Regular maintenance will pay off in the long run

During the growing season, we depend on backpack sprayers, spreaders, lawn mowers and tank sprayers to maintain the landscape. You can keep them in good working condition during the year through regular blade sharpening and cleaning, but paying your equipment special attention at frequent, regular intervals will pay dividends. To make sure they continue serving your business well into the future, take time to clean and maintain them.


Removing caked-on residues will result in fewer instances of off-target pesticide or fertilizer applications.
PHOTO BY JOHN C. FECH, UNL.

Why is cleaning necessary?

Cleaning isn’t something that just improves the appearance of the equipment, although many client surveys indicate that clean trucks and well-groomed and uniformed application technicians provide a sense of legitimacy and favorable impression for the company. People just feel good about using a service provider that looks good, and are likely to remain a customer. Most certainly, a negative impression is created when clients observe a disheveled-looking dude walking aimlessly across their lawn with a leaking sprayer strapped to their back. In this sense, cleaning and repairing the equipment is a step towards client retention.

There are also several other benefits from cleaning the application equipment, which stem mainly from the removal of the buildup of product residues, weed seeds and other foreign objects in spray tanks and spray tank linings. A recent conversation with the owner of a lawn care business revealed that following inspection of his equipment – where he was expecting to find some dirt and grime inside – he was amazed to find several small pieces of shrub stems, a few grass seed heads and what seemed like half a pound of dirt. No wonder it didn’t work very well.

Once the debris and residues have been removed, the uniformity of application will improve, greater pest control will occur, and the life of the unit will lengthen. All of these result in cost savings for the lawn care operator as the need to replace equipment is reduced, as well as callbacks and the need for repeat treatments.


The nozzles of small sprayers are not immune to becoming clogged with dirt, plant pieces and debris.
PHOTO BY JAMES KALISCH, UNL.

How to get started

Begin by cleaning the equipment thoroughly. Remove all loose landscape debris from the top of the mower housing, and scrape under the deck with a putty knife to remove stuck-on grass hunks. Be sure to pull the spark plug wire off the plug before reaching under the deck.

One of the most commonly used pieces of equipment for cleaning turf equipment is the pressure washer. Naturally, pressure washers are available in all sizes, capacities and degrees of functionality. Most of the more deluxe models offer an array of accessories such as power brooms, sandblasters, extension hoses, detergent injectors, rotating nozzles, quick connect nozzles, hose reels and trigger guns.


All sorts of extraneous material can get caught on and retained by sprayers.
PHOTO COURTESY OF USDA.

Because there are many manufacturers and options, consider starting the selection process with an Internet search and taking notes on the choices available for cleaning turf equipment. Just like many other things, you get what you pay for. When choosing equipment to clean application devices, keep cost in perspective and treat it as only one of the selection factors. Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a good-quality pressure washer. Many models are much more costly, depending on the features offered.

Most likely, the best place to learn about a pressure washer is at an outdoor trade show where you can really see the units in action and determine which model is best for your operation. Finally, chat with other turf managers about what you’ve seen on the web and in person. In some cases, the durability, longevity and the availability of replacement parts is a factor that one can only learn about from second-hand experiences.

Clean and replace the oil and air filters. Next, fill the spray tank with soapy water and spray it out on the lawn. Follow up by rinsing the sprayer inside and out with water a few times. Investigate local regulations regarding the fate of the rinsate water for both pesticides and debris that are removed from mowing and spray equipment.

Read the owner’s manual


These white pellets in the middle of road could be the result of using a poorly calibrated or clogged spreader. Not only is this illegal and wasteful, the potential for water pollution is high due to the location of the storm sewer.
PHOTO BY JOHN C. FECH, UNL.

When all else fails, read the owner’s manual. For some equipment, specific instructions are provided for cleaning, usually relating to recommended detergents or cleaning products. Locations of distributors for cleaners and materials to be avoided may also be provided in the manual.

Post-cleaning activities

Once the equipment is clean, replace any worn parts that you noticed while cleaning. Look for worn nozzles, loose fittings and clamps, burnt spark plugs, loose bolts, and cracked hoses and belts. It can be demoralizing to start out on a job with great-looking but broken equipment.

Next, drain the oil from the reservoir, and replace it with fresh oil. If cleaning is part of a winterizing routine, run the mower until all of the gasoline is burned or add fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Be sure to lube all moving parts and replace any that exhibit signs of corrosion. Finally, inspect tires for signs of wear or imbalance and tighten loose nuts and bolts. Overall, most applicators wouldn’t describe cleaning and maintaining spray and mowing equipment as great fun, but once the job is done, you can feel good about taking care of valuable company tools.

John Fech is an extension educator specializing in turf and ornamentals at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.