Choosing a Lawn Mower
The market for cheap lawn mowers is awash in options costing $300 or less, from manual reel mowers to electric lawn mowers to gas-powered models. Upmarket mowers are graced with more features and power, but our scrutiny of expert and user reviews showed that thrifty consumers who mow regularly can make do with less without sacrificing much in the way of cutting prowess, user friendliness, or durability.
Numerous brand names populate the lawn mower universe. These include GreenWorks, Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, Worx, Toro, Black & Decker, Craftsman, Lawn Boy, Sun Joe, Poulan, Weedeater, and Yard Machines. Most manufacturers produce a range of models that span the gap between entry-level and high-end professional-grade machines.
For the cleanest and smoothest cut, matching the equipment to the size and grade of the yard is critical, experts say. Manual reel mowers and electric mowers are best suited to relatively flat areas up to one-quarter of an acre (about 11,000 square feet). Gas-powered push mowers boast more oomph and are recommended for slightly larger yards, especially those with a few bumps. Consumers with even more ground to cover may want to spring for a riding mower, which is a different category of yard equipment. We confined our search for the best cheap lawn mowers to push mowers powered by electricity or gas and identified two worthy entries in each segment.
Electric Lawn Mowers.For consumers with small, flat yards, an electric lawn mower is a quiet, lightweight, and environmentally friendly choice. Electric mowers draw power from a cord plugged into an outlet or from a rechargeable battery. Among electric mowers, our top pick is the corded GreenWorks 25022 (starting at $128) followed by the cordless Worx WG775 (starting at $195).
Corded electric mowers are generally cheaper than battery-powered mowers. Their range of movement across the grass, however, is limited by the length of the electric cord, which typically extends 100 feet. Managing the cord to prevent tangles can be tricky, and the cord may hamper the operator's ability to maneuver around obstacles. Some users of corded mowers say they feel as though they're vacuuming the lawn.
Cordless electric mowers allow more mowing flexibility but have their own quirks. The battery on budget electric lawn mowers can handle about one-quarter to one-third of an acre on a single charge, and most models come with a disclaimer stating that difficult cutting conditions will cause the charge to run down faster. Batteries last about five years before needing replacement. These power cells are heavy, and the difference in weight between a corded and a cordless mower with the same size deck can be 30 pounds or more. (One plus: Some cordless mowers use batteries that are interchangeable with other battery-powered tools that run on the same voltage.)
Gas Lawn Mowers.Gas mowers cost more than electric models upfront and over time, between maintenance expenses and refilling the gas tank. Still, more grass calls for a bigger, heavier, more powerful machine. The best cheap gas mower is the Cub Cadet SC 100 (starting at $249), with the Husqvarna 7021P (starting at $300) pulling up right behind. The Yard Machines 11A-02SB700 (starting at $149) is cheap enough, but user reviews carp about its design and overall usability.
For more square footage than a push mower is designed to handle, or where there are inclines or especially bumpy terrain, a self-propelled gas mower such as the Honda HRR216K9VKA (starting at $399) is a labor-saving but more expensive choice. This class of mower requires minimal effort and almost pulls the operator along.
Most entry-level gas mowers now feature a four-cycle engine that runs on straight 87-octane gasoline, which is a big advance over the old two-cycle engines that required a gas-oil mixture. Gas-powered engines are far noisier than electric motors and spew emissions. And they still rely on a recoil start while electric motors feature push-button starts.
Residents of California must consider regulations on carbon emissions when buying a gas-powered lawn mower. (A gas mower generates more than 10 times as much pollution per hour as a new car, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.) The equipment must meet requirements set by the California Air Resources Board. There are plenty of CARB-compliant models to choose among, including all the gas mowers mentioned in this buying guide except the Yard Machines 11A-02SB700.
Reel Mowers.Reel mowers -- the old-fashioned style with a cylindrical blade -- are very quiet and emit no exhaust of any kind. They're relatively inexpensive and simple to assemble, maintain, and operate. On the other hand, mowing the lawn takes a lot longer, and heaving a reel mower across a large or hilly yard can be a bear. Twigs or debris lying around can jam the blades. And if the grass is too high, a reel mower just won't cut it. If the choice is between a reel mower and a gas or electric mower, just remember that the former requires 100 percent person power. The best non-motorized mower we found is the Fiskars StaySharp Max (starting at $199), which incorporates a unique cutting design and ergonomic features.
Expensive vs. Cheap Lawn Mowers.Compared with budget mowers, pricier mowers have more power (higher voltage batteries for electric mowers and engines with more displacement in gas mowers). They often have more features, such as handlebars that adjust to more than two positions, zero-radius turning, all-wheel drive, longer warranties, and generally better build quality. But most American homes sit on lots no larger than a quarter of an acre, according to a Census Bureau survey, and most consumers don't need a heavy-duty, high-priced lawn mower or tractor. An affordable push mower is up to the chore.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Lawn Mower Reviews: What We Considered
To identify the best cheap push mowers, we chomped through expert and user reviews online. Expert reviewers from sites such as Popular Mechanics, Mowers Direct, and Consumer Reports generally cover more expensive lawn mowers, particularly in the gas segment. There is no shortage of lawn mower reviews, though, because retail sites such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Amazon, Walmart, and specialty vendors overflow with commentary about cheaper models posted by hundreds of consumers.
Both experts and users point to cutting performance as the most important criterion for judging a lawn mower. Testing by Popular Mechanics shows that almost any mower will work under ideal conditions, but individual yards are rarely ideal. That puts a premium on choosing a mower that suits the property and the operator (the easier the mow, the more likely it is the chore will be completed). Reliable and quick starts are important criteria for gas lawn mowers, but reviews indicate this is rarely a problem on the best new models. Overall, users expect their lawn mowers to be durable and trouble-free.
Mowing Performance.Experts note that entry-level lawn mowers are at their best when users mow on a regular basis and don't let the grass get too long; user reviews corroborate that assessment. All of our recommended picks, as well as the self-propelled Honda HRR216K9VKA and manual Fiskars StaySharp Reel Max, earn high ratings in lawn mower reviews for cutting cleanly, quickly, and efficiently. Most operators say the push mowers on our list tackle weeds and heavy grass with aplomb -- unless the yard is wet. Owners of electric models and reel mowers report instances where they have had to go over the same spot more than once if the grass is very thick, although this slight glitch in performance doesn't seem to deter those who prefer to keep weight, noise, and emissions to a minimum.
Height Adjustment.Mowing demands a certain amount of precision. Grass that's too short may not withstand drought or excessive heat, and grass that's too long can accumulate thatch that gets in the way of water and fertilizer. Experts recommend keeping the lawn at 2 to 3.75 inches, all the better for weed control and absorption of water and nutrients. Each mowing should trim no more than one-third of the lawn's height. A machine with multiple height settings affords flexibility in mowing frequency.
All our picks feature adjustable cutting heights up to at least 3.4 inches. On the best budget mowers, adjusting the blade height takes very little effort -- just a finger pull on a lever that's located on the handle or wheel. On the Yard Machines 11A-02SB700, however, the process is laborious: Each wheel must be unscrewed and set back on at the desired height.
Cutting Width.Mowing efficiency is affected by the operator's speed but also by the width of the cutting deck on the mower. The wider the cutting path, the fewer passes needed to finish the job.
Electric mowers generally cut a slightly narrower path than gas-powered models. The cutting deck on the cordless Worx WG775 is a mere 14 inches, so operators must make more passes than they would with a wider deck. On the other hand, a mower with a slim cutting path is easier to steer around landscaping obstacles such as shrubs, trees, garden beds, and walkways. Budget-priced electric mowers usually have decks that measure 18 to 22 inches.
The decks on budget gas mowers usually fall between 14 and 22 inches, with the widest cutting swath most often found on self-propelled mowers. The larger the blade, the more difficult it is to push the mower, so it's no surprise that self-propelled models cut the widest path -- a few even cover 30 inches or more.
Grass Disposal Options.Where does all that grass go once it's been cut? Most electric and gas walk-behind mowers are 3-in-1 models, a reference to the number of options for dealing with the cuttings: ejecting the grass onto the lawn, collecting it in a bag, or mulching it. Our top choices are all 3-in-1 machines. Again, the Yard Machines 11A-02SB700 is an outlier: The only option is side discharge onto the lawn. The manual Fiskars StaySharp Max sends clippings out the front, either into a Grass Catcher (sold separately) or to be mulched (very finely chopped) as the blades roll over them again.
Grass left to fall back on the lawn should be raked unless the clippings are very short or mulched by the mower. Bagged clippings must be disposed of, which requires a place to dump them (compost heap, perhaps) and interrupts the mowing zen. Mulched grass reduces evaporation and adds nitrogen back into the soil, a step that alleviates, to some extent, the need for store-bought fertilizer. If there's one spot where cheap mowers teeter, it's in the mulching. We read some online comments lamenting that the clippings aren't chopped well and clump when slightly wet.
Ease of Use.The best entry-level mowers singled out in this buying guide present few, if any, issues regarding handling. Even people who push one of these electric or gas lawn mowers up and down inclines have no problem with their weight or maneuverability. That said, a small cordless electric mower like the Worx WG775, which weighs just 32 pounds, is going to be easier to maneuver than a much larger gas mower like the 66-pound Husqvarna 7021P, especially with a full fuel tank.
The Honda HRR216K9VKA weighs 80 pounds, about 15 pounds more than any of the other models we researched, but self propulsion makes it easier to move along. Still, a few reviews on the Home Depot website note that pulling it backward requires more effort than expected.
Some consumers say they steer clear of gas engines to avoid the perceived challenge of starting one, but gone are the days when operators struggled to pull and pull and pull a recoil cord to rev up the machine. The current crop of gasoline engines, even at the cheaper end of the market, feature some type of quick start that sets the engine humming after one (at most two) good yank(s). Reviews of the models we researched report that the engines almost always start on the first pull. Electric mowers start right up with the push of a button.
Durability.We looked for reviews by consumers who have owned their lawn mowers for at least a year. The best of the lot present no or few problems over time; the major gripe in this regard seems to be engines that sometimes stall or seize up.
A three-year limited warranty is fairly standard, although the Worx WG775 comes with a two-year warranty and the Yard Machines 11A-02SB700 is backed for only one year. The GreenWorks 25022 offers a four-year warranty on parts and labor. The average lifespan of a lawn mower is about six years, according to Consumer Reports, but can be much longer with proper care, which includes cleaning out the deck and keeping the blades sharp. An annual checkup at the start of every mowing season is vital. Wheels, bolts, belts, and bearings, which can come loose from the vibration of routine use, should always be checked before starting to mow.
Maintenance is minimal with an electric mower. Manufacturers recommend recharging before the battery runs dry and keeping the mower (or the battery, if it can be removed) connected to the charger when not in use. Corded lawn mowers should be unplugged before (dry) cleaning under the deck and around the blades. Users suggest spraying the deck with silicone so the grass releases easily. Never leave an electric lawn mower of any kind exposed to rain or snow.
Gas lawn mowers demand more care and attention, from draining the gasoline and winterizing the mower to periodically changing the oil and spark plugs and cleaning or replacing the air filter. Cleaning off the built-up dirt and grass immediately after use is also important. Our top picks feature washout ports where a hose can be hooked up for cleaning underneath the cutting deck.