Best Lawn Mower Maintenance Practices

lawn mower tilted on its side with the camera looking at the underside and blade

Like Mozart needs a well-tuned piano, every homeowner needs a well-maintained lawn mower to keep a beautiful yard. While keeping your lawn mower in tip-top shape isn’t difficult, it’s important to know the best lawn mower maintenance practices to ensure that your lawn remains in good shape. By following these practices, you can keep your lawn mower running smoothly and your lawn looking amazing all year round. 

What are the best lawn mower maintenance practices?

Before you tune up your power equipment, the best lawn mower maintenance tips and best practices are similar for all mowers, including lawn tractors, zero-turn mowers, and riding lawn mowers. However, for this article, we’re focussing on push mowers (gas and battery-powered). 

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Read the lawn mower manual

It may not be as entertaining as the Sunday comics, but your mowing manual will help you get started on the right foot. Think of your manual as your knowledgeable friend, especially if this is a new machine and your first mow.

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 lawn mower safety tips are common sense, but it is important to read them. 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 correctly 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 my mower start?” or “Why is my mower not mulching grass 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 cool facts, and some models include a QR code on the serial number decal. Scan your code to access information about parts, your warranty, and other details about your mower.  

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.

Clean your lawn mower

If you let grass build up under the mower deck, it affects more than just the appearance of your lawn mower. Built-up grass clippings restrict airflow underneath the deck. Proper airflow is essential for mulching mowers, and restricted airflow causes choppy, uneven cuts. In addition, mowing wet grass ruins your lawn and encourages rust underneath a metal deck over time. 

  • If you have a wash port: Some lawn mowers come with a deck wash port. Run water through the 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 it with a silicone spray to make the job easier next time. 

Pro tip: If you find rust or worn paint, remove the rust and apply rust-preventive paint to the exposed metal. Little steps like this substantially extend the lifespan of your mower and give you the highest return on your investment.

Sharpen your lawn mower blades

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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. The same goes for your lawn.  

A sharp blade gives your grass a clean, sharp cut, keeping your grass healthy. A dull blade rips and tears your grass, allowing fungal disease to develop. Torn grass blades also cause increased transpiration (water loss) which decreases your lawn’s drought resistance, causing unnecessary stress.

It’s time to sharpen your mower blade when your grass blades look ripped or torn. For tough grasses like Zoysia, plan to sharpen more often than if you’re mowing fine turfgrass like fescue. For best results, sharpen your mower blades 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 mower engine from starting while you work.

Clean or replace your lawn mower’s air filter

A lawn mower’s air filter does what any air filter does–it filters out dirt and debris. But you need to keep it clean. On average, your air filter needs cleaning or replacing every three months. However, the only way to know for sure if your filter needs to be replaced is to do a visual check.

Follow these simple tips to clean your lawn mower’s air filter:

  • For electric mowers, remove the battery. For gas-powered mowers, unplug your spark plug.
  • Check your user manual to see if a pre-cleaner is needed. If yes, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for pre-cleaning.
  • Replace the paper filter, or, if you have a foam filter, wash it with warm, soapy water. Let the filter air dry completely, then coat it with about 2 tablespoons of mower oil before reinstalling it. 
  • Reinsert your battery or spark plug.

Change your lawn mower’s oil

close-up of oil dipstick in a lawn mower
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We all want things to work like a well-oiled machine, especially our, uh, machines. Our gas-powered lawn mowers are no exception. Always check your manual first, but here are the typical guidelines for changing a gas-powered lawn mower’s oil.

  • Most mowers require an oil change once a year or after 50 hours of use, whichever happens first. 
  • If you have a large lawn or fast-growing grass like Bermuda, you may have to change your oil more often.
  • Give your oil a quick check before you begin your mow. If the oil is black or contains debris, your oil needs to be changed.
  • For the average homeowner, it’s best practice to change your lawn mower’s oil at the end of the mowing season.

Following these simple steps will keep your mowing running smoothly, help avoid repairs, and extend its lifespan.

Treat your gas-powered lawn mower’s fuel

Your mower doesn’t like to consume stale gas, and gas begins to go stale about 30 days after it leaves the fuel pump. However, you can keep it fresh by adding a bottle of fuel stabilizer. 

The average push mower has a fuel capacity of around two gallons, and one bottle of a fuel stabilizer treats two gallons of fuel.

Pro tip: Opt for ethanol-free gas. Ethanol can gum up your carburetor and other engine parts, separate from the gas, and settle to the bottom of the fuel tank.

Change your gas-powered lawn mower’s spark plug

spark plug of a lawn mower
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A lawn mower’s spark plug lasts for about a year, meaning you need to replace it annually at the beginning or end of the mowing season. Most homeowners prefer to change out their spark plug while completing the rest of their lawn mower winterizing tasks.

Here’s how to change a spark plug:

  • Disconnect the spark plug wire
  • Remove the spark plug using a wrench or pliers. 
  • Screw in the new spark plug.
  • Reconnect the spark plug wire to the new spark plug.

Winterize your lawn 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. Proper maintenance is in the details and can prevent unnecessary and costly lawn mower repairs down the road.

Gas mowers

Gas mowers require a little more work than electric mowers. Follow these steps to get your push mower ready for its winter hibernation.

  • Move the mower outside before you start.
  • Drain the gas tank or add a fuel stabilizer. If you opt for a stabilizer, run your lawn mower for 10 to 15 minutes so the stabilized fuel can work its way into the carburetor. 
  • If the spark plug needs to be replaced, do that now.
  • Use a wire brush to remove any rust.
  • Clean or replace the air filter.
  • Replace the fuel filter.
  • Add engine oil if needed. If your manual recommends an annual oil change, do that now. 
  • Fog the engine (optional). If your manufacturer recommends this step, do it now following the instructions in your manual.
  • Add silicone lubricant to the bolts and screws.

Electric mowers

Winterizing an electric mower is simple.

  • Remove the battery, 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.)

Pro tip: Check your owner’s manual for the storage temperature range. Most lawnmowers and mower components (electric or gas) don’t like to overwinter at freezing temperatures. Store your equipment above 32 degrees Fahrenheit to increase longevity.

FAQ about lawn mower maintenance practices

What lawn mower maintenance tasks should I complete after each use?

Clean your lawn mower after every session. You don’t have to get in the cracks and crevices with soap and a scrub brush, but you need to brush or spray off grass clippings and debris.

How do I prevent grass buildup on my lawn mower?

While it’s impossible to prevent all grass clippings from sticking to your mower deck, there are two ways to reduce it significantly.

  1. WD-40: Spray WD-40 on your lawn mower deck before mowing to reduce buildup. It also repels water and reduces the risk of rust and corrosion.
  2. Grease: Applying grease to your lawn mower deck is a little more labor intensive, but you only need to apply it once a month.

How long do lawn mowers last?

Most lawnmowers last between six to 10 years.  Circumstances that affect the longevity of your lawn mower include: 

  • Regular maintenance
  • Engine construction
  • Frequency of use

Professional lawn mower maintenance

If you don’t have the time, confidence, or inclination to DIY maintain your mower, let Lawn Love connect you with a local lawn care professional. They know how to clean, sharpen, and winterize your mowing equipment ( or they can bring their own) to get your lawn in tip-top shape.

Main Photo Credit: Casey Fleser | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi is a writer, author, and teacher who grew up in western Massachusetts and currently resides in the Austin area. She enjoys flower and vegetable gardening, reading, cooking, listening to true-crime podcasts, and spending time with her husband, three children, dog, and cat.