How to Perform Lawn Mower Maintenance in 9 Steps for a Picture-Perfect Lawn

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated July 6, 2022
A man checking a lawn mower in his backyard
Photo: ArtMarie / E+ / Getty Images

A little mower maintenance will keep your grass green, short, and healthy

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Neglecting your lawn mower is a surefire way to ruin your lawn. It will also cost you more because you'll need to purchase a new lawn mower sooner or repeatedly pay for costly repairs. 

Performing regular maintenance on your lawn mower should help you keep it working for between 10 and 15 years. Take a look at our top lawn mower maintenance tips and get the most from your lawn mower.

Bonus tip: make sure you read your owner's manual as there's lots of information specific to your mower model inside.

Why Do I Need to Perform Lawn Mower Maintenance? 

It’s important to perform lawn mower maintenance because it keeps your mower running in prime condition. A well-maintained lawn mower will cut your grass better and make clean cuts, which helps lessen the likelihood of your lawn getting a disease. Plus, maintenance helps extend the life of your mower, cutting down on additional costs for you.

How Much Does Lawn Mower Maintenance Cost?

The price you’ll pay to maintain your lawn mower depends heavily on the type of mower you have. But here’s a quick look at some common maintenance tasks and their costs:

  • Spark plug replacement: $5–$20

  • Lawn mower oil: $5–$10

  • Lawn mower air filter replacement: $10–$15

A new lawn mower can cost up to $3,200, so it’s worthwhile to maintain your investment to ensure it runs well for years.   

When to Perform Lawn Maintenance

Getting in the habit of yearly mower maintenance ensures you can keep your machine in great condition. You also need to do a little ongoing maintenance throughout the growing season. 

  • Winter maintenance: Before you put your lawn mower up for the winter, you'll need to change the oil, drain the fuel, replace the spark plug and air filter, sharpen and balance the lawn mower blades, and possibly fog the engine.

  • Maintenance best practices: Every time you use your lawn mower, you should check the tires before you begin, and clean the mower deck when you finish.

How to Perform a Seasonal Lawn Mower Maintenance Routine

A lawn mower cutting green grass
Photo: Mariusz Blach / Adobe Stock

Make these maintenance tasks part of your regular seasonal garden maintenance routine to ensure you don't overlook them.

1. Replace the Spark Plug

Before you begin any lawn mower maintenance, remove the spark plug. This ensures your safety as the lawn mower cannot accidentally start.

Lawn mower spark plugs degrade rapidly. They are vital to the engine's functioning, but thankfully they're inexpensive, too. They're also easy to change. Simply grab the wrench, remove the old spark plug, and replace it with a new one. Just remember not to overtighten it to avoid any problems with starting the mower.

2. Change the Oil

While you don't necessarily need to change the oil in your mower unless it's showing signs of being contaminated or too old and viscous, it's a good habit to develop. At the end of each season and before you put the mower up for the winter, remove the drain plug beneath the oil tank on the mower and allow the oil inside to drain.

Some lawn mowers don't have drain plugs, in which case you'll need to turn the lawn mower on its side and allow it to drain the oil via the fill hole.

Once the oil tank is empty, sit the lawn mower the right way up or replace the drain plug. You can then refill the tank with the correct type of oil. Check your owner's manual if you're unsure of which time the oil is suitable for your machine.

3. Drain the Fuel Tank

If your lawn mower won’t start, the culprit could be old gas. Leaving gas in the tank can also damage, and eventually corrode, the fuel tank. Therefore, at the end of each season, you'll need to either use up or drain all of the remaining fuel in the tank. If you choose to drain it, remember that you are dealing with an extremely volatile and flammable substance, so take all sensible precautions. Leave the fuel tank empty over the winter, and add new gas in the spring.

4. Clean the Mowing Deck

You should get in the habit of cleaning the mowing deck each time you finish cutting the lawn. Cut grass, dirt, and debris get caked onto the area above the blades, known as the mowing deck. Once it dries, it becomes incredibly hard and difficult to remove. It also traps heat, which can eventually cause your lawn mower's engine to overheat. Plus, it can potentially block the discharge chute.

After you finish mowing, disconnect the spark plug, turn the lawn mower on its side, and use a wire brush to remove all of the grass clippings and debris that accumulated during the mowing session. Doing this after each cut makes it far easier, as the clippings are still wet and easy to remove.

At the end of the growing season, you should do a more thorough cleaning of your mowing deck. Remove the spark plug and flip the mower over onto its side (carburetor-side up). Remove all accumulated debris from the mowing deck, then give it a thorough clean with a stiff brush and some hot soapy water. Allow the mowing deck to dry while you're doing the other end-of-season lawn mower maintenance tasks, then give the deck and blades a lubricating coating to prevent rust. Then you can put the mower away for the winter.

5. Replace the Air Filter

Like spark plugs, air filters are inexpensive but crucial to the performance and efficiency of your mower. At the end of each season, it's a smart idea to change your air filter if you have a removable one, or thoroughly clean the filter if you have a permanent one. A new or clean air filter significantly improves the efficiency of your lawn mower and decreases the demand placed on the engine. You'll need to check your owner's manual to see how to change the air filter on your specific mower model.

6. Check the Carburetor

The carburetor needs cleaning approximately every two years. A dirty or underperforming carburetor results in a noticeable drop in performance, and eventually stops the lawn mower working altogether. Dust, dirt, and debris can clog the internal and external parts of the carburetor, which slowly decreases performance. 

While cleaning the carburetor isn't particularly difficult, it's best to let a pro handle this part for you if you're not comfortable or don't know your way around an engine.

7. Sharpen and Balance the Blades

Having sharp, well-balanced blades ensures your lawn mower performs well and your grass stays healthy. Even if you have no nicks in the blade, and your lawn is relatively free of sticks, stones, and other debris, the blades do wear down and get blunt. Damaged or blunt blades tear the grass rather than cutting it cleanly, causing extensive damage, and leaving your grass at greater risk of disease and poor health. Sharpening your mower blades is one of the easiest ways to keep your lawn lush and green.

With a little know-how and experience, you can sharpen your own blades with a vice and a metal file or rotary tool, or a specific blade-sharpening tool. However, if you don't know what you're doing, you can cause further damage to the blades and, therefore, your grass. So, it may be a good idea to take the mower to a repair shop or hire a mobile mower servicing company.

8. Fog the Engine

Fogging a lawn mower engine involves removing the outer plastic shell or engine housing and spraying fogging oil into the carburetor and inside the spark plug. This provides a waxy, protective coating that limits the risk of moisture getting inside the engine and causing issues.

9. Check the Tires

Before and after each use of your mower, it's good practice to check the tires. Whether you have a ride-on mower with inflatable tires or a self-propelled mower with hard tires, it's important to check that they remain in good condition. Even with molded wheels, if they’re chipped or significantly damaged, they can impair the performance and balance of your mower.

Additional Tips for Taking Care of Your Lawn Mower

Taking care of your lawn mower will not only extend its life but also help ensure it cuts your grass well, keeping it green and healthy.

Here are a few additional maintenance tips to add to your routine: 

  • Replace the blade if it has dents or cracks—sharpening it won’t work and it can damage your yard if used.

  • Before you start mowing each time, remove rocks and any other items (small children’s toys or pet items) from your yard that could damage your lawn mower. 

  • If you’ve watered your lawn recently or it’s rained, wait to mow your lawn until it’s dry to prevent the deck from getting clogged with clippings.

  • Inspect the cord and battery on electric mowers to ensure both are still in good condition. 

  • Replace the fuel filter on riding mowers and make sure the tires are at proper inflation levels. 

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

While you can take care of most of the day-to-day maintenance yourself for annual servicing and repair tasks, you may prefer to hire a lawn mower repair service. The servicing is relatively inexpensive and helps to reduce repair costs and maximize the lifespan of your mower seed and have to replace it as often. You can hire a local lawn mower repair service to perform a yearly service and tuneup.

FAQs About Lawn Mower Maintenance

Do I need to lubricate my mower blades?

It's a good idea to lubricate your mower blades and mowing deck with something protective like WD40 that prevents rust and helps stop grass and dirt from sticking to the blades and deck.

Can you tip a lawn mower on its side?

Yes, you can tip a lawn mower on its side as long as you turn it with the carburetor side upwards. This prevents oil from leaking into the carburetor and reducing performance. You can also tip the mower backward as long as it's stable while you're working on the deck or blades for safety.

How sharp should lawn mower blades be?

Lawn mower blades should be sharp enough that you can feel the sharpened edge, but not sharp enough to cut you when you touch them. Over-sharpening blades to a fine, razor-edge poses a safety risk and decreases the blade's life because it causes extra wear; the thinner edge is sharper but weaker and will require more frequent sharpening.

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