Late fall is traditionally the time of year when homeowners put their outdoor tools up for the winter. Unfortunately, early spring often reveals the moves they should have made to protect their lawnmowers, edgers, hoses, sprayers and hand tools from winter’s wrath. Follow our tool maintenance checklist to avoid these common mistakes and keep your tools stored in good condition over winter.

“Winter is the time to do basic maintenance on your tools; to check them out, see if things need to be replaced or sharpened or reorganized or even thrown out,” says professional organizer Justin Klosky, owner of the Los Angeles-based OCD Experience home organization service. “That way, you’ll be excited to use them again when the dormant winter season ends.”

Wintertime Tool Maintenance Checklist

But what’s the best way to do this? Should you store your gas mower empty or full, and why? Sharpen and lubricate hand tools now or wait ‘til spring?  Keep them in that funky outdoor shed or haul them inside?  Follow our handy tool maintenance checklist below to make sure your hand and power tools are in good working condition when you need them.

Mower Maintenance

Winter poses several preventable hazards to what is likely your most expensive outdoor tool, your gas mower.

To prevent gas and winter moisture from rusting the tank, it’s recommended that you:

  • Run your mower until it’s empty before storing
  • Or add fuel stabilizer to a full tank and run the stabilized fuel briefly to lubricate the carburetor.
  • Disconnect the battery to prevent corrosion and accidental starts
  • Clean battery terminals with metal brush and store away from combustibles
  • Disconnect ignition wire and remove the spark plug.

Finally, thoroughly clean your mower and store in a cool, dry place away from any appliances with pilot lights.

Handy Tips for Hand Tools

Yearly pre-winter maintenance of shovels, clippers, trimmers and trowels will both save you money and add spring to your spring gardening.

  • Do an inventory of your tools and check for any wear and tear or signs of damage.
  • File off chips and dents
  • Use steel wool to restore rusty surfaces
  • Sand smooth any rough wooden handles
  • Lubricate metal parts with WD-40 to prevent rust and cover wooden handles with linseed oil
  • Test to see your electric tools are in working order and that there are no loose parts or frayed electrical cords.

As for string trimmers, unplug them from their charging station, replace their line if needed and store them out of the weather.

Garden Hoses and Sprayers

Winter presents the perfect downtime to clean and repair your water bearers.

For hoses:

  • Remove and drain the nozzles
  • Search for any leaks in need of repair, either with waterproof electrical tape or hose repair tape.
  • Check the incoming nozzle for cracked or missing rubber washer. Replace if necessary.
  • When dry, coil them to protect from kinking and hang them out of the weather.

Garden sprayers deserve a winter bath inside and out with soapy water to make sure the spray is fully functional. Allow to dry thoroughly, then store with the hoses. This process will keep them in good condition and extend the life of your sprayers.

Consider a Tool Organizer

As you go through the tool maintenance checklist, it might be good time to better organize your tools so they are ready to use in the spring. If you find your yard tools scattered in inconvenient locations around the house, it may be time to consider a tool organizer for your work area.

“There are do-it-yourself ways to approach tool storage,” says Klosky. “You can install a simple pegboard and figure out for yourself how you want to be organized, but if you’re going to do that, you want to map it out first before you start purchasing things. Lay it out on the ground like a puzzle, dump the pieces and plan how you want it to look before you put it together.”

If bringing order to chaos is not your strength, Klosky recommends ready-built options like The Container Store’s Elfa System.

“It’s very mix-and-matchy, so you can customize it any way you want,” he explains. “And if you need a new piece or a new shelf, they’ll exchange it out for a new piece of equipment.”

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Jay MacDonald