Lawn Mower Maintenance

We’ve got answers to basic lawn mower questions and tips to keep your mower running.

If you love your lawn, there's perhaps nothing more exciting than giving it a fresh cut on that first beautiful spring day. Using a lawn mower to get that even, neat lawn is satisfying, but so is taking care of your mower. Whether you’re a beginner with questions or an experienced lawn mower, we’ve got answers and maintenance tips for keeping your lawn mower running smoothly. Because a properly working mower means an easier mowing experience for you.

Lawn Mower FAQ for Beginners

Just getting started on your lawn mower adventures? Stop here to get a few facts and general questions answered. You can also check out our How to Mow the Lawn article for more tips.

How do I start my lawn mower?

Most power mowers have a starter cord or rope. Give this a firm yank or two, and your mower should come to life. Before starting, make sure you add gas and oil if needed (even the best of us forget sometimes). Some lawn mowers have additional settings or steps before starting, so be sure to read your model’s user manual or instructions.

How do I store my lawn mower in the garage?

Clear some space and make it fit! Find a dry, clean location out of the reach of children. If your mower will be exposed to the elements, make sure to cover it. Make sure it’s easy to get in and out when you do need it. Never store a lawn mower in the house or near an ignition source, like a furnace or water heater.

What’s a self-propelled lawn mower?

Self-propelled mowers have a drive system that actually propel the mower when engaged. Basically, it does the hard work for you, unlike push mowers that need you to provide all the momentum. You can find front-wheel or rear-wheel drive self-propelled mowers. Both battery and gas powered mowers can be self-propelled.

Are lawn mowers banned in California?

As of 1/1/2024, California law prohibits the sale of gas-powered lawn mowers. Other states and even some cities have restrictions or laws on the sale or use of gas lawn mowers. Local regulations can be specific, so it’s best to double check with your state and city to get the exact rules.

Who invented the lawn mower?

The first lawn mower was invented by engineer Edwin Beard Budding in 1830.

How can I cut grass without a lawn mower?

Mowing is the best way to go, unless you like hard work or a natural look for your lawn. Even in small yards, using a good old-fashioned sickle or weed whacker takes time and a lot of sweat. 

Why does my mower need maintenance?

With proper maintenance, your lawnmower can last for many years. Regular mower maintenance will assure that the machine is ready for duty when you need it. The best times to give your mower a full tune-up are either before storing your mower for winter or in spring before your grass starts growing.

How to Tune Up a Lawn Mower 

It’s Spring, and the grass is growing. It’s time for that first beautiful mow of the year. You pull out the mower, give the cord a yank, and nothing happens. Sitting around all winter has caused your lawn mower not to start. There are a few possible causes for a mower that won't start after a cold winter season, including:

  • Old, untreated fuel (or no fuel)
  • Faulty spark plug connection
  • Dirty air filter
  • Combination or all of the above

Don't let this happen to you. Take a few extra steps when putting away your mower for winter, and starting it up in the spring will be a snap. Didn’t get around to it in fall? No worries, just make sure you complete these lawn mower maintenance tasks before you mow in spring. 

Your lawn mower manual comes with instructions for maintenance, so be sure to use it as your guide for specifics about your mower. Set aside a few hours to do the tune-up. You'll need your toolbox, gloves, and any mower parts you plan on replacing.

1. Stabilize the Power Source. Okay, so this one task needs to be done before storing your mower for the winter. You don't want your lawn mower sitting around with fresh gas in it, or the battery, either, if you have an electric mower. If there are still any mowing days left in your schedule, try to use up all of the gas while you're out there on the lawn and then let the tank sit empty. If not, no problem. Just add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and run the motor for 5 minutes, so it can circulate through the system. This liquid solution will keep the gas from becoming stale for up to a year (depending on the brand), and help reduce the chance of corrosion.

If you own an electric lawn mower, remove the battery and charge it fully to avoid sulfation (a buildup of crystals that will keep it from charging in the future). Store the battery in a cool, dry place. You don't want it to freeze, but temps above 75°F are equally detrimental, so find a spot with a steady range in the middle.

2. Disconnect the Spark Plug. Before doing any other work on your lawn mower, you need to disconnect the spark plug ignition wire—the wire running to the front of the engine—so there's no chance of the mower starting accidentally. Safety first!

3. Change the Oil. The next step is to change the oil. There are 2 ways to drain the oil—the essential first step—but in either case, make sure you dispose of the oil safely. Do not pour any oil into the garbage or down a drain. Most auto service centers will take used oil and recycle it for you, for free or a small fee.

If your lawn mower has a drain plug (typically located under the mower deck), place a pan under the deck and remove the plug with a socket wrench. Let the oil drain into the pan and once it's run dry, screw the drain plug back in. Add the type and quantity of oil recommended in your owner’s manual through the dipstick tube.

If there isn't a drain plug, you can empty the oil by tilting your mower on the side and draining the dipstick tube. First, to keep any fuel from spilling out, put a plastic bag over the gas tank opening and then screw the cap back on. Then, place a pan on the floor next to the mower, on the side with the dipstick tube. Remove the dipstick and tilt the mower so the oil pours directly into the pan. After it's all out, add fresh oil, and put the dipstick back in. Leave the plastic on the gas cap for now, until you're done tilting the mower.

This is one bit of maintenance you should do regularly; push mowers should have their oil changed every 50 hours or so. If you don't reach that hour mark, make sure to replace the oil at least once every year.

4. Replace the Air Filter. The air filter is what keeps the engine from overheating after sucking up dirt and debris, so replacing it every season can help extend the life of your lawn mower. Check your owner's manual to find out what type of air filter your lawn mower has, and where it's located. Clean the air filter if your mower has the foam type. If it’s a paper filter, order a new one, swap it out, and consider it done—it's as easy as that.

5. Replace Spark Plugs. Most spark plugs need replacing after 50 hours of mowing. With the wire already removed, use a socket wrench to loosen the spark plug itself, then remove it with your hands. Screw on the new spark plug by hand, and take notice of the small gap at the end. Make sure the end isn't touching the plug itself, as that will prevent a spark and keep the mower from starting. Reconnect the ignition wire and give yourself a pat on the back.

Expert Lawn Mower Maintenance

Before the spring weather awakens your grass, complete this checklist to get your mower in working order and ready for your lawn’s growth surge. Pro tip: doing lawn mower maintenance in the fall means less work in the spring. Win-win!

1. Remember to Remove Spark Plugs. We know we covered this, but the first step in doing any work on your mower is to remove the spark plug. If you’re doing spring maintenance and didn’t replace the spark plug in the fall, install a new one when you're done with the other maintenance. 

2. Sharpen the Blade. A dull mower blade can shred the tips of your grass, causing your lawn to turn brown, so sharpen the lawn mower blade at least once a year. Always remove the mower blade from the mower for sharpening. If the blade has large nicks in the cutting edge from hitting rocks or other debris, you should replace it. 

Before removing the blade, put on a pair of work gloves, protective eyewear, and ear protection. Tilt the mower on its side, then use a pair of locking pliers and a socket wrench to remove the blade from the mower deck. If the mower blade only has minor wear and tear, secure it in a vice clamp and sharpen it using a metal file, grindstone, bench grinder, or drill-powered blade sharpener. Don't put the blade back on just yet—while the blade is off, it's a good time to clean the underside of the mower.

3. Clean It Top and Bottom. Use a garden hose and, if necessary, a putty knife to remove any grass caked on the underside of the mower deck. Then use a scrub brush and hot, soapy water to finish cleaning the underside of the deck. Clean the top of the mower as well, using a rag or brush to get grass clippings, leaves, and other debris off the deck and out of crevices around the engine and wheels. Rinse, then thoroughly dry it. 

This is also a great time to touch up any rusted or chipped paint surfaces. You can also wax the deck to keep grass and dirt from sticking to it. Once it's clean, you can put the mower blade back in.

4. Lubricate the Moving Parts. Your mower will work better and last longer if you keep it lubricated. Oil the wheel bearings and other moving parts, following the instructions in your owner's manual. Be sure to wipe off any runs of excess oil.

Pro Lawn Mower Tune-Up

Don't have the time or desire to tune up the mower yourself? Another option for caring for your lawn mower is to have a professional do it for you. Many garden centers and hardware stores offer these maintenance services. Taking your mower in during the fall or winter can save you from weeks of waiting once the weather is warm in spring! 

Now all you have to do is go out and mow the lawn! If you’re interested in a few mowing tips, read our How to Mow Tips article. Whether you’re getting your mower maintenance done early or waiting for spring, you’ll be ready to go out and get the job done.

Please note these are general tips. Always read and follow directions and manuals specifically for your product.