What Size Tarp Do I Need To Cover A Push Mower? (Plus Other Considerations)
When I ran out of room in my shed and garage, I had to make the decision to either buy (or build) a bigger shed or figure out a way to keep some of my things outside. Turns out, it's possible to keep your mower outside and cover it with a tarp. But that doesn't come without its drawbacks (more on that later). The fundamental question of course is, what size tarp do you need to cover your push mower?
A 5x7 foot tarp is big enough to cover most push mowers, if you fold the handle down. With the handle fully extended, I recommend an 8x10 foot tarp.
I stored my mower outside (covered with a tarp) for two full seasons, and I learned a thing or two in the process. I personally used a Grizzly Tarps 8x10 waterproof tarp (this one) and kept my mower handle extended (because I'm lazy).
But I later found out that you can't just cover your mower with a tarp and forget about it, especially during long periods of storage. So if you can't store your push mower inside, read on and check out what I learned while looking into using a tarp to protect my little mower from the elements.
Which Type of Tarp?
The two most useful types of tarps for our purpose here are poly and canvas. Poly tarps are waterproof, but they are more prone to tearing than canvas. Canvas tarps are tough and breathable, but they are only water resistant. If water pools on top of canvas, it will eventually leak through.
Mainly because fo the "waterproof" factor, I highly recommend poly tarps over canvas. It's difficult and nearly impossible to cover your mower in such a way that puddles won't form on top of the mower, and thus water would leak through, defeating the whole purpose of covering your mower.
Side note: grommets are pretty much useless for our purposes here. So don't choose one tarp over another simply because it has more grommets.
How To Properly Cover Your Mower
Method #1: The Simple Way (Tarp)
Of course the easiest thing to do is put the tarp over your mower and tuck the edges and corners under the mower. It wouldn't be hard to find bungee cord or some rope to secure the tarp over the mower for better wind resistance.
What You'll Need
The problem here is that, while this will keep rain and snow off the mower, it doesn't actually protect against moisture. The key word here is condensation. Moisture from humid air and the ground will get underneath the tarp no matter how tightly wrapped you have it. This can cause rust. Worse yet, that moisture can work its way into the fuel system. Even if you drain the gas and add fresh fuel, there is no practical way to get water out of the fuel system once it's in there.
So if you're just going to cover your mower with a tarp, you have to pay attention to the weather. After a rainstorm passes and less humid weather moves in, you should uncover the mower and allow it to dry. Then you cover it again.
For extra protection from moisture and condensation, put another tarp or a piece of plywood (not press board or particle board) underneath the mower.
If all of that seems to be a lot of trouble, that's because it is. There are better ways to protect your push mower with a tarp. While initially a bit more time consuming, you will actually save time if you put in a little extra effort and use one of the following ideas I have come across.
The Rigid Cover
Imagine a big box with four sides and a top that is made of a simple PVC frame and has a tarp as the covering. You just place it over the mower. You'll want to stake it to the ground, but that is easier than wrapping bungee cords around a bulky mower.
The materials will cost about $25, not including the tarp (add about $10 for a tarp). Some DIY experience would be helpful but is by no means necessary.
What You'll Need
To start, measure your mower's footprint. Fold the handle down and use a tape measure to find the length and width of the mower. Dont forget that the width will include the clipping chute. Then measure the height at the tallest point, which will be the handle. Add a foot to each of the measurements.
Now cut four lengths of PVC pipe for the length and four for the width. Use four of the connectors to join the bottom part of the frame. Don't forget to use pipe cement on the connections!
Now cement the vertical pipes into each of the corners. Cement the remaining connectors to the tops of the vertical pipes. Now build the top of the frame. You will end up with a rectangular PVC frame that you will cover on all four sides and the top with tarps. Glue the tarps to the frame with your PVC cement, or you can use cable ties.
Your local home improvement store's friendly sales associates can help you select the hardware you need if you need help.
This cover will keep the weather off your mower and allow some air circulation to prevent excess condensation. And remember: Using a tarp or other waterproof barrier as a ground cover will help keep that damaging condensation from building up.
The Pup Tent
This is a much simpler way to use a tarp for outdoor push mower storage. All you need is one large tarp, rope, some stakes and four or six spring clamps.
First, find a spot in your yard with two tie-off points for the rope. They should be from five to ten feet apart and three to six feet off the ground. A couple trees can work. You may even decide to pound a couple field fence posts into the ground for your mower tent.
Tie your rope securely to one point. Then pull it tight, and tie it to the other. Make sure it is at least somewhat level. You want the rope to be as low as practical so you don't need that big of a tarp to make the tent.
Now let's figure out how big of a tarp you need. The length is pretty easy to figure out. You want it to be at least a couple feet longer than your mower is from front to back. The width is a bit more complicated, unless you are familiar with The Pythagorean Theorem. Let's keep it simple and just estimate that a push mower, with the handle folded, needs a 12-foot wide tarp.
Pull the tarp over the rope so it is pretty well centered and park your mower underneath. Use the spring clamps to close both ends and the stakes to secure the edges to the ground. This tent keeps rain off the mower but still allows the needed air circulation, much like the rigid cover outlined above.
Other Considerations - Don't Skip This Part!
So far, we have talked about ways to protect your push mower with a tarp if you are unable to keep it indoors. A mower can survive many seasons of outdoor storage if it is kept relatively dry. Now I want to tell you how to prepare your mower for storage. You'll notice that almost all of the prep is aimed at keeping moisture off of and out of the mower.
If you'll be mowing again within a couple weeks, you only need to clean your mower before parking it.
Get as much gunk out from underneath the deck as you can. Clippings are over 80 percent water. Not only will those moist clippings accelerate the formation of rust, they will release their moisture into the surrounding air as they dry. This humid air under the tarp will deposit its water on your mower when the temperature drops at night. This would be less of a problem with one of those rigid covers or pup tents, but less humidity is always better for storage.
Wipe the dust, pollen and other fine debris from the rest of your mower. A dusty covering will pull moisture from the air and hold it against your mower.
Long-term And Off-season Storage
Winter storage under a tarp basically requires the same preparation that indoor winter storage does, but it is much more crucial.
Clean the mower just as you would for short-term storage. Go a little further and give it a good washing with car soap and warm water. Make this last cleaning of the season the best.
Set the front wheels up on blocks and let the mower sit, preferably in the sun, so any hidden moisture can dry. This should take a couple hours. Then spray some oil on the underside of the deck. Make sure the blade is well-oiled too.
Don't forget about your fuel system. The ethanol in today's gas pulls moisturefrom the air and holds it much more readily than pure gasoline. Fuel contaminated with water wreaks havoc on small engines. Remove the gas cap and carefully tilt the mower to pour the gas out of the tank and into a wide container. Replace the gas cap and start the mower. It should run for only a couple seconds, if it starts at all, until all of the gas remaining in the hose and engine is burned up.
Now remove the spark plug and put of few drops of motor oil directly into the cylinder. Try to start the mower again. Just a couple pulls of the starter cord will do. It won't start without fuel, but we're just trying to spread that oil evenly throughout the cylinder to protect it from any moisture that may be present. Install a new spark plug.
Whether you cover your mower with a tarp or spend a little time making a tent or rigid cover, make sure everything is sealed up as tight as possible. Stakes work well to hold tarp edges to the ground, and spring clamps are great for securing everything else.
Tarps rank right up there with duct tape and WD-40 on the list of the most useful things of all time. They come in several colors, various materials and many sizes. A good 5-by-7 foot one is the perfect size to cover a push mower for a few days, or even for the winter.
But the versatility of tarps allow them to be used to construct a mini-shed of sorts, like one of the two basic designs I described above. Either of these would make a fun project that could possibly add years to the life of your mower by helping to keep the rust away.