12 Essential Portable Generator Maintenance Tips

Proper generator maintenance can be a lifesaver. Where maintenance includes planning, knowing what to check for, and proper storage.

And the maintenance tips we discuss, I recommend to my industrial clients. So, they’ll certainly crossover to your at-home portable generator. Just ensure your generator is off and cool before doing any work, to avoid electric shocks, burns, and explosions.

Important Note: every generator comes with an owner’s manual. So, become familiar with your manual, as it’s unique for every generator model. Then, follow the recommended maintenance schedule and safety guidelines.

The 12 generator maintenance tips in this article do not supplant what’s in your manual. Rather, they supplement your manual if it’s incomplete. 

#1 Maintain superb airflow with a clean air filter

A poorly conditioned air filter is more likely to tear and damage a generator. And if you’ve ever replaced your HVAC unit or car filter, you know how quickly they get nasty. Portable generator filters are no different.

So, replace them if they look dirty. Especially, given how cheap they are and they’ll save you future repair costs.

Then, if you’re constantly running your generator, take even extra safety measures. I recommend checking your air filter’s condition every time your generator runs. Then for sake of simplicity, replace it every month to avoid future issues.

Important Note: if you decide to wash your air filter, take caution it doesn’t tear. Gently wash with soapy water and a clean soft cloth. Then, allow it to air dry for 24 hours, before inserting back into the generator. 

#2 Engine cleaning and inspection

portable electrical generator side view
Photo Credit: Petr.adamek

The engine is the heart of your generator. So keep it clean and in supreme condition. But remember, don’t ever use a pressure washer. You can do more harm than good.

Instead, use a compressed air duster to remove dust. Then, use a clean soft rag with a degreaser to remove any dirt and grime.

As an added tip, when you clean your generator, be alert and check for issues. Maybe you find a broken part as you clean the engine crevices.

#3 Check the fuel strainer

Inspect the fuel strainer in the fuel tank monthly. If you find any clumped-up particles, clean the strainer. And if the strainer has any type of damage like holes, replace it in kind.

To clean your fuel strainer, backflush fuel or carburetor and choke cleaner through the nozzle. If this doesn’t work, blow low-pressure air through the strainer nozzle. Don’t use any pressure greater than 10 psi though.

A clogged fuel strainer can cause the following issues:

  • Engine starting difficulties
  • Reduced fuel efficiency
  • Sputtering engine
  • Irregular high engine temperatures

#4 Check fuel lines

Through a lot of use, generator fuel lines take a beating. They can crack, tear, or become clogged. As a result, gas may not reach your generator’s fuel system. Your generator then may run inefficiently, or it may not even start.

I recommend you immediately replace any damaged fuel lines. It’s not worth the hassle to fix with an adhesive either, because they’re cheap in price.

Equally important, replace your fuel filter when it’s damaged. And if your generator doesn’t have one, add one. Because fuel filters screen dirt and rust particles from the fuel.

#5 Replace engine oil

You replace your car oil every X,000 miles like clockwork, right? Now, do the same with your generator’s engine!

I recommend every 50 or so hours of run time, to check and replace your oil. Simply, empty the old oil and replace it with regular or synthetic oil. Synthetic oil better performs for generator cold starts and extreme heat operation. And if you run your generator at full load continuously, then change your oil more often.

I suggest keeping extra oil on hand, so you can replace your oil on schedule without scrambling. Imagine worrying about finding oil in the dark when you’ve lost utility power to your home.

Important Note: it’s good practice to check your engine oil before starting. Running your generator with an empty oil tank will damage your engine. 

#6 Check for leaks

This seems like a no-brainer, but oftentimes, small leaks go unnoticed. So, look for leaks, as they’re common with generators.

First, check your fuel lines, where leaks tend to happen most often. Weather and age can cause cracks in fuel lines, and couplers become loose. Next, check your carburetor bowl gaskets, as they can dry out and get damaged. This compromises the seal, and fuel can leak below the carburetor. Also, check the following:

  • Fuel tanks: fuel tanks become brittle over time. Because welds on seams weaken, combined with corrosion and punctures. The source is typically extreme temperatures, overfilling, and acid and salt build-up.
  • Pipes: pipes become loose and experience the same wear and tear as fuel tanks.
  • Shut-off valve: valves become loose and damaged from normal usage.

If you spot an oil leak, fix the issue immediately, or replace the part. Don’t run your generator until you address the leak. Because a leak can lead to an explosion, fire, or the escape of toxic fumes.

#7 Check your battery

Not all portable generators have batteries. But if your generator has an electric start, check your battery.

For starters, if you don’t run your generator for long periods, make sure your battery is fully charged. If possible, plug your battery into a trickle charger, to keep it ready for emergencies. Next, if you run your generator a lot, do the following battery inspections:

  • Check for corrosion
  • Ensure battery cables aren’t loose at terminals

Also, it’s good practice to test your battery’s voltage with a multimeter and perform a load test. This will let you know your battery’s health. Do this test every month or so.

#8 Check your spark plugs

If your generator doesn’t start, your spark plugs may be dirty or damaged. So, they won’t deliver electric current to start the combustion process through ignition.

To check your spark plugs, first, be sure your generator isn’t heated from running. If it’s fully cooled down, remove your spark plugs for inspection. If they’re dirty, clean them with a wire brush before placing them back inside your generator.

As a good general practice, if your air filter is overly dirty, it’s probably time to replace your spark plugs. This would be despite not having engine starting issues.

Important Note: with any spark plug work, be careful not to over-tighten and damage the threads on your plug. You may ruin the connection or even break the porcelain insulator. This will damage your engine over time. 

#9 Run your generator

portable electrical generator
Photo Credit: Petr.adamek

Like your car, don’t leave your generator sitting unused for months on end. If it goes unused for too long, it may not turn on when you need it the most.

It’s best to create a schedule to run your generator for about 15 or so minutes every month. This will cycle fuel through your generator’s engine and carburetor. You’ll prevent the build-up of gunk and keep your battery for the electric starter charged.

Just make sure you connect a load to your generator. Because it may run with no load, but when connected to a load, it may cough and not run. I always connect a piece of lawn equipment to my generator and let it run. It’s quick and easy.

Important Note: start your generator outdoors and not in your garage. This will keep the carbon monoxide fumes away from your home. 

#10 Remove all fuel from your generator

Run your generator dry if it’s not periodically used. This will remove all the fuel from your unit.

Say you’re going to leave your generator unused for months on end. And yes, I know, this goes against Tip #9. But not everyone wants to continuously run their unit. So just be honest with yourself about how you’ll maintain your generator. In return, you won’t risk your generator not starting from stale fuel.

Important Note: gasoline when oxidized, goes through a chemical reaction. The reaction is between the hydrocarbons in gasoline and the oxygen in the air. 

Through this chemical reaction, the chemical structure of the gasoline changes. As a result, deposits can form in your fuel system and lines. A generator then may have difficulty starting, or it may not start at all. 

Some carburetors have a drain valve on the bottom, to let them drain. This allows the residual fuel in your tank to evaporate. If this doesn’t get the last bit of fuel out, stick clean rags into your tank, to remove any leftover fuel.

Finally, store your generator with the fuel valve in the off position, and the chock in the close position. You’ll prevent insects from finding their way into your carburetor and causing problems.

#11 Storage and maintenance for long-unused periods

Do you want to leave your generator unused for more than 30 days? If yes, you need to take extra protective measures.

  1. Remove your battery, clean its terminals, and make sure it’s fully charged.
  2. Drain the fuel from your fuel tank and carburetor float chamber.
  3. Remove the spark plugs from your engine and inject a few drops of oil into the plughole.
  4. Clean all cooling air slots and openings. Make sure nothing blocks the flow of air, like leaves and bits of tree branches.

After you’ve completed all the above, place your generator in a dry location. Avoid extremely cold or hot temperatures. Then finally, cover your generator to prevent dust buildup.

Important Note: make sure your generator’s storage location is clear of debris. Also, make sure rodents or pests can’t make a home in your generator. You can buy sealed enclosures to place your generator inside, for added protection. 

#12 Create a log

Keep a log to track your maintenance work. For example in your log, for an oil change, you’d write the following information:

  • Date of the oil change
  • Type of oil used
  • The exact quantity of oil used

I recommend recording this same information for all your new replacement parts. This includes filters, batteries, spark plugs, and so on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referenced my log because I forgot something.

Also, write down any issues your generator has. This will help with future troubleshooting.


Caring for your generator is like caring for your car. The only difference is, with a generator you can easily forget about it and cause it great damage.

So ask yourself, can you do monthly generator maintenance? If you can’t, then plan the long-term care of your generator in storage. Because imagine how frustrated you’d get if your car breaks down and you’re late for a meeting. Now, multiply this feeling by 10 if you’re left without power for a week at home, with your generator beside you.

In the end, with proper generator maintenance, you can sleep well at night. And, have a working generator for 20 to 30 years.

What type of generator maintenance do you follow? Has your generator ever failed you because of poor maintenance?

Featured Image Photo Credit: Petr.adamek (image cropped)


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7 thoughts on “12 Essential Portable Generator Maintenance Tips”

  1. It’s great that you provided complete details. Thanks a lot! I know it’s important to change the oil, but in case you forget, what can possibly happen to the generator? Will this cause permanent damage over time?

    • Typically it’ll be a gradual breakdown, and permanent damage will follow. Internal parts will fail, parts will grind together, and/or parts will jam. Then eventually, the unit will completely break down. In short, like your car, replace the oil per the manufacturer’s recommendation, to ensure optimal operations.

  2. I also have this generator but its time passed it is not used I will try to give service to it by the method you have listed and lets see if it works, if it works I will definitely sell it to some one needed otherwise into scrap. Thanks for sharing this information with us.

    • Depends on the generator type and the environmental conditions. In most instances though, if you have the fuel supply available, you can run a new generator for 1000-plus hours before you need servicing. I’ve even seen more with a portable generator.


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