A lot of people find mowing the lawn relaxing on a sunny Saturday, and there’s even scientific evidence suggesting that chemicals released by freshly cut grass are good for your health. These reduce your level of stress and can even prevent mental problems associated with old age. So mow, mow early, mow often!
To ensure that lawn maintenance will offer the maximum benefit, it is important to carefully select the machine that will be doing the mowing. Modern mowers are becoming increasingly complicated devices, and finding the best one for your particular needs can be a daunting task. Not to worry, we’ve prepared this handy guide to help you find the best self-propelled lawn for your yard.
How we chose the best self-propelled lawnmower?
Selecting for a handful of excellent self-propelled mowers wasn’t easy. There is a myriad of things to consider, starting with the capacity of the engine down to unusual features like vertical storage. We’ve started our search on retail sites, looking at most of the products in the best self-propelled lawn mower section.
Carefully considering the star rating of each product, as well as the customer reviews, we’ve made a list of a couple of dozen top scorers to further look into. At this stage, we consulted professional reviews on specialist sites like Consumer Reports or Popular Mechanics to narrow down our selection to only just five products, which we hope can cover a wide range of needs.
This product has charmed consumers and reviewers alike by offering such a high degree of functionality at a very reasonable price. The 159CC OHV gas engine provides a lot of power for even the toughest jobs while not excessively noisy. The auto-choke equipped in this lawn mower warms up the engine quickly which makes it easier to start every time you need.
The 11-inch high rear wheels and 8-inch front wheels make it easier to work on uneven terrain. It becomes easier to tackle the rough surfaces and turn the mower more smoothly. The different speed control settings and the self-propulsion system makes it one of the best products in its category.
This 21-inch cutting deck is not suitable for large yards but can do wonders in small or medium yards. Craftsman 215 lawn mower has 6 different height settings which give the ability to adjust the height as per the requirement. One of the attractive features it has is its cutting deck that offers side discharge, rear discharge, and mulching.
The inspiringly named 25322 seems to be the most popular mower built and designed by Greenworks. This affordable electric just can’t stop getting rave reviews from professional testers and satisfied customers alike. One can’t consider oneself satisfied unless one knows what one gets into, however, so a description is in order.
With only 16 inches of cutting deck, this machine isn’t expected to be used on anything other than a small lawn, but mowing that diminutive surface of grass will be a breeze. As an electric, the 25322 runs smoothly and silently, it has enough heft to cut through any well-maintained lawn with ease, and at only 40 or some pounds (half of the weight of most petrol-powered mowers) a 6-year-old could U-turn it without strain.
Greenworks specifies that the 4Ah battery on this mower can last up to 45 minutes — or cut around 400 square yards on a single charge — and folks who bought it mostly agree with that claim. You can spend those minutes either bagging or mulching the grass since this is a two-function device.
As if it didn’t offer enough convenience already, the 5-positions deck height adjustment on this Greenworks is controlled by a single lever, so you can make a patch of grass shorter and shorter without too much stress.
A good look at this Husqvarna lawn mower drives home that the Minnesotans who didn’t leave the old country really have a knack for designing gardening equipment. The L121 offers pretty much all someone might want from a light-duty lawn mower, and it does so in a comfy and easy to handle package.
You won’t need to read a guide on how to adjust a Husqvarna self-propelled lawn mower simply because these devices are simple and intuitive to work with. In that regard, they resemble Soviet cars, but in matters of build quality and performance, a BMW makes for a better analogy. And what is that performance?
The Husqvarna L121 is a 3-in-1, height-adjustable over a range of 2,2 inches, variable speed, gas-powered mower driven by a highly efficient Kohler engine. It has increased-diameter rear wheels so you can get it past curbs and alleyways in your yard with minimal effort and a (reportedly) soft handle.
However, as you might expect from a premium European design, this Husqvarna doesn’t come particularly cheap, but it should make up for its initial purchasing cost in years of service. Furthermore, it is manufactured in the United States.
4. Honda HRX217
Our favorite (and judging by the reviews it received, most everyone else’s) gas-powered mower on the heavier side of the spectrum is the Honda HRX217. It has a Honda GCV200 engine and quite a hefty cutting deck that should handle any job you throw at it. Like most Hondas, it uses microblade technology and twin blades, which should work wonders for mulching as they slice the grass in very small bits.
This powerful mower can of course also be used for bagging and side discharging and it should have no problem powering through those thick weeds on the border areas of a lawn thanks to its powerful engine and rear-wheel drive.
This Honda’s heft also comes in handy when you consider stability and uneven terrain performance, as it pushes it stronger towards the ground. At the operating weight of 91 pounds, people who’ve tried it report that the engine and transmission do a fine enough job at moving all that weight about by themselves.
Another amazing feature of this lawn mower is the adjustable handle. It can be adjusted to any of the 3 positions or can be folded for nice and compact storage. This is further aided by the 9-inch ball-bearing wheels that can be adjusted for a deck rise between 3/4 and 4 inches in any of seven positions.
Toro’s legendary Lawn-Boy series just couldn’t be absent from any list of self-propelled lawn mowers. The 17734 firmly sits in the “medium” weight section, at 72 pounds and 149 cubic centimeters built and designed by Kohler, but you wouldn’t know it by the price, as it would pull you down a pretty penny.
And what do you get for the cost? An electric start, for one, and everything else you might require from a 21-inch decked mower. It’s said this Lawn-Boy has remarkable mulching capabilities, thanks to its patented tri-cut system, but it does equally well with bagging, having a somewhat bigger bag than its competition. No need to worry about running out of room during those late autumn months, this mower offers room to spare.
The Kohler OHV this uses also requires no oil change, which makes the 17734 one very convenient mower. In this regard, it also bears mentioning that the deck height adjustment is made through a two-point system via levers somewhat unusually placed on the right side of the mower. If you think about it, this is a very smart system, as both levers will be within eyesight all the time, making it easier for the operator to set them for the same height.
Self-propelled lawn mower: Electric vs. Gas
While most models available on the US market are still powered by an internal combustion engine, more and more people are opting for electric lawn mowers for a variety of different reasons.
- Electric lawn mowers tend to be very quiet. These operate at around 75 dB, as opposed to their petrol cousins which can put up to 95 dB. Don’t be fooled into believing that a difference of “just” 20 dB on paper can’t be anything short of dramatic in real life. Long time exposure to noises higher than 90 dB is considered the threshold for chronic hearing loss, while 75 dB is the noise level of a regular conversation.
- Electric lawn mowers are easier to maintain and, all other things being equal, should have a longer service life. It’s almost inevitable that the engines powering internal combustion mowers will cause a lot of vibration (although four-strokes are smoother and a bit quieter than two-strokes), which adds mechanical wear to the machine over time. Furthermore, electric lawn mowers will require a lot less lubrication, and an electric motor has fewer moving parts that can break down.
- Electric lawn mowers are generally lighter than petrol or gas alternatives, which translates into faster mowing time, increased maneuverability, and less strain on the operator.
- Although they have a slightly higher purchasing cost, electric lawn mowers come off as the most cost-effective solution once you quantify the price of fuel.
- For a lot of folks, reducing the carbon footprint is a major factor in choosing electrically-powered alternatives. Therefore, we believe it’s pertinent to delve into the environmental aspect a little deeper.
Electric mowers are energy-demanding devices, and although they won’t be responsible for greater CO2 emissions than their petrol or gas counterparts, the difference isn’t as large as most people would imagine.
Unless your electrical power comes from a hydroelectric plant, a nuclear reactor, or any of the more fashionable “renewables”, chances are the energy driving the motor was produced by burning fossil fuels or biomass (read: trees), while releasing the smoke into the atmosphere.
Adding to this; the industrial process by which electric batteries are produced is often more laborious and resource-intensive than what is required to build a simple two-stroke or even a four-stroke piston engine. And when those batteries are finally discarded, they will further impact the environment as soil pollutants.
We’re not saying that electric mowers aren’t greener than their combustion engine counterparts, only that the distinction isn’t so dramatic as to make it a good reason for purchasing one when a gas-powered mower will offer better service.
For their part, petrol-burners aren’t placed under the same environmental regulations as automobiles. This means these aren’t usually outfitted with filters to prevent most noxious gasses from getting into the atmosphere.
There are, however, some clear advantages that an internal combustion engine provides:
- Gas or petrol mowers are more powerful than electric options, which gives them a substantially higher degree of versatility. An engine-driven mower is currently the only viable choice for large lawns, of up to a quarter acre, while electrical models are only recommended for “small to medium-sized” lawns.
- Furthermore, an internal combustion mower will struggle less with difficult jobs (like cutting through thick weeds or up steep slopes) than an electrically powered one.
- You might find that electrical mowers will burn through their power supply very quickly, losing power or draining the battery in the span of just 30 to 45 minutes. This depends a lot on the quality of the battery, but even when concerning the best cordless self-propelled lawn mowers, most experts agree you should hold to at least two fully-charged spares.
- Corded electric mowers will present the disadvantages of requiring an extension cord to the nearest outlet, and they can also put quite a strain on your home’s electrical wiring.
- Finally, as the more popular option, it would be easier to find servicing or spares for a combustion engine model in any area of the country.
Self-propelled lawn mower buying guide
Not all front yards are the same, therefore no yard tools will perform equally well in every setting. There is no best self-propelled lawn mower out there that will beat its competition no matter the context. You can, however, find the best tool for your particular needs if you know exactly what to look for.
When to go for a self-propelled mower instead of a riding one?
The short answer is when your front lawn is smaller than ¼ acres, but things are rarely so simple.
Depending on the particularities of your lawn, walking a quarter-acre surface while maneuvering some dozens of pounds around obstacles might be a harder or easier job. Consider if there are elevated patches to contend with, thick foliage in autumn, or how tall you tend to let the grass grow before cutting it.
These will all increase the difficulty of the task by a wide margin and you should adjust that figure downwards accordingly. In fact, ¼ acre will make most people opt for a riding mower or even light-duty lawn tractor, even in the best of circumstances. On the flip side, folks who enjoy the exercise might appreciate breaking a sweat at the expense of their time.
Fuel-burning mowers are powered by engines ranging in size from 125 to 190 cc, but most models have a cylindrical capacity around 140 to 160 cc. A larger engine usually provides more power and torque, which are useful when negotiating difficult terrain, churning through thick weeds, or just in need of finishing the job faster.
The increased torque will improve bagging in extreme conditions, like when dealing with tall grass, covered by leaves, or when going up steep inclines against dense greenery in a border area, side discharge in place.
As with everything else, the amount of power and torque required should be weighed in against your needs. Bigger engines tend to be more expensive, noisier, less fuel-efficient, and less environmentally friendly. If you have a sensible mowing style and don’t let the grass on your lawn get too high, an engine in the 140 to 160 cc range should provide more than enough performance.
Drive and traction
Just like cars, self-propelled lawn mowers can have front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. The parallel with automobiles holds even when you consider how each distribution affects driving behavior.
- Front-wheel traction will make the mower easier to navigate around obstacles like rocks, trees, and lawn furniture since the operator won’t have any difficulty in lifting the driving wheels by pushing down on the handle to make the mower turn on the spot. However, the front wheels will have the same tendency to get off the ground when negotiation inclines, or even rough patches of turf, which might lift the front of the mower.
- A rear-wheel-drive machine is ideal for keeping traction under these conditions since the operator pushes directly upon the powered wheels. The majority of online reviewers agree that on uneven terrain, RWD more than makes up for its price difference over the cheaper FWD.
- For the most uneven of surfaces, a mower with all-wheel drive might be required. This is the most expensive of the three, but the system is reported to make a visible difference on steep inclines and washboard surfaces.
For mowers with adjustable speed settings, the choice of transmission comes down to either a classic belt and pulley gearbox or a hydrostatic one. The latter runs a lot smoother, requires little to no maintenance, and is remarkably reliable.
The hydrostatic operates with fluid pushing on an impeller fixed to the output shaft. Only a handful of moving parts that can wear down is involved in the arrangement, and equally important, no belt is required. The only downside over the alternatives is a higher initial purchasing cost, made up for by an extended lifespan.
At the opposite side of the price range, there are the set speed mowers, that lack a gearbox entirely, hence the ability to adjust speed and torque. These should service small, even lawns fairly well.
Most mowers have equally-sized front and rear wheels, of around seven to eight inches in diameter. In some models, the powered wheels are some two to twelve inches larger than the front ones.
Opinions are mixed on which makes for the preferable option. Larger rear wheels are said to ride better on rough terrains, like a stone alleyway or sand, but some testers found that this small advantage isn’t worth the trade-off in controllability.
Ball-bearing vs. bushing wheels
Ball-bearing wheels make for a very smooth ride and increase fuel efficiency, as there is less friction. They also require less lubrication than bushings. Really, the only reason to go for the latter is cost.
Deck height and controls
The best self-propelled lawn mowers allow for a wide range of adjustment for the deck height, leaving you a good number of options for trimming the grass. It is a good idea to check with the manufacturer’s specifications for the maximum height the blade can be set at if you want to leave a tall, lush lawn.
The deck height can be adjusted via one, two, or three levers adjacent to the wheels. Although the most convenient option, the single lever system employs a lot of extra parts, which add significant weight and complexity. Unless the time saved with height adjustments will be worth the extra maintenance and eventual repairs, it is better to give it a pass.
The four-lever is the most straightforward mechanism, while the two-lever offers a compromise solution between reliability and convenience.
A modern mower can be tweaked in a variety of ways and offers a high degree of functionality, but at the same time manufacturers went out of their way to make these devices as easy to use as possible. After all, they are intended for residential use and shouldn’t require a certificate to operate.
- Electric start
Sometimes it takes a special technique to start an engine by the pull of a recoil rope, and folks who haven’t mastered this art are bound to get annoyed after repeated attempts.
With an electric start function, you wouldn’t need to worry that a family member or a neighbor that might have borrowed the mower will start swearing — this starts the engine at the push of a button! The only downside we can think of is added complexity.
- Blade override
As a safety measure, the engine of most lawn mowers automatically shuts off whenever the user releases the bail. This can get very inconvenient for those who aren’t too keen on keeping their hands glued to a handle for half an hour or more.
It can also get expensive, as fuel consumption is highest at start-up, not to mention the wear and tear on the engine.
A blade override system lets the engine run after you let go of the gas lever, and only disengages the blade from spinning.
- Wash-out ports
Some models have a fitting that allows you to connect a hose directly to the deck for washing. That way, you won’t have to awkwardly turn the mower on its side or get underneath it with a hose to clear the grass clippings from the inside of the deck and blades.
Ideally, rust from washing shouldn’t be a problem, since most blades are made from stainless steel, but products manufactured in China might use other materials than what’s described on the label. We recommend buying American whenever possible.
- Swivel wheels
Swivel wheels greatly increase the mower’s maneuverability by allowing it to turn without the need to take the front off the ground. This is a great feature to have if the mowing surface offers a lot of obstacles, such as flower beds, trees or decoration, but it also offers a less obvious benefit.
Most people instinctively try to turn the mower without lifting the front while mowing. Over time, this will add stress at the connection with the axel and the wheels will begin to wobble, eventually falling off.
- Storage options
Garages and sheds can get pretty crowded and mower manufacturers came to meet the storage space problem with a few innovative features. Some mowers have folding or telescopic handles, which, besides saving a great deal of space, makes the machine easier to use by people of different heights.
All-electric models can be stored standing on end and some newer petrol ones offer this option as well. This will reduce the ground footprint of the device by nearly ⅔, and should seriously be considered by those who already have a lot of garden tending implements lying around.
There is really no other way to tell if a mower will feel to handle and fit your mowing style than to try it out in the shop. You could read consumer reports but since everybody is different, what might seem intuitive, accessible, and comfortable to some won’t be the same for others.
In mowers with adjustable speeds, the controls for switching gears are either integrated with the “acceleration” lever — the harder you squeeze, the faster it goes — or have an independent lever, similar to what you can find with a sequential gearbox in cars.
The first is obviously more straightforward, but a separate lever will allow for more freedom when shifting. This is important when negotiating steep inclines or areas with thick vegetation when you would want to use low gear for the maximum amount of torque.
- No oil engine
A somewhat rare feature, some engines don’t require oil changes, or at least this is how they are advertised by the manufacturers. Of course, the small amount of oil that evaporates during the combustion process will have to be periodically replenished. For example, Briggs & Stratton calls its no-oil feature “Just Check and Add”.
- Power-assisted reverse
Another unusual feature, this allows the driver to engage in reverse, in a similar way you see with a car. This can be useful on uneven or obstacle-cluttered surfaces, as well as with particularly heavy models when fully loaded with clippings or dead leaves, but it does add a degree of complexity that might otherwise be unwelcomed.
All two-function mowers mulch, while some can bag and others side-discharge. Mulching provides the lawn with grass clippings as fertilizer but should be avoided for tall grass in periods when the lawn is recovering from summer or winter stress — early spring and autumn.
Besides the above, bagging is useful when you need the grass clippings to fatten the soil for a vegetable or flower garden.
Three-function mowers offer full functionality — mulching, bagging, and side-discharging. The last one is useful for mowing border areas with tall weeds. This tends to be a demanding process and many times the surface will require more than one run-through, starting at the highest deck setting and progressively lowering it (a one-lever control will prove convenient here).
If you have a large surface area to contend with, you might want to opt for a wide-cut mower to speed up the job. These come with 28 to 33-inch blades but can get significantly heavier than regular models and are comparatively rare, which can make finding spare parts an issue.
The vast majority of gas-powered self-propelled lawn mowers have a deck between 20 and 22 inches for the best compromise between mowing speed and weight. Cordless electric mowers tend to be a bit smaller, at 19 to 20 inches, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a 21-inch model.
As of March 2020, Honda was the only manufacturer to use high-impact plastic for a gas-powered mowers deck, although this material is fairly common with cordless electric models. The benefits of plastic are rather obvious: it doesn’t corrode, it’s light, and while it might be less resistant to physical stress than steel, it won’t bend on impact.
Most walk mowers are made from steel, always painted to prevent corrosion. For a similar reason, some manufacturers use aluminum for their decks. While this won’t rot the same way that steel does, it can form an oxide layer over time if it’s not washed regularly.
Besides being somewhat more expensive than steel, aluminum is also less resistant and will bend easier when impacting rocks or bricks, so you should be a little bit more careful when mowing with an aluminum-decked model.
A bit about the bag
The bag needs to be durable and have a good seal for blocking dust. Naturally, its quality is directly proportional to the mower’s overall price, and people that bag a lot might want to purchase a bigger and better bag than what comes with a (presumably affordable) mower. Otherwise, the standard-issue bag should last as long as the mower.
How to maintain a self-propelled lawnmower?
- Never forget that the blade on a mower can cause serious injuries, so before any maintenance activity, the spark plugs should be disconnected to ensure the machine doesn’t start accidentally.
- The air filter needs to be changed with some regularity, depending on how dusty the yard tends to be.
- The spark plugs are best replaced once per season. This operation will pay off even if the machine appears to function well, as fresh spark plugs will make for an easier start and better fuel economy.
- When changing the oil, make sure that the engine is still warm to ensure the best drainage. This operation can be done either by tilting the mower to let the oil drain through the dipstick, using the appropriate drain plug, or using an oil draining tool.
- The mower blade should be sharpened twice per season. This will help the mower struggle less as well as improve the health of your lawn.
For the overall performance at an affordable price, the Craftsman M215 is hard to beat.
If you want to go comfy and green, the light and nimble Greenworks 25322 should do the trick.
Our premium choices in the medium variety are different but equal, the Husqvarna L121FH and the Lawn-Boy 17734 offers great functionality for a steep price. (Although you might favor the Lawn-Boy if convenience is a serious concern)
Finally, the Honda HRX217 offers a lot of power, good “off-road” performance, and a fabled mulching capability.
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