Spring officially begins March 20 at 7:02 a.m. So that you’re free to celebrate outdoors if the weather cooperates, devote a cold, rainy day earlier in the month to spring cleaning. (istockphoto)
Get a jump on spring cleaning

Spring officially begins March 20 at 7:02 a.m. So that you’re free to celebrate outdoors if the weather cooperates, devote a cold, rainy day earlier in the month to a spring-cleaning ritual: the closet clean-out.

●Take out everything and sort it.

●Get rid of whatever you don’t need.

●Vacuum out all the crevices.

●If you don’t have a system that allows you to use the space efficiently, switch to high and low rods or install shelves above, below or to the side of hanging garments.

Now’s the time to clean up the remnants of last season’s garden and tidy up after winter storms. (istockphoto)

●If clothes are dusty, briefly tumble them in a dryer before you put them back.

Tune up the lawn  mower

Before the grass gets galloping, make sure your lawn mower is ready for another season. If you have an electric model, you might just need to get the blade sharpened. A gas mower needs more attention. Besides a sharpened blade, it needs a new air filter, an oil change and a new spark plug. Make sure the machine starts, too. If it doesn’t, the motormight be gummed up. You can do the work yourself — a bunch of brand-specific YouTube videos show the steps, including how to clean varnishlike gunk from a carburetor — or you can take the mower to a company that services these machines. But hurry. At Jack’s Lawnmower Repair in Pasadena, (410-760-2430; jackslawnmowerrepair@yahoo.com), owner Kevin McDevitt says the wait to get a mower serviced is usually about a week for early birds who come in at the beginning of March but two to three weeks for people who wait until mowing season is underway. “It all depends on the weather,” he said. “Last year, people were mowing by the middle of March.”

Get fresh fuel

Many small-engine repair shops have seen huge increases in gummed-up motors in recent years, and the folks who work on them blame the ethanol that the federal government requires in most gasoline as a way of encouraging the biofuels industry. As the mixture becomes stale, it thickens and causes parts to seize up. So that mower you bought new toward the end of last summer might not start now if you left fuel in it, even though the machine has barely been used. And the snowblower you bought last year and hardly used this winter is even more likely to balk when you need it next year. Avoid problems by mixing a fuel stabilizer when you buy gas, and use up whatever is in the machine at the end of the season. If you still have gas from last fall in your gas can, don’t top it off. Get rid of the leftovers first, but not by pouring it on the ground. Most small-engine shops take back spent fuel, though some charge a disposal fee.

Another option is to buy ethanol-free gas at one of the stations now offering it. Unfortunately for inland folks, these tend to cluster near harbors and small airports, because regular gasoline causes havoc with boat and plane engines, too. Find locations at www.pure-gas.org. Lawn mower repair shops also sell pure gasoline by the quart, but it’s pricey, often about $9, making it a practical option only for the last time you use a machine for the season.

Look underfoot

Because March days tend to be relatively warm but drier than days later in the spring, this is a great time to check outdoor steps, walkways and decks to make sure they are still stable and not slippery. If treads are coated with algae or moss, scrub it off by hand or with a power washer adjusted to a setting appropriate for the material. The pressure can be higher if you’re cleaning stone or concrete than if you’re dealing with wood. If your house has wooden steps and boards are loose, inspect them to make sure the wood isn’t rotten. Replace any pieces that are, and screw the others back into place. If the handrail is wobbly, repair or replace it.

Tidy up

Now’s the time to clean up the remnants of last season’s garden and tidy up after winter storms. Clip off spent perennial foliage and rake up leaves. If you have a backyard compost system, stockpile these “browns” for the soon-to-come day when you’ll have an overabundance of “green” garden trimmings. Then you can make compost by layering them in approximately equal amounts into your compost bin or pile. If you don’t make your own compost, send the trimmings to a municipal composting program. If you live in the District and have trash collection service from the Department of Public Works, you can leave out seven bags each time trash is collected. Tie branches up to four feet long into bundles; each bundle counts as one bag.

Delve into the freezer

March 6 was National Frozen Food Day, first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Yes, it’s goofy. But it’s still a good reminder to dip deep into the freezer and rediscover what you’ve stored there. Although food that stays frozen doesn’t become unsafe to eat over time, it can become dry and unappetizing, especially in the freezer compartment of a frost-free refrigerator, where temperatures cycle up and down to prevent ice from forming. To cull what you’re probably never going to eat and to bring order to the rest, take out everything, sorting as you go. If you don’t have coolers to store the food while you clean the freezer, use bags or boxes and wrap them in a quilt. If ice has formed within the freezer —usually an issue only with chest freezers — use a hair dryer to melt it. It’s tempting to organize a large freezer using crates for different kinds of food, but freezing temperatures make many plastics brittle, ruling out containers such as milk crates. Fabric shopping bags, especially ones made from recycled plastics, are a good alternative, and they have the advantage of expanding or contracting as the amount of food stored in them changes. Sort by categories that work for your household — maybe meat, veggies, desserts and ready-to-heat, single-serving leftover meals. Consider listing your frozen food supply on a whiteboard or notebook on the freezer door; erase or cross off items as you use them.

Tune up your air conditioner

While the weather’s still cool, schedule a heating and air conditioning company to tune up your air conditioner. Maintenance should include checking the components, lubricating fans and motors, tightening or changing belts, testing the capacitors and crankcase heater and calibrating the thermostat. There are also a few things you can do yourself. Clean leaves, grass clippings, pollen and other debris from the screen of the condensing unit. Clean out the condensate hose so it doesn’t become blocked with algae. And keep an eye out for drip marks on the compressor and tubes; these could point to a leak.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.