If you go shopping for a new lawn mower, you may be surprised to see the number of options. Home improvement and hardware stores stock a vast array of gas powered, corded electric, cordless electric, and manual push mowers, any one of which could be a great choice … or a poor choice. So, how do you know which is the best?
Manual push vs. gas powered vs. electric
Priorities matter. Are you looking for power, economy, low emissions, quiet operation, or some other criteria? All of the categories offer great options that can help keep your yard looking its best for a decade or more. Ahead, we’ve assembled a head-to-head comparison of these popular mowers. Read on to learn more about how they work, what they can do, and which may be a good fit for you.
Manual push mowers
A manual push mower, or reel mower, operates on human power. As the operator pushes the mower, a cylindrical blade assembly turns against a fixed blade to cut the grass with a scissor-like motion. Reel mowers provide a super clean and neat finished appearance. Manual push mowers are ideal for smaller, flatter lawns and can handle larger spaces if the grass is in good shape. Coarse weeds and sticks dull the blades prematurely and may stop the blade from turning. Reel mowers are available in cutting widths between 15 and 20 inches.
A gasoline-powered mower’s engine turns a vertical shaft connected to the mower blade. The blade, with sharpened edges on both ends, makes two cutting passes with each revolution. The combined power and speed of the gas engine allows the mower to cut through herbaceous vegetation, fallen leaves, and small sticks with ease. Gasoline-powered mowers come in cutting widths between 20 and 24 inches.
Electric push mowers use an electric motor to power a rotary blade. Both plug-in and cordless electric models offer plenty of power to mow comparably to gasoline mowers under normal conditions. However, they are subject to bogging down more easily in tall grass. Corded mowers are limited by proximity to a power source and the length of the extension cord. Cordless mowers are limited by battery run time and recharging time. Electric mowers are available in cutting widths between 14 and 21 inches.
There are two cost aspects to consider with lawn mowers. The purchase price is a one-time cost and is directly comparable among the different types. The expected lifespan on all of these mowers is about 10 years, so there’s no need to calculate a per year “depreciation” cost. The second cost aspect is the ongoing operation expense. Fuel and routine maintenance add to the total cost of ownership over the life of a mower, as shown below.
Purchase price ranges for different mower types
Manual push mower: $70 to $200
Corded electric: $80 to $350
Battery electric: $150 to $500
Gas: $175 to $500
Annual operating costs and maintenance for different mower types
Manual: $0 (Sharpen the blades once or twice a year)
Corded electric: $15 to $22 (Electricity, extension cord, blades)
Battery electric: $11 to $18 (Electricity, replacement batteries — 5-year life span, blades)
Gas: $20 to $35 (Gas, oil, filters, spark plug, blades)
Pros and cons
Pros: The cleanest cut, quietest operation, no fuel, zero emissions
Cons: Narrow cutting path, yard needs to be clean and mostly weed free, many models offer only a small range of height adjustments
Pros: Lots of on-demand power, complete flexibility and portability, works even if the grass is really tall or weedy. Options: self propelled, mulching, bagging, key start
Cons: Noise, fuel storage/spillage, engine maintenance, air pollution
Pros: Quiet, no liquid fuel storage, no immediate area emissions (remote emissions at the power plant)
Cons: Bogs down in high or weedy grass, limited to the length of extension cord, extension cord could be a trip hazard
Pros: Quiet, no fuel to store, no immediate area emissions (remote emissions at the power plant)
Cons: Bogs down in high or weedy grass, limited by battery life and recharge time, disposal of worn-out batteries, new batteries are expensive
Manual push mowers are an excellent choice for those who favor clean air, peace and quiet, and a tightly manicured appearance. The upfront cost is very affordable, and the complete lack of operating expense is a bonus. Skipping a cut makes the job more difficult the next time, but mowing generally is an easy and pleasant task.
Gas-powered mowers are the tool of choice for cutting larger landscapes quickly. They provide the most power to cut through taller grass and weeds when necessary and the widest cutting path.
Cordless electric mowers make an excellent choice for small to midsize landscapes. Compared with gas mowers they offer a competitive purchase price, lower operating cost, and quieter operation. Plus they release minimal total emissions, and they are free from the cord.
Corded electric mowers offer plenty of power and unlimited runtime with minimal total emissions but without the problem of batteries. They are mostly limited to smaller landscapes due to the extension cord.
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