Like any piece of machinery, lawn mowers need regular maintenance to work properly and efficiently. If you store your lawn mower for the winter without prepping it first, that could mean more trouble starting it up when you need to mow your lawn again next spring. Fuel and batteries can go bad over the colder months, and grass clippings left on or underneath the deck can cause rust. But, if you give your mower some attention before you store it, it'll be easier to use the next time you need it, says James Patterson, shop manager for Mariani Landscape in Chicago. Here's how to winterize your mower properly, no matter if you have a gas, electric, or push model.
Hero Images/Adobe Stock
Before you winterize your lawn mower, take a few safety precautions. Read your owner's manual for instructions that are specific to your model. If you don't think you can safely winterize your mower, contact a professional.
Otherwise, Bob Glawe, product safety specialist for Troy-Bilt says to "move the mower to a flat, level surface; turn it off, remove the ignition key, and let the engine cool." You don't want it to start accidentally while you work on it, so for battery-powered and electric models, remove the battery or disconnect the negative battery cable. For gas mowers, disconnect the spark-plug wire and hold it out of the way with a piece of tape. Apply the parking brake.
"If you need to raise the mower while you're wintering it, use the proper jacks and stands," says Dan Bitler of Sebert Landscape in Bartlett, Illinois. Mowers are heavy, so make sure your machine is stable and secure while you work on it to avoid crushed fingers or toes.
Courtesy of Troy Bilt Change the oil in a gas-powered mower in fall so it is ready to go in spring.
How to Prepare Your Lawn Mower for Winter
The two most important mower winterizing tasks are to give your mower a thorough cleaning and to deal with your model's power source (gas and/or battery). First, use a sturdy scrub brush ($5, The Home Depot) or plastic putty knife ($1, The Home Depot) to scrape away any grass stuck under the deck, on the blades, and other parts. Rinse off mud with a hose or power washer. Remove grass clippings from the top of the deck, too, adds Patterson. Dried clippings can rub against deck belts and start a fire. After your mower is clean and dry, spray the cleaned area with penetrating oil ($4, Walmart) to help prevent rust.
Related: How to Winterize Your Lawn
Depending on the type of mower you have, Patterson also recommends changing the oil, fuel filter, and spark plugs; and cleaning or changing the air filter. Check the tires, cables, and belts for any damage, too, and replace if necessary. Your owner's manual will provide details on the correct parts and instructions for replacing them.
What to Do with Fuel From Gas-Powered Mowers
Before storing your gas-powered mower for the winter, run it until it's completely out of gas or drain the tank. This is especially important if you need to store your mower in your basement because the fuel poses a fire hazard. Patterson drains his gas into a gas can and uses it later in his snow blower.
If you plan to leave gas in the tank while storing your mower, add a fuel stabilizer ($9, The Home Depot), Glawe says. This will keep the fuel from degrading and forming deposits that can prevent it from reaching the engine. "To properly use fuel stabilizer, mix it separately in your gas can before adding it to the mower fuel tank," he says. "Fill the fuel tank, run the engine for a few minutes to get the stabilized fuel through to the carburetor, then top off the fuel tank with the stabilized fuel."
Keep Your Mower Battery Charged
If your gas mower has a battery, use a trickle charger to keep it charged over the winter. For electric or battery-powered mowers, the battery is the "backbone of your mower, just like your engine is on a gas- or diesel-powered mower. Plus, it's likely the most-expensive part to replace," Patterson says. To keep it in top shape, recharge the battery once a month. Avoid permanent damage by storing your battery in an area that stays above 40°F.
Sharpen Mower Blades
While winterizing your mower, take the opportunity to sharpen the blades so your grass gets a clean cut. "Wear gloves if you handle the mower blade or work around the cutting deck," Glawe cautions. Follow the instructions in your owner's manual, but in general, you'll need to use a file or grinding wheel and maintain the original angle of the grind. Be sure both sides are balanced before re-installing the blade.
Storing Your Mower
Cover your equipment if you have to store your mower outdoors. Bitler avoids plastic covers that can trap moisture and cause rust. He recommends using a mower cover ($28, Walmart) or tarp made of breathable material instead.
"Properly cleaning all debris off the mower, lubricating or waxing to prevent corrosion, and using a mower cover or tarp can all help prevent damage," Glawe adds. Once your mower is properly winterized and stored for the season, it will be ready to go when you are in the spring. Plus, taking a little time to maintain your lawn equipment in the fall means you'll maximize your tools' usefulness for years to come.