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1 October 2020

How to buy the best lawn mower

Corded, cordless or petrol? Rotary or cylinder? Robotic or ride-on? This expert guide will help you select the best lawn mower for you.
Rebecca Marcus

Whether you’re mowing a postage stamp-sized lawn or an acre of grass, we’ll help you choose the best mower for you.

Backed by our independent, rigorous tests, our expert guide explains the pros and cons of cordless electric mowers, petrol lawn mowers and ride-on mowers. We also have the details on top features to consider when buying.

Before you part with your hard-earned money, consult our advice on selecting a cutting width, and how to get a striped finish on your lawn.

Want to know which lawn mower you should buy right now? Go straight to the top-scoring best lawn mowers in our independent tests.

Video: how to buy the best lawn mower

Our video below offers up some expert tips on how to choose the best lawn mower for your needs and budget.

Types of lawn mowers

Corded electric lawn mowers

Corded electric mowers are a good choice for a family lawn and typically cost between £120 and £150. These mowers are often the cheapest option and many will do a good job of cutting grass.

Corded electric lawn mowers will cut for as long as you need them to with no need to charge or buy fuel.

Pros of corded electric lawn mowers:

  • Lighter than other types of mower.
  • Look out for one with lawn combs and inset front wheels so it can mow right up to the lawn edge.

Cons of corded electric lawn mowers:

  • You’ll be limited by the length of the power cable and may need to use an extension lead to reach the bottom of your lawn.
  • Always use an residual current device (RCD) and be careful to keep moving the cable out of the way as you mow as it’s very easy to cut through it.

Hover lawn mowers

Hover mowers glide over the grass on a cushion of air, but many don't pick up the clippings so you'll have to rake them up.

A basic hover lawn mower will cost you around £75. For a larger machine with a collection box that can tackle damp or long grass, expect to pay around £150.

Pros of hover lawn mowers:

  • Light and simple to use.
  • Models without a grass box are very compact and can be hung up on a wall.

Cons of hover lawn mowers:

  • You need to be careful with the cable and use an extension lead if the power cable isn’t long enough to reach the end of your lawn. Always use a residual current device (RCD).
  • Don't leave a very smart finish on the lawn.

Cordless lawn mowers

There are now cordless mowers that are as powerful as petrol models, typically costing between £350 and £500. Unlike corded electric lawn mowers, they’re not limited by a cable, so you can cut anywhere you want.

The battery running time will limit how long you can mow for. Some cordless mowers have a cutting time of more than 30 minutes, while others will run out of charge within 20 minutes. The battery often makes these lawn mowers heavier than corded electric mowers, but they’re usually lighter than petrol mowers.

Pros of cordless lawn mowers:

  • Easy to start.
  • Batteries and chargers can sometimes be shared with other tools in the same brand’s range.

Cons of cordless lawn mowers:

  • Battery charging times vary between models. A good charging time is around one hour. Some mowers can take more than six hours to fully charge.
  • The cost of the battery and charger is sometimes not included in the price of the mower. Spare batteries can be very expensive.

Go to our pick of the top five cordless lawn mowers.

Petrol lawn mowers

Petrol lawn mowers are powerful enough to tackle large lawns and suitable for bumpy or sloping ground. You can get a good one between £350 and £550, but note that you'll need to have them serviced annually. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay around £75-£90 for a full service. 

These lawn mowers tend to be heavy machines, weighing more than 30kg. Self-propelled models are easier to push.

Pros of petrol lawn mowers:

  • They’re not limited by a power cable, so can be used anywhere.
  • Many offer the ability to mulch the clippings.

Cons of petrol lawn mowers:

  • Can be difficult to start; a push-button or key start is usually easiest.
  • Some produce smelly fumes and are noisy to use.

Ride-on lawn mowers

Ride-on mowers allow you to attach accessories such as trailers, broadening their range of use.

These hefty mowers can tackle large lawns with ease, but be prepared to spend anything from £1,200 to more than £5,000. You'll also need to get your ride-on lawn mower serviced annually.

Pros of ride-on lawn mowers:

  • A zero-turning model will make it easier to mow around obstacles such as trees.
  • Choose between models that collect the clippings, discharge them on to the lawn and/or mulch them.

Cons of ride-on lawn mowers:

  • You’ll need fuel to hand to refill them when they run out.
  • You’ll need somewhere that’s large and secure enough to store them

See our guide on how to buy the best ride-on mower.

Robot lawn mowers

A robot mower isn't cheap, but it makes mowing hassle free. Once installed, it will mow your lawn with little input from you, cutting regularly and mulching clippings back into the lawn so there are no clippings to deal with.

Some models are capable of cutting lawns that are 5,500sq m and more, making them a great alternative to a ride-on or petrol lawn mower. Robot lawn mowers usually start at around £600 and can go well into the thousands. Pricier robots will usually have more advanced features, like smartphone compatibility, weather monitoring and mapping.

We've recently started putting robot lawn mowers through our full lab tests so you can make the considerable investment with confidence. Head to our robot lawn mower reviews to see which ones we recommend.

Pros of robot lawn mowers:

  • You can set the mower to your specifications, such as how tall the grass should be.
  • Guide lines stop the mower going where you don’t want it to cut. These can be moved to suit you during the year.

Cons of robot lawn mowers:

  • Installing the guide lines to set the boundaries of where to cut can be tricky, so it’s easiest to get someone to install the mower for you.
  • Can be at risk from garden thieves.

Read our handy guide to robot mowers to find out if automated mowing is for you.

How much do I need to pay for a good lawn mower?

The price you pay for a new lawn mower will ultimately depend on what type of mower it is. Some of the cheapest lawn mowers we've seen come from Lidl, such as the £40 Lidl Parkside Electric lawnmower.

At the other end of the scale are lawn mowers costing closer to £800. Examples include the Hayter Harrier 41 Autodrive VS 375A and EGO Power + LM2024E-SP.

Our expert tests prove you don't need to spend big to get your hands on a Best Buy lawn mower. In fact, we've uncovered several Best Buy models under £200.

Shop wisely with the help of our lawn mower reviews.

Lawn mower features to look out for

Cutting height adjustment

At the start of the year and during dry weather, it’s a good idea to leave grass longer so it doesn’t get stressed. In summer, you’ll want to cut it shorter so it stays looking neat for longer. 

Most lawn mowers let you adjust the height of the cut between a set range of heights. Make sure that the mower can cut the heights you require and check how easy it is to change the height. Some can be changed by simply moving a lever, while others require you to change the height of each individual wheel, or to add or remove spacers under the cutting blade.

Starting mechanism

This is mainly an issue for petrol lawn mowers, as electric mowers are easy to start. Some petrol mowers start by giving a sharp tug to a pull cord. This can require a fair bit of strength and isn’t easy for everyone.

For simpler starting, look for models we recommend; these usually have a push button or key start.

Handle adjustment

Some lawn mowers have a fixed-length handle, while others let you adjust it between a range of heights. Check that the mower height will be comfortable for you, especially if you’re taller or shorter than average. Some mowers can be hung up or stored vertically to reduce the amount of space they occupy.

Lawn edges

Some mowers are easier than others to get close up to lawn edges and around obstacles. Features such as grass combs can help them achieve this. Being able to get close to edges reduces the amount of time you’ll spend afterwards trimming missed grass with a grass trimmer or shears.

What size cutting width do I need?

Cutting width is the size of the lawn mower blade. The larger the blade, the more grass it will cut on each pass.

It's important to choose a mower with the right cutting width for the size of your lawn. Too large a cutting width on a small lawn and you'll struggle to manoeuvre it in tight corners, while too small a cutting width on a large lawn, and you'll find it takes much longer to cut all the grass.

Have you got a big lawn? Here's our round-up of the top five lawn mowers for large gardens

What’s the difference between a rotary mower and a cylinder mower?

Most lawn mowers have a rotary blade (see image on left) which spins around on a central point under the mower, cutting the grass as it turns.

Cylinder mowers (see image on right) cut the grass like scissors, so leave a very good finish, which makes them ideal for manicured show lawns. 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 looking very neat.

What is a self-propelled lawn mower?

Petrol lawn mowers can be very heavy, making them hard work to push around when mowing. To reduce the amount of effort involved, look for a self-propelled model as these have an extra drive which will push the mower along. 

How do I get a striped finish on my lawn?

Most lawn mowers won’t leave a striped finish. If you’re after this, you’ll need to look for a mower that has a roller, which will flatten the grass as you mow. Heavier mowers tend to leave the best stripes.

Ready to get your new lawn mower? Head to our pick of the top five lawn mowers

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