For most homeowners, the lawn mower is the most frequently used outdoor tool, yet most consumers choose a lawn mower based on status rather than performance. When you’re shopping for a lawn mower, remember that the neighbors will be more impressed with the tidiness of your yard than the brand name on your mower. Lawn mowers range from the humble manual-reel mower to garage-filling lawn tractors costing thousands of dollars. If you’ve got a very small yard and don’t mind raking, a manual reel mower is all you need. However, most consumers need a powered lawn mower, which does a better job than manual reels and is easier to use in large yards. How do you choose a lawn mower that’s right for your lawn? Pronto’s Lawn Mower Buying Guide lays down the groundwork for you.
Manual reel lawn mowers are the most environmentally friendly, but they work best only in very small yards. Electric lawn mowers require little maintenance and are the best choice for smaller yards of 10,000 square feet or less. Choose a gas lawn mower for large yards or a self-propelled gas lawn mower if your yard has a steep grade.
Grass catchers offer the easiest way to manage grass clippings from a lawn mower. Mulching lawn mowers are a good choice for large yards in cooler climates or if they reduce grass clippings to tiny particles that won’t scorch your lawn.
More power doesn’t always mean better performance from a lawn mower. For push lawn mowers, 5.5 horses is plenty of power. Look for at least 7 horsepower if you need a self-propelled lawn mower for a yard with a steep grade.
A lawn mower’s blade should adjust in half-inch increments and hold its adjustment reliably. Choose a lawn mower with adjustable blades, which typically last longer than lawn mowers with adjustable wheels or mowing beds. Smaller blades are the best choice if you worry about portability or have sharp turns or narrow patches in your yard.
Look for a deadman’s switch that shuts off the motor instantly when released. For self-propelled lawn mowers, you need a power bail switch and firm transmission levers.
Also known as an adjustable deck, these lawn mowers have a fixed blade position and adjust the height of the wheels or the entire cutting chassis to accommodate different cutting needs.
A lawn mower that can catch grass clippings in an attached bag or grass catcher. Grass bags may be an additional purchase, depending on the lawn mower you choose. Lawn mowers can be either side-bagging or rear-bagging, depending on where the grass catcher is mounted.
A pressure-sensitive switch that disengages the motor on a self-propelled lawn mower. In normal operation, the bail switch must be held in a certain position for the propulsion system to work.
A lawn mower that can switch from side-bagging to rear bagging or from bagging to side-discharge or mulching modes.
A lawn mower that runs on built-in batteries that must be recharged from a wall outlet before each use.
A pressure-sensitive bar that turns off the engine when released.
A common unit of engine power measurement, equivalent to the power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot in one second. This measurement is accurate on gas-powered lawn mowers. Horsepower ratings for electric lawn mowers are an estimate for comparison and may not reflect actual performance.
A lawn mower that recuts grass clippings to a smaller size that can blend in to the lawn and decompose.
The number of minutes that a cordless lawn mower can operate on a full battery charge. Note that tall, wet, or thick grass may reduce the actual run time for these lawn mowers.
A lawn mower with an engine that supplies power to the wheels as well as the blade, making it easier to push.
Powered lawn mowers need either gasoline or electricity to run. Electric lawn mowers are quieter, easier to start, and require less maintenance than gas-powered models. Electric lawn mowers are available in corded and cordless battery-operated models. Batteries can add 30 pounds of weight to cordless electric lawn mowers, which is a concern if you need to carry the lawn mower up and down a set of stairs.
Both corded and cordless electric lawn mowers have a more limited range than gas mowers. For a corded model, you’ll need to stay within about 100 feet of a power outlet or start stringing cords together. Cordless electric lawn mowers are limited by their battery life, which varies depending on the manufacturer and the height of the grass. As a rule of thumb, an electric lawn mower is best for lawns smaller than 10,000 square feet that don’t have thick or tall grass.
Gas mowers generate exhaust, increase your carbon footprint, and require regular tune-ups and oil changes to run optimally, but they’re still the best option for larger yards and you won’t be worrying about extension cords or battery life.
If your yard has a steep grade, a self-propelled gas lawn mower is the best choice. These lawn mowers route some of the engine power to the wheels, making it easier to push. Gas-powered lawn mowers also cut better than electric models and do a much better job with thick or tall grass.
Grass catchers are a common feature on lawn mowers, and this is still the best way to deal with grass clippings in the largest range of environments. Unless you have a very small yard or really enjoy raking, it’s worth spending the extra money for a grass catcher.
Another option is mulching lawn mowers, which cut clipped grass into smaller pieces that can decompose in the lawn. These lawn mowers are easier to use since you won’t be adding the weight of grass clippings to the weight of the lawn mower. However, if you live in a hot, dry area, a mulching lawn mower may not be your best choice. Clumps of grass clippings can scorch your lawn and kill healthy grass. If you do purchase a mulching lawn mower, make sure it reduces clippings to tiny particles.
Unless you’re racing lawn mowers competitively, you shouldn’t be too swayed by the horsepower ratings on lawn mowers. A lawn mower with a 5.5 horsepower engine will get the job done efficiently in most cases. If you’ve got a large yard with steep grades, look for a little extra horsepower for a self-propelled lawn mower.
When you buy a lawn mower, you’re paying mostly for an engine. Brand names are more meaningful with gas-powered lawn mowers, as a good brand equals the improved reliability needed for these more complex lawn mower engines. Many manufacturers use engines made by well-known companies such as Honda or Briggs and Stratton in their lawn mowers.
Lawn mowers use steel blades that must be sharpened to keep a good cutting edge. For large lawns, it’s a good idea to have lawn mower blades sharpened each spring. If you have a small yard, sharpen lawn mower blades once every two years for gas mowers and at least once every 18 months for electric lawn mowers.
The size of a lawn mower’s blade tells you how much grass you can cut with each pass. Larger blades add weight and size to a lawn mower, so if portability is an issue, you’ll do better with a smaller blade. Electric lawn mowers typically have smaller blades that cut between 18 and 21 inches of lawn, while some gas-powered models have blades up to 23 inches that can tear through a large yard. Note that the size of the blade also affects the turn radius of a lawn mower. If your yard has sharp turns or narrow patches of grass, a smaller lawn mower blade is a better choice.
The ability to adjust the lawn mower blade is a must, since you’ll be cutting grass closer in summer than you will in spring and autumn. Look for a lawn mower with a simple blade or bed adjustment that moves in 1/2-inch increments and holds position well. In general, lawn mowers with adjustable blades last longer than those with adjustable frames or beds, as these adjustments must carry the entire weight of the lawn mower.
A lawn mower should be equipped with a "deadman’s switch" that instantly turns off the motor when released. For self-propelled lawn mowers, look for a bail switch that’s easy to reach and hold during use. If the self-propelled lawn mower includes a variable-speed transmission, make sure the lever isn’t too stiff and that it locks securely into each gear.