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Cutting it Down to Size: Tips for Buying the Best Lawn Mower

Even if an afternoon spent manicuring the lawn isn't your idea of fun, there are a variety of lawn mowers available to make your job easier
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lawn mowers

The grass may actually be greener on the other side: your neighbor might tend to his lawn on the regular. He might find manicuring the lawn, trimming hedges, and pulling weeds a well spent afternoon in the sun. To make the most of your own lawn care chores, you'll first want to make sure you've got the best lawn mower for your property.

Consider Your Needs and Compare Lawn Mower Types

The first decision you'll need to make is how you will mow your yard: will you walk or ride your mower? Consumer Reports suggests that if your lawn is greater than a half-acre (a lot approximately 220 feet by 100 feet) you should consider a riding mower. If your lot is smaller but you really like to ride, you're still allowed to buy a riding mower; just be prepared for eye-rolling looks from your neighbors. But otherwise consider a walking mower. You can choose between a motor-powered or man-powered lawn mower; gas or electric; battery or corded, self-propelled or push, and more.

Before you get to cutting, you'll also want to define how you plan to use your mower. Are you a bagger who collects your clippings? A mulcher who wants a machine that chops the cut blades of grass into tiny confetti bits that fall to the ground and nourish the lawn? A side-discharger, who'd like the clippings blown out of the side of the mower and lets them remain where they fall? And finally, consider the terrain you're cutting. A 15-degree slope is roughly the maximum angle you can cut safely. But remember, if your lawn does have a lot of slopes you might not want to be lugging a behemoth mower up and down it.

So, what's the best lawn mower for your needs? Read on for further details about each type.

Manual Reel Mowers

Many new homeowners are drawn to the bucolic charm of the manual reel mower, as it was the standard among households in the first half of the previous century. These push mowers emit no pollution, make little noise, require little upkeep, and can be had at a fraction of the cost of a power mower.

But cutting grass with a manual mower is hard work, especially if the grass needs more than a 1" haircut. These machines also don't trim close to objects like trees, so even basic landscaping requires some hand-trimming. But, if you must give this mower a try, the Sun Joe Mow Joe 16" Push Reel Mower ($79.99 with $10 shipping) has a clippings catcher and weighs only 22 lbs.

Corded Electric Mowers

People who are concerned about pollution often opt for an electric lawn mower: they are effortless to start and maintain, run quieter, and many models mulch, bag, and side-discharge.

There are some disadvantages to this type of mower though, the primary being the awkwardness of wrestling with the cord — and trying not to cut it. Moreover, these lawn mowers are only as powerful as the current they can draw from your home wiring and accordingly don't handle long grass very well. They're also designed to cut a narrower swath of grass compared to more highly-powered models, thereby increasing the time it takes to mow. All in all the pictured Black & Decker MM875 Electric Corded Push Mower ($239.99 with free shipping, a low by $9) and its kin are best designed for small lawns. This mower features a 12-amp motor, 19" deck, weighs 52 lbs., and is effortless to start and maintain.

Electric Battery Mowers

This type of electric mower is cord-free, operating from a battery enclosed in the housing. Less cumbersome than corded models, these mowers can start at the flip of a switch and just need to be plugged in to recharge. Electric battery mowers are also emission-free at point-of-use. The downsides here are that, for many models, the recharge time can be close to a full day, and the battery is heavy, making the mower more cumbersome to push.

If you're in the market for a battery-powered lawn mower, consider the pictured Black & Decker CM1936 Cordless Electric Lawn Mower ($349 with free shipping, a low by $30) with its 36-volt, 1,200-watt removable battery. It also features an easy-to-adjust height and a 2-year limited warranty. Bag and mulching plate are included.

Gas-Powered Mowers

There is a lot to be said for today's modern gas-powered mowers. They are efficient, powerful, durable, and dependable when properly maintained. Some even come with electric starters, which alleviate the user from the old rope-yanks. Yet these machines are still noisy, which is why you should wear ear protection while mowing. And while we're at it, eye protection is also a good idea, since mowers can kick up small pebbles and other debris.

Most gas lawn mowers are powerful enough to cut yards that have been allowed to grow a bit beyond ideal, so don't be sucked into a horsepower competition with your neighbors. Instead, look for a lawn mower that has side-discharge, bagging, and mulching options included, not as additional purchases. A washout port (the place to screw in a hose and wash out the cutting chamber after you mow) is also a useful feature, as is a blade brake, which allows you to empty the clippings bag without stopping the mower. Plus, padded grips help avoid numb hands.

But no matter the bells and whistles, be prepared to maintain your gas powered mower with regular blade sharpening, oil changes, filter cleaning, and spark plug replacement. An ideal mower is one like the pictured Husqvarna 7021P Gas-Powered Push Lawn Mower ($289.99 with free shipping, a low by $3) which mulches, bags, and side-discharges, has an ergonomic handle, and 12" back wheels for navigating terrain.

Self-Propelled Gas Mowers

If you don't fancy shoving a heavy mower around your lawn all day, you might consider investing in a self-propelled version of the walking mower. It harnesses the power of the mower to pull itself along the yard and vastly reduces the amount of work necessary to manicured the grass. The pictured Toro 20377 Self-Propelled Gas Mower ($289 with free shipping, a low by $10) is equipped with variable speeds, and bags, mulches, and side discharges. It has a 149cc OHV engine, a 3-year guarantee to start, 2-year full warranty, a 22" cutting path, a quick-wash washout port, and is CARB compliant.

In weighing the cost of any lawn care service — which could charge upwards of $30 a week — it makes economical sense to invest in your own lawn mower. And with the right mower, cutting the grass doesn't have to feel like much of a chore, and it'll leave you with some extra green!


Contributing Writer

Tom Barlow is a freelance journalist specializing in lifestyle and consumer issues. In addition to DealNews, his writing has appeared on many websites, including Forbes.com and Aol’s DailyFinance.com.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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