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Lawnmowers

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Time for a new lawnmower?

We’ve tested electric- and battery-powered mowers, petrol mowers and eco-friendly push mowers.

From our test

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What type of lawnmower?

Hand mowers

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.

Electric mowers

Battery-electric mowers

Our recommended battery-electric lawnmowers now offer cutting and mulching performance on par with the best petrol models thanks to powerful, high-torque, lightweight ‘brushless’ electric motors.

Their lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are also able to pack far more energy into a smaller package than earlier battery technology, giving you 30-45 minutes’ quality cutting on a single charge, before recharging to full capacity in around 2 hours.

Other advantages of cordless mowers include:

  • Weight: on average they’re 15kg lighter than petrol models.
  • Noise: they’re far quieter than petrol mowers and you won’t need hearing protection when using them, and you won’t make enemies of your neighbours if you fire them up on Sunday morning.
  • Starting: they start with the pull of a trigger every time, compared to the hassle and strain of yanking a petrol mower’s start cord.
  • Reliability: the comparative lack of moving parts means the only maintenance they need is occasional blade sharpening.
  • Running costs: they only cost 5¢ to recharge, meaning an annual running cost of only a couple of dollars, compared to upwards of $50 each year for fuel engine oil and servicing for petrol mowers. This means that even though they may cost more than some petrol mowers, over their lifetime they’re likely to cost you less as you’re paying for your fuel costs upfront and will avoid the annual oil changes and spark plug replacement.

Battery mowers should be your first choice if you can finish your lawns in 45 minutes or less.

Mains-electric mowers

When it comes to performance, mains-electric (corded) lawnmowers have been left in the dust by battery-electric models, since they’re limited by the amount of power that can be supplied by a mains power point. But they remain considerably cheaper than battery models and are worth considering if you’ve only got a small area of lawn that’s all within reach of an extension cord.

Petrol mowers

Petrol mowers are powerful, have a wide cut and can handle long or wet grass. If your mowing takes an hour or more, or you want a self-propelling mower, then petrol-power remains your best bet.

But they are heavy and harder to manoeuvre than electric models, and starting can be a hassle. They’re also more expensive to run and maintain than electric mowers as you have to regularly service the engine and pay for petrol and oil.

Mulching or standard?

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About our test

We test lawnmowers on a large turf farm in early spring, which allows us to compare each mower on the same type of grass at a consistent length. Our overall scores comprise performance (50%) and ease of use (50%). Performance scores are based on the following:

  • Cutting short (30mm) grass to 15mm
  • Cutting medium-length (approx. 75-100mm) grass to 30mm
  • Cutting long (approx. 300-400mm) grass on the highest cut setting

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:

  • Vibration (20%)
  • Pushing/manoeuvring (20%)
  • Handle comfort (20%)
  • Controls (10%)
  • Cutting height adjustment (10%)
  • Catcher convenience (10%)
  • Ease of starting (10%)

Features to consider

When choosing a lawnmower consider these features.

  • Body: A rotary mower’s body is made from steel, aluminium alloy or (less commonly) plastic. An alloy body is more expensive. It’s corrosion resistant and likely to last longer in damp conditions – although it won’t last as well in sandy coastal areas because sand wears away the aluminium. Steel is cheaper but will rust unless cleaned and dried after use. However, if hit by a large rock it’ll only dent – whereas an alloy body can crack. Plastic is lightweight and doesn't corrode … but it may not last as well if regularly pounded by stones and other debris. A plastic body is more suitable for well-tended lawns where there’s only a slight chance of it being hit by rocks or stones.
  • Handle: A turned-up handle is generally regarded as easiest to use. Adjustable height is also an advantage, although it's not as common as you might think. The handles should fold easily for stowing.
  • Throttle control: Located on the handle bar for quick and easy access. It shouldn't be stiff.
  • Cutting height: Look for a large number of cutting positions. It should be easy to change the position using 1 lever acting on all 4 wheels.
  • Catcher: Catchers can be either solid plastic or partly mesh. Rigid plastic is heavier, but stronger than the mesh type, which can allow dust to blow over the user. The catcher should have 2 handles, 1 for carrying and the other for emptying. It should be easy to remove and replace.
  • Engine maintenance: How easy will it be to change the oil, air filter and spark plug?
  • Starter cord: Some mowers have the starter cord on the handle, so you use just your arm and perhaps upper body to operate it. Others have the cord down on the engine casing, requiring a full body pull. Neither guarantees an easy start, and both have their fans. If you're not familiar with either style, ask to try it in the shop. Some cords are located on the upper handle, which restricts the pulling action more than those placed further down the handle. Left-handers may find it harder to use a starter cord on the handle.
  • Wash port: Look for a hole on top of the body, designed for you to connect a hose to, for easy cleaning underneath.
  • Noise: There's no such thing as a quiet petrol-driven mower, but some are noisier than others. Check the vibration as well.
  • Easy push: Ball-bearing wheels make pushing easier.

Safety tips

Rotary mowers are dangerous and have caused many serious foot injuries.

  • The body of the mower should come close to the ground so that it's not possible for your foot to touch the blades.
  • The mower should stop quickly when the engine is turned off.
  • Check blade/s and blade bolts visually for looseness or wear before mowing.
  • Don't persevere with a blunt blade. Have it sharpened.
  • Wear strong, heavy non-skid footwear. Never mow in bare feet.
  • Use ear and eye protection.
  • For mains-powered models, use just one extension cord and make sure the lead is plugged into a residual-current-protected power point or a plug-in residual-current device (RCD).
  • Mow along slopes, not up or down them.
  • Keep children and pets clear of the mowing area.
  • Stop the motor before filling the fuel tank.
  • Clean the mower after use. Disconnect the mains or remove the battery before you do anything underneath an electric mower.
  • Always disconnect the spark plug before carrying out maintenance on petrol mowers.

Our advice

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Best practice

Here are our top tips for getting the most from your mower:

  • Generally, don’t cut your grass lower than 2.5cm. This is to avoid “scalping” your lawn, which leads to brown, weak grass and allows weeds to take hold. In cooler months, it’s a good idea to raise your cutting height a little.
  • Keep your blades sharp – take the mower back to the dealer to get the blades sharpened if you’re unsure. Dull blades give a ragged cut and tear grass out at the roots, damaging your turf.
  • During summer you should mow your lawn at least once a fortnight (ideally once a week if the grass is growing quickly), reducing this frequency to every three or four weeks in winter.
  • Alternating your mowing pattern each time you cut your lawn promotes upright, even growth.
  • If possible, mow when the grass is dry so the blades are upright and less likely to clump.
  • Consider raising the cutting height a little in shaded areas of the lawn, to prevent the growth of weeds.
  • Try to look 3 metres ahead of you when operating a push mower; this helps you cut straight and true.
  • MBIE recommends hearing protection for anything over 85dBA – which is most petrol mowers in our test (we recommend hearing protection when using any petrol mower). Wear eye protection, long pants and sturdy shoes when operating any type of mower. Push the mower across slopes, rather than up or down, to avoid losing control.

Lawn care

Here are some tips to keep your lawn looking its best, come rain or shine.

  • 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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