The Homeowner’s Guide to Winterizing Outdoor Equipment

Mowers, chainsaws, blowers — your outdoor power equipment needs to be prepared for winter if you want good performance next spring.

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Responsible ownership of outdoor power equipment involves regular maintenance, and winterizing is one of the most important maintenance steps. The process varies depending on the kind of equipment and how it’s powered.

Why Winterize Outdoor Equipment?

Preventing internal engine corrosion and deterioration is the main reason to winterize gas-powered outdoor equipment, but the work also provides a good chance to deal with dirt, wear and damage that may have occurred over the summer season.

The details of winterizing are different for equipment with two-stroke and four-stroke engines, and that’s why winterizing always begins with an understanding of what kind of engine you’ve got. Four-stroke engines have a bath of internal engine oil that must be changed periodically. Two-stroke engines burn a mixture of gasoline and oil, so there’s no oil to change. Electric outdoor equipment benefits from pre-winter maintenance too, as you’ll see.

Gas-Powered Four-Stroke Equipment

Walk-behind lawn mowers: Most walk-behind mowers have four-stroke engines, so an end-of-season oil change is part of winterizing. If your mower is the rare type with a two-stroke engine, there’s no oil to change. Follow all other winterizing steps here just the same.

  • If you’ve got compressed air or a leaf blower, blast all loose debris off the mower and make it as clean as you can.
  • There are two schools of thought for preventing gum deposits from developing in the carburetor and causing engine problems next spring. One involves running the gas tank dry until the mower quits, then leaving the tank empty over winter. The other utilizes fuel stabilizer added to a full tank of gas, then letting the engine run for a few minutes to get the treated gas into the carburetor.
  • Both approaches work, and regardless of which you choose, have a spray can of fogging oil ready to squirt into the open carburetor as the engine runs. This protects cylinder walls and valves from corroding over winter.
  • Remove the spark plug wire to prevent accidental starting, then tip the mower up and scrape off any dried grass from under the mower deck.
  • Inspect the blade and replace or sharpen so it’s ready for next spring.

Riding lawn tractors: All riding tractors have four-stroke engines, so winterizing begins with the same steps as for any four-stroke walk-behind mower.

  • Unlike walk-behind mowers, larger riding models often have an oil filter that should be replaced as part of an oil change.
  • Connect a trickle charger to keep your battery in good condition in the tractor, or remove the battery and bring it indoors for periodic charging over winter.
  • Top off tire pressure and inspect all drive belts, replacing any with cracks or frayed edges.

Tillers: Most have four-stroke engines, so begin with an oil change and fogging to protect against internal corrosion.

  • Inspect all belts and replace those that are cracked or frayed.
  • Remove caked-on dirt around the tines.

Pressure washers: Most pressure washers have four-stroke engines, so follow the procedure for changing oil. Run the engine dry of gas or treat a full tank with fuel stabilizer while fogging the engine.

  • If you live where winter temperatures drop below freezing, you’ll need to prevent water inside the pressure pump from freezing and breaking the pump. These pumps can’t usually be drained conveniently, so use a hose and funnel to pour non-toxic plumbing anti-freeze into the pump. With the spark plug wire removed, turn the engine over until anti-freeze comes out of the pump outlet.

Gas-Powered Two-Stroke Equipment

String trimmers: These typically have two-stroke engines so there’s no oil to change. Remove the air filter and fog the engine as it’s running dry of gas or after adding fuel stabilizer to a full tank. Replace the air filter, blow all debris off your trimmer, then replace the supply of string so you’re ready to work next spring.

Chainsaws: These almost always have two-stroke engines, so follow the same engine winterizing procedure as with a string trimmer. Top off the chain oil reservoir, inspect the chain, sharpen and adjust if needed before slipping a chain guard over the bar. Store the chainsaw in a cool, dry place, protected from the elements.

Leaf blowers: Perhaps the easiest of all to winterize because there’s little to do. Either run the tank dry or put fuel stabilizer into a full tank of gas and run the engine for a few minutes so treated gas reaches the carburetor. Fog the engine, then store your blower in a dry place.

Plug-In Electric and Battery-Powered Equipment

Without a gas engine, there’s far less winterizing to do on electric outdoor equipment such as trimmers, blowers and mowers. Still, fall is a good time to examine power cords for nicks and cuts and get them replaced or fixed.

Use a leaf blower or shop vacuum to clean dust and debris off your equipment, then wipe them down with a cloth when you’re done. Most of today’s lithium-ion cordless tool batteries are not harmed by storage in cold temperatures, but you might as well bring the batteries into a heated space and charge them fully before storage, just to be sure. The equipment itself doesn’t needed heated storage, just a covered, dry location.