Getting the Most Out of Your Summer Gear

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By Sarah Skidmore, AP Business Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Nothing can give you the summer blues like a flat tire when you want to take a family bike ride or having to replace patio furniture in midseason because it's falling apart.

Here are a few basic preventative measures that could help your gear last longer — and help you avoid mishaps.

LAWN AND GARDEN: The lawnmower, a staple of summer, greatly benefits from maintenance, says Home Depot operations manager Jesse Elizondo.

After each use, let your mower cool down and then rinse off grass and other debris that could oxidize on the blades. If it's a gas mower and it will sit for more than a few weeks, also drain its fuel, Elizondo says. The same goes for any gas-powered yard equipment.

Also change the spark plugs once a season and keep the blades sharp to protect the grass and avoid making the motor working harder than necessary.

Hand tools need care too. Some people swear by Vaseline to keep blades in smooth operation, while others store hand tools in a mix of sand and vegetable oil.

BICYCLE: Low tire pressure makes riding more difficult and can cause flats. Because tires always lose pressure between rides and while sitting in storage, says Zan Gibbs, a program coordinator for the Community Cycling Center in Portland, Ore., you should frequently check they are inflated to the level printed on the side wall. While you're at it, make sure they aren't cracked, which also can lead to a flat.

Gibbs also recommends a front-to-back safety check: Spin the wheels, squeeze the brakes, shift gears, check the seat and pedals and make sure nothing is loose before hitting the road or trail. And be sure your bike's chain, which can get damaged sitting on a porch or in a damp garage, is always properly lubricated. But don't use WD-40, which takes grease off. Bike chain oil is best, though any chain oil will work in a pinch.

TENTS: Even if camping only takes you as far as your backyard, properly caring for your tent will help it last.

That starts with selecting flat spots to pitch the tent and using a ground cloth the same size as its floor to protect it from abrasion and moisture. If there's no shade, use the fly to protect the fabric from sun damage.

When you get home, unpack the tent, inspect it and remove all debris. If necessary, clean it with a nonabrasive sponge, cold water and non-detergent soap. Do not machine-wash it or use household cleaners because their scent will attract critters and some substances can reduce the tent's ability to repel water.

Above all, make sure your tent is dry before putting it away. If there is any sign of moisture, set it up and let it air dry. Avoid storing a tent in a damp basement or hot attic.

PATIO FURNITURE: Many sets are designed to be left outside all year, but it's best to cover all outdoor furniture when you're not using it, according to Lowe's Companies Inc.

As a rule of thumb: Aluminum, wrought iron and steel frames should be cleaned with water and mild soap. If your metal-framed gear is not rust-resistant or rust-free, apply paste wax or naval jelly.

Wicker patio furniture can be washed with mild soap, if needed, then rinsed well and fortified with a paste wax.

Wood should generally be stored indoors for the winter, although cedar and teak pieces can stay put if you're willing to let them weather. Wash wood furniture with soapy water and rinse it well. Paint, oil or seal it to help protect it, and don't leave it on grass or dirt where it can absorb moisture.
Plastic furniture can be cleaned with soapy water and a scrub brush and should be stored indoors to prevent fading and pitting.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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