Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Lawn Mower Maintenance

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There was a time when lawn work was looked on as strictly the guy’s job. In fact, it often took the strength of Hercules to pull the crank cord a minimum of 10-12 times just to start the darn machine!

Long gone are those days, though, as the lawn mower has evolved into a tool that any gender can operate with ease. You may think, however, that maintaining your mower is still a job best left for the man of the house. This, too, is simply not the case.

It’s very easy to take care of your mower; and, with some new innovations, yard work can actually be a fun chore. I’ll share with you some tips and tricks in keeping your yard picture-perfect and look at some of the great new mowers on the market to make life outside a lot easier.

Maintaining a Lawn Mower

At the start of the season, usually spring, there are three main areas to focus on when it comes to lawn mower maintenance:

  1. Change Oil: Even if you don’t think it needs it, do it! The oil should be changed at the beginning of every season. Over the course of the cutting season, dirt and other impurities will collect in the oil and those things will ruin an engine. Check with your mower’s owner’s manual for the proper procedure.
  2. Replace or Clean Spark Plug: That little space at the end of the plug where the metal end bends at a 90 degree angle is called the gap. Many manufacturers are now packaging new plugs with the gap pre-set, so it’s as simple as using a spark plug wrench to remove the old plug and installing a new one. However, it’s still a good idea to double-check the gap with an inexpensive spark plug gap tool just in case. Many people like to change the plug every year so you’re starting every cutting season with a new spark plug. You can also clean the plug and reuse it if it’s still in good condition. Read How to Change a Lawn Mower Spark Plug to find out more.
  3. Replace or Clean Air Filter: If the filter in your mower is an accordion-style paper type, simply remove the filter cover and blow out all the debris with a high-pressure air hose. When paper filters become too clogged and dirty, replace them. If the filter is made from foam, wash it in a water and detergent solution, let it dry, and apply a few drops of oil to it. In some rare cases, you may need to replace a foam filter; but most of the time, a simple cleaning will do. Read How to Change a Lawn Mower Air Filter to find out more.

Lawn Mower Blades

Lawn Mower Blades

I have separated the blade from regular maintenance, because this is more than just a standard upkeep. It takes a little extra effort to remove the blade and sharpen or replace the blade. Every year, though, this should be done prior to the first cutting. You need to have a sharp blade when cutting grass, otherwise it doesn’t cut the grass but, tears it instead, which can lead to a diseased lawn.

Before removing the blade, be sure to detach the spark plug wire to prevent the mower from accidentally starting. Then tilt the mower up and use a wrench
to loosen the bolt that holds the blade on by turning it counter clockwise.

Sharpening a blade can be done with a metal file, sharpening stone, or a motorized grinder. Regardless of the method used, follow the existing beveled edge on the blade by passing the file over the blade in the same direction each time.

An even easier way to sharpen the blade is to use a small grinding attachment for your cordless drill. Just place the blade in a bench vice and you can hone the edge with no trouble.

Watch How to Sharpen a Lawn Mower Blade to find out more.

Types of Lawn Mowers

Walk-Behind Lawn Mower

Push Mowers

For a small yard, a simple push mower is perfect. While some homeowners use push mowers to take care of a large yards, it takes several hours of work and defeats the whole purpose of making the chore easier. Don’t rush out and get the least expensive one, though. Remember, the whole point is to make yard work easier. A cheap mower won’t cut it, if you’ll pardon the pun. A larger cutting deck is a good feature. Many small mowers start at around 19”, but 21” is better. Also, think about how easy it is to crank and the type of bagging attachment (a rear bagger is easier to maneuver).

Battery powered cordless models are becoming more and more popular. Not only are they quieter and more environmentally friendly than gas powered models, but cordless electric mowers greatly reduce the maintenance needed, since they don’t need oil changes, spark plugs, or air filters.

Zero Turn Radius (ZTR) Lawn Mower

Riding Mowers

For a large yard, riding mowers are the toy of preference. Professional services use ZTR (Zero Turn Radius) mowers, which can turn on a dime. The new ZTR’s are a work of art focusing not only on performance, but also on comfort and style. They can include shock absorbers, larger wheels for a more comfortable ride, cushy seat with armrests and even cup holders! The biggest drawback for many homeowners is trying to operate the ZTR’s with the two separate directional levers.

The cutting decks for riding mowers start at 42”. While most homeowners don’t need one that’s too big, a 48”-50” model is ideal. If you want the “cool factor” of a ZTR with the convenience of a traditional tractor, consider Cub Cadet’s iSeries Zero Turn Tractors. They have a traditional steering wheel while still giving zero turn radius.

Lawn Mower Cutting Tips

Here are a few quick tips that will keep your lawn looking great:

  • Don’t cut wet grass: Aside from having a tendency to clog the machine and leave clumps of wet grass all over the yard, wet grass won’t cut easily. It tears, just as it does with a dull blade.
  • Set the cutting height to at least 1½”: Taller grass will hold moisture better and will also allow the root system to “grab hold” of the soil better, which means a healthier lawn.
  • Don’t mow in the same direction every time you cut: For example, one week mow north to south. The next week, mow east to west. This prevents ruts from forming in the yard and also lets the grass grow thicker.
  • Use a grass catcher for the first cut and last cut of the season: Use the mulching feature the rest of the time to reduce yard waste and add nutrients back into the yard.

Finally, if you need just a little more incentive to spend a day in the yard, remember this. According to the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, you can burn over 350 calories every hour you spend behind a push mower! Now that’s a great workout with added benefits!

Further Information



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38 Comments on “Lawn Mower Maintenance”

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  1. JAMES DAVIS Says:
    May 20th, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    i purchased a cub cadet l8 HP LT 10-40 AND I MOW A GOOD ONE AND 3 QUARTERS YARDS AND TO ME THE MOWER AND JOB IT DOES IS PERFECT……I JUST MUST SAY TO YOU AND BUILDERS… THANK – YOU

  2. michelle fortune Says:
    June 25th, 2007 at 9:37 am

    thanks for the insight concerning wet grass. was about to cut mine while wet until i read your article. will wait until the ground is dry.

  3. Barbara Says:
    July 4th, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    I wish you had a “printer-friendly” function here. Great info and needed to take it with me to the garage to do the work.

  4. Official Comment:

    Nicholas Roussos Says:
    July 5th, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Barbara,

    I adjusted the print style sheet so that you can just go to File->Print on any page, and it should print out really well for you.

  5. DIY: (653) Tool Guide: The Right Tool for the Right Job - Danny Lipford Says:
    May 7th, 2008 at 9:10 am

    [...] Lawn Mower Maintenance [...]

  6. jonb Says:
    May 11th, 2008 at 10:01 am

    A vehicle passed one side of my Honda rear wheel drive, self propelled walk behind mower. The resulting damages are one wobbling rear wheel which I am unable to take it out. The bolt fastened to the wheel is loose but can’t take it out either. Is it possible to DIY? Many thanks.

    jonb

  7. Bella Says:
    May 18th, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    We just bought our first house and are on the hunt for a mower! we would like to be as eco friendly as possible but still have ease getting the job done. What are our best choices for mowers under $300 as you mentioned above? Thanks! Bella.

  8. Melanie Says:
    June 24th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Just purchased a self propelled Honda and the third time using the self propelled feature, it just stopped working. Now it just grinds when you try to use it. I mow without using it and my son likes to use that feature. Is there any way I can DIY than taking it to a serviceman?

  9. Tracy Says:
    September 21st, 2008 at 7:06 am

    I need to change the back wheels on my lawnmower but I can’t figure out how to get the old ones off. There is cap type lug nut that I thought I would just unscrew but I can’t get it off. The rod or axle that the wheels are turn when I turn counter clockwise. The mower moves when I turn clockwise.

  10. Thom Fagan Says:
    November 14th, 2008 at 5:23 am

    My Honda mower (model HRB 475 SME) has a starter rope (lead)that frequently needs replacing. This costs a fortune to get the service guy to replace it.

    Can you tell how to replace it myself? I do not have a manual.

    Many thanks for your help.

    Thom

  11. mark gonzales Says:
    March 23rd, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I have a honda lawnmower it started fine but the blade is not turning what could be the problem.

  12. Lori Warrender Says:
    June 5th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    I put diesel fuel instead of regular gas in my push mower. I mowed the whole yard before I noticed it. What should I do now and what kind of damage did I probably do to the mower? Thanks, Lori

  13. J@Push Lawn Mower Says:
    November 30th, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Ive got and old Victa key start, that hasn’t started by the key for a long time, luckily it a cord as well. But lately its really hard to start. I’ve changed the plug but seem to be the same – what else could it be?

  14. Push Reel Mower Says:
    December 1st, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I know one way to get rid of all these problems for good, It worked for me. I got fed up with my petrol mower being a pain every time I had to cut the grass, So I bought a Reel type mower. With no motor , theirs no more headaches.

  15. marsha wallace Says:
    March 31st, 2010 at 8:47 am

    My honda mower did the same thing with the self propelled quitting on me after maybe 5 times mowing the yard. Any suggestions??

  16. Dee Says:
    April 24th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    I have a honda H2013 sitdown mower trying to remove the steering wheel, pull the bolt holding it on the colum but it wont come off? what do I need to do to get this off?
    thanks

  17. Hipolito M. Wiseman Says:
    July 14th, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    How to Start a Push Lawn Mower
    This is how to, in general, start a push lawn mower that runs on gasoline. Obviously, how to start your individual lawn mower may vary according to what brand and model of lawn mower you have.
    1. Make sure you have enough motor oil in your mower. Usually there is a cap on top of the mower body, smaller than the gas cap, that says "oil" or something similar. The cap will probably have an oil gauge attached, so check the oil as you would in a car, that is, judge the level of oil on the gauge against the depth of the reservoir (the length of the gauge).
    2. Make sure you have enough gasoline. There should be a clearly labeled cap on the gas tank. If you open it, you should be able to look down into the tank and see the approximate level. Add more (preferably using a funnel) if needed.
    3. Locate the prime button, usually red or black, a squishy button somewhere on the mower’s body. Push it between 3 and 4 times in order to force the gasoline into the lines.
    4. You may need to pull and hold a starting lever (a safety feature), or the lawnmower will not start no matter what you do.
    5. Brace your arm holding the starting lever, and pull upward on the pull cord, which you should find on top of the mower body. You may have to do this several times before the motor starts up.

  18. Irene Chrest Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Should you change the oil every spring on a push mower (not electric). What weight should be used? I have an inexpensive lawnmower WEEDEATER 300 and I love it.

  19. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 22nd, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Hi Irene,
    The manual for your lawn mower engine should give the weight and type of oil recommended as well as how often you should change it. If you don’t have a manual you can often find them online at the website for the lawn mower or engine manufacturer. Since many mowers use Briggs & Stratton engines, here’s a link to the Briggs & Stratton Manual Download page. You’ll need the model number and engine type to look up your manual. I change the oil in my (Briggs & Stratton engine) lawn mower once a year using a 30 weight high detergent oil. You don’t have to use it, but Briggs & Stratton sells oil for small engines which is available at many home centers and discount stores like Wal-Mart.

  20. mike Says:
    July 24th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Hello,
    I’m interested in changing a rear tire on a Honda self-propelled mower (rear drive)… not sure how to keep the wheel / shaft from turning in order to loosen the bolt? Any suggestions would be appreciated….Same issue as Tracy above… hope I don’t have wait 2 yrs for any answer!

    Also any tips on fine tuning the idle? This is an older honda mower with the aluminum deck. Many thanks. MS

  21. Peggy Sharp Says:
    March 19th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I am trying to change the WHEEL on my John Deere 110 lawn tractor. I removed the old wheel without problems. The instructions say put the new wheel on the rod. IT will not go own. I am female, older. Is it suppose to be hard?

  22. martin Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I have a honda 700.00 dallar honda harmony. hrm215 it has the 6 or 7 speed transmission. Problem, it has spent 95% of its time just setting,because the rear wheels lock and will not roll backwards. Can it be fixed? If you work the gear shift and rock it it may release but not for long.. It is a nightmare to use.

    Thank you

  23. Aaron Walkington Says:
    May 16th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I recently bought a Weedeater Brand small mower Briggs & Stratton 500 series 158 cc 21″ cut. I used it twice to mow our yard and when i went to use it again it wouldn’t start.. sounds like moisture could have got into gas. We don’t have a shed to put it in, but had it covered with plastic container.. What can I do?

  24. GoldEagle2011 Says:
    May 17th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    If you’re having trouble getting your engine started, try Start Your Engines! Add it directly to the fuel tank, and it will ease the startup process immensely by revitalizing the fuel system. It also takes care of rough idling and stalling issues. It cleans the fuel systems and prevents corrosion and rust, extending your mower’s life.

    Thanks, Danny for your great work, and keep it up!

  25. Melissa Says:
    May 23rd, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I accidentally put oil in my gas tank on my mower, how do i fix this? I drained it all out but I am still afraid to use it, not knowing what damage it may have caused. Please help!

  26. Linny Dearman Says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 9:04 am

    right side of craftsman at rear wheel well-have black wire hanging down with serrate end fixture looks like just goes over bolt and maybe is ground for something but can find nothing to attach it to_ any ideas wh
    ere it cam e loose from

  27. Sandra Hughes Says:
    August 14th, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I need a change cable for a Honda HRM215-OL lawn mower. Where can I get one?

  28. S Ley Says:
    October 1st, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I have a honda self propelled walk behind HRX217 and the left rear wheel has a clunking noise when I turn right. I looked for a place to grease it but found nothing. Do I just need to take it to a service person?

  29. spencer will Says:
    October 10th, 2011 at 2:37 am

    pls send me maintainance checklist

  30. Tracy Blair Says:
    April 3rd, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I accidently put gas in where the oil goes in my push mower. What should I do?

  31. Nan Says:
    April 15th, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I have a rear wheel self-propelled Troy Built mower. When it isn’t running it’s very hard to push unless I lift the rear wheels off the ground, not very easy to do when moving the mower. If I don’t do that the rear wheels make a grinding sound. I just had a new transmission put in the mower as the original one only lasted 1.5 years and the repairman said it was defective. Troy did nothing to help me with this cost. Just need to know how to push the mower when it isn’t running. Please any help much appreciated.

  32. jim m Says:
    April 23rd, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    i have a husvarns mower with a honda motor had the carb rebuilt and it tries to start spit and sputter and then wont try at all to start even with starting fluid what now

  33. Thomas Gilbert Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Danny, could you discuss fuel additives for the 10% ethanol gasoline? I’ve heard gas without ethanol is best for small engines and the gas with ethanol will ruin a small engine.

  34. Kristina Says:
    May 8th, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Hello i have had the most basic push mower for comming up on 8yrs now. i had it professionally serviced around 5 yrs ago. otherwise i seem to be able to keep in running ok. I treat with Stabil in spring and have replaced a filter before. i feel like i should be able to replace a spark plug altho ill have to read up how to check or ensure the gap. The oil needs to be changed as well. My question is ive used it twice this season and both times it remains running for about a min. after i release the handle. what does this mean and what would cause this. Thx!

  35. carl Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I have a toro recycler that just won’t run more than a few seconds, it has been serviced ar home depot 3x. I have changed gas, oil, plug, air filter,governer spring,throttle spring. Is there a fuel filter or something else I’ve missed or over looked, the mower will run if you tilt it back about 4 or 5 inches? I need help

  36. Joe Says:
    January 11th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    what rating oil should I use when changing oil? SAE 10W30, 5W30, etc.

  37. Wayne Frye Says:
    May 2nd, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Hi,

    I have a 22″ Briggs and Stratton engine 500 series 158 cc lawn mower that runs only at half throttle. It was running at fulll throttle until I was half finished with the lawn and then it slowed down to half throttle. I believe I might have a partial plugged fuel filter and want to change it but where is it and how do I get to it to pull it out of the fuel line? Thanks.

    Wayne

  38. Trevor de Git Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 3:42 am

    My son filled up my mower with liquid detergent instead of mower fuel and tried starting it . Any idea on what I should do. I have drained it all out and cleaned it out the best I could do and re fuelled the tank and tried starting it but nothing

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