A lawn mower that needs to be winterized for colder weather

The maintenance section of your lawn mower owner’s manual probably runs on for pages, with instructions on everything from greasing the pinion gears to gapping the spark plugs. If you want your mower to last for decades, you’ll be smart to follow every step. But if you don’t have an entire weekend to burn and you’ll be happy just getting your mower to the point where it will start next spring, you can whittle the task list down to two musts.

Below are the critical steps for winterizing gas- and battery-powered mowers, from the lawn and garden experts at Consumer Reports.

If you get inspired, keep reading—we’ll also cover several maintenance best practices that you’ll thank yourself for next spring.

Step 1: Clean the Deck

Ideally, you should be in the habit of doing this throughout the season because keeping the blade housing clean helps to ensure optimal mower performance. But the task is essential before winter to prevent moisture in the grass clippings from causing rust and corrosion to the underside of the deck.        

More on Fall Lawn and Garden Care

A shot with the garden hose might be enough to remove the clippings, especially if they’re fresh. For dried-on clippings, try a plastic paint scraper or an old bristled pot scrubber; wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands from the sharp blade. If you have silicone spray handy, spray the underside of the deck with it to prevent future buildup.

Store the mower in a dry location. When stowing your mower, we recommend putting a container of mothballs near the deck to prevent mice and other rodents from nesting in the dormant machine.

“That’s good general advice for all kinds of outdoor power equipment,” says Dave Trezza, senior project leader in CR’s home improvement testing department. “In a mower in particular, mice can chew through your spark plug wire, or possibly chew the pull cord.”

Step 2: Prep the Mower for Storage

For a Gas-Powered Mower: Stabilize the Fuel
Leaving fuel in the tank all winter can wreak havoc on the engine. Water from condensation can combine with ethanol in the gas, causing clogs, corrosion, and other problems throughout the fuel system. Come springtime, you could be in for a professional carburetor cleaning to the tune of $75 to $100.   

If there’s only a little fuel left after the final mow of the season, your best bet is to run the tank dry. If you keep your mower in the basement during the winter, you should remove the fuel regardless of how much is left because storing it inside could be a fire hazard. You can use a turkey baster or siphon to remove larger quantities of fuel. (You can add the leftover fuel to your car.)

If you store the mower in a garage or shed, it’s wise to fill the tank with gas and add stabilizer—or even better, use gas that has stabilizer already added. (You may find stand-alone stabilizer, and gas with added stabilizer at home centers or gas stations.) For good measure, run the mower for a few minutes so that the stabilized fuel can work its way through the carburetor.

For an Electric Mower: Remove the Battery
Remove the batteries from electric mowers and store them inside your home to minimize temperature fluctuation. Extreme temperatures can shorten the life span of battery cells and cause them to fail prematurely. Most batteries do best when stored between 40° and 80° F. (Check the owner’s manual for the appropriate range for your mower.)

If You Go the Extra Distance

Steps 1 and 2 should keep your mower safe over the winter. But there are a few additional steps you can take now so that you don’t have to worry about them come spring. That includes sharpening your mower blade (as well as any spares you keep on hand). See “How to Replace a Lawn Mower Blade” for step-by-step instructions.

Routine oil changes will help extend the life of any engine, as will changing or cleaning the air filter. Spark plugs used to be more of a concern, but their improved technology has reached the point where you need to change the spark plugs only every few years. 

Worried your mower might not make it through another season, no matter how diligent you are with the maintenance? Look for end-of-season deals at home centers, using our lawn mower ratings to find models that perform well and to check our exclusive survey data on most and least reliable brands.

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