As with all garden tools, routine care and maintenance is necessary to improve performance and extend the life of your lawn mower. Here is a guide to cleaning and maintaining your lawn mower to help keep it running safely and efficiently for as long as possible.
Keeping Your Lawn Mower Clean
For a rotary mower, clean the mower deck and engine housing after each use. To do this, disconnect the spark plug cable and turn the mower on its side, spark plug up. If you're worried about fuel leaking out, place a small piece of plastic under the gas cap before tipping the mower onto its side. Use a 3" putty knife to scrape away any caked on grass and dirt from the exposed areas under the deck.
For riding or tractor mowers, cleaning underneath the mower deck is a bit more complicated. One methods is to raise the deck and spray underneath it with an air hose, or a strong jet from the garden hose (be sure to let dry thoroughly in the sun before storing). Another method is to drive your mower onto a sturdy set of ramps so you can reach underneath to scrape it clean.
Routine Care and Maintenance
In addition to cleaning, there are other maintenance jobs to take care of before, during, and after the mowing season. These are usually minimal, but be sure to follow your manufacturer's maintenance recommendations as closely as possible.
Beginning of the Season:
- Mowing the lawn is a dusty business. Replace the air filter at the beginning of each season. Saturate new foam filters with fresh engine oil.
- Check the gas and oil caps to see if they need to be cleaned and change the oil filter if necessary. Finally, fill the mower with fresh fuel and oil, using the type recommended by the manufacturer.
Throughout the Season:
- From your lawn's point-of-view, the most important part of regular lawn mower maintenance is keeping the cutting blades in good shape. Inspect them for damage every couple of weeks during the mowing season-after approximately 15 hours of use. If the blade appears noticeably damaged (bent, badly chipped, or curled), consider replacing it completely or taking it to a professional for possible repair. When the blades start to "rip" the grass instead of cutting it cleanly, it's time to sharpen them.
- Inspect the belts and drive chain occasionally for damage or wear. (Chains should be cleaned in solvent, and then oiled to keep them working efficiently.) Most mowers are designed so that the chain or belt has about ¼ inch of slack mid-way between the pulleys. If it becomes necessary to make an adjustment to achieve proper tension, take your mower to an authorized dealer or experienced small engine mechanic for servicing.
- Periodically inspect and clean the spark plug, spark plug cable, carburetor and carburetor linkage, and the starting system. Unless it becomes corroded or damaged, a spark plug will usually last two or three years before needing to be replaced. Check your owner's manual. To ensure a consistent spark and reliable starting, some manufacturers recommend replacing them annually (or every 100 hours).
- Replace air filters every three months (or after 25 hours of use) throughout the mowing season (more often during very dusty conditions). If your air filter element is made of foam, it must be oiled and serviced regularly to keep it from drying out.
- Schedule oil changes according to the manufacturer's directions.
End of the Season:
- Before putting your mower away for the winter, remove the gasoline and run the engine until it stops from lack of fuel. If you choose to keep gasoline in your engine before storing, filling the tank helps to prevent moisture from condensing in your fuel tank. Add a fuel stabilizer to help prevent gum from forming in the system.
- If your mower is equipped with a battery, disconnect the cable from the terminal and remove the battery (store in a cool, dry place).
- Finally, clean the mower deck and engine housing thoroughly, and remove and sharpen the blades so they will be ready for next year.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com