Spring has sprung, your lawn is greening up again, the birds are singing, and you take out your mower for the first cut of the year…only to be met with silence instead of a roaring engine. We’ll take you through the steps of how to winterize your lawn equipment to ensure a successful spring next year.
What is winterization?
Winterizing doesn’t mean covering everything in paper snowflakes. Winterizing means avoiding internal corrosion and deterioration by prepping your equipment for storage. It’s also a good chance to deal with dirt and any damage that may have occurred during the year.
Best time to start
The best time to start winterizing your equipment is right after the mowing season, usually in late October or early November once the final fall leaves have dropped. Grass growth generally slows when daytime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, so that’s when you’ll need to think about stowing your mower for the winter.
What kind of equipment do I have?
How you winterize your lawn equipment depends on what powers it:
- Four-stroke gas engine
- Two-stroke gas engine
Gas-powered equipment has two different types of fuel systems: four-stroke engines and two-stroke. Four-stroke equipment includes most push mowers, pressure washers, and riding lawn mowers. Leaf blowers, chainsaws, and string trimmers usually have two-stroke engines. Then, there’s electric equipment (either plug-in or battery-operated) like trimmers, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers.
We’ll explain how to winterize each type of equipment step-by-step.
How to winterize gas-powered four-stroke equipment
- Empty the gas tank or add a fuel stabilizer.
There are two ways to prevent fuel from gumming up the carburetor. Both are effective.
Empty the gas tank:
- Siphon your gas into a clean gas can. You can use this gas in your car or other gas-powered equipment within 30 days.
- Turn your mower back on and let it run until it stops on its own. Repeat this until the engine doesn’t start up anymore.
- You can also disconnect and drain the fuel line. The fuel line typically runs beneath the gas tank and into the carburetor.
Add fuel stabilizer:
- Siphon your gas into a clean can for measurement.
- Now that you know how much gas is present, add the proper amount of fuel stabilizer (also called preservative) to the tank. Fuel stabilizer provides a protective layer for fuel that prevents it from separating and degrading.
- Add your gas back in and run the engine for 10 minutes so the preservative distributes. You now have stabilized fuel.
- Disconnect the spark plug.
- Remove the lawn mower blade to clean and sharpen it.
- Turn your mower on its side so the carburetor faces up.
- Mark the bottom of the blade with a marker to make it easier for you to install it right-side up when the time comes.
- Use a wrench or ratchet to loosen and remove the nut that holds the mower blade in place.
- Clean the blade and undercarriage with a cloth.
- Sharpen the blade if necessary.
- Wear protective gloves and eyewear.
- Place the blade in a vise and use a file or grindstone to sharpen the blade from the top side of the cutting edge.
- When the blade is about as sharp as a butter knife, release it from the vise, turn it over, and repeat on the other edge.
- Replace the blade.
- Change the oil.
- Unscrew the gas cap, place a sandwich bag over the opening, and screw the cap back on to prevent leaks.
- Turn the mower on its side so the air filter is pointing up and place an oil drain pan below.
- Remove the dipstick and let all the old oil drain out.
- Pour in about half a bottle of oil. Then, using your dipstick to check the level, keep filling until the oil reaches the fill line.
- Change the air filter.
- You’ll find the air filter near the top of the engine, usually enclosed in a metal or plastic container attached by a screw or snap fittings.
- This video from Briggs & Stratton shows how to change an air filter on a lawn mower:
- Replace the spark plug.
- Loosen the plug with a wrench. Unscrew the rest of it by hand.
- Make sure the threads on the new spark plug are lined up well, screw in the plug, then give it a few turns with a wrench at the end. Do not overtighten.
- Spray some oil into the cylinder and pull the recoil handle a few times to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
- Follow the same instructions for a lawn mower to remove the gas or add fuel stabilizer.
- Change the oil as you would for a mower.
- Use a hose and funnel to pour plumbing antifreeze into the pump. This will prevent water inside the pump from freezing and damaging the equipment.
- Remove the spark plug wire and turn the engine over until antifreeze comes out of the pump outlet.
Riding lawn tractors
- Drain the engine of gas or add fuel stabilizer just like you would with a push mower.
- Spray the tractor down with a hose, then wipe out any grass or debris from the undercarriage with your hands.
- Replace the oil as you would for a mower.
- Either remove the battery and bring it inside to periodically charge it or connect a trickle charger. Both methods will keep the battery in good condition through winter.
- Inspect the drive belts.
- Top off tire pressure.
How to winterize gas-powered two-stroke equipment
- Remove gas from the tank or add fuel stabilizer to prevent carburetor damage.
- Spray and wipe down or hose off your leaf blower to remove all the soil and grime that’s built up over the year.
- You can also fog the engine for long term lubrication and corrosion prevention.
- First, remove the air filter.
- Start the engine and spray fogging oil into the air intake.
- Shut off the blower after 10 seconds.
- Remove the air filter. First, you need to remove the air filter cover that’s on top of the chainsaw near the handle. Then you can unscrew the bolt that keeps the air filter in place.
- Fog the engine for extra corrosion protection.
- Either remove the gas or add a fuel stabilizer.
- Replace the air filter as you would on a mower and wipe down or blow off debris.
- Top off the chain oil reservoir. There will be a cap to the oil chamber on the side of the chainsaw with an oil notation.
- If your chainsaw displays any signs of dullness like struggling to cut wood, rattling or bouncing, or creating crooked cuts, you need to sharpen it. Unless you have a round file that matches the cutter diameter, a file guide, and a depth-gauge guide, we recommend you leave this to the professionals.
- Follow steps 1 – 4 from the chainsaw maintenance list above.
- Replace the supply of string.
- Check to see what size line your trimmer uses and what length it should be cut.
- Remove the retaining cap from the trimmer head by unscrewing it or pressing one or multiple tabs depending on the trimmer.
- Find the starter hole in the spool and insert the tip of the trimmer line, then wind in the direction of the arrows.
- When there’s 5 to 6 inches of line left, snap it into the retainer to hold it in place.
- Replace the spool into the trimmer head, remove the line from the retainer, and pull it through the slot.
- Put the retaining cap back on.
How to winterize electric equipment
You don’t have to worry too much about electric equipment that doesn’t have a gas engine in winter. However, the end of the mowing season is still a good time to address cleaning or repair needs.
For plug-in equipment, the first thing you want to do is check the power cords for any damage. Blow off dust and debris with a shop vacuum, then wipe down thoroughly to remove any remaining grime.
For battery-powered equipment, you can remove the battery and bring it into a heated space to be safe. Make sure to charge batteries fully before storage and don’t leave them charging over the winter. That can reduce the batteries’ power and life cycle.
Set yourself up for a successful spring next year
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be off to a roaring start come springtime. Once you’re back to using your lawn equipment regularly, a good rule of thumb is to change the oil and sharpen the blades every 25 hours of use or so.
Until then, store all your lawn equipment indoors in a dry place, such as a basement or garage. Give the equipment a good once-over periodically to make sure no pests have chewed through wires or nested inside. Once you complete these steps, you can forget about lawn care for a few months and enjoy the winter weather!
Don’t want to deal with equipment at all? Hire a local landscaping company instead to handle your lawn care.