Lawn mower maintenance isn’t rocket science, but ignoring it could send your yard care costs soaring. A little bit of DIY and TLC at the right time (usually the beginning of mowing season) will go a long way in making your mowing and lawn care smooth and easy, all season long. 

    There are generally two kinds of lawn mowers. A push mower, which can be gas-powered, electric, or even human-powered. The gas-powered, small engine type is the most common. Riding mowers and lawn tractors are gas-powered, as well. They’re great for big yards that are either flat or have gently sloping hills. They tend to be more expensive and more complicated to maintain because they have more parts.

    Lawn Mower Tune-Up Basics

    • Change the oil.
    • Replace the spark plugs.
    • Replace or clean the air filter.
    • Sharpen the lawn mower blades.
    • Clean the undercarriage.
    • Drain the gas tank.

    Changing the Oil

    Dirt and other debris can get into the oil and gunk things up, so you’ll want to begin every mowing season with an oil change. You will remove the drain plug, if your mower has one, and let the oil drain out. If your mower doesn’t have a cap, you’ll need to tilt the mower to drain the oil through the fill hole. Check with your owner’s manual for the best kind of oil for your lawn mower.

    Replace Spark Plugs

    If the seal on the old plug is leaking, replace it. You’ll also need to replace the spark plugs. The spark plug wires get worn, and that will affect the lawn mower’s ability to start the mower engine. The size of the spark depends on how wide the gap is — which is at the end of the spark plug. It’s a thin piece of metal that bends 90 degrees over the end of the plug. You can clean the gap if the lawn mower seems to sputter, or you can just buy a new plug and replace it.

    If your mower engine has the accordion-style paper filters, they’re easy to replace. If you have a foam filter, rinse it with a high powered hose and let it dry. 

    Sharpen Blades

    An essential maintenance tip includes sharpening your mower blades at least once during every mowing season. Dull blades stress your grass by ripping and tearing the grass blades, instead of cleanly cutting. You can sharpen your own blades with a metal file and vice, but you’re probably better off letting a pro do it or buying new blades. 

    Clean Underneath

    Credit: Electric mower underside, Hegwid Storch, CC by-SA 3.0

    While you’re at it, get rid of all the dirt and debris in the undercarriage. The grass clippings and debris can jam your mower’s discharge chute. Disconnect the spark plug first, to be on the safe side. A wire brush will loosen or remove most of the debris. Spray the rest out with a hose. It seems tedious, but it will make a difference to your lawn. The PennState Extension office warns, “Dull, improperly adjusted and dirty equipment not only destroys the aesthetic value of the turf by discoloration and bruising of the leaf tips, but also provides more ready access for disease organisms and insects through the damaged leaves.” 

    If you’re too busy to DIY, take it to a pro. If you bought your lawn mower new, the store or dealership may offer maintenance service. You can also lookup lawn mower repair shops online and see which ones perform regular maintenance. Expect to pay between $50 to $100, depending on your type of mower. 

    Drain Gas Tank

    Draining the gas tank is end-of-season maintenance. One of the biggest culprits, when a gas-powered lawn mower won’t start, is old gas. Drain whatever is left after the end of the mowing season, and start with a gas tank full of new fuel. Old oil and gas lose their effectiveness over time. Be sure to dispose of whatever you have left in your gas can, as well. This will eliminate a fire hazard in your garage. 

    As with any piece of outdoor power equipment, make sure your lawn mower is off before you begin any maintenance or repairs. It’s also important to check the oil level periodically, usually by using the dipstick. We’ve come a long way since lawn mowers took a lot of muscle and patience to operate. But modern machines need maintenance to be able to cut the grass season after season. These lawn mower maintenance steps should keep your riding lawn mower or your push mower in action for years — especially if you read the owner’s manual for individual brand and model details.