As you finish up your last lawn mowing of the season, you might be tempted to wheel your mower into the shed and forget about it for the next five or six months. Not so fast! Before putting your outdoor power equipment into hibernation, give them a little TLC and they’ll pay you back when you go to start them up in the springtime. Learn how to winterize lawn mowers and other power equipment in this easy guide.
Why Winterize Lawn Mowers And Other Equipment?
Fuel is the number one reason you need to winterize lawn mowers and other outdoor power equipment. Gasoline that sits in a small engine’s gas tank begins to degrade in just a couple of months, decreasing its ability to combust inside the engine. Not only will old fuel cause your outdoor equipment to run with less power and efficiency, it can also gum up the engine’s internal parts, shortening its life and making it much harder to start.
Managing leftover fuel isn’t the only reason to winterize your equipment. Cleaning off dirt and debris, preserving batteries, and applying lubricant to ward off rust are also important parts of preparing your power yard tools for the off season.
What Types Of Outdoor Power Equipment Do You Need To Winterize?
In short, you should winterize any outdoor yard equipment that is equipped with a gas engine. Whether you’re winterizing a machine with a two-stroke or four-stroke engine, you’ll follow the same process.
Battery-powered yard equipment doesn’t require much in the way of winterization. However, you’ll want to store lithium ion batteries indoors if you live in a climate that sees sub-freezing temperatures.
Drain Or Stabilize The Fuel
The most important step in winterizing any gas-powered yard equipment is dealing with the gas left in the tank. You have two options: drain the fuel or stabilize it so it lasts the winter.
- If you only have a small amount of fuel left in the tank, run the mower until it burns off all the fuel and the motor dies. You’ll need to restart the engine several times to fully empty the gas lines.
- If you have a significant amount of fuel left over, rather than waste the fuel (and add unnecessary exhaust to the air) add fuel stabilizer instead. Add stabilizer to the fuel tank per the manufacturer’s instructions then run the mower for a minute or so to circulate the stabilizer throughout the fuel lines and the carburetor. Stabilized fuel can last up to two years.
To Change The Oil Or Not To Change The Oil
Lawn mowers, rototillers, pressure washers and other yard equipment equipped with 4-stroke engines require periodic oil changes. That doesn’t mean you have to change the oil prior to putting it in winter storage. Unlike gas that can degrade over a period of months, it takes oil longer to deteriorate while it’s sitting.
You should change the oil in a 4-stroke engine about once a year or after every 50 hours of use. So, if the oil still has some life left in it, there’s no need to change it as part of your winterizing.
Keep in mind that the oil change schedules can vary, and some engines never require an oil change. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to determine when to change the oil for your yard equipment.
Along with managing leftover gas, there are a few other tasks you’ll need to complete when winterizing your yard machines. These tasks vary depending on the piece of equipment.
Gas-Powered Lawn Mowers
After draining the gas lines, clean the mower deck. Start by disconnecting the spark plug to prevent the motor from accidentally starting while you’re working around the blade. Use a leaf blower or compressed air to remove any debris or grass clippings that have collected on top of the mower.
Next, tip over the mower so you can access the deck (Make sure you’ve emptied the gas tank as gas can leak out of the tank even with the cap on). With the mower on its side, use a scraper to loosen and remove any dried grass clippings that are stuck to the deck’s underside.
Don’t be tempted to use a pressure washer for cleaning. That high pressure can force water into places that aren’t supposed to get wet, causing damage.
Winterizing a lawn tractor is like winterizing a walk-behind mower only with a few additional steps. After draining or stabilizing the fuel, clean the mowing deck. Again, disconnect the spark plug before working around the blade. Use a blower to remove any grass clippings that have collected on top of the mower deck.
If your mowing deck has a washout port, you can clean out the underside by connecting a garden hose to it and flushing out the clippings. Otherwise you’ll need to use a riding mower lift to raise the mower, so you can access the deck’s underside.
After cleaning the deck and parking the mower in storage, remove the battery and store it in a cool dry place to ensure it doesn’t discharge over the winter.
After dealing with gas leftover in the tank, turn your attention to the tiller’s tines. Remove any dried dirt stuck to the tines. You can use a hose to do this, but avoid using a pressure washer, which can damage the rototiller.
Once clean, wipe the tines dry with a rag, then rub a little cooking oil or used engine oil on them to prevent them from rusting while in storage.
Pressure washers differ from other outdoor equipment in that they have a pump system to winterize. Before taking care of any leftover gas in the engine and fuel tank, winterize the pump. You’ll need to drain any detergent or water left in it to prevent it from freezing and damaging the pressure washer while it’s in storage.
Flush the system by putting the pressure washer’s injection tube in a bucket of water and running the unit for a couple of minutes. Turn off the pressure washer then disconnect all the attachments and drain the lines and the spray gun.
Finally, attach a can of pump saver to the pressure washer’s water inlet and run it through the line until you see the pump saver liquid coming out of the outlet.
Unlike leaf blowers, string trimmers, and lawn mowers that only see seasonal use, you may actually need that chainsaw over the winter for cutting firewood or clearing downed trees after a winter storm. If that’s the case, consider keeping your chainsaw in action. Otherwise, winterize it by draining or stabilizing the fuel and cleaning the chain.
Start by engaging the chain break to ensure it won’t start up while you’re cleaning it. Next, pop off the side cover and remove the guide bar and chain from the chainsaw. Use a dry clean paintbrush or compressed air to remove any debris that has accumulated behind the cover. Next, use a scraper to clear out any sap or debris stuck in the groove around the chainsaw bar.
Clean the chain by soaking it in a solution of ammonia and water for about 15 minutes. Rinse the chain, allow it to dry, then oil it with chain oil before reassembling the chainsaw.
String trimmers have an air filter that prevents debris from getting inside the engine while you’re working with it. Over time, this air filter gets inundated with dirt, preventing air from getting to the engine.
Remove the air filter cover and brush off any grass that has accumulated on the filter. If the filter is still in good condition, place it back in the engine and reinstall the cover. If it’s inundated with dirt or damaged, replace the filter with a new one.
Winterizing your leaf blower is very similar to winterizing a string trimmer. Open the air filter cover on the engine, then remove the air filter and examine it. Remove any debris and replace the filter if it’s in bad shape.
Join The Discussion
We hope our guide showed you how to winterize lawn mowers and other outdoor equipment.
Do you have any questions?
Share you experience and ask away in the comments section below!
Tony Carrick is an expert writer in home improvement, lawn and garden, and technology who contributes to FarmersAlmanac.com as well as Popular Mechanics, BobVila.com, US News and World Report, Pro Tool Reviews, and Popular Science. He covers a wide range of products—from power tools to grills to coffee makers—in how-to articles, product reviews, and feature stories. When he's not writing, Tony can be found working on his next home improvement project at his home in North Carolina.