whatever you are working on. A few projects will come and go before you realize you cannot find a particular tool you need. And if it is just a simple tool for a simple job, your frustration level will go up.

The first tip for keeping a clean work bench is as simple as the old adage that says, ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’. In short, set up adequate storage options to accommodate all of your tools and accessories. We recommend the following at minimum:

  • a primary tool box where you keep most of your hand tools;
  • secondary tool boxes for less used items; and
  • adequate shelf space for tools so large they will not fit in any of your boxes.

Keeping all of your tools stored in boxes or on shelves when not in use will make cleaning and sterilizing your workbench easier. We will talk about how to sterilize workbenches later in this article.


2. Clean Up Immediately after Each Job

When you were growing up, did your parents make you clean up the toys you were playing with before getting something new out of the closet? If so, your parents were smart. They were teaching you to clean up when you finish something so that you don’t leave a mess behind as you move on to something else. The same strategy works very well for adult workbenches.

Do yourself a favor and establish a personal rule that says you must put tools away as soon as you complete a project. Go one step further and commit to not breaking any more tools out of the tool box until the ones you are done using are put away. This ‘clean up immediately’ strategy will go a long way toward preventing clutter. It will also make cleaning and sterilizing your workbench easier.


3. Divide Tools into Groups

As long as you have committed yourself to maintaining a clean workbench, why not commit to organization as well? Tool organization is made easier by grouping your tools into specific categories. For example, you may have a core set of hand tools that you use frequently. This would include screwdrivers, wrenches, ratchets, and perhaps a hammer. They can all be stored in the same location. Your primary toolbox would be an excellent choice.

Perhaps you have a collection of paintbrushes and spackling knives as well. Given that you paint so infrequently, you could store these tools together in one of your secondary tool boxes. Or you could put them in a smaller plastic box placed inside the stacked paint trays that sit on the shelf next to your workbench.

Dividing tools into groups gives you easy access to just the right tools for every project. If you are going to paint, you know right where to find your brushes and spackling knives. If you are preparing to do some wood work, you go to a single drawer for your knives, chisels, and hand plane.


4. Install a Pegboard

It goes without saying that certain kinds of tools are not easily stored in tool boxes or on shelves. These kinds of tools are what pegboards are made for. Installing a pegboard on the wall just above your workbench offers easy access to these tools at all times. As an added bonus, the pegboard is customizable. You can move pegs around to accommodate all sorts of tools and their various shapes and sizes.

Some people like to store their most commonly used tools on a pegboard. Maybe you have a favorite Phillips head screwdriver along with a utility knife and hammer you use quite frequently. Rather than storing them in your main toolbox, hang them on the pegboard. It’s easy-off and easy-on whenever you need these tools. Here is a selection of pegboards from Amazon.


5. Keep Collector Tools Separate

Some of the people who read our articles are undoubtedly tool collectors. If you are one of them, were guessing you do not use your collector tools to do actual work. They are more display pieces than anything else. Keeping those tools separate from the ones you actually work with will go a long way toward helping you maintain a clean workbench.

Perhaps your next DIY project can be building a display case for those collectibles. A beautiful, well-built case will give you a place to show them off while simultaneously giving you more tool box space for your normally used tools.


6. Get a Box for Fasteners

A lot of us DIY enthusiasts have a bad habit of saving fasteners. We have nuts, bolts, screws and other fasteners in all shapes and sizes. If we didn’t know better, we would swear they were having babies. Sometimes there are so many fasteners laying around that they cover the entire surface of the workbench.

There is a quick and easy way to handle this common problem: get a separate box for your fasteners. This can be a small tool box with a dozen or so smaller receptacles inside. You could also use a fishing tackle box. Even a small desktop cabinet made of plastic will work. The point is to find a home for all those fasteners so that they aren’t lying loose on your bench.


7. Think Outside the Box

You are obviously going to need a toolbox or two along with some cabinets and drawers. But don’t limit yourself to tool storage options you buy at the store. Think outside the box. For example, did you know that supermarkets are now selling meat in large, plastic tubs? Those tubs make great receptacles for nuts and bolts, nails, and other fasteners.

Perhaps your family uses a ton of CDs and DVDs for burning music and movies. It turns out the plastic spools those discs come on are great tool storage solutions. You can hang them on a wall and use them as hooks for your pipe wrenches, hoses, ropes, etc.


8. Don’t Let Dust and Dirt Accumulate

All of our tips thus far have been about organization. Now let us shift gears to dirt and debris. Dirt can be a problem if you allow it to accumulate, regardless of how organized your tools are. So do not let it accumulate. As soon as you see the first hint of dirt, debris, sawdust, etc., clean it up.

One of the most effective tools for this task is a shop vac. A good shop vac offers plenty of power to suck up even the most uncooperative dirt and debris. And because shop vacs tend to have large canisters, they don’t have to be emptied all that often. You can even clean up liquids with most shop vacs on the market.


9. Deal with Spills Immediately

How often have you been working away when you accidentally knocked over a cup of coffee or a can of paint? It happens all the time. Unfortunately, some kinds of spills can stain the surface of a workbench permanently. You can reduce the chances of staining if you deal with your spills immediately.

The best tool for spills is a thick, cotton cloth. Cotton is highly absorbent, so it is capable of soaking up most spills without you having to spread the liquid around. Old cotton bath towels you would otherwise throw in the trash are great for this job. So are cotton diapers and t-shirts. If you have to buy something instead, bar mops and shop rags will both do the trick.

If you do end up with a stain, do not panic. There may be a solution. Paint thinner works well for oil-based liquids like paint and varnish. Oil soaps are good for latex paints and solvents like WD-40. The only caveat here is that you dab a little bit of your chosen cleaning agent on the stain and see what it does before you apply it across the entire area. There is no point in ruining your workbench with a cleaning agent that is too harsh.


10. Clean and Disinfect Your Bench

Last but not least is the task of cleaning and disinfecting. When should you disinfect your workbench? That depends on how you use it. If most of your work consists of little more than wood projects and fixing broken appliances, you need only clean the bench when it starts looking dirty. Perhaps every 3 to 6 months would be fine.

If you are the kind of person who likes to hunt and fish, maybe you use your workbench to clean and process your kills. In that case, cleaning and disinfecting after each job is a must. You do not want a germ-laden workbench that could expose you to some sort of illness later on.

As for how to sterilize work benches, it is pretty simple. A little bit of bleach and a rag will do the trick. Apply the bleach to the rag rather than the workbench surface, then give the workbench a quick wipe down. It doesn’t take much bleach at all.

You can use tub and shower cleaner if bleach scares you. Just be sure to follow the same process of applying the cleaner to the rag instead of directly to the workbench surface. You might also consider wearing a pair of rubber gloves. They will protect your hands whether you are using bleach or a tub and shower cleaner.

The summary of this whole discussion is as follows: keeping your workbench clean is a matter of organizing your tool storage, putting tools away after each use, and cleaning up with a shop vac and an occasional disinfectant. It takes a little discipline, but with the right storage solutions and a commitment to cleanliness, your workbench can stay clean month after month, year after year.


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