What the best string trimmers have

  • A low weight. Users bear the full weight of this tool, so it's important to select a lawn trimmer that's comfortable to carry and maneuver around your landscaping. Shoulder straps are available for some models to help remove the burden from your arms.
  • Ample safety guards. The shield at the bottom of the string trimmer protects users from flying debris. Although a well-designed guard blocks most things, it's always best to wear safety goggles, closed shoes and pants to protect against airborne grass and rocks.
  • A trigger lock. To prevent accidentally running the trim head when not in use, the best string trimmers use a trigger or throttle lock. This switch should be in a convenient location and easy to use.
  • Quiet motors or engines. In general, electric lawn trimmers are quieter than gas-powered models, but noise levels vary in each class. If you select a string trimmer that's louder than 85 decibels, safety experts recommend wearing ear protection.
  • Powerful trimming capabilities. If you need to take down unruly weeds and tall grass, look for a string trimmer that's equipped with dual nylon lines. Lines that are .08 inch or thicker cut through tougher vegetation. For extra-tough trimming, switch out your line for a metal blade.
  • An edging option and clean finish. Some string trimmers have a swivel head that rotates to the ideal edging position. Others require you to turn the entire tool. Either way, the string trimmer should stay well balanced at this angle, give you good visibility of the area you're trimming and leave a crisp edge.
  • Low vibration. Gas engines are notorious for vibrating, which can fatigue your hands and leave them numb. String trimmers with anti-vibration technology are more comfortable to use over long periods.
  • Good balance. The string trimmer should stay at the proper angle without a fight; this is usually easiest with a top-mount motor. The best string trimmers have shafts that change lengths or moveable loop handles that allow you to adjust the tool to match your height.
  • Easy-to-use feed and reload features. Reviewers don't have a preference between bump-feed and automatic-feed systems, as long as the string trimmer delivers the line smoothly as needed. The best string trimmers have a spool that's easy to load with new line.
  • Durable construction. The best string trimmers incorporate high-quality materials into a thoughtful design to create pull-cords, switches, spools and engines that can withstand years of use. Even expensive models may have some plastic, which keeps the weight down. But a longer warranty isn't a guarantee of a better tool; many owners report problems getting warranty service through some brands.

Know before you go

What obstacles do you trim around? Consider landscaping elements like trees, furniture and gardens that need to be edged or trimmed. A corded string trimmer is more challenging to maneuver around large items and prevent the cord from tangling.

How big is your property? More landscaping to trim also means more time required; choose a string trimmer that has the runtime to handle all of your trimming and edging at once. Cordless trimmers are the most limiting; some users purchase additional batteries to extend runtime, but they can be fairly expensive.

Straight shaft or curved shaft? Experts find that there isn't much performance difference between the two styles of string trimmer. Popular Mechanics says some users find curved shafts to be more comfortable, but their testers "preferred straight-shaft trimmers because the extra shaft length makes it easier to reach under shaggy evergreen boughs, and it puts a bit more distance between the operator and the debris that ricochets around the cut area."

Value expectations: the dollars and cents of it

The cost of owning a string trimmer goes well beyond the purchase price. All models need occasional maintenance and additional trim line. Gas-powered trimmers also require annual engine servicing, and the cost of gas and oil is an important consideration. Cordless weed whackers will need a new battery every three to five years, and they can cost up to 60 percent of the total purchase price. Although corded string trimmers are the easiest to maintain, a heavy-duty extension cord can cost $50 or more.

Back to top