“Aaargh! Why won’t my lawn mower start? My big backyard barbecue is tomorrow!”
Do you want to avoid scenes like this? With mowers, like other lawn tools, an ounce of regular maintenance prevents a pound of frustration and lots of last-minute scrambling to find a neighbor who’ll lend you their mower.
But there’s good news! Lawn mower maintenance is easy enough for a DIYer. You’ll see how these four lawn maintenance tips will keep your lawn mower running smoothly throughout the mowing season.
Caveat: Before we embark on this mower maintenance marathon, know that we’ll focus on push mowers (gas and battery-powered) in this article. However, many of the same tips apply to zero-turn mowers and lawn tractors, as well.
1. Read the mower manual
It may not be as entertaining as the Sunday comics, but your mowing manual will help you get started on the right mowing foot.
Your mower’s product manual offers a variety of information about your mower:
- Maintenance schedule: You don’t have to wonder when or how often your mower will need maintenance. It’s already spelled out for you.
- Safety tips: Most of this is common sense, but some of it is helpful. For example, if you’re new to a battery-powered machine, you may find the battery storage tips useful.
- Which way to tip your mower: Do you sometimes forget which way to tip your mower to change the blade? Your mower manual will show you how to tilt it the right way and avoid a trip to the small engine repair shop. (Hint: The air filter always faces up.)
- Troubleshooting: Gives common solutions to questions like, “Why won’t the mower start?” or “Why is the grass not mulching properly?”
- Technical data: If you need to replace a part, some manuals include diagrams and part numbers for your convenience.
Your manual offers so much more information than what we’ve highlighted here. You’ll learn other cool facts like this: Some models include a QR code on the serial number decal. Scan it to access info about parts, the warranty, and other details about your mower. So if the mower stops working, just grab your phone to pull up lots of helpful information with a simple scan.
Think of your manual as your friend, especially if this is a new machine. It offers a wealth of knowledge if you only take the time to read it.
Pro Tip: Read the manual before you buy the machine. Some online retailers include a link in the product description. If not, go to the manufacturer’s website to read it online.
2. Keep it clean
If you let grass build-up under the mower deck, it affects more than just the appearance of your mower. Built-up grass clippings mean less airflow underneath the deck. Proper airflow is especially important for mulching mowers to be effective in cutting the grass very fine.
In addition, wet grass encourages rust underneath a metal deck over time. Some lawn mowers come with a deck wash port. Use this port after each mow to clean off the grass. Make sure you lower the deck to its lowest setting and run the mower blade for a few minutes after you turn off the water to dry everything out.
If you don’t have a wash port, remove the spark plug wire, turn the mower on its side (air filter up), and hose it down. If that doesn’t get it squeaky clean, use a metal-friendly scraper to do the rest. Once it’s clean and dry, spray with a silicone spray to make the job easier next time.
If you find that you have rust or if the paint has worn off, remove the rust and apply rust preventive paint to the exposed metal. Note: Little steps like this substantially extend the life of your mower and give you the highest return on your investment.
3. Keep it sharp
You wouldn’t pay your hairstylist to cut your hair with a dull pair of scissors. It’s not healthy for your hair, and it doesn’t look good. It’s much the same with your lawn.
A sharp blade not only gives your grass blades a clean, sharp cut, but it keeps your grass healthy, as well. A dull blade will rip or tear the grass, leaving a wide-open space for fungal disease to develop in wet weather. In dry weather, torn grass blades cause too much transpiration (water loss via the grass blades). This can decrease your lawn’s drought resistance and cause unnecessary stress.
You’ll know when it’s time to sharpen your mower blade when the grass blades look ripped or torn. For tough grasses like Zoysia, plan to sharpen more often than if you’re mowing something like fine fescue. Plan to sharpen the blades at least once or twice per season.
Check out our handy lawn mower blade sharpening guide for step-by-step instructions.
Pro Tip: Remove the spark plug (or take out the battery) before you do any work on your mower. This prevents the engine from starting while you work.
4. Winterize your mower
Unless you live in the sunny subtropics where your grass grows year-round, you and your mower undoubtedly look forward to taking a break from lawn mowing in the winter. But before you bid adieu to your mower, it needs a little TLC.
Caveat: Your mower manual has the final say. These are general recommendations.
Gas mowers: Gas mowers require a little more work than an electric mower. Follow these steps to get your push mower ready for its winter hibernation.
- Step 1: Move the mower outside before you start. You don’t want to run the mower inside the garage.
- Step 2: Drain the gas or add fuel stabilizer. If you don’t want to keep fuel in the machine over the winter, use just enough gas on your last mow to complete the job. Run the motor until it dies. Start it with the pull cord. Let it die. Repeat until it no longer starts.
If you add fuel stabilizer, make sure the manufacturer states that the stabilizer will last for the length you want to store the machine. Run the machine for 10 to 15 minutes so the fuel can work its way into the carburetor before storage.
Remember, adding fuel stabilizer is a must if you want to keep gas in the engine over winter. Gas without stabilizer causes the fuel system to gum up and prevents an easy startup next spring.
If you leave gas in the machine, store the machine in a detached shed. If you prefer to store the mower inside the house, be fire safe and drain the gas.
- Step 3: If the mower is hot, let it cool before you service it.
- Step 4: If the spark plug needs to be replaced, do that now. Before you put the old or new plug back in place, squirt oil into the cylinders. Replace the spark plug wire and turn on the engine several times so the oil can get into the engine.
- Step 5: Use a wire brush to remove any rust on the exposed metal.
- Step 6: Clean or replace the air filter.
- Step 7: Replace the fuel filter.
- Step 8: Add engine oil if needed. If your manual recommends an annual oil change, do that now.
Pro Tip: To keep your engine running smoothly, check your oil level before each mow.
- Step 9: Fog the engine (optional). If your manufacturer recommends this step, do it now. Fogging the engine is simple: Turn on the engine and squirt the fogging fluid into the carburetor until smoke comes out of the exhaust. This means it’s worked its way into the engine and coated it with a fine film of oil. Turn off the engine.
- Step 10: Add silicone lubricant to the bolts and screws.
Pro Tip: If your mower manual recommends something, go ahead and do it now. Proper maintenance is in the details and can prevent unnecessary and costly lawn mower repairs down the road.
- Final Tips: Store your mower and battery properly.
Store your mower in a dry, secure area that will remain above 32 degrees F (or per your manufacturer’s instructions). Make sure the area is rodent-proof to prevent small animals from nesting in your mower or chewing through engine parts or wires.
Store the mower or battery away from gas cans and any appliance with a pilot light. It is preferable not to store gas in a container over the winter. Pour any remaining gas in your car.
Electric mowers: Winterizing an electric mower is simple:
- Step 1: Remove the battery(ies) and you’re good to stow. (Of course, a good cleaning and sharpening still applies. If it has any metal components, oil those as well.)
Check your owner’s manual for the storage temperature range. Most mowers and mower components (electric or gas) don’t like to overwinter at freezing temperatures. Aim for above 40 degrees F to help your lawn mower, battery, and charger last as long as possible.
FAQ about lawn mower maintenance practices
If you’ve prepped your mower thoroughly in the fall, your spring startup should be simple.
—Add gas if you drained the mower in the fall.
—Check the oil level.
—Reattach the spark plug (or put in a charged battery).
—Pull the cord (or press the start button).
Prepping your lawn and lawn care equipment in the fall is the best way to start off on the right foot next spring. Check out our handy guides for fall prep:
—How to Winterize your Sprinkler System
—9 Fall Lawn Care Tips for Indianapolis (Cool-season lawns)
—Fall Lawn Care Checklist for Fort Worth (Warm-season lawns)
—Common Fall Lawn Pests: How to Identify and Eliminate Them
—Pre-Emergent Herbicides: When and How to Apply Them
—Aerating Your Lawn: Why, When, and How to Start (Spoiler alert: Fall is the ideal time to aerate a cool-season lawn.)
—How to Winterize Your Lawn
We’ve got an entire guide dedicated to our top tips and tricks for mowing your lawn (complete with helpful graphics).
If mower maintenance is too much to mess with, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. They know just how to clean, sharpen, and winterize their mowing equipment so that it’s ready for whenever you click or call.