How to store your lawnmower in your outdoor shed for the winter

Find space in your outdoor shed

As with any tool, lawnmowers will work better and last longer if you follow a regular maintenance schedule. In New England and other places with real winters, you’re safe assuming that you won’t need to mow from November through April. Before we all put our mowers away in our outdoor sheds for the winter, let’s follow these steps so they’ll be ready to go come spring.

Drain your gas tank

If you’re storing your lawn mower in an outdoor shed, gas left in the tank over the winter can gum up your mower’s carburetor, potentially causing rust and definitely hindering performance. However, draining your system may put undue wear-and-tear on your lawnmower’s fuel lines and carburetor, and will allow rust-causing condensation to form inside your gas tank. The best bet is to drain the old fuel and replace it with new fuel that includes an appropriate amount of stabilizer.

Here’s the “by-the-book” way of emptying the tank:

    • Add fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank;
    • Run the mower for a few seconds so that the fuel is distributed throughout the system;
    • Allow the engine to cool;
    • Once cool, siphon off excess gas into a clean can (so long as the fuel hasn’t been mixed with oil, you can add it to your car’s tank);
    • Restart the mower, and run it until it stops;
    • Repeat until the engine no longer starts;
    • Celebrate! Your lawnmower’s fuel lines are now empty.

Safety first!

Now that the fuel lines are empty, there’s one step you MUST do before going any further. Disconnect your mower’s sparkplug. Doing so means that your mower won’t accidentally kick-start, which is a common cause of injury.

Remove your lawnmower’s blade

It’ll be much easier to get at the guts of your mower for maintenance and cleaning if you remove the blade before diving in. To do so, set your mower on its side and unscrew the bolts holding it in place.

A word to the wise: Wear thick gloves! While the blade is detached, you also should either sharpen it yourself (HT: This Old House) or find some help by searching for a blade, knife, and tool sharpening shop in your area.

Drain the oil

Assuming your mower has a 4-cycle engine (as opposed to a 2-cycle engine, in which the oil is mixed in with the gas), you’re going to need to change the oil ahead of next spring.

As with any project, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. Have a drain pan ready, and place a tarp under the mower and pan to catch any drips. It’s also best to set your mower on its side with the carburetor and air filter facing up so that they avoid any oil or gas that might drip.

Once you’re set up, draining the oil is as simple as can be. With your mower on its side, simply remove the plug and slowly tilt it until the oil starts to drain into the pan. Replace the plug when the oil tank is empty.

Clean your toys!

In all seriousness, most of us love our tools. An easy way to show that love is to take proper care of them. Since you have the blade off and the oil and gas drained, now is the perfect time to clean your mower’s deck of all the caked-on, half-rotted grass clippings. Cleaning it up will also improve your mower’s performance, as the access to the discharge chute will again be clear, just like it was when you first fired it up.

To clean it, all you need is a putty knife or 5-in-1, a wire brush, a bit of elbow grease, and a hose. Post cleaning would also be a good time to apply some silicone spray, which will reduce the buildup of grass clippings next season. Once it’s clean, reattach your freshly sharpened blade and turn the mower upright.

Refill the oil tank

With the deck cleaned and the blade sharpened, it’s time to refill the oil tank. We’ve always found our mower’s perform best with lighter weight oils, like one of these SAE 30 or 30-weight oils, but be sure to check with your owner’s manual before filling. Of course, make sure you don’t overfill. And don’t forget to recycle your used oil at a service station.

Change the air filter

If the carburetor is the heart of your small engine – mixing fuel and air for combustion – then the air filter represents the lungs. A dirty air filter means your engine won’t burn gas efficiently.

If your mower uses a paper filter, simply replace it with a new one. Remove the cover by loosening the screw and tilting the cover down. Remove and discard the old paper cartridge filter and replace it with a new one, with the paper pleats facing out. Reattach the cover and be sure to tighten the cover screw.

If it’s an oil-soaked sponge filter, you’ll have a bit more legwork to do. First, wash the filter with soap and water and set it aside to dry. While you have the filter out, take a second to clean the cooling fins using a popsicle stick. Then, before reinstalling it, be sure to rub in a small amount of clean oil.

Replace the spark plug

First, remove the old spark plug using a spark-plug socket on your socket wrench. Spark-plug sockets have a protective lining that helps you avoid damaging the porcelain casing on your spark plug.

Before installing your new spark plug, be sure to check the gap between the straight and the curved electrodes. These should be set at the proper distance out of the box, but are easily damaged if you drop the plug. If there’s no gap or too big of a gap, your mower won’t start.

When you’re installing the new plug, first hand turn it until the threads catch. Then ratchet it down with your socket wrench until it stops; after that, tighten for one more quarter turn. Don’t over tighten it, though, as that can damage the plug and make it near impossible to remove.

Refill the gas tank

Some websites advise that you leave the fuel system empty over the winter. However, the hoses and other parts are designed to live “in fuel.”

You’ll never get every last drop of fuel out. The leftover fuel will attract oxygen, which will lead the fuel to gum up. If a piece of debris finds its way to the wrong place – like a needle valve tip – you’ll need to clean the carburetor to get your mower working again.

Fill the tank to about 95% full with fuel mixed with an appropriate amount of stabilizer. Run the engine for a couple of minutes so that the stabilized fuel becomes evenly distributed throughout your mower’s engine.

Find space in your outdoor shed

That’s it. You’re ready to store your mower away for the winter in your garden shed. What’s nice is that these instructions will work well for any other small gas-engine-powered tools you might have, including string trimmers and, flipping things around, your snow blower (if you have one).

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