How to buy the best lawn mower
By Adelaide Gray
There are hundreds of lawn mowers on sale - but only a few are easy to use and leave a great finish on your lawn. This expert guide will help you find the best lawn mower for you.
From the cheap and cheerful to the large and powerful, we'll tell you how to go about finding the perfect lawn mower for you.
A good starting point for thinking about what type of lawn mower you need is to ask yourself these questions:
- How large is your lawn? Are you looking for a model that is great for quickly tidying up a small patch? Or do you want a more powerful lawn mower that can whizz through long grass in a large area?
- How tall or strong are you? Some mowers have adjustable height handles to be more comfortable to use. Self-propelled petrol mowers with key starts are much easier to use than pull-starts or heavy models that have to be pushed around.
- Where do you want to use your lawn mower? Are you planning to get a model that will handle well on a slope or can manoeuvre around trees and ponds?
- How smart do you want your lawn to look? Does it have to be striped like a bowling green or are you happy as long as it's short?
- How much space do you have to store your mower? Models with foldable handles can squeeze into tight spots.
Our guide to the best lawn mowers for 2018 reveals the models that have topped our independent lab tests.
To help you pick the ideal lawn mower, our dedicated interactive tool will walk you through the key features and buying decisions to consider
Corded electric rotary lawn mowers
If you have a budget of between £100 and £200 then there are plenty of corded electric rotary mowers from brands like Bosch, Flymo and Honda that are easy to use and can tackle long and damp grass far more effectively. Look out for one with lawn combs and inset front wheels so it can mow right up to the lawn edge. Cordless rotary lawn mowers are an expensive option but are very convenient and simple to use. We've found a couple of great models that have enough battery life to mow medium-sized lawns.
Corded-electric rotary lawn mowers are a good choice for a family lawn.
Pros: Corded electric rotary lawn mowers are often the cheapest option. Battery-powered cordless machines are currently much more expensive. Both types of mower are great choices for a family lawn as they can tackle patches of long grass and as most collect grass clippings you don't have to worry about mowing too often.
Cons: Cordless electric mowers are still very expensive. The cable from corded models tends to get tangled up in borders and you may need an extension cable, too.
Petrol rotary lawn mowers
These powerful machines range in price from £190 to £550, but we have a Best Buy Hayter model for only £212 which breezed through longer grass and was easy to use. Self-propelled petrol mowers can cost a bit extra, but the cheapest we’ve tested still came in at under £200. Our Best Buys start at £350 for a Mountfield mower which came with a range of useful extras including a hose attachment for washing underneath the mower, an effective roller for neat stripes and an indicator for when the grass box is full.
Pros: Great for mowing large areas and tackling rough grass. As they don't have a power cable they're great for mowing around large obstacles such as trees or ponds.
Cons: Heavy and some are very difficult to manoeuvre. You will need to service your petrol mower to keep it running smoothly.
Cylinder lawn mowers
Cylinder mowers cut the grass like scissors so leave a very good finish on a lawn. They don't cope very well with long grass or bumpy lawns though and very few of the hand-push models collect the grass well. They're really designed to keep regularly cut, short grass look very neat and to leave the clippings to mulch down.
Traditional hand-push cylinder mowers are very basic machines which cost under £100. If your lawn is your pride and joy then you can spend upwards of £600 to buy a corded electric or petrol cylinder mower. These heavy machines are expensive but we've been impressed at how smart they leave a lawn looking.
Cylinder mowers are ideal for a short, fine lawn
Pros: Will improve the appearance of a regularly cut lawn, give a very good finish on a flat, fine lawn
Cons: You have to mow very regularly. The hand-push models don't collect the grass clippings well. Adjusting the blades and keeping them sharp and be fiddly.
Hover lawn mowers
Hover mowers glide over the grass on a cushion of air. Some don't collect grass, others have a grass box. Flymo is the most familiar brand for these mowers.
These light, manoeuvrable mowers are generally inexpensive. You can pick up a basic model for as little as £30 and we have a Best Buy for only £40. If you are looking for a more robust model with some additional features, such as a grass box, then you can pay up to £160.
Pros: Light and simple to use. Models without a grass box are very compact and can be hung up on a wall.
Cons: These mowers don't leave a very smart finish on the lawn and only the largest machines can tackle damp grass or long grass.
Robot lawn mowers
If the thought of cutting the grass makes you want to sink further into the sofa then you could consider a robot lawn mower that does the work for you. These devices are good alternatives to ride-on mowers, since some can cover up to 5,000sq.m, as well as anyone who wants to keep their lawn neat with minimal effort. They will also be a boon to anyone who struggles with pushing around a heavy mower.
Once you’ve set the mower up, which requires you to set boundaries, so it doesn’t barrel through your hydrangeas, and programme it, so it will mow your lawn at scheduled times. You'll also require you to set up a perimeter wire, so the machine can detect the edges and size of your lawn. Some models also have smart features, which means you can control and set up the device from an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Robot mowers have a charging dock that sits outside your home and the mower will automatically return to it when its batteries are almost flat, or when it has finished cutting the grass. Bear in mind that the dock needs mains power, so don't place it too far from an outlet. Some manufacturers install the mowers, too, if this all sounds a bit tricky.
As if a robot mowing your lawn for you isn’t good enough, you don’t need to empty them either. They mulch the grass and spread it over your lawn to fertilise it.
The main things to consider if you’re thinking of buying one of these mowers is the maximum square footage they can mow and what gradient of slopes they can handle. You don’t want to your expensive new robot mower to stop short of the end of your garden or get stuck halfway up a hill.
Pros: completely autonomous once you’ve set it up, no need to empty the grass, automatic charging and scheduled mowing
Cons: can be very expensive, fitting the perimeter wire can be fiddly
What features do I need?
Lawn mowers can come with a number of features. We explain what each one does below. At the very least, look out for metal blades, which will be able to cut cleanly through grass. A large grass box can be really useful if you don't mow that often, while a roller will give a traditional striped finish to your lawn.
A grass collector is a cloth bag or plastic box that holds the grass clippings created by your mower. A big grass collector saves numerous trips to the compost heap. A window in the top, or an indicator to tell you when it's full, is also useful, but a lot of them don't work particularly well.
With hand-push mowers, the grass collector is open and relies on the rotating blades to throw clippings into it. We've found that a lot of these types of grass collectors don't work very well at all.
Lawn mower cutting height
This is simply the height above the ground that the lawn mower will cut the grass. A lawn mower with a wide cutting range (eg from 12-70mm) is useful if you have to cut more than one lawn of different qualities, or different heights at different times of the year. If you want to cut a fine ornamental (bowling green) lawn, look for a minimum cut of around 13mm.
A single height adjuster is easier than adjusting each wheel in turn. With the cheapest lawn mowers, you have to remove and replace each wheel, or in the case of hover mowers, remove the blade and add or remove spacers, which is fine if you rarely change the cutting height.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries
Lithium-ion batteries for cordless, battery-powered lawn mowers are designed to deliver similar power, but with less weight than NiCd batteries and their life span is considerably longer.
You might have to pay a bit extra for a lithium-ion battery-powered mower rather than a NiCd one, but they are becoming the standard type of battery. For a lot of cordless mowers, the battery is the most expensive component.
Many mowers have a single operating switch on the right-hand side of the handle that needs to be held down for the mower to be used. A long switch is a bar that runs the width of the handle, allowing you to use both hands to switch mower on, to save wrist strain. It's better for left-handers, too. A double-switch, on both sides of the handle, is also a good option.
Mulching mowers recut the lawn clippings into tiny pieces and blow them back on to the lawn, where they break down and feed the grass.
Some have a metal or plastic plate that blocks off the outlet to the grass collector, while others have a knob that converts quickly from collect to mulch.
Now find the perfect lawn mower for you by checking out our lawn mower reviews.
What size lawn mower do I need?
Choosing the right size lawn mower for the size of your lawn makes all the difference in terms of being easy to use. Too large a mower on a small lawn and you'll struggle to manoeuvre it in tight corners, while too small a lawn mower on a large lawn and you'll find it takes much longer to cut all the grass.
Lawn mower size is measured in blade width. Basically the larger the blade, the larger the machine and the more grass it will cut on each pass.
Small lawn - under 50 sqm - look for a 30-34cm cutting width
Medium lawn - over 50 sqm but under 150sqm - look for a 35-40cm cutting width
Large lawn - over 150sqm - look for a cutting width over 40cm