We’ve tested electric- and battery-powered mowers, petrol mowers and eco-friendly push mowers. While petrol mowers are still king of the hill for big jobs, very low mowing or long grass with guts, we’ve discovered some battery-powered models make a compelling case for going electric.
Snapshot: The Ryobi RLM36X46L50HID is a battery-powered mulch & catch mower that weighs 15.1kg and has a cutting width of 46cm. But is it the sharpest tool in the shed?
Snapshot: This AEG 58V Brushless Lawn Mower ALM58LI402 is a mulch & catch battery-electric mower that weighs 24.8kg and has a cutting width of 46cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Masport 800 AL S21 3'n'1 SPV IC 564897 is a self-propelled mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 42kg and has a cutting width of 54cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: This Victa 82V Lithium-Ion 21" Mower 1687892/V82VWMK is a mulch & catch battery-electric mower that weighs 26.6kg and has a cutting width of 51cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: This Victa Bronco Mulch or Catch 881872 is a mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 26.7kg and has a cutting width of 48cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: This Black & Decker CLM3820L1-XE is a catcher-only battery-electric mower that weighs 13.5kg and has a cutting width of 38cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Ryobi Cordless 36V 4.0AH RLM36X40H40 is a catcher-only battery-electric mower that weighs 16kg and has a cutting width of 40cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: This Victa Corvette Alloy Self Propelled Mulch or Catch VGMD489 is a self-propelled mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 35.3kg and has a cutting width of 48cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Makita DLM431 is a catcher-only battery-electric mower that weighs 15.6kg and has a cutting width of 43cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Victa Easy Walker 19" Self-propelled Mulch or Catch VMD486 is a mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 30kg and has a cutting width of 48cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Exclusive H40 is a push mower that weighs 7.6kg and has a cutting width of 40cm. Is it worth a nudge?
Snapshot: This LawnMaster Finecut 725 Mulch & Catch 206503 is a mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 28kg and has a cutting width of 46cm. But is it a smooth operator?
Snapshot: The Hand Mower LMP-301 is a push mower that weighs 6.4kg and has a cutting width of 30cm. Is it worth a nudge?
Snapshot: The Honda HRU196M1 Buffalo Classic is a mulch & catch petrol mower that weighs 37.2kg and has a cutting width of 48cm. But is it a smooth operator?
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Performance: Petrol mowers with decent-sized engines (160cc+) develop more torque (rotational force) at max blade speeds than electric models. This means in dense, long grass, a good petrol mower is less likely to slow or stall.
While we don’t recommend mowing grass when it’s wet, petrol mowers are better than battery models at packing the catcher if the turf’s damp.
Mulching: Most petrol mowers, even budget models, can mulch. This means they come with a plug you chuck in the catcher chute to recirculate clippings through the blades, turning them into a fine mulch.
Modern petrol mowers have dual-purpose blades (catch and mulch), meaning you only have to add the plug to convert between modes.
Ease of use: Petrol mowers are harder to use than electric models. Most still have a pull cord start, which can take a few yanks to get going when it’s cold. They’re also much louder and produce fumes (though modern 4-stroke models are quieter and run much cleaner than old 2-strokes, and you don’t need to mix petrol and oil). Petrol models are heavier and more difficult to manoeuvre than electric models.
Price: You can buy one of our recommended petrol mowers for less than $500, though you’ll pay at least $900 for a self-propelled model.
Cutting height range: Petrol mowers generally offer the widest range of cutting heights, from 10/15mm up to 80/100mm. Be aware some mowers manufactured overseas, such as the American-made Toro, only cut down to 25mm. Kiwi or Aussie mowers such as Masports, Victas and LawnMasters let you get as low as 5mm or 10mm.
Running time: A big drawcard of petrol mowers remains their infinite running time as long as you’ve got fuel in the tank.
Reliability: The four-stroke engines powering petrol lawnmowers operate at high temperatures and can have the same mechanical issues as cars. They require regular maintenance and servicing, including spark plug and oil changes. However, modern petrol mowers are relatively reliable. Our latest appliance reliability survey found 83% of petrol mowers owned by members had never needed repair.
Performance: Battery-electric mowers produce less torque than petrol models, but our recommended models are more than powerful enough to give most lawns a clean, even finish – and they have sufficient power to tackle the longish grass that develops after you’ve let your lawn go for a few weeks. You’ll only notice the power disparity compared to petrol in grass that’s damp or very long (for example, 200mm-plus), or when thatching and weeds are in the mix.
Mulching: A couple of years ago, no battery-electric mowers offered a mulching mode – it was cut or catch only. Now, most of our recommended battery mowers are mulch-and-catch. And their performance in mulching mode is often as good as their petrol counterparts, meaning they cut the clippings as finely and spread the mulch as evenly. The snag is a mulching battery-electric mower costs double that of some of our recommended petrol mowers.
Ease of use: Most battery-electric mowers are 10kg to 15kg lighter than their petrol equivalents, making them much easier to haul out and shove around. They’re also quieter, have lower levels of vibration, and start at the push of a button. However, the most powerful battery mowers weigh in excess of 20kg, making them not much lighter than many petrol mowers.
Price: One of our top-scoring battery-electric mowers will set you back at least $800. With a battery mower, you’re essentially paying your running costs upfront. You avoid paying $50 to $100 in petrol each summer (they cost about 10¢ to recharge at most), and there’s little in the way of maintenance. A bonus is all cordless mowers are part of a family of outdoor power gear, meaning their batteries will work in blowers and line trimmers etc., saving you money on your next tool as you only need to buy the “skin” (tool excluding battery and charger).
Cutting height range: Cordless mowers don’t generally cut as low as petrol models, only getting down to about 20mm, although Australian battery mowers such as the EGO or Victa go down to 15mm – the lowest battery cutting heights we’ve seen for cordless.
Running time: The major limiting factor for cordless models is that even the best only have about 35 minutes’ mowing before needing to recharge for more than an hour. This equates to about 200-300m2 of turf if you’re working quickly, so if your lawn is bigger than this you’ll need to break your mowing in two or pay another couple of hundred dollars for an extra battery. However, some retailers are starting to include two batteries in their cordless mower kits.
Reliability: Battery-electric mowers have fewer moving parts than petrol mowers, so they’re more reliable: 84% of our members with a battery mower said it had never needed repair. Of those that had, the majority of failures were batteries conking out. This isn’t surprising as batteries gradually lose capacity and need replacing after three to five years of regular use. Aside from blade-sharpening, this is the only major ongoing cost associated with these mowers.
Performance: Mains-electric models are less powerful than either petrol or battery units, as they’re limited by the amount of current they can draw from a wall socket. This means they give a more ragged cut than other mowers, and struggle when the going gets tough. However, for small patches of turf within reach of an extension cord, their low cost ($300, compared to double that for a petrol or battery mower) can make them worth considering.
Mulching: Mains-electric mowers are generally cut or catch only (“cut” means mowing without a catcher or mulching plug, so thick clumps of grass are returned to the lawn surface). However, some mains models, such as the Flymo Turbo Lite hover mowers, cut quite finely on the first pass and recirculate some of the clippings through the blades, offering a pseudo-mulching effect.
Ease of use: Corded mowers are the lightest of the lot. They’re also quiet and easy to start. However, dragging a power cord can be a hassle. Always use an RCD (residual current device) plug to avoid a shock if you cut the cord.
Price: Corded mowers are also the cheapest type aside from hand mowers; you can land a decent model for just $300 as they’re simple beasts with no expensive battery, charger or engine.
Cutting height range: Generally, mains-electric mowers don’t cut as low as petrol models, though Flymo hover mowers go down to 10mm (but they won’t give you as fine or even a cut at this height as a petrol mower).
Running time: Mains-electric mowers theoretically have no run-time limit, though you’re limited by the extension cord and they’re not designed for big jobs so can overheat if used for long periods.
Reliability: With no batteries and very few moving parts, it’s unsurprising mains-electric mowers are the most reliable type.
Hand (push) mowers are a cheap form of exercise and you're not burning fossil fuels. But they're not that practical for large or sloping lawns.
To get a consistent cut with a push mower, you need to keep the blades sharp and properly adjusted. Resharpening the blades means a visit to your local mower shop.
Performance scores are based on the following:
We run the short and medium-length grass tests with the mower in both catcher and mulching modes where applicable. Neither the catcher nor the mulcher is used for the long grass test.
High performance scores are awarded for a clean and even lawn surface with a uniform grass height. Penalties apply for any uncut grass or grass left in clumps. Points are also deducted when mulching mowers fail to blow the small clippings back evenly onto the lawn, or where the engine slows or stalls while cutting.
Ease of use is assessed on:
If you want a cheap mower, buy second-hand.
Many local or suburban lawnmower shops do a steady business in turning over second-hand machines, and they should back them with good service.
Bought a few more acres than a regular mower can handle? Ride-on mowers cut a wide swathe of grass – anywhere from 700mm to over 1 metre.
Tired of pushing a lawnmower around every weekend? We tried out the Husqvarna Automower 305 to see if it’s a viable alternative to a push mower.
In dry spells, set your mower to cut a notch or two higher to avoid scalping your lawn and discourage weeds. It’s also a good idea to leave your catcher off and use your lawnmower’s mulching plug (if it’s got one), as mulched clippings are great for the health of your lawn.
Give your lawn a deep watering once a week – if water restrictions permit. The best time to water is early morning when it’s not too windy or hot, so it won’t evaporate before it can soak in.
For lawns with clay soil, it’s best to lightly water over a long period, as they take a while to absorb moisture. Sandy soils quickly drain, so need more frequent but shorter watering periods.
If water doesn’t easily drain and your lawn has a thatch of spongy, fibrous-looking grass, then the soil is probably compacted and could use aeration. To achieve this, get a garden fork and make holes of about 7.5cm to 10cm every 15cm or so – if this sounds a bit tedious you could buy or rent an aerating machine. Ensure the soil is damp when you aerate.
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