How to Use a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience.
Jessica Wrubel has an accomplished background as a writer and copy editor, working for various publications, newspapers and in public libraries assisting with reference, research and special projects. In addition to her journalism experience, she has been educating on health and wellness topics for over 15 years in and outside of the classroom.
Self-propelled lawnmowers work on a vehicle-like drive system that requires the operator to squeeze a bar (called a “bail”) on the handle to engage the mower. Squeezing the bar causes the cutting blades on a self-propelled rotary mower to spin and makes the mower take off. After that, the mower moves forward independently, not requiring your pushing power. You only need to control the direction it goes.
If you release your grip on the bar, the mower stops moving, and its blades stop spinning. You may be familiar with this type of device if you have a hand-guided self-propelling vacuum cleaner; it has its drive doing a lot of the moving for you.
If you’ve ever wondered how self-propelled lawn mowers work and if they’re worth considering for your lawn, read on to learn more.
What Is a Self-Propelled Lawnmower?
A self-propelled device means it has a drive and doesn’t require your strength to operate it. You still need to steer the lawn mower since it’s not an autonomous robot, but it can save you time and energy.
Self-Propelled Lawn Mower vs. Push Mower
Self-propelled lawn mowers are motorized and drive independently, only requiring you to steer and move along with the device. The machine does the heavy lifting while you guide it along.
On the other hand, a push mower tells you in its name that you will need to use your body strength to push it. Push mowers can vary widely from non-motorized reel push mowers to motorized push mowers powered by battery, gas, or an electric plug. Here are two different types of push mowers:
- Reel mowers: Best suited for small, flat lawns; using no power, only your push strength to turn the axles that push the blades and wheels; least expensive and lightest to transport, requires some effort to wield; not the best for all situations
- Motorized push mower: Uses gas, battery, or electric plug to run its motorized blades; still requires your pushing power to move the mower; requires less strength than a reel mower; a better option than a reel mower for larger, uneven lawns
- Require less body strength and effort
- Best for large lawns and uneven surfaces
- Feels like less of a chore
- Requires gas or electric energy source
- Lighter in weight
- Motorized types still need power
- Reel types require more strength and energy
- Reel types are safest; no mechanized parts
- Reel types are most eco-friendly option
Parts of a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
A self-propelled mower uses many parts in the mower’s drive and transmission system, including engine parts, blades, pulleys, belts, a power source, and the safety bail. Much like a car, these parts need regular maintenance and occasionally replacement. The list goes on, from bearings and bushings to axles and air filters. These mowers can offer speed controls, height adjustments, discharge bag attachments, and even cup holders.
Some higher-end models may have a special feature like a blade override system that makes the blade stops spinning when you release the bar, and the unit stops moving, but it does not entirely shut off. This feature is convenient for two reasons: You can move the mower from point A to point B using its drive but not cutting grass along the way, and you don’t have to restart the mower every time you release the bar.
The bail or squeeze bar safety feature is the norm nowadays, even on mowers that are not self-propelled, like a battery-powered push mower.
This safety feature works great to prevent accidents and avoid hazards in your line of sight, like giant holes on the lawn or sprinklers, rocks or boulders, children running around, or pet mishaps. If you slip and lose your footing, there’s less chance of spinning blades coming into contact with your body. Also, while sidestepping things in the way, you don’t have to fiddle with a switch to try to shut the mower off; you only release the bar.
Buying vs. Renting
You can get a decent self-propelled lawn mower starting at about 300. The price goes up from there. If you rent a lawn mower, it can cost you around 40 a day or 150 a week for a name-brand lawn mower that is listed for 450. Most lawn mowers will last many years and most good models come with a 2- to 4-year warranty. If you have any size lawn—whether small or large—it will require mowing. And, during the growing season, from spring to fall, you might need to mow it once or twice a week.
Rentals only work in your favor if you’re saving money to get a new machine, your mower is being serviced, or you want to try a newer model before buying it. Ultimately, purchasing the device is less expensive than renting it.
Keeping the Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Maintained
Your lawn mower will need a tune-up once a year. You can do this maintenance or call for a service to maintain your machine. Annual maintenance includes changing the engine oil, adding a fuel stabilizer to the fuel system or removing the gas from the system if it’s old or at the end of the season; replacing the spark plug and air filter; sharpening and balancing the mower blades; cleaning the housing; and winterizing your engine. Also, check your belts for wear and tear.
When to Replace Your Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Most lawn mowers have replaceable parts that can help you extend the life of your machine. Do the required maintenance, such as changing air filters and getting new gas and oil. But, as the years wear on, your costs to fix a problem may be more than buying a new one.
If your machine chugs, sputters, or makes a loud unexplainable noise, the rule of thumb is the costs of repair should not come close to buying a new model. If the motor, transmission, or crankshaft is gone on your machine, it’s probably time to look for a new lawn mower.
Push Mower vs Self-Propelled: What’s Best for You?
For any homeowner or prospective home-buyer, the lawn is a key point of pride for many Americans. That’s why owning a lawnmower that fits your yard—and your budget—is more important than ever. Whether you’ve just moved, or are just looking to upgrade, I’m here to help you make the best choice. Today I’ll compare push mower vs self propelled lawn mower. I’ll share the differences between the two, and highlight reasons why one (or the other) might be a better choice for your yard care.
Walk Behind Mowers
The walk-behind mower is the most common in American yards (or sheds/garages), and they come in a few varieties, either push or self-propelled.
Push mowers are usually manual, with no motorized capacity to drive them over your lawn. Common push mower varieties include:
Let’s talk briefly about each of these types of push mowers, what’s good about them, and who they may be best for.
Reel mowers have a horizontal cylinder of blades attached to (and spun by) the wheels. They are quiet and cleanly cut grass with a scissor-like action.
You may be familiar with this type of push lawnmower from “the old days” when gas-powered mowers were too expensive for many families.
Reel mowers tend to be the least expensive models, due to their simplicity of design. They’re a great choice for smaller yards, fit homeowners, and yards with uniform, high-quality grass.
If you have a larger yard, or your lot has hills or a bumpy lawn, a reel mower may not be a great choice for you.
Motorized Push Mowers
Unlike reel mowers, motorized push mowers use the same rotary blades as self-propelled mowers.
Motorized push mowers come in either gas, or electric varieties and beyond the power source, they work in (basically) the same way.
Reel mowers use friction to cut the grass, while motorized push mowers do not. That puts the effort onto the user to make sure the grass gets cut with a reel mower, but with an electric or gas-powered push mower, all you have to do is steer and push the mower around the yard … the blades are not powered by you.
Rotary blades hack at the grass with a motorized push lawn mower. The grass is cut like a set of helicopter propellers might.
This method of cutting leaves a rough edge on the grass, which is not ideal, but the motor—in both push and self-propelled models—removes a lot of burden from the user and they’re easier to push around your yard.
If your lawn is larger, or uneven, that effort requirement becomes very important.
Choosing the Best Type of Push Mower for Your Property
An uneven lawn won’t provide reel mowers the consistent friction necessary to properly cut your lawn. This is not a concern with a motorized push mowers, so if your lawn is uneven you can either level it and then buy a reel mower, or choose a gas or electric mower for your yard.
Motorized and reel push mowers do share some of the same benefits, however, as they are both lighter, simpler, and (in general) significantly less expensive than their self-propelled mower counterparts.
Depending on your level of fitness, the light weight of a push mower more than makes up for its lack of self-propulsion, but the user’s strength is the driving force, so be honest about how much work you can (or want to) do when you mow your lawn every 10 days or so.
The push mower’s simplicity also has fewer fail-points than a self-propelled mower, giving these mowers greater longevity for homeowners.
That, combined with their lower price, makes this an excellent choice for homeowners on a budget who also have a small yard.
Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers
The self-propelled mower, on the other hand, has a transmission that drives its wheels.
Like a car, self propelled lawn mowers use either front- or rear-wheel drive.
Unlike push mowers, self-propelled mowers carry the burden of pushing the mower across your yard. The user is usually only responsible for the effort of steering these mowers.
Despite what you may have heard, self-propelled mowers won’t run away from you. Most have a way to set a comfortable speed and then every time you engage the mower’s drive, it will remain at that speed consistently.
All motorized mowers have a safety bar that must be squeezed to engage the motor and make the cutting blades spin. Self-propelled mowers have an additional bar that, much like the gas pedal in a car, has to be squeezed for the mower’s wheels to engage and for the mower to begin to drive.
Self-propelled walk-behind mowers travel typically at speeds from 1 to 3 ½ miles per hour, with high-end models going up to 4 miles per hour.
These mowers can cut down the time spent mowing your lawn significantly. They are also better suited to maneuvering uneven terrain.
I own a Honda 21 inch self-propelled mower and it’s a fantastic machine. I bought it new, locally from Home Depot, for 399 many years ago, and have done all the maintenance on it myself.
It starts on the first pull every season after sitting all winter. I highly recommend it.
Front-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Mowers
Front-wheel drive mowers are propelled by the front wheels. Of the self-propelled mowers, these tend to have simpler mechanics, which means you can anticipate fewer problems as a long-term owner.
Front wheel drive self propelled lawn mowers also tend to price lower and are more easily maneuverable.
These mowers make 180-degree turns smoothly. This makes it easy to navigate around shrubbery and lawn ornaments.
That said, front-wheel drive (as well as all push mowers) work best on flat terrain, as they cannot pull the weight necessary to maneuver steep inclines. For that type of lawn, a rear-wheel drive self-propelled mower is more suitable.
Rear-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Mowers
Rear-wheel drive mowers have rear-wheel propulsion. They require more complicated internal mechanics to operate. This makes most rear-drive self-propelled mowers more expensive up front, and more costly to maintain.
They also can be more challenging to maneuver, especially if you’re a smaller person. The rear-wheels need to pivot to turn your mower, so you may find yourself occasionally lifting the rear of the mower as you navigate around obstacles.
You cannot pull either variety of self-propelled mower backwards easily unless you disengage the propulsion, or tilt the mower to lift the spinning wheels (I do the latter).
Where rear-wheel mowers shine is in their propulsion power.
The rear-wheels create the driving force and as a result those wheels can push almost the entire weight of the lawn mower. For hilly terrain, this is especially beneficial because the mowers practically drive themselves uphill. Its engineering makes up for its weight, and if your property has a lot of hills, this type of lawn mower is usually the safest option … a better choice than any riding lawn mower in my view.
Choosing the Right Mower for Your Yard
Ultimately, when comparing push mower vs self propelled models, the most important factor when choosing a new lawnmower is your yard.
True, self-propelled mowers tend to be more expensive, but there are still quality mowers and when you compare their cost to lawn tractors or zero-turn riding mowers, self propelled mowers are quite reasonable. The best ones tend to be 500 or less.
These self-propelled mowers also tend to be heavier, but their ease of use makes up for that added weight.
Push mowers are lighter weight to lift … so if you regularly transport your mower to your parents’ house or to a neighbor’s to help out with their lawn maintenance that may be important to you. But a ramp can solve the issue of getting a self-propelled mower into a truck.
Your circumstances should dictate which mower works best for you.
Push mowers are great for small yards or flat yards. If your yard is large (anything more than a third of an acre), but otherwise flat, and especially if it has decorative flowerbeds or ornaments, then a front-wheel drive, self-propelled mower will probably work very well for you.
The propulsion would lower the time spent mowing your lawn and require less overall effort from you. If you have a steep, hilly lawn with uneven terrain, then a rear-wheel mower is your better buy.
My Recommendations: Push Mower vs Self Propelled
|Type Of Yard
|Push Mower(Gas or Electric)
|Self-Propelled(rear wheel drive)
|Self-Propelled(front wheel drive)
|Self Propelled(rear wheel drive)
|Self-Propelled(front wheel drive)
|Self Propelled(rear wheel drive)
The Wild Card: You
Another factor of importance is your overall fitness.
A push mower requires your strength and your ability to mow your lawn. A self-propelled mower will move itself, taking the weight off of you. It also eases the burden of maneuvering a flat but uneven ground.
Front-wheel drive is easily maneuverable. A rear-wheel drive mower will push itself better, but it requires more effort when making turns.
complicated mechanics increase the cost of the mower, but when you compare push mower vs self propelled you’ll find that you can find a variety of price points which reflect the manufacturing quality of the mowers you’re considering.
There’s no “right” answer to this comparison between self propelled and push lawnmowers. To me, it’s most important to know what you need, so that you can find a mower and a price to match.
I hope this article has helped you make a great choice for your lawn!
by Sarah The Lawn Chick
Sarah’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When. Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.
thoughts on “ Push Mower vs Self-Propelled: What’s Best for You? ”
I made the mistake of buying a Hart brand rear wheel self-propelled lawnmower from Walmart a month ago. It was a disaster! Unlike all the potential scenarios in this article, rear wheeled sounded like it might solve some problem areas I have in my back yard. And, yes, it conquered those tiny dips in my backyard just fine. However, I have a couple hundred areas under my hedges where the mower needs to be pushed in, then pulled out, back and forth style. This mower was so powerful that when I pulled it back, it simply gouged my grass out, leaving huge trails of sand (I live in Florida, where the soil is nothing more than sand.) Since we’re having a drought here, tearing up my grass is exactly what I DON’T want. Not to mention the horrible pain I was in after trying to mow my yard. In my front yard, the wheels wouldn’t turn at all. Instead, the curves involved with my landscaped areas all ended up being gouged out and rutted. I immediately took it back to WM for a refund, even though we got a good deal on the mower and a weed eater. The deal wasn’t worth me being in severe pain for days after every time I mowed my lawn. If you have overhanging hedges or bushes where you need to push in then pull out, I do NOT recommend these types of lawn mowers. They damage a lot more than just your lawn. I now have to re-landscape half of my front yard and try to re-grow the grass in my back yard. Avoid my nightmare and stay away from this or any kind of powerful rear-wheel self propelled lawn mower!
Hey, Alan! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’ve never tried a Hart mower, and my self-propelled Honda mower is front wheel drive which works really well for my property, but I’m sure that the tips you share about types of yards that aren’t well suited to a rear-wheel drive mower will help other readers choose the best mower for their property. If it’s in your budget, I can recommend a Honda front-wheel drive mower because I use mine every week and haven’t had any trouble with it in the 7 years I’ve owned it. Home Depot usually has a range of models in stock. Also, for any readers who may be struggling in a similar way to what Alan describes … one trick I’ve learned when trying to mow around or under obstacles such as a deck or hedges with a self-propelled mower is to disengage the drive and simply use the mower as a push mower in those areas. This gives you more control and you won’t be wrestling against the power of your mower.
The 8 Best Self-propelled Lawn Mowers From Gas to Electric to Robotic
The grass is greener when you have a self-propelled lawn mower.
If you dropped your keys in the grass and you’re having trouble locating them, it’s probably time to give the lawn a trim. Whether you’re new to lawn maintenance or you’re looking to get a new lawn mower, a self-propelled lawn mower could be the right pick for you. Rather than the lawn mowers you sit on — aptly called a riding lawn mower — self-propelled lawn mowers push themselves, and you just guide the mower to wherever you want it to go.
Self-propelled lawn mowers are easier to use than push mowers, which are powered by your own movement, and they’re apt for most residential lawns. They’re good for going over bumpy and hilly areas, but you’ll probably pass out if you try to use it on your multi-acre property, as they do require a decent amount of effort to use. We found a self-propelled lawn mower for every kind of person at every budget — these are the seven best self-propelled lawn mowers.
Things to Consider When Shopping for a Lawn Mower
“When shopping for any lawn mower, the first thing customers should consider is the size of their lawn,” says Lacy Williams, Vice President of Product Development for Cordless Walk Behind Lawn Mowers at Ryobi. “A smaller lawn means a smaller deck size can be acceptable, whereas a larger lawn may require a larger deck or higher voltage battery platform when it comes to cordless products.” In short: for small lawns, a small deck and short runtime are ok, but for bigger yards a wider deck and longer runtimes — potentially those provided by gas engines rather than electric motors — will save you a lot of heartache.
Of course, if your lawn is too big, then you’re not going to want a self-propelled lawn mower at all, as it will take too long to mow your lawn and be too physically demanding (unless you’re into that sort of thing). “Shoppers who have a yard that is one acre or less will find that a walk-behind self-propelled lawn mower will meet their needs, whereas those with a yard larger than one acre may want to investigate a riding lawn mower for their lawn maintenance.”
Do you have steep hills that you need to mow? In that case, a self-propelled mower is likely what you’ll want. They’re easier to push up those hills than a standard push mower, and they’re also safer than a riding mower, as there’s less danger of it rolling on top of you while mowing along a steep incline. “Self-propelled lawn mowers are a great option for those who would like the propulsion system to move the lawn mower forward,” Williams says. “Systems like Ryobi Smart Trek adaptive variable speed self-propelled technology allows users to easily adapt the mower’s speed to their pace, helping them finish the job quickly and with less fatigue.”
Gas Mowers vs. Electric Mowers
Gas mowers tend to trend lower in price than their electric counterparts, though they do require you to get a little messy considering you have to refill the gas and change the oil. They also run longer and don’t require long charge times in between trimmings. Gas mowers tend to be louder (think motorcycle revving), but they do work exceptionally well when going through overgrowth.
Electric mowers used to be tethered by cables, but the advent of rechargeable batteries has really pushed cordless electric mowers to popularity. “Cordless lawn mowers have several advantages over gas mowers,” Williams says. “Cordless mowers are quieter, require less maintenance, and have zero emissions compared to their gas counterparts. They also are lighter weight and provide easier operation for users. Cordless mowers can accomplish this while being just as powerful — if not providing more power — than gas-powered lawn mowers. An added benefit of cordless mowers is the use of brushless motors that can increase performance when encountering heavy grass, as opposed to gas mowers that can be bogged down in those situations.” Of course, no mower is without its drawbacks, as cordless mowers tend to not last as long as gas mowers, so they’re better suited for smaller yards.
What to Look for in a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Two-Function vs. Three-Function
Mowers will either be two-function, which bag or mulch, or three-function, which allows you to bag, mulch or discharge (either from the side or the rear). expensive models will offer three functions, though some cheaper models may have the three-in-one function. Not everyone will need the choice for mulching and discharging, so don’t think a three-function mower is always better — it depends on whether or not you need those functions.
While all electric mowers have an electric ignition, gas mowers are available with either an electric starter (usually in the form of a button) or a pull cord. Most agree that pull cords are a pain to use — they’re rough on your shoulder, which can be torturous if you have an injury or arthritis, and are far less convenient than pushing a button. However, a pull cord does have some advantages. They’re less complex and don’t require a battery to operate, meaning they’re easier to maintain in the long run and you’re less likely to run into problems.
You don’t necessarily want your mower to have “big deck energy.” While riding mowers have mowing decks that are anywhere from 42 to 60 inches wide, they’re meant to be used for massive lawns. Since you’re likely only mowing a yard that’s an acre or smaller with your self-propelled lawn mower, a deck between 18 and 25 inches is likely where you’ll end up. A wider deck will allow you to get the job done quicker, because it’s covering more ground, but it’s also going to be harder to maneuver and won’t be able to reach into narrow areas like a smaller deck would.
Not all lawns are completely flat, and that’s when it’s time to consider drives: front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
Front-wheel drive mowers are ideal for flat terrain, and they’re also a little cheaper than other mowers. They’re easier to maneuver and steer like a charm.
Rear-wheel drive mowers put the power into the back wheels, which makes it easier to go over hills.
All-wheel drive mowers give you some of the best control over bumpy terrain but you will have to shell out a bit more money.
What About Robot Lawn Mowers?
Robot lawn mowers are the newest style to emerge in the marketplace, and they’re really their own segment. But since they do propel themselves, and since you can’t ride them, we’re going to include them here. Robot lawn mowers work much in the same way as robot vacuums — they map your lawn, usually with the help of you setting up some sort of boundary, and then mow automatically, either on a schedule that you set or on demand. They offer more convenience since you don’t actually have to go out and mow the lawn yourself, but they suffer from the same drawbacks as robot vacuums: they’re small and not very powerful, they can sometimes map erratically and miss spots and they may get stuck and require your intervention. They’re certainly getting better, but it will likely be a few years before robot mowers become ubiquitous.
The Best Lawn Mowers of 2023
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases made through the links below may earn us and our publishing partners a commission.
The Honda HRX217VKA is powerful, heavy and ideal for larger lawns. Read
Ego Power LM2135SP
This mower is powerful, comfortable, and a joy to use. It performed extremely well mulching and driving itself uphill. Read
Honda has produced superior power equipment for many years and this mower, which operates with rear-wheel drive, is no exception. Read
Kobalt KM 5080-06
The electric Kobalt KM 5080-06 was flexible and easy to operate, and can run bagged or bagless. Read
The Hart HLPM061US performed well across terrains and has a simple to use speed control. Read
Until just a few short years ago, gas lawn mowers were king. As more consumers are seeking eco-friendly cars, homes, and, yes, power equipment, advanced battery technology answers the call.
Today, consumers can drive an electric car, thrive in a solar-powered home and maintain their property with battery-powered equipment. But are the new electric push lawn mowers as good as the old internal combustion mowers? We decided to find out.
We tested gasoline, electric-corded, and battery-powered lawn mowers from the leading brands. We were eager to see if the battery-powered mowers could handle a large yard as well as the tried-and-true gasoline models. We weren’t disappointed. The Honda HRX217VKA (available at Amazon) came out on top as Best Overall, edging out its predecessor and our previous winner, the Honda HRN216VKA.
For the non-gasoline mowers, the Ego Power LM2135SP (available at Walmart) is our choice for Best Electric Lawn Mower. This mower set-up was quick, and it handled our testing well. The Ego Power also includes features not found on similar electric models.
The Honda HRX217VKA was a pleasure to use.
Quiet and powerful, the Honda HRX217VKA 21-inch NeXite lawn mower is the one to have for larger spaces. It is not designed for small yards, and you won’t be darting in and out of flower beds and shrubbery.
It is a pleasure to use. We had tested Honda mowers before and were familiar with their operation and overall product quality. The HRX217VKA did not disappoint. Easy to assemble and set up right out of the box, it started on the first pull of the cord.
Right away you can feel the heft of this mower with its innovative NeXite deck and powerful motor. It’s heavier than most mowers, but it feels planted on the lawn and tracks perfectly. It’s a mower for large lawns, and it makes the most difficult cuts a breeze.
With its 200cc motor and Select Drive Control, this mower easily cuts, bags and mulches the heaviest grass with ease. The Select Drive Control is almost intuitive as it lets you adjust the walking speed with a variety of settings.
The controls on the mower are large and easy to use. You can set the mower to bag or mulch or anywhere in between. Its user-friendly platform is clearly marked. You will use this lawn mower for years and years to come.
The Ego Power LM2135SP is the best electric lawn mower we’ve tested.
Until a few years ago, those who preferred not to buy an internal combustion mower had little choice. But advanced battery technology has finally arrived and the benefits can readily be seen in the Ego Power LM2135SP, a 21-inch self-propelled electric mower. This cordless mower with a cutting width of 21 inches utilizes a 56-volt lithium ion battery to power through up to 60 minutes of lawn cutting.
The Ego Power is powerful, comfortable, and a joy to use. Even though the battery only lasted about an hour, the mower performed extremely well mulching and driving itself uphill. It has plenty of torque and is capable of doing anything a gasoline-powered mower can do. It is clean, easy to use, and efficient.
The set-up on this mower was the easiest of the bunch. The handle slides and folds across the mower with ease, making storage a snap. Adjusting it to a personal height takes seconds.
A quick 50-minute charge on the battery and you’re ready to go. The battery charger even has a cooling fan that improves charging times and keeps the battery cool.
Like some of our other mowers, the Ego Power has twin blades that improve mulching and keep the trips to empty the rear bag to a minimum. Cutting height is achieved with one easy-to-access lever.
Operation is straightforward, and the composite deck makes the mower light and easy to maneuver around yard obstacles. Simply depress the power button, pull the green handle and the blades begin to spin. Dual buttons on the handle make engaging the self-propel feature safe and comfortable.
The Ego Power comes with LED headlights for convenience, and it was the only mower we tested that could propel itself when the blades were not spinning. This was a nice feature that eliminated pushing the mower back to the garage.
Other Lawn Mowers We Tested
Previously our pick for best lawn mower, the Honda HRN216VKA is a 21-inch self-propelled gas mower that’s a great choice for any yard. Honda has produced superior power equipment for many years, and this mower, which operates with rear-wheel drive, is no exception. It can handle the toughest lawns with ease and won’t take up much room in the garage.
The set-up was easy and the mower started on the first pull. Its smooth engine is quieter than the other gasoline mowers, and it has more than enough power to cut and mulch the grass even while going uphill.
The Honda has a stacked and offset blade design that produces smaller clippings, which allows for better mulching and bagging. This means more efficient cutting and fewer stops to empty the grass bag. The bagging and mulching options can be easily and safely selected, once the mower is off, by using one lever on the mowing deck.
The innovative self-propel system is comfortable on the hands, provides adequate speed control, and can even be adjusted for those who are taller or shorter. Folding the handle for storage can be done quickly. This Honda lawn mower even has a gas shut-off valve for off-season storage.
The Kobalt 80V 21-inch electric mower is a great choice for anyone that wants an affordable, flexible, compact mower that is easy to maneuver and doesn’t require extension cords or gas cans. The mower is strong enough to chop through thick grass, and offers a highly adjustable cutting height.
At 66 pounds it is very easy to operate, with the ability to go bagged or bagless, and you can fold up the push handle for compact storage.
The main draw here is the 80V battery system, which gives you an hour of runtime in our testing, enough to cut about 7,500 square feet on a full charge. It also works in a variety of other Kobalt tools, and spares will run you right around 150. Charging the battery takes around 45 minutes when it’s dead, and it just pops into the battery slot and the mower can turn on with a press of a button if the safety key is inserted—much easier than having to use a traditional pull start.
Overall if you need a nice, basic mower to get the job done and want to go cordless, this is an excellent choice. It cuts clean lines, it’s easy to use, it can handle most lawns with ease, and the light weight makes it much easier to move up and around slopes and hills.
Especially if you’re planning to invest in a range of electric tools, this is a good system to buy into.
This Hart lawnmower was a pleasant surprise.
After removing it from the box and charging the batteries, we fired it up and took it out to the thick, lush grass.
It performed beautifully; its powerful electric motor cut through the lawn with ease and even increased its revolutions when we cut thicker grass. This mower easily handles a larger lawn.
The Hart mower moved with power and confidence through the lawn, and the simple-to-use speed control was right there at your fingertips. While our winning Honda gas mower has a sophisticated Select Drive System, the Hart’s simple slide bar works as well or better.
This excellent lawnmower has the power and convenience of mowers costing much more.
The Toro is a worthy competitor to the top-ranking mowers on this list.
This Toro lawn mower has the largest cutting area at 22 inches, and it is powerful and comfortable to use, thanks to its Personal Pace self-propel system.
To engage the self-propel, simply push the lever forward a bit and the mower begins to move forward, push it a little more and the mower moves faster. After a couple of rows of cutting, you will see how easy it is to regulate speed. This system is not as intuitive as some of the others, but it still works quite well.
Another great feature: The Toro has Briggs and Stratton’s check-don’t-change oil system that never requires an oil change.
Storage is also a snap as the handle folds down and the mower can be stored vertically.
At just 58 pounds, this mower makes cutting small lawns a lot of fun. The rear discharge chute allows you trim close to trees, beds, and shrubbery. I found myself zipping around obstacles using only one hand.
This is a simple machine with one battery in the center. Charging time is quick, and once the battery is in you’re on your way.
This is not a lawn mower for the back 40. With a 20-inch cut and a small electric motor, it is just not capable of handling larger lawns. But for most mid to small yards, this mower can clean up the area in no time.
Light and easy to store, this is the perfect mower to keep a lawn looking great.
The 21-inch Ryobi RY401150 40-volt brushless mower set up quickly and easily right out of the box. It includes double blades and cuts clean and clear.
This mower comes with two batteries that can be installed in the top of the machine. One notable drawback is that only one battery powers the mower at a time—cut your grass for approximately 30 minutes and when the first battery is depleted, you stop and move a switch to engage the second battery. Ryobi says that the batteries will last for 70 minutes, but stopping to change batteries seems counterproductive.
Otherwise, the mower performed well and completed all of the tests. It has a one-lever height adjustment and is light enough to maneuver around obstacles. It has plenty of power and handled the hill with little strain.
While both the Ego Power and Ryobi were solid performers on the electric front, the Ryobi was let down by its self-propel controls. The controls are located under the bar, but the lever is vague and unresponsive. Because the lever is designed for thumbs only, you need to push the lever in an awkward manner to get the mower up to speed.
For a corded mower, the Greenworks 25022 lawn mower performed quite well. The set-up was easy, and once it was plugged in, it started right up.
Of course, before you use the mower there is the time-consuming task of unearthing your extension cord, unraveling it, and finding a suitable outdoor plug. Once plugged in, the mower embraces its purpose with ease.
It has a powerful 12-amp electric motor that may not conquer larger lawns, but is perfect for smaller yards and trimming duties. Not to mention it offers clean and even mowing.
Not being self-propelled, it takes some effort to push the lawn mower and cord uphill and then navigate a path back so as to not cut your cord.
Its small size makes storage a breeze.
The 14-inch Sun Joe MJ401E lawn mower is the easiest to store. Its diminutive size makes it the perfect lawn mower for small yards and trimming duties. It’s light enough to pick up and move, and it comes with an easy-to-use bagging system.
Still, this is not a lawn mower for cutting the typical suburban lawn, as its lightweight, short wheel base and small wheels make it a little unstable over roots and ruts.
Of all of the lawnmowers tested, the Sun Joe provided the most difficulty when it came time to adjust the height of the blades. The mower utilizes solid axles, front and rear, and the axles are located in a three-notch system under the mower. To change the height of the cut, you need to pull the spring-loaded axles from their positions and move them up or down. It’s a challenging exercise.
The Sun Joe is corded, so cutting area is limited. To its credit, it’s powerful enough when running, but the limited scope means you will have a hard time tackling an entire yard.
The Craftsman M220 is one of the more cumbersome mowers we’ve tested. Set up was more involved—to adjust it to my height I had to first kneel on the floor and remove two fasteners from the bottom of the handle and then pull the handle out of the body. Another two fasteners at the base of the handle allowed me to set the handle angle. The better mowers have release buttons and adjusting levers that allow the operator to make these adjustments quickly and safely while standing.
The mower started on the first pull and seemed to have enough power to tackle any lawn. However, the two levers on top of the handle—one to start and one for speed of self-propulsion—are difficult to operate. Both are difficult to grab if your hands are small to medium, and the levers are too far from the handle for comfortable operation. They’re also not intuitively placed; you have to look each time you make a pass.
The biggest disadvantage of this mower is that it is equipped with front-wheel drive. When self-propelled mowers first came out many years ago, a front-drive system was easy for manufacturers to design and implement and the homeowner didn’t have to push dead weight. The design worked for many years because there was nothing else. But over the years rear-drive systems were developed and it produced a more balanced, more comfortable cutting experience.
When cutting a lawn, the operator naturally has some weight on the handle. Add to this the weight of the grass in the bag off the back of the mower and you have a very light front end. Because the weight of the mower is not over the wheels, the front wheels tend to spin and grasp through each pass. This results in uneven lines, a hard to control mower (especially on a bumpy terrain), premature wearing out of the plastic front wheels, and difficulty trying to trim around obstacles. This antiquated front drive system really lets this mower down.
- Controls are cumbersome
- Front Drive System limits control and comfort
- Not nimble around obstacles
How We Tested Lawn Mowers
We spent the summer mowing a half-acre New England lawn, over and over again.
Kevin Kavanaugh is a retired public school teacher and a product tester for Reviewed. Kevin has been cutting lawns for just about 50 years. He has always been intrigued by all things mechanical, be it watches, power equipment, vintage bicycles, or classic cars.
Ray Lane is a retired supermarket store manager, avid golfer, and product tester for Reviewed. His lawn is the envy of Cumberland, Rhode Island, and he has used several push mowers over the years. At 83 years of age, his input on the mowers was critical, specifically when evaluating ease of starting, maneuverability, and safety.
We tested lawn mowers on both flat land and hills to test maneuverability and power.
After ordering from retailers like Lowe’s and The Home Depot, we assembled each mower and took note of the ease of the set up and how quickly we could adjust the handle to our preference. We then added gasoline, a battery, or an electrical cord to get the mower ready. We evaluated at the ease of setting the cutting height, first testing a high cutting height and then a lower one.
We took each mower on a few passes of an uncut half-acre lawn, measuring approximately 22,000 square feet, noting how it cut at a high height and a lower height while we monitored both the bagging and mulching features. Then we took each mower up and down a grassy hill to see how they performed. Our final test was testing storage capability.
What You Should Know About Lawn Mowers
Self-propelled lawn mowers can take some of the effort out of walk-behind mowing.
There are two basic types of walk-behind mowers: push and self-propelled.
The push type of mower is usually smaller, lighter, and easier to store. They are used primarily for smaller, level lawns. They are perfect for cleaning up areas that larger riding lawn mowers may miss. They can be run by gasoline, cords, or battery.
Self-propelled lawn mowers usually have a larger cutting diameter and can move on their own through operator controls. These mowers can also be powered by gasoline, cords, or battery. Since they take the brunt of the pushing away, self-propelled mowers are perfect for larger lawns up to a half-acre, and they can easily handle hills and sloped lawns. These self-propelled mowers aren’t fully robotic lawn mowers so you still have to do some work guiding them around your yard.
What Is A Self-propelled Lawn Mower?
The first self-propelled lawn mowers started to appear in the late-1960s. As suburbia grew and lawns got larger, pushing a heavy steel mower around on a summer afternoon wasn’t what most people wanted to be doing.
The first self-propelled mowers had primitive front-wheel drive systems that worked well enough, but the mowers often moved along too slowly. Sure, you weren’t pushing but you were caught in a slow-moving lawn-cutting procession. Early mowers either moved too slowly or too fast to match a natural walking speed.
Today’s mowers offer a much better propulsion system. The Honda NeXite Variable Speed 4-in-1 Gas Walk Behind Self-propelled Mower with Select Drive Control, for example, allows a variety of walking speed settings. Owners can literally dial in their preferred walking speed so that they become one with the mower, not being pulled and not having to push.
The Ego Power Select Cut 56-Volt Brushless 21-in Self-propelled Cordless Electric Lawn Mower even allows the operator to drive out to the lawn without the blades turning. That is a great feature.
Today’s self-propelled mowers reduce operator fatigue and make cutting the grass easier than years ago. Self-propelled mowers make cutting on hills safer and more efficient. And with modern speed options they make a summertime chore a little more enjoyable.
Gasoline, Corded Electric, or Battery—Which Lawn Mower is Right for You?
Battery-powered lawn mowers can be powerful and efficient.
Gasoline-powered lawnmowers have kept lawns manicured for decades. They are powerful, reliable, and affordable, and come with features such as self-propelled movement, mulching features, and self-cleaning availability. They are powerful enough for large lawn care jobs and can tackle any lawn from a quarter- to half-acre acre. Any lawn bigger than that would necessitate a riding mower.
But gas-powered mowers emit dangerous carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, require yearly maintenance, and require the storage of gasoline and oil. This may not be suitable for some consumers.
Corded electric mowers have been around for years and were historically the choice of consumers who had smaller lawns and didn’t need the more powerful gasoline mower. While powerful enough to get most cutting or trimming jobs done, the one obvious drawback to a corded mower is the electrical cord.
For any yard worthy of mowing, a long electrical extension cord is required to power the mower. This can be a minor annoyance, such as having to keep the cord free from getting tangled in trees and bushes, to a major annoyance when you drive over it and cut it into small pieces.
However, corded electric mowers require no gas, oil, or maintenance and, other than a blade sharpening from time to time, can perform reliably for years.
Battery-powered cars, power equipment, and tools have been around for a long time. The electric motors were strong and reliable enough, but the battery was not. Just a few years ago, an electric car could expect to go only 100 miles on a charge, and power tools and equipment didn’t last long either. In the past few years, battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds.
Electric cars can expect hundreds of miles on a charge and power tools and equipment can last a full day. This lithium battery technology found its way to lawnmowers and it has created a viable option for those consumers who don’t want gas and don’t want a cord. These battery-powered mowers are powerful, efficient, lightweight, and green. Many now use brushless electric motors, which are more efficient, produce more torque, and are longer lasting than the older electric motors with brushes.
How often should I mow my lawn?
Cutting the lawn too often and only cutting it when it gets overgrown are both unhealthy for a lush, beautiful lawn. The rule of thumb in the lawn-care industry is to keep the grass between 3 inches and 3.5 inches in length. This allows the grass to be long enough to thrive in hot, summer weather.
When cutting grass, never take more than a third of the blade at once. In other words, never cut more than an inch or so. Not only does this cause clumping of grass on the lawn or in the mower bag, but it takes too many nutrients and moisture from the grass itself.
After the late winter fertilizer treatments and the often heavy rains, lawns start to come to life. You’ll find that the grass will need cutting every 4 to 5 days in order to remove just enough length. As the summer wanes on and the temperature rises, the grass will grow a bit slower and a once week cutting is adequate.
It is also important to keep the blades of your lawnmower good and sharp. Since the lawnmower blades are often made of steel, they will develop a dull edge after a season of cutting. A dull edge on a blade will tear the grass and not cut it. This may result in browning of the tips of the grass and put more stress on the mower as well.
While you are under the deck checking those blades—and always disconnect the spark plug wire before going under the mower—be sure there is no old clumped up grass clinging to the mower deck.
Meet the testers
Director, Content Development
TJ is the Director of Content Development at Reviewed. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled “Cranberry Capitol of the World,” which is, in fact, a real thing.
Kevin Kavanaugh is a retired public school teacher and a product tester for Reviewed. Kevin has been cutting lawns for just about 50 years. He has always been intrigued by all things mechanical, be it watches, power equipment, vintage bicycles, or classic cars.
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