Different Types of Lawn Mowers – Which One is Right for You?


When the growing season is upon us, our lawns can get wildly out of control.

Yards and gardens begin to resemble dense jungles, and venturing into them, you’ll feel like you’re exploring a lost world.

You need to tame this unruly wilderness before the neighbors raise a few eyebrows.

But there are so many types of lawnmower out there – so how do you know which one is right for your property?

Read on to find out – with a brief buyer’s guide to follow to help you match with your perfect mower.

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Lawn Mower Types

The world of lawnmowers can be confusing, and at first glance, there are seemingly endless options to choose from.

Let’s break it all down with minimal jargon.

Reel Mowers

Reel mowers are designed for use in smaller yards and gardens. The only thing that powers it is your own steam.

Often called push or cylinder mowers, they use a cylindrical rotor that consists of several sharp blades, which turns and slices grass on a fixed cutting edge as you propel it forward.

No gas, no fuel emissions, and little to no maintenance (although you might need a special kit for sharpening the blades from time to time).

And they’re environmentally friendly and near silent – so the neighbors will love you.

The crème de la crème example has to be the Fiskars Stay Sharp, which is the Cadillac of reel mowers. I believe it to be the best cylinder mower ever.

This is somewhat unsurprising considering the Finnish company manufactures some of the best scissors in the world.

I have personally owned one of these ingenious machines, and let me tell you it works like a dream – even on tall grass (although a few passes might be required with different height settings).

However, be advised that reel mowers are of no use in larger gardens, and pushing them up hills can be a serious workout – even with the Fiskars being 60% easier to push than other mowers in this class.

I learned that the hard way – and so did my chiropractor.

Rotary Mower

Rotary mowers are the most common type of mower for residential use. You probably already have one, or your family has owned one in the past.

A single cutting blade is housed in a protective deck. With the mower turned on, the blade rotates at high speed, slicing the grass it passes over.

Rotary mowers can be powered by various sources, but you’ll find the most common are gas and electric.

Often called “walk behind” mowers, the lawn mower deck has a set of four wheels, and you push the mower in the direction you want to cut.

The size and design of these wheels is important depending on the terrain and layout in your yard – so don’t overlook them.

There are probably more rotary mower options on the market than any other kind, but this Greenworks G-MAX 40 Volt model is a great example.

Highly rated, it offers a 16-inch cutting width that’s perfect for small to medium-sized yards, with an environmentally-friendly battery that can cut 400m2 on a single charge.

Hover Mowers

Using the same principles as rotary mowers, with a horizontal spinning blade, the main difference is that hover mowers don’t have any wheels.

Instead, they sit on a cushion of air that allows the deck to “hover” just over the cutting surface. Hence, the name.

Ideal for unusually-shaped lawns, they’re highly maneuverable, with the ability to negotiate obstacles with ease.

And this is where they truly excel, without the constraints of wheels to hamper your mowing direction. You can swing a hover mower all over the place, and they’re particularly good for cutting slopes.

However, you can forget stripes with a hover mower, and the cut can sometimes be a little slapdash – especially if you’re not used to controlling it.

The Sun Joe 10 Amp electric hover mower is a good example of this style, capable of up to 7,000 RPM,

Sun Joe 10 Amp electric hover mower

Weighing just 10 lbs, this little machine glides almost effortlessly across smaller lawns, with no wheel marks, and a trim, 11-inch cutting width.

Readers from the UK will be up in arms that I didn’t choose a Flymo – the company that pioneered the technology and British household lawnmower icon.

Take a look at this article if you would rather have an attractive, striped lawn instead.

Ride-On Lawn Mowers

The name “ride-on lawnmower” is a broad term to denote a number of different vehicles that are capable of cutting your grass in some form or another.

This particular type of mower is identified by the engine located to the rear of the machine. They’re usually more compact and less heavy-duty than lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers.

And as the name suggests, you literally sit on them and drive around your yard, while the cutting deck and blades do the work.

Not only are they practical, but you’ll be having the same fun as when you went to the fairground bumper cars as a kid. Heck, I still enjoy them, and I’m in my 40s.

Designed for larger yards and gardens, ride-on mowers all but eliminate the effort it takes to mow the lawn.

Along with lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers, they can finish the job faster than any other lawnmower type.

There’s a wealth of examples to choose from, as owning a ride-on becomes more affordable and popular, but I’ve gone for the classic Troy-Bilt TB30R riding lawn mower as my example.

Troy-Bilt TB30R riding lawn mower

It features a powerful 382 CC engine and a six-speed smooth transmission, with a 30-inch cutting deck that’s ideal for yards up to 1.5 acres in size.

A mulch kit is also included, and the soft-touch steering wheel with vibration dampener ensures this a joy to drive, and is one of the best riding lawnmowers around.

Lawn Tractors

Also classed as “ride-on” mowers, you can easily spot a lawn tractor as the engine will be at the front of the vehicle.

They’re a more heavy-duty machine than a standard, compact riding mower, and more versatile as a result.

Commonly used for other work around the yard and garden, you can fit them with multiple attachments and accessories.

This includes using trailers for haulage, tractor aerators, loading and dumping with a front bucket, clearing snow in the winter with a plow, and tilling soil with a cultivator.

And, of course, mowing your lawn.

As such, the versatility afforded by a lawn tractor makes them one of the most popular lawnmower types on the market.

The downside is that said market is saturated with choices.

But when you’re talking tractors, it’s very hard to overlook a John Deere. Their S180 model is top-of-the-line in the S-Series, with a 24 HP engine and silky hydrostatic transmission.

John Deere S180 ELS Gas Hydrostatic Lawn Tractor

Compatible with all the attachments you could ever dream of, the 54-inch cutting system will have the job done in no time.

The question is – would you want it to be? Especially if you’re driving one of the best lawn tractors ever made. Why not challenge your neighbor to a race?

When it comes to other popular lawn tractor brands, take a look at this article for some comparisons between John Deere, Cub Cadet and Swedish company Husqvarna, to name but three.

Zero Turn Lawn Mowers

Whenever you see a groundskeeper mowing the lawns of the local school, I’m betting there’s a 99.9% chance they’re using a zero-turn lawnmower.

Identified by their almost alien-like operating system, they feature two bar levers that control their direction, depending on whether you push or pull.

With the ability to turn on a dime, you can negotiate obstacles with ease, and coupled with a huge cutting deck, make short work of even the largest yards and gardens.

They all use hydrostatic transmission for the smoothest of rides, and provide unbeatable power across the board.

But as you might expect, this kind of performance doesn’t come cheap – which is probably why they’re mostly used for commercial purposes and sports fields.

That said, if you’ve got the cash and the yard size, check out the new Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1, which is an absolute monster of a machine, and surely one of the best commercial zero-turn mowers ever made.

Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 Zero Turn Lawn Mower

You only have to look at those tires to know what a beast this is, backed by a 23HP Kawasaki engine that can reach speeds of up to 7.5 MPH.

Robotic Lawn Mowers

Yes, it’s the 21st Century!

By now I was convinced we were going to have robot butlers doing our every bidding, but at least the technology boffins have developed A.I. that can mow our lawns.

These ingenious devices are powered by a rechargeable battery – and some even offer solar panels to keep the juice topped up as it operates.

Used in conjunction with an app, or by laying down a boundary wire, you can reclaim your weekends and let your mechanical slave do all the work for you.

They even have rain sensors and will return to home base should the heavens open. Take a look at this article if you absolutely must cut wet grass.

More devices are appearing on the market all the time as the technology improves, but the WORX WR140 Landroid is a good starting point.

This little guy is relatively affordable, and capable of cutting up to 1/4 of an acre all on its own – although there are other models for covering larger areas.

You can just set it up to go and then forget about it – you’ll never need to mow the lawn yourself again.

I’d seriously consider one, but I’m not sure what our dog would make of it. She might think she was being replaced as the household pet.

How to Choose the Right Lawn Mower

That’s a lot to consider, right? If you’re still stuck, take a look at the bite-sized buying guide I’ve included below.

lawn with a yellow zero-turn lawn mower

Size of the Yard

This is perhaps the most obvious indicator of what type of lawn mower you should buy. It will certainly narrow it down significantly.

Larger cutting decks will get the work done faster, so make sure you pay attention to those important specifications.

As a general rule of thumb (and going by my gut instinct):

  • For lawns up to 1/4 acre, choose a mower with a 15-18-inch cutting deck.
  • For lawns between 1/4-1/2 an acre, a mower with an 18-25-inch deck should work well.
  • For lawns anywhere between 1/2-3 acres, a 20-30-inch deck will have you covered, although you’ll want a ride-on mower as the numbers go up.

Anything above that and you should be looking at a zero turn mower or lawn tractor with a 30-inch + cutting deck. Follow that link if you’re having trouble deciding between the two.

man mowing lawn with push lawnmower

Power Types

Lawnmowers are powered by a variety of sources, and your next decision headache is going to be which one is right for you.

Push/kinetic mowers require no fuel of any kind, instead relying on human power to run – which often takes a fair bit of effort.

They are the most environmentally and cost-effective option, and you can check out this review for some great examples as some of the best cheap lawn mowers on the market.

Corded electric mowers use a cable that plugs into the mains. Your range will be limited to how long that cable is, and/or if you’re using an extension.

They are a cost-effective solution for smaller yards, and require less maintenance than gas. You’ve pretty much got endless power, too – so long as it’s plugged in.

Cordless electric are more commonly known as battery-powered mowers, offering more freedom without the constraints of a power cable. Click the link to view some of the best.

However, they can run dry of juice, and you might need an expensive backup battery if you have a larger job to finish.

Gas is usually the most powerful mower option (all things being equal) but also the noisiest, requiring the most maintenance, and with additional rising fuel costs.

See this article for some interesting options on the seemingly endless gas versus electric lawn mower debate.

Solar mowers are not really a thing at the time of writing. While you can find some examples that partially use the sun to charge, they’re just not as practical as other options. (Yet.)

Note that gas and electric mowers are both available as self-propelled machines, offering a drive system to assist you guiding the machine forward.

Handy for hills, the elderly, and lazy kids.

They can be front, rear, or all-wheel drive. FWD is ideal for negotiating obstacles, RWD is best for hilly terrain, and AWD is the jack-of-all-trades workhorse.

Check out this review for some of the best self-propelled lawn mowers on the market.

electric lawn mower on yard view from top

Obstacles and Terrain

Is your garden full of trees? Flower beds? Walkways and patios? Children’s play things you can’t be bothered to move?

If that’s the case, you’ll want to choose a machine that is highly maneuverable – and this is where hover lawnmowers can be a good option.

Failing that, look for lightweight mowers with FWD, which will enable you to lift the back easily, so you can tackle just about anything in your way.

For larger areas, zero-turn mowers are unbeatable for zipping around obstructions.

And take a look at this article on the best lawnmowers for hills if you have rolling terrain in your backyard.

Clipping Disposal

Aside from reel and robotic mowers, most lawn cutting equipment will offer you up to three functions when it comes to disposing clippings.

Mulching, bagging, or side discharge.

A whole article can be writing on this topic (and indeed several have been) but I think you should just watch the video below for some excellent advice on the subject.

Cleaning and Maintenance

In order to keep your mower in tip-top shape, you’ll likely need to do a spot of regular maintenance – depending on the type of mower you have.

If you’re not particularly prompt or competent with this, then perhaps it’s a good idea to steer clear of gas-powered machines.

But all lawn mowers will need their blades sharpened from time to time, so you should check out this article on the best lawn mower blade sharpeners.

Alternatively, you can go here if you just want to choose a replacement blade.

Either way, you should understand the maintenance needs of a lawnmower before purchase – and how easy it is – so you can be sure you’re up to the task when the time comes.

Budget

The cost of a product is an important factor for most people – and the same can be said when you’re choosing the right type of lawnmower.

Prices vary wildly, depending on the size and quality of the machine.

But if you’ve got your ducks in a row with regard to the considerations above, then you should already have a rough idea of how much or how little you need to spend.

Remember – it’s only a lawn. You can always use one of these amazing tillers and turn it into a vegetable patch instead.

Growing our own food is what more people should be doing, anyway.

gardener mows the lawn with trimmer near to lawn mower tractor

Summary

There are so many types of lawnmower out there it can make your head spin as fast as the cutting blades themselves.

But I hope this article has helped point you in the right direction, and you’re closer to finding the best machine for your needs.

Let me know which type you’re interested in and why – or if you have any tips or advice for the community on making this important decision.

In the meantime, stay safe out there, and happy mowing!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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