How to Winterize a Riding Lawn Mower?

As the grass grows less and less between cuts and the blades, approach their ideal winter height, taking care of lawn tractor equipment is the last task of the mowing season. Lawn equipment is made to last for many years but is up to us to do our part to keep it maintained and fine-tuned all year round. 

The first year I got a riding mower, I didn’t know much about how to winterize it. Luckily for me, I had emptied the fuel tank before storing it, and all I needed to do was replace the oil filter in the spring to get it working again. But I very quickly learned how fortunate I was that no issues occurred and what a hugely important thing winterizing ride mowers is for lawn mower storage. 

Why Do Mowers Need to Be Winterized?

When grass goes dormant, you can pack away your mowing season yard equipment and replace it with our winter gear. Before you store your ride mower, you will want to winterize it and give yourself the greatest probability of starting the next mowing season off successfully. There are several parts of the mower that need to be looked at as you prepare to cover it up for several months of inactivity. 

Winter is cold, and the cold causes liquids and solutions to react unpredictably. Mowers and all mechanical equipment have lots of fluids that are needed to make everything run. If these liquids are left inside the machine without being properly treated, you could do serious damage to your tank, tubes, and gaskets. Make sure all fluids are topped up, treated, or emptied. 

Every part of the mower that is accessible and replaceable should be cleaned, inspected, and replaced as needed to avoid undiscovered damage come spring. Most of the time, this is filters, spark plugs, and other accessories. Air filters, fuel lines, and battery terminals can usually use a cleaning every winter. Make sure to clean the mower deck with a garden hose and take other maintenance steps to keep the mower clean.

Ride Mower Winterizing Checklist

Without going through the entire process of winterizing a mower, you may not know you are missing a step. Most of these simple steps are vital to having longterm well performing outdoor power equipment. I did not have a comprehensive list of the winterizing process when I first started mowing, but now I do; follow these steps to keep your gas-powered mowers running smoothly.

StepPurposeHow To
Clean TractorRemove organic matter and pest eggsSpray with a hose or power washer and use the discharge chute to dislodge grass clippings and other chunks of debris
Sharpen BladesMake clean cuts on early grass and young bladesDrill and sharpening stone
Change the OilRemove old dirty oil and replace it with clean lubricating oilEmpty the old oil into a can and replace it with new manufacturer-instructed oil 
Empty the Gas Tank Fuel without a fuel stabilizer goes bad and damages internal engine partsSiphon out all the old fuel and let turn on the engine to burn off the remainder in a well-ventilated area
Remove Spark PlugPrevent the mower from accidentally startingOpen the hood and pull out the spark plug
Remove BatteryProtect terminals from corrosionUnclip the terminals and take the lawn mower battery out and place high on the shelf in a cool, dry area away from heat sources
Lubricate all cable and pivot pointsSafety Precautions and preparing the mower for storage over several monthsSpray cable movement points and joints with a high-quality lubricant to ensure rust protection
Store in a Cool, Dry PlaceKeep mechanical components dry and at a stable temperaturePark the riding mower in a covered structure and place a tarp over top to keep dust and critters out

1) Clean the Tractor

The first step to preparing a mower for winter storage is to clean all the yard waste off of it. By the end of the season, the mowing deck will be covered in leaves and grass clippings, as well as other yard waste. It is hard to do any of the other maintenance steps without first clearing the mower of debris.

A lot of the green material stuck to a mower will dry out as it sits in storage. Outdoor equipment can bring in plenty of dirt, but it also gives pest eggs a place to hatch and survive during the cold months. Clumps of grass and brown grass stuck in the mower can be used by mice and other rodents to nest during the colder months of winter.

2) Sharpen Mower Blades

Get the lawn mower dry and clean, and then you can sharpen the blades. If the blades are solid and just a bit dull, then sharpening them is no problem. Temporarily remove the spark plug to prevent the mower from accidentally starting. Using a drill with an attached sharpening stone designed to revitalize dulled mower blades, put the edge back on your equipment.

If the blades are damaged, then you will need to replace them. Damaged blades are blades that have large chips or are bent in any way. Continuing to mow with damaged blades can lead to mechanical failure and severe injury or death, so make sure to check your blades before winter storage. 

3) Change the Oil

After a full season of mowing, your oil will be dark black and sludge-like. On a tarp in a well-ventilated area, drain the oil into an appropriate receptacle. Once the oil is out, replace the oil filter to ensure clean operation in the spring. Fill the lawn mower engine with new oil according to the manufactures instructions. 

Dirty oil can become corrosive and clog the carburetor. If you leave sludge in your oil lines, then it will be very difficult to start the engine in the spring. Make sure to clean the lines as best as you can before adding new oil to help prolong your engine’s life. 

4) Empty the Gas Tank

Fuel goes bad only a few months after being pumped and needs to be used or modified to avoid waste. Once the mower has been cleaned and moved where it needs to go, you can siphon out the fuel and then run the engine to remove the rest. When running the engine, make sure the area is well-ventilated to reduce accidental exhaust poisoning.

If you don’t want to empty your tank, you can add a fuel stabilizer to a gas tank and top off your mower’s fuel. Remember to replace the fuel filters yearly to help your engine get the cleanest burn and most efficient performance out of the gas. Clogged fuel filters can prevent a mower from starting in the spring, and the ethanol in old fuel can damage the internal parts of the engine. 

5) Remove the Spark Plugs

Briggs & Stratton Spark Plug For OHV Engines 5092K

A spark plug is the ignition point that starts the engine. If a short or anything occurs in storage, the spark plug could fire, and the engine could start. An unoccupied piece of mechanical equipment starting on its own in storage is a terrifying thought for several reasons. 

Open the hood and remove the spark plug and store it in a warm, dry place. If the plug is old and the contact is weak, try to clean it with a wire brush. If it is still unusable, replace the spark plug the following spring when you are ready to mow again so your mower will start up with no problems.

6) Remove the Battery

To avoid corrosion and other issues associated with long-term battery storage, it is a good idea to remove it and place it somewhere safe. A battery that is old and unresponsive can be replaced at this point to help your mower turn on and run better in the spring. 

Open the hood and unclip the red and black terminals. Pull the battery out and place it high up on a shelf where it will stay dry. You can use a terminal cleaner to remove any buildup around the terminals and clean up the battery to help it store better. Replace any damaged or cracked batteries immediately. 

7) Lubricate all Cable and Pivot Points

Many parts of the mower move and rub against other parts. This continuous friction can lead to damage if lubrication isn’t added. A high-quality spray lubricant is the best solution for keeping all parts moving smoothly. 

Any part of the mower that needs to glide and is prone to sticking can use a bit of lube. Make sure to locate any metal parts that could rust over time and keep them lubricated to ensure easy maintenance in the future. Wipe off any excess lubrication to avoid staining or other unsightly marks on your mower deck

8) Store In a Cool, Dry Place

Once everything is cleaned, removed, and replaced, you are ready to leave your mower for a few months of well-deserved rest. It might also be time to pull out the snow blower if that’s the climate you have. Park the mower somewhere out of the elements that is cool and dry.

It is also a good idea to toss a tarp over your mower and other outdoor equipment. A tarp can help keep dust off of your mower and keep it clean and ready until spring. A tarp may also act as a barrier to keep insect and animal pests from climbing inside your tractor to nest for the winter. Keep tarps on hand to keep your valuable equipment even safer in storage.