What the best lawn mower does

  • Leaves lawn looking well-trimmed. The best lawn mowers deliver a pristine cut, mowing grass and weeds at an even height. Depending on the cutting modes available, top mowers mulch and disperse clippings without clumps and fill bags without clogging.
  • Handles intuitively for easy pushing and steering. A balanced lawn mower with heavy-duty wheels and user-friendly controls can make mowing much faster and easier. Even self-propelled units should be moveable without engaging the engine.
  • Offers brand reliability and a good warranty. The best lawn mowers have at least a two-year warranty on the mower, and many do better than that -- including a lifetime warranty for polymer decks.
  • Uses safety keys and blade brakes. Blade brakes ensure the engine and blades stop immediately to prevent injury. Some lawn mowers include an override, allowing users to turn off the blades while the engine continues running. Safety keys prevent the motor from turning on when it's not in place.
  • Operates quietly; both engines and motors. Most gas mowers are loud enough to require hearing protection. Some electric lawn mowers (but not all) are significantly quieter, and manual reel mowers are the quietest of all. Manual mowers are often quiet enough to use any time of day (or night) without disturbing neighbors.

Know before you go

Gas lawn mowers require regular maintenance. A gas lawn mower tune-up means changing the oil, air filter and spark plug. Plan on spending about half an hour doing so at least once a season.

Cordless mowers need a fresh battery every few years. Proper battery upkeep will extend the life of your rechargeable battery, but plan on buying a new battery every three to five years. Add this to your long-term cost estimates.

Mulch, discharge or bag? Mowers can send clippings out the side or out the back, or can mulch clippings by churning them within the mower's dome until they are cut down to tiny pieces. Some mowers can deal with clippings in any of these ways, depending on owner preference, and these offer the most flexibility. All but the cheapest mowers give you the option of collecting clippings in a bag as well (either side or rear mounted), but the bag may be an extra-cost optional accessory.

Ergonomics matter. An excellent cut is a must, of course, but even modest mowers can cut a lawn well enough to please all but the pickiest homeowners. However, ergonomic factors go a long way toward making your mowing experience more pleasant. Nice features include easy one-lever controls to raise and lower the deck. Lesser, cheaper mowers may require you to raise and lower each wheel individually. Most mowers can mulch or change which way you direct clippings, but better models let you make the choice with a flip of a switch, rather than via mechanical means that require the use of tools.

Consider your property. If you have a small, level plot, a gas or electric push mower, or even a reel mower, should serve fine. For big properties, especially one with slopes, your back will thank you if you opt for a self-propelled model (or a lawn tractor, which we cover in a separate report). If your land is a bit rugged, a model with larger rear wheels is worth considering, though these mowers suffer a little when it comes to overall handling.

Shop around for the best price. Lawn mower prices can fluctuate quite a bit among stores. If you decide to buy online, make sure there's a reputable service center nearby for possible warranty issues. Be aware that some makers may not honor their warranty if you purchase your mower from anyone but an authorized seller. Check the manufacturer's web site for its policies, and a list of authorized Internet and local dealers.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Lawn Mowers: Editors look at the different types of lawn mowers -- electric, gas and reel -- including push and self-propelled models. Top picks and worthy alternates are named.

Best Lawn Mowers: Self-propelled mowers get the best recommendations from experts and users. These are the models that finish in the front of the pack

Best Push Mowers: Push mowers are perfect for smaller properties and smaller budgets. Editors name the best gas-powered push mowers from brands like Lawn Boy, Cub Cadet and Husqvarna.

Best Electric Mowers: Electric mowers are more energy efficient and decidedly quieter than gas models, and might make the most sense for smaller properties. These are the top corded and cordless electric lawn mowers.

Reel Mowers: A people-powered reel mower is a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to keep a small lawn looking its best. These are the top ones.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to select the top lawn mowers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.

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