Best Walk-Behind Lawn Mower Guide
A fair slice of adults who grew up with at least one yard to play in and explore around their homes came of age tending it with one walk-behind lawn mower or another. I spent years as the “engine” pushing a traditional reel mower before Dad caved and picked up a gas-powered model about a year after they were introduced. Years upon years later, an entire generation trimmed their first yards having never used anything without a motor, be it a self-propelled or push mower. Jump forward just a bit further, and battery-powered and plug-in electric mowers have joined gas-powered machines and the lingering appeal of improvements on the kind of manual model I came of age shoving around to earn my allowance in upstate New York.
A walk-behind lawn mower is ultimately no different at its core from any other tool: the same logic that would stop anyone from trying to pound in carpet tacks with a sledgehammer should guide you to choose a mower built with roughly your lawn’s size, topography and landscaping in mind. Remember, this isn’t an “ego” purchase. Buying based on neighborhood bragging rights may net you little more than an expensive, fancy lawn mower that somehow makes maintaining your yard more frustrating and costly. Remember, you are shelling out money to make your life easier.
What Is A Walk-Behind Lawn Mower?
A walk-behind lawn mower is precisely what it says on the tin. Though it encompasses a number of automatic and manual variations, the term simply refers to any mower the user either guides or pushes forward from the rear. Elective personal preference might become a factor in how you prioritize some features. However, above all other considerations, I always look for the overall package best cut out to easily, efficiently and effectively tackle my yard’s sheer size.
Who Is A Walk-Behind Lawn Mower Idea For?
You won’t need to worry about necessarily cutting a great deal with a single pass when mowing a yard measuring three-fourths of an acre or less. A standard walk-behind lawn mower deck between 20 and 22 inches and should fit the bill just fine for nearly any job at an economical cost and may even be awkwardly oversized for especially small patches of grass. If your yard measures from three-fourths to a single acre, a riding mower with rear-mounted engines will likely maneuver better around trees, flowerbeds and other landscaping features with ideal mobility and visibility. Look into a front-engine lawn tractor or zero-turn mower with a sizable deck to tackle a yard spanning one to three acres and go for a garden tractor or one of the larger available zero-turn riders to making the shortest work possible of any spread bigger than three acres.
How To Choose A Walk-Behind Lawn Mower?
Once you first take the above acreage guidelines into consideration, I can help anyone choose an appropriate walk-behind lawn mower using what would amount to a fairly simple flow-chart, if I were to represent it visually.
First off, would you prefer a push or self-propelled mower? A pusher mower handles smaller yards just fine at a low cost and offers the bonus of a terrific afternoon of exercise in the bargain. Meanwhile, if you have a bad back like mine and a slightly larger lawn with some tricky slopes to mow back and forth across, there’s plenty to be said for the ease of cutting with the front or rear-wheel drive of a self-propelled mower.
Do you have a small enough yard for a corded electric mower to hit everything within range of an outlet and extension cable? Maybe a battery-operated electric’s freedom of movement would be optimal for a slightly larger expanse, assuming the grass never grows especially long or thick. If you happen to have a jungle out there, a higher-powered gas mower might prove to be your best bet.
What Size Walk-Behind Lawn Mower Do I Need?
Avoid overkill at all costs. Given the standard range from 15 to 22 inches, a larger deck in that range is a must-have for mowing a bigger yard because it reduces the number of passes you’ll need to cut everything. However, it also inevitably translates to a heavier mower that may maneuver awkwardly in tight squeezes and around objects and take up lots of storage space when not in use. Choose wisely.
What Are The Different Types Of Walk-Behind Lawn Mowers?
Making Sense Of Power, Push And Self-Propulsion
Reel Lawn Mowers
Running strictly on the operator’s stamina as its fuel, pushing it forward or pulling it backward set the blades spinning by turning gears attached to its wheels. Unlike many now-obsolete technologies, reel lawn mowers remain widely available today as popular environmentally friendly solutions for trimming extremely compact, flat yards under 2000 square feet – not to mention, flavoring a little household productivity with some invigorating exercise.
In addition to weighing anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds less than the average self-propelled mower, reel lawn mowers also cost typically around $200 less. Any design you might find in stores today likely hasn’t changed much from those common to homes across America decades ago, with the exception of being roughly 16 to 32 pounds lighter and offering a broader range of deck widths measuring from 14 to 20 inches paired with 8 to 10-inch wheels and four, five or seven blades. Since the mechanism cuts like multiple pairs of scissors working at once, a reel lawn mower best maintains the overall health of your grass by slicing it into fine pieces, but at the cost of difficult blade sharpening and limited height adjustment.
Self Propelled Lawn Mower
If you have a lawn of small-to-average dimensions measuring 2,500 square feet or less, a self-propelled lawn mower will dramatically pare down both the time and energy you expend grooming your greenery. If your yard of this size is also littered with one or more sizable slopes, this is just about the only practical option for crisscrossing from one side of an incline to the other. If you suffer from chronic pain or have physical limitations imposed by illness or injury and either can’t hire someone able-bodied to care after your yard or haven’t given up on the notion of continuing to manage it yourself, these designs typically weighing in under 50 pounds with decks measuring up to 19 inches or so are godsends for keeping the physical toll of mowing manageable.
Naturally, a corded self-propelled electric lawn mower will shut down as soon as anything separates it off its power source. Battery or gasoline-powered mowers universally include emergency failsafe mechanisms to instantly cut their engines as needed. Some utilize a handlebar-mounted lever that must remain pressed down to keep the mower running. Others employ an instant-shutdown button or killswitch.
Push Lawn Mower
This blanket category would include both engineless reel lawn mowers and electric or gasoline-powered models. If you have a hardy body, an average-sized flat lawn and a love of the satisfaction that comes from a job well-done with your own steam alone behind it, a push mower is the way to go. Remember that there’s always a tradeoff: electric mowers sacrifice power and a larger deck for whisper-quiet operation and a smaller deck; on the other hand, a gas-powered mower offers superior cutting power for thicker growth and easily trims the most grass in a single swath.
Gas Powered Mowers
A gas-powered mower can handle the toughest, thickest types of grass around throughout a lawn of any size, including a larger yard riddled with hills and slopes, with superior maneuverability for negotiating trees, flower beds and other obstacles. The most notable drawback: constant refueling will make a dent in your wallet that varies with your local gas prices and the tremendous noise it generates may limit your mowing schedule if you don’t want angry neighbors beating down your door. For optimal longevity, keep the tank topped off, sharpen those blades regularly, and make a habit of checking the oil, engine and filters steadily to ensure tip-top operation.
Electric Lawn Mowers
An electric lawn mower is a balanced compromise between needing a powered mower and the unique, timeless perks of a reel. These models are, almost without exception, cheaper to maintain and operate for want of having to sink money into gas, oil and spark plugs regularly. For the most part, that just leaves battery replacement every five to eight years, habitually keeping the power source charged prior to the day you plan to cut, and staying on top of sharpening the blades. Unfortunately, while it typically makes a fraction of the ruckus a gas-powered mower creates, that relatively more peaceful operation comes at the cost of a fairly low 30 to 45 average minutes of battery life ill-suited to mowing larger yards, corded mowers being limited in range by the nearest outlet, an imperative to avoid stray cables and pools of water, and insufficient power to efficiently cut thicker grasses evenly.
Cordless / Corded Lawn Mowers
Being about equal for power, choosing a battery-powered or cordless mower once more comes back to assessing the size of a typical job. If everything you need to cut falls within about 100 feet of the nearest outlet, I recommend a corded mower. If you just barely need a little more range and/or simply prefer not to fuss with keeping a cord out of harm’s way of the blades, by all mean, consider a cordless mower. Just remember that even a fully charged battery only offers a little more than a half-hour of working time at most.
Best Features Of Walk Behind Lawn Mowers
Ease of Use
No matter what powers it, any walk-behind lawn mower should operate on one simple concept: the owner grabs the handlebar and guides its movement while the blades pare down the grass. If a mower gives you pause before buying to legitimately consider whether maintaining your lawn is actually a job so complicated that only a professional should tackle it, it’s too needlessly complicated to be worth any price. However, your first-hand experience will reveal whether you chose a type equipped to handle your particular regular lawn care needs.
Think about the size of your yard and how thick and high its grass ordinarily is by the time your regular mowing day comes around. Look carefully at the specs for any walk-behind lawn mower you consider. Remember that choosing an underpowered mower that wasn’t built with yards such as yours in mind won’t just wear you out; it will also run the mower itself into the ground and break it down in a fraction the time its manufacturer intended, particularly with a powered mower.
A standard engine with a flat head and side valve will power right through any small, flat lawn. Stepping up from there, overhead-cam (OHC) engines run more smoothly and quietly while generating even more power. Tackling uneven or hilly terrain and larger lawns of almost any topography probably calls for an overhead-valve (OHV) engine’s superior power, efficient long-haul operation, and easy starting.
You can’t change your yard’s profile to accommodate your lawn mower. As a matter of course, that makes it imperative to choose a walk-behind lawn mower with features and specifications adequate to tackling your inevitable needs as efficiently to your time and money as possible. “Bigger” is not always “better” or even “advisable” in all instances. By the same token, a more efficient, lightweight and quiet smaller mower might not be up to handling what you need it to on a yearly basis.
As I’ve said, there comes a point when a walk-behind lawn mower is simply too woefully outmatched by the thickness of the grass or overall massiveness of the yard. I recommend an OHC or OHV engine for anything more substantial than a modest, perfectly lawn but keep in mind an electric mower’s limitations when weighing the pros and cons against a gas-powered model. A typical 12-amp motor will indeed do a number on thick turf but only if you diligently fight letting it get too unruly before mowing. If you don’t plan on using a corded mower, remember also that adequately trimming extremely tough turf will eat into more of a battery-operated mower’s limited power supply, even with a full charge.
A gas-powered mower may be heavier and take up more storage real estate when not in use and provide notably less mobility in tight places for its extra bulk, but a deck at the upper end of the standard range of 15 to 21 inches for residential-use mowers will greatly cut down any big job’s time investment by clearing more grass in fewer passes.
In my experience, commercial properties tend to have either scattered extremely small patches of grass that need occasional tending or rather large full-fledged yards that owners prefer to keep intently manicured at almost all times. If your property identifies toward the latter, think carefully about whether a walk-behind lawn mower is really the best choice for maintaining the grass in terms of time invested each month and the cost of labor and the mower’s maintenance and fuel. However, trimming strips of grass a few feet wide and perhaps no more than 10 or 15 feet long may require little more than a reel mower and a few hours per month of mowing at most.
Remember when I said above that choosing a walk-behind lawn mower is a practical consideration and not an ego injection? Well, here’s the thing: only a gas-powered push or self-propelled mower has the overall credentials to theoretically handle a lawn of literally any size and profile based on its cutting power and endurance alone. Whereas huge, uneven or hilly yards can make manual push reel or electric mowers impractical due to their power limitations, a gas-powered mower can and will stand up to any task. The trouble is, being bigger and stronger doesn’t always translate to being best cut-out for a job. I tend to recommend reel or electric mowers for smaller yards because they maneuver more tightly and paying more for an unnecessarily large machine with more muscle than a job needs is just a waste. In this case, “just enough” is all you need.
Walk-behind lawn mower decks typically range in size from 15 inches among the smallest reel mowers up to around 22-inch spans designed for larger gasoline-powered models with most electric mower decks somewhere happily between the extremes, measuring not much larger than 19 inches. The bigger the deck, the more grass you can cut in a single pass, reducing your overall mowing time. Be careful, though: trying to cut an extremely small swath of grass with an oversized mower can lead to awkward movement, poor trimming, and even damage resulting from inability to keep the blades away from obstacles.
Generally, a walk-behind lawn mower is best suited to maintaining lawns measuring three-fourths of an acre or less. For any yard between three-fourths and a full acre dotted with trees and flowerbeds, the superior maneuverability of a riding mower with rear-mounted engines will no doubt do the job more easily in less time. To handle any spread measuring 1-3 acres, opt for a zero-turn mower with a sizable deck or front-engine lawn tractor and use a garden tractor or riding zero-turn mower to tackle more than three acres at a time.
Mulch Or Not To Mulch
A number of mowers go an extra mile to both maintain your lawn’s lasting health and cut down cleanup by instantly mulching clippings into fine biodegradable, nutrient-rich mulch particles while you groom your grass. Some models spread them immediately with each pass. Others collect them in an onboard bag to periodically stop and empty for later distribution. You spend less time raking up and disposing of errant grass. Your yard benefits from added all-natural fertilizer at no extra cost.
Should you choose not to fertilize your freshly cut grass with its own mulched clippings, there are other options. A number of mowers will gather clippings into a mounted bag with every pass. Of course, this adds the need for periodic pauses to empty the bag.
If you prefer neither to mulch while mowing or stop every so often to empty a bag of clippings, a side-discharge mower will shoot cut grass off to the side in fairly neat rows you can rake up and do with what you will whenever you choose.
Zero Turn Radius
Some yards with tricky hills and landscaping features such as scattered trees and garden beds can test an ordinary walk-behind lawn mower’s maneuverability. A zero-turn mower enables nimble trimming around obstacles by rotating with ease on its axis instead of needing to pivot when changing directions.
Compared to larger, more specialized types, walk-behind lawn mowers come with relatively few “special” features, but the ones you will find can prove immensely valuable. For instance, self-propelled mowers move forward at top speeds typically somewhere within a range of 1-3.5 mph, some with variable speeds that can dramatically simplify working with care around garden beds and trees. Whether you opt for front- or rear-wheel drive should hinge on your yard’s particular terrain.
In addition, several mowers eliminate annoying pull starts with the simplicity of an electric ignition. A mower with a blade-brake clutch system lets you move obstacles out of your path safely by stopping the blade’s rotation without powering down the engine and letting you resume mowing whenever you are safely ready behind the mower once more. The point being, don’t sink money into an added feature just to have it. Pay a little bit more for added functionality only if it will make your job easier.
Any machine based on twirling razor-sharp blades demands added safety features to guard against injury at the expense of operator error, malfunctions, or even truly unavoidable accidents. As mentioned above, a blade-brake system is a valuable feature for safely and quickly stepping out from behind your mower to clear obstacles without fully shutting the engine off. If you happen to own a push reel mower, congratulations! Ceasing operation for safety’s sake is as simple as standing still and dropping the handle. If you employ a motorized mower, make sure it comes equipped with some sort of failsafe that kills the engine by pushing a button, flipping a switch, unplugging a fob, or releasing a pressed-down bar. Electric mowers often also include push-button or key starts that spare owners coping with chronic pain or lasting injuries the discomfort of over-exerting themselves horsing a choke to get the motor going.
Grass Cutting Ability & Quality
Versatility is an unquestionable difference-maker between an ordinary walk-behind lawn mower and a machine that would be a bargain at twice the price. A great mower can finely manicure a variety of vegetation throughout your yard in any degree of dryness. For what it’s worth, I don’t buy into the belief that a wider-cutting mower is necessarily more efficient. On average, about 1.5 inches on either side separates the narrowest and widest decks available today. From my experience, that scarcely makes a meaningful difference.
On the other, the capacity to increase or decrease a mower’s height relative to that of the grass can prove crucial to maintaining a healthy, evenly trimmed patch of grass. That limited ability to adjust is a particularly damning drawback of reel mowers. When grass is damp and heavy or naturally thick and particularly tall, cutting with the blade too close to the ground can make a mower feel like it has suddenly packed on double its ordinary weight. Conversely, grass breaks far more easily when it grows dry and brittle in hotter weather. That’s why lawn care experts strongly recommend maintaining the strength and overall health of your grass by pairing any lawn down to no shorter than 30 percent of its overall height.
As a rule, gas-powered models offer the widest decks of all walk-behind lawn mowers, a reality which presents a tradeoff between more grass cut with each pass and the downside of a heavier machine taking up notably greater space in storage when not in use. So it also goes for electric mowers: they weigh in as much as 50 pounds lighter than their gasoline-fueled alternatives and their whisper-quiet motors effectively minimize noise and pollution; on the other hand, you have to accept cutting power that may not be ideal for wetter or naturally thicker grasses, a choice between extremely limited battery life or being forever tethered by a cord to an outlet, and a smaller deck that necessitates more passes in return for tighter maneuverability.
Again, reel mowers reign here as the ultimate in simplicity: stand up, grab the handle, and start pushing. These timeless walk-behind lawn mowers will get up and moving as swiftly as you do – no more and no less. Many gas-powered mowers still start by way of a pull-start choke, a standard mechanism which can make their use problematic for owners in questionable physical condition. Fortunately, both gas-powered mowers and many electric competitors offer push-button instant ignitions that bring engines to life in a heartbeat and numerous electric mowers also start with key-based and switch mechanisms, depending on your preference.
Maximum power isn’t everything. There’s such a thing as “too much” or “too little.” You more than likely will never need to worry about a gas-powered mower lacking muscle to keep up with your yard’s vegetation. On the other hand, bear in mind that cordless electric mowers typically come with 24-, 36- or 48-volt motors that likely can’t handle thick, tall or wet grass as smoothly as even a small gas engine. Corded mowers are even less versatile, usually equipped with 12-volt motors that can adequately groom thick turf but not remotely as well as a larger machine. Meanwhile, gas mowers can prove too large to maneuver within smaller spaces, make the most noise of any walk-behind variety, take up the most space in storage, and also generate the most pollutants.
Lawn Clipping Disposal
How you dispose of clippings you choose not to mulch is entirely up to personal preference. If you would rather mow first and rake cuttings later, a side-ejection mower will line errant grass up into neat rows formed with every pass. If you would rather gather and dispose of them as you go, opt for either a three-in-one mower that can mulch, bag or eject your grass or just choose one with a mounted bag you’ll need to periodically stop and empty.
For machines that absorb so much consistent hard labor under hot, dirty conditions for months at a time, it really is a testament to quality manufacturing when you consider just how long the most dependable walk-behind lawn mowers available today can last. Still, making sure your mower lives up to every day of its lifespan asks some timely attention to maintenance in return.
When it comes to gas-powered mowers, monitoring gas and oil levels for an even mixture is critical to maintaining a well-lubricated engine. Electric mowers may run especially smoothly, quietly and cleanly, but beware the speed with which mowing wears down the battery, keeping corded mowers’ cables as far from the blades as you reasonably can, and the fact that lighter blades operating at faster speeds powered by a less muscular engine than a gasoline-fueled mower means especially frequent blade sharpening to make up for their having to work harder cutting the same grass a gas mower hits with more force behind it.
Reel mowers, on the other hand? Well, aside from little-to-no height adjustment and more difficult sharpening between mowing days, just make sure you stretch properly before cutting and stay hydrated.
Warranty & Customer Support
Prices can and will vary sharply. There’s a much more definite status quo for customer-friendly warranty and service protection. A two-year warranty is an industry bare minimum offer for a machine with such expectations for a long life of heavy duty. Though often limited somewhat in their terms, other manufacturers offer more generous four-year coverage. Here’s the trick, though: some brands assign separate warranties to their mowers themselves and their motors. It’s easy to overlook but important to notice and take under consideration. Any manufacturer worth its salt won’t make an owner look especially hard to track down a convenient service center and keep contacting an actual living, breathing, troubleshooting human being relatively simple.
You can find a perfectly qualified walk-behind lawn mower for any size job within a vast range of prices. For a modest reel mower, expect to pay as little as around $80 for a perfectly serviceable model made for small spreads of grass. On the other hand, high-powered gas mowers can run clear up to just over $4,000 for a “Cadillac” model. Assess the size and topography of your lawn and try to balance suitable design with a reasonable price.
What Are The Best Walk Behind Lawn Mower Brands?
Personally, I’ve trusted Black & Decker lawn mowers for over a decade. There are plenty of superb brands to choose from but few with their dependable and dedicated customer service, reputation for outstanding quality, sensible price points and take-it-to-the-bank product reliability behind them.
Where Can I Buy A Walk Behind Lawn Mower?
Best of all, you can find virtually any model one could prefer available anywhere from online retailers such as Amazon to brick-and-mortar home improvement hubs such as Home Depot, Tractor Supply Company, and Lowes. A piece of advice from my own habits: browsing walk-behind lawn mowers in person will almost always lead to a wiser purchase because you can pick a sales associate’s brain directly and gain an unmistakably valid physical impression of the machine before your eyes.
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