No matter your lawn or your budget, there's a perfect lawn mower to match your needs
Shop for a new lawn mower and you'll soon discover there is no shortage of options. The best lawn mowers are easy to handle, safe to use and can be ready to mow without much hassle. Clean up should be hassle-free as well -- the best mowers handle the clippings by bagging them or mulching them into fine pieces.
Lawn mowers can be powered by gas, electricity (battery or corded) or by you. In general, gas-powered lawn mowers can power through tough vegetation better than electric mowers. Some reviews also say gas mowers impart the best finish or final appearance on a lawn. Manual reel mowers remain popular choices for the environmentally aware, with people who like to get their exercise points in while working in the yard, and for those whose yards (and maybe budgets) are small enough to make a powered mower just plain overkill.
While walk-behind lawn mowers are a great choice for most people (and yards), if you have a larger plot of land, you may be better served by a lawn tractor, also known as a riding mower, which we cover in a separate report. To deal with the clippings left on your sidewalks and driveway, you may want to consider investing in a leaf blower, while a string trimmer will put a beautiful finish on the job -- we have reports on both of those tools as well.
Finding the right lawn mower
To find the best lawn mower, start by narrowing down your choices to what type best suits your needs, budget and property. Another factor to keep in mind is reliability: Brands that rate highly for dependability tend to have fewer warranty and service issues. Taking your lawn mower in for repairs is a hassle, and owners say that authorized repair shops aren't always conveniently located.
Self-propelled mowers require less effort. Typically the most expensive type of lawn mower, self-propelled models do the pushing for you. Less expensive models often have set speeds, while pricier models use an automatic transmission and speed levers to accelerate and slow down. The top self-propelled mowers can travel up to 4 mph and have user-friendly controls within easy reach. Self-propelled mowers come in both gas and electric models, and tend to be a bit more expensive than push mowers.
Push mowers are lighter and less expensive. If you want to spend less on a lawn mower and don't mind putting in a little extra mowing effort, consider a push mower. Other than the transmission, there is very little difference between push mowers and self-propelled mowers. Look for a model with large wheels and ball bearings, which improve mobility.
Electric mowers save money. Corded electric lawn mowers are the most affordable type of powered mower to use and maintain, experts say. Their motors don't require oil, spark plugs or batteries, and professionals estimate the electricity required to use them is much less costly than gas. Many owners say handling the extension cord on a corded mower is far easier than dealing with filling and maintaining a gas model. This is the lightest type of mower, making it a good alternative for those who lack the strength to pull the rip-cord on a gas model. Electric mowers aren't as powerful as gas lawn mowers, and their extension cords keep you tethered to an outlet. All that means that corded electric mowers are likely best for small yards without unruly patches of tall grass or weeds.
Cordless lawn mowers run on a rechargeable battery. Cordless lawn mowers give you more freedom than corded lawn mowers and are often more powerful. However, they are also best for lawns of no more than half an acre because battery run time is limited to about an hour. Some cordless lawn mowers use a lead-acid, battery, like the one in your car, and that typically lasts two to three years; good battery maintenance is key to extending its life. Some newer cordless mowers run on lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion) -- beefier versions of the Li-ion batteries used to power cordless tools and other appliances. The advantage of Li-ion technology include lighter weight (lead-acid-battery cordless mowers can be heavy) and fast recharge time. If it's features you want, cordless mowers are available with just as many features as gas mowers.
Reel mowers are the greenest option. Using a spinning reel to cut grass, manual reel mowers are operated by simply pushing them. These mowers offer more of an aerobic workout -- considered an advantage by many. Reel mowers are quiet, low-maintenance, are cheaper than most powered mowers, and save you money down the line on repairs and servicing. Because they mow slower, require more work and their blades aren't strong enough for twigs or unruly grass, experts advise using a reel mower on weed-free properties smaller than half an acre. Plan on cutting about twice a week, on average, to keep grass from getting too high to mow. Reel mowers are not only increasing in popularity with those who want a more environmentally friendly option to trim their lawn and, according the feedback that we've seen, they are improving in performance.
How we found the best lawn mowers
ConsumerSearch editors consulted expert reviews and comparison tests along with owner feedback to select the best lawn mowers of each type. We consider reliability, handling, noise and safety, and also factor in user comments to determine long-term durability. The results are our Best Reviewed picks, along with some alternatives to consider, among gas, electric and reel mowers of all types.
Best Lawn Mowers
Honda and Toro make the best self-propelled lawn mowers
Self-propelled lawn mowers are equipped with a transmission to drive the lawn mower to make it easier to skim across your lawn. With outstanding mulching and cutting, reviews say the Honda HRX217VKA (Est. $600) is at the top of its class. This mower is sold under a few different model numbers, including the Honda HRX217K5VKA and Honda HRX2175VKA; all have identical performance, features and pricing.
Among the Honda mower's premium features is Versamow, which lets users decide how much grass to mulch while bagging the rest. The deck-mounted Clip Director knob sets the bagging/mulching mix. You can also set the mower for side or rear discharge. The end result is a pristine looking lawn every time, regardless of the mowing conditions. "It's great when you're mowing tall or wet grass, because you can bag enough grass to keep the mulch from being too thick and clumpy," says Doug Mahoney at The SweetHome.com, which names the Honda HRX217K5VKA as the best lawn mower overall.
Ease of use is otherwise excellent as well. With an effortless pull cord and automatic choke, owners say the HRX217VKA starts on the first try almost every time. Its powerful four-stroke engine can tackle unruly yards with thick or wet grass. The automatic transmission lets you set your own pace -- up to 4 mph. We spotted a few reviews that say the paddle controls can be awkward to use, making for uneven acceleration, but those comments might now be dated because, as Mahoney reports, Honda has updated the drive control system for 2015. "With the new system, called the Select Drive, you no longer have to apply constant pressure to the control paddles to maintain a speed-it's more like cruise control," he says. The site had not yet tested the mower with that feature, but plans to do so during the 2015 mowing season.
Reliability is also nearly unbeatable. Two leading consumer organizations say Honda is one of the most reliable mower brands, and the HRX217VKA carries one of the best warranties on the market: a lifetime deck warranty and a five-year mower warranty.
If your budget is a little smaller, we saw some solid recommendations for the step-down Honda HRR216VLA (Est. $500), which is also sold as the Honda HRR2169VLA and Honda HRR216K9VLA. Though you need to be a paid subscriber to read the full review, in a free article, ConsumerReports.org's Ed Perratore calls out the Honda mower (in this case, the Honda HRR2169VLA) as one of the best mowers for 2015. He notes that for your $500, you get "superb mulching and bagging, no-prime starting, and an electric-start feature whose battery gets charged while you mow." It has the same Smart Drive feature as the HRX217VKA mowers as well. Versamow and its adjustable mulching/bagging mix is not part of the package, but the Clip Director control that allows for no-tools conversion between mulching, bagging or discharging is present.
Toro self-propelled lawn mowers also score highly. Among those, we saw some strong recommendations for the Toro Recycler 20333 (Est. $400) as another excellent choice that's packed with features many owners love. It also gets respect from most expert reviewers, with special kudos for its SpinStop blade-break clutch system, which stops the blades from spinning but keeps the engine running. That makes it possible to stop the blade but not the mower if you need to get ahead of it to clear an obstacle in your path, improving efficiency without compromising safety. The Personal Pace Self-Propel system, which matches the mower's speed to the user's walking pace (up to 4.8 miles per hour), is another significant plus. "The faster you walk, the faster you complete the job," says Grant Morgan at TopTenReviews.com, which grants the 20333 both a Silver Award and an Excellence Award.
The Toro Recycler 20332 (Est. $360) is very similar to the 20333 but it lacks the popular SpinStop system. It does well enough in one professional review to earn Best Buy status, but user satisfaction at sites like HomeDepot.com seems to be just a touch lower.
The Toro Recycler mowers have only a two-year warranty, but Toro includes a three-year, guaranteed-to-start warranty that promises the mower will start with only one or two pulls. Toro also rates highly in the most recent (2012) study of lawn mower customer satisfaction study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, with a noticeably high score in the performance category. However, in a large brand-reliability study, while Honda leads the field among self-propelled mower makers, Toro finishes mid-pack.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Push Mowers | Best Electric Mowers | Reel Mowers | Buying Guide | Our Sources