The expert advice in this article comes from Fleet Farm’s Outdoor Power Equipment Category Manager, Jon Jewson, who knows lawn mowers backwards and forwards (including which mowers can mow backwards).

Choosing the right type of lawn mower can make the difference between a dreaded chore and a relatively painless one. This guide will help you decide what type of mower is best for your lawn, which features to look for, and recommendations for specific tasks (like mulching).

If you only have a couple minutes, the first section acts as a mini guide. The rest of the article offers more detail on each mower type, tips for challenging lawns, and lawn mower FAQs.

Lawn Mower Types

The two main types of lawn mower are walk-behind mowers and ride-on mowers, and there are different styles of each:

Types of walk-behind and ride-on lawn mowers,
A visual guide to types of lawn mowers

Cutting to the chase: Lawn mower quick facts

  • Reel mowers: Minimal cost & maintenance, maximum physical exertion
  • Push mowers: Engine powers the blades only; you push it forward
  • Self-propelled mowers: Engine powers the blades & drives the wheels (easier to push)
  • Lawn tractors: More powerful than walk-behinds, has foot pedal & steering wheel; wide turn radius
  • Zero-turn mowers: Faster than lawn tractor, wider cutting deck, has lever controls & tight turn radius

Mowers & Yard Size

Start by choosing a suitable mower for your yard size. If you’re not sure what size yard you have, here’s a fast way to get a close-enough measurement:

  1. Walk the length & width of your lawn, counting your steps
  2. Figure each stride is approximately 2.5 feet (2’ if you’re short & 3’ if you’re tall)
  3. Multiply length x width to get square footage
  4. Divide square footage by 43560 to get acreage

So, if your yard is 100 steps by 75 steps, it’s a hair over 1 acre in size.

Alternate methods for figuring out the size of your yard: 

  • Look up your address on Zillow & subtract 1 floor of your home’s square footage from the lot size
  • Look up your address on Google Earth & use the measuring tool [link]

Once you have a rough idea of your acreage

<table><tbody><tr><th>Yard size</th><th>Type of lawn mower</th></tr><tr><td>Extra small (up to 1/8 acre)</td><td>Nice &amp; easy: a manual push mower or electric lawn mower is all you need.</td></tr><tr><td>Small (1/8 - 1/2 acre)</td><td>You’ll probably be fine with a walk-behind electric or gas mower, but could justify using a riding mower if you’re closer to a half acre.</td></tr><tr><td>Medium to big (1/2 - 2 acres)</td><td>You need a riding mower. If your lawn is basically rectangular and mostly empty, a lawn tractor is your best bet. For odd-shaped lawns, or lawns with lots of trees and other things to mow around, a zero-turn mower will work better.</td></tr><tr><td>Extra-large (2 acres &amp; above)</td><td>A lawn tractor will get the job done, but a zero-turn mower will get your XL lawn mowed faster.</td></tr></tbody></table>

You’ll also want to think about where you’ll be storing your mower. Walk-behinds are pretty easy to fit into a garden shed or single-car garage, but ride-ons need a lot more space. 

Shop lawn mowers at Fleet Farm, or keep reading to learn more about each mower type.

Walk-Behind (Push) Mowers

Walk-behind mowers are smaller and easier to control than ride-on mowers, making them ideal for small yards and tight spaces. This section covers the pros and cons of manual and powered walk-behind lawn mowers, and different features offered by each type.

Reel Mowers (Manual)

a reel mower in use
Reel push mowers have spinning helical blades and are entirely powered by the person pushing. 

Pros of reel mowers:

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Compact & lightweight—easy to maneuver & store
  • Safer than powered mowers 
  • Inexpensive
  • Low maintenance
  • Quiet

Perhaps the biggest benefit of reel mowers is that they’re better for lawn health. Rotary mowers (blades that spin horizontally) rely on high-speed impact and chop from the side, which shreds the ends of the blades of grass. Reel mower blades spin vertically and provide a much cleaner cut, which looks nicer and lets the grass heals faster.

Cons of reel mowers::

  • Not good for long grass
  • Not good on hills
  • Can’t cut through twigs or mulch leaves
  • Sharpening the blades can be more difficult 

Recommended reel mower maintenance checklist:

  • Wipe off the blades after each mow
  • Store the mower in a dry location
  • Lubricate moving parts as needed
  • Sharpen blades as needed

Features to look for:

  • Height adjustment
  • Reversible chute for clippings

If you have a small, flat yard that doesn’t get much debris, a reel mower is an economical way to keep your grass looking pristine—as long as you’re up for the physical effort.

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Electric Lawn Mowers

Electric lawn mowers offer more cutting power than reel mowers but are still quieter, lighter and easier to maintain compared to traditional gas-powered mowers. Electric lawn mowers can be powered by a cord or a rechargeable battery.

Corded Lawn Mowers

a corded electric lawn mower in use
Corded electric lawn mowers are limited by the length of the power cord, so they’re best for very small yards (within 100 feet of an outlet). You can use an outdoor extension cord to increase the range, but you’ll lose wattage the longer the cord gets. 

Pros of corded lawn mowers:

  • Reliable power supply 
  • No downtime for charging
  • Lighter than battery-powered mowers

Cons of corded lawn mowers:

  • Range limited by cord length
  • Managing the cord while mowing
  • No self-propelled version (only push)

Battery-Powered Lawn Mowers

an EGO cordless battery-powered lawn mower in use
Cordless (battery-powered) lawn mowers are heavier than corded lawn mowers, but the tradeoff is unlimited range and no annoying cord to look out for. You can usually mow for about an hour before the battery runs out, but you can always get a spare battery.

Pros of cordless electric lawn mowers:

  • Not limited by cord length
  • Push or self-propelled versions available
  • Lower maintenance than gas mowers

Cons of cordless electric lawn mowers:

  • Limited time to mow (unless you have an extra battery)
  • Battery needs replacement every few years
  • More expensive than corded mowers

Compared to gas mowers, it can be harder to find a local provider for electric mower repairs. Many service centers will only work on a specific brand of battery-powered mower, so that’s something you may want to look into before making a decision.

Recommended electric mower maintenance checklist:

  • Keep the air intake clear to protect the ventilation system that cools the motor
  • Remove clippings & other debris from the blades and undercarriage after each mow
  • Store the battery in a dry location (in the house, not the garage) when not in use

Features to look for:

  • Drive type (push, FWD, RWD)
  • Variable speed on self-propelled vs bar
  • Cutting height adjustment (single wheel, dual wheel, all wheel)
  • LED lights for low-visibility mowing
  • Collapsible handle & vertical storage
  • Mowing system (side discharge, rear discharge, mulching, bagging; 2-in-1, 3-in-1)

Higher-end features:

  • EGO Select Cut™
  • Honda cruise control
  • Honda Roto-Stop®

Pro tip: If all your cordless outdoor power tools are the same brand they can share a battery, meaning you’ll buy and replace fewer batteries over the years.

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Gas Lawn Mowers

an Ariens push-behind gas mower in use
Gas-powered lawn mowers are heavier than electric mowers, but they offer much more cutting power. If you’re dealing with thick or overgrown grass and weeds, a gas mower will get the job done faster and easier than an electric model.

 Pros of gas push-behind lawn mowers:

  • Higher horsepower motor than electric mowers
  • Tank of gas provides longer runtime than a battery
  • Cheaper repairs & replacement parts compared to electric

Small engine repair shops have decades of experience working on gas mowers, so it’s relatively easy to find help with engine maintenance or repair. 

Cons of gas push-behind lawn mowers::

  • Noisier than electric mowers
  • Carbon emissions & gas smell
  • Higher maintenance than electric mowers

Recommended gas mower annual maintenance checklist:

  • Oil change
  • Replace air filter
  • Replace spark plugs
  • Sharpen & balance blades
  • Remove gasoline or add fuel stabilizer if storing for 30+ days
  • Winterize the engine with fogging oil

You should also clean underneath the mowing deck at least twice a season, and before storing for winter.

Features to look for:

  • Drive type (push, FWD, RWD)
  • Variable speed on self-propelled vs bar
  • Cutting height adjustment (single wheel, dual wheel, all wheel)
  • LED lights for low-visibility mowing
  • Folding handle & vertical storage
  • Mowing system (side discharge, rear discharge, mulching, bagging; 2-in-1, 3-in-1)
  • Deck washout port

Higher-end features:

  • EGO Select Cut™
  • Honda cruise control
  • Honda Roto-Stop®

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Push Mowers vs. Self-Propelled Mowers

Electric or gas push mowers rely on manual force to move forward, because the motor only drives the cutting blades. Push mowers take more work on your part, but they’re cheaper than self-propelled mowers and use less fuel because they’re lighter.

Self-propelled mowers have a transmission that drives the mower forward so you don’t have to push as hard—this can really speed things up when you have a lot of lawn to mow. Self-propelled mowers can have front or rear-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive systems have simpler mechanics and are best for relatively flat lawns. You may pay a little extra for a mower with rear-wheel drive, but RWD provides more power (which you’ll appreciate when mowing up a grade). Some self-propelled mowers also offer variable speed control.

<table><tbody><tr><th>Push mowers</th><th>Self-propelled mowers</th></tr><tr><td>Engine powers blades only</td><td>Engine powers blades &amp; drives wheels</td></tr><tr><td>Cost less than self-propelled mowers</td><td>Cost more than push mowers</td></tr><tr><td>Use less gas/electricity</td><td>Higher fuel needs</td></tr><tr><td>Harder work to push</td><td>Much easier to push</td></tr><tr><td>Ideal for mostly flat lawns</td><td>Helpful for lawns with a grade</td></tr></tbody></table>

Riding Lawn Mowers

Riding lawn mowers are much more powerful than walk-behind mowers and have a wider cutting deck, making them the best choice for big lawns. This section covers the pros and cons of lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers, and popular features.

Lawn Tractors

Lawn & garden tractors are an efficient way to mow large areas, especially yards without obstacles or irregular borders. Some lawn tractors let you attach accessories like a cart, sprayer, spreader or lawn aerator.

Pros of lawn tractors:

  • Foot pedal & steering wheel controls are easy to operate
  • Front-wheel drive provides stable traction on slopes
  • High cutting power for all types of grass 

Cons of lawn tractors:

  • Wide turn radius
  • Can tip over on slopes steeper than 15°
  • Higher fuel consumption than zero-turn mowers

Recommended lawn tractor maintenance checklist:

  • Remove belt guards & clean debris from mower deck to protect pulley system
  • Replace spark plugs, fuel filter, air filter, oil & oil filter annually, or as specified in manual
  • Grease all fittings seasonally (check manual for type & fitting locations)
  • Check tire pressure & maintain as specified in manual
  • Sharpen blades as needed (or get them professionally sharpened)
  • Empty gas tank or add fuel stabilizer when storing for 30+ days
  • Remove battery & cover with tarp for winter

Features to look for:

  • Engine size & brand
  • Transmission type (7-speed, CVT, hydrostatic)
  • Deck size (42”, 46”, 48” & 54” are most common)
  • Stamped deck vs fabricated deck
  • How the deck is hung
  • Front axle – cast iron vs cast aluminum
  • Anti-scalp wheels
  • Ability to mow in reverse
  • Adjustable cutting height
  • Adjustable seat
  • Turning radius
  • Lighting
  • Chokeless start
  • Cruise control
  • Blade engagement (electric vs manual)
  • Brush guard bumper

Higher-end features:

  • Locking differential
  • Captain’s chair
  • Brushguard
  • Spindle housings
  • Deluxe gauge package

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Zero-Turn Mowers

yellow zero-turn lawn mower in use
Zero-turn mowers have some advantages over lawn tractors, including responsiveness and a tight turning radius. This makes zero-turns the mower of choice for large lawns with curved edges or landscape features—like trees and flower beds— to mow around.

Pros of zero-turn lawn mowers:

  • Maximum mowing deck size
  • Faster mowing speed than lawn tractors
  • Easier to maneuver around curves & structures compared to lawn tractors

Cons of zero-turn lawn mowers:

  • Rear engine & rear-wheel drive can impair control going uphill
  • Learning curve for dual-hydrostatic transmission speed & turn controls
  • More expensive than lawn tractors

Recommended zero-turn maintenance checklist:

  • Clean mower deck after each use to remove grass, dirt & other debris
  • Inspect belts at the start of each season & replace if worn
  • Change engine oil & filter as specified in manual
  • Change transmission oil & filter as specified in manual
  • Replace fuel filter, air filter & spark plugs as specified in manual
  • Sharpen & balance blades (or have them professionally sharpened)
  • Drain gas or add fuel stabilizer if storing unused for 30+ days

Features to look for:

  • Engine size & brand
  • Deck size (42”, 48”, 52”, 52”, 60” & 61” are most common)
  • Stamped deck vs fabricated deck
  • How the deck is hung (4 point or spring assisted)
  • Adjustable cutting height
  • Mows in reverse
  • Anti-scalping wheels
  • Hydrostatic transmission quality 
  • Blade engagement (electric or electric PTO)

Higher-end features:

  • Lighting
  • Easy-access service points
  • Foot-operated deck lift
  • Captain’s chair
  • Control arm adjustments
  • Adjustable seat suspension
  • CBT technology: maintains constant belt tension for maximum service life
  • Heavy-duty forged aluminum spindles
  • Automatic park brake system
  • Control, standard & sport driving modes
  • Bluetooth, USB charging port & phone holder

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Choosing The Best Mower for Your Lawn

Your property and preferences are unique: make your life easier by choosing a lawn mower and accessories best suited to your needs.

Bagging clippings

While most walk-behind mowers come with an optional bagger, it’s less common for ride-on mowers to have a bagging system. So make sure your new lawn tractor or zero-turn can accommodate a bagger if that’s important to you.

For the best bagging results, use medium-lift, high-lift or mulching blades. Low-lift blades don’t produce enough suction to vacuum up the grass clippings (because they’re designed for use on sandy soil).

Picking up leaves

The right lawn mower can save you a ton of time by picking up leaves in autumn. To remove leaves from your lawn, look for a mower with a bagger and high-lift or mulching blades. 

The bigger the engine your mower has, the more suction it provides for picking up and bagging leaves. Walk-behind gas mower engines range from 140-200cc, and battery powered mowers range from 40V to 120V, so aim for the higher end of that range if you have a lot of leaf litter.

Mulching leaves

If you plan to use your lawn mower to mulch leaves, get yourself some mulching blades. Mulching blades are curved and have more cutting surface, so leaves are cut multiple times before falling back to the lawn. 

You can use a push, self-propelled or riding mower to mulch leaves, but don’t mow too quickly or the blades won’t have enough time to cut and re-cut the leaves.

If you want to mulch leaves without cutting the grass, raise the mower height. Raising the cutting deck is also a good way to mulch your way through heavy leaf litter without overworking the engine.

Mowing hills

Most lawns with an incline or slope can be mowed with either a walk-behind or a ride-on mower, though there are cases where one or the other is better.

For small yards with a slope, a self-propelled electric mower is just the ticket - it’s lightweight and provides drive to the wheels to make mowing up an incline easier. If using a walk-behind mower on a slope, it’s safest to mow diagonally or side to side. Mowing straight uphill or downhill increases the odds of slipping and losing control of the mower.

For large yards with a slope, zero-turn mowers can be a good choice because they have a wider wheelbase and a lower center of gravity compared to lawn tractors. A potential drawback of using zero-turns to mow hills are the front caster wheels - make sure they’re broad enough to provide enough stability. 

Lawn tractors can also be a good option for large yards with hills because the steering wheel makes it easy to control direction, even on an incline. The slower speed of lawn tractors (compared to zero-turns) is another advantage when mowing hills, where slow and steady is ideal. Look for broad tires with plenty of traction for the best handling. 

Pro tip: Unlike walk-behinds, for ride-on mowers it’s safer to mow straight up and down hills. Due to their size and weight distribution, mowing horizontally on a steep slope can cause ride-on mowers to tip over.

More safety tips for mowing hills:

  • Check the lawn mower manual for specified slope limits & don’t exceed them
  • Raise the deck height when mowing hills
  • Only mow on a slope when the grass is totally dry
  • Don’t stop or turn on a slope
  • Get a mower with a wide deck to minimize the number of passes you’ll need to take

Mowing on uneven ground

Whether you have ridges, depressions, or just a bumpy lawn, a ride-on lawn mower is powerful enough to handle difficult terrain with ease. Just make sure the lawn tractor or zero-turn mower you choose has anti-scalp wheels. Anti-scalp wheels prevent the deck from scalping patches of grass on raised areas. 

If you have a small yard with uneven ground, a self-propelled mower will be easier to push over any lumps and bumps. Make sure to choose a mower with simple deck height controls so you can lift the deck before mowing over raised areas.

Lawn Mower FAQs

Find answers to the most common questions our in-store lawn and garden experts get from Fleet Farm customers.

How long do lawn mowers last?

If you treat it well, a new lawn mower should last you at least a decade. The actual service life will depend on how hard and how often you use the mower, and the level of care and consistency invested in maintenance. In general, gas-powered lawn mowers have a longer lifespan than electric models.

Can lawn mowers get wet?

Lawn mowers can get a little wet without a problem, but in general you want to keep them as dry as possible. Long-term exposure to moisture can cause metal parts to rust, which shortens the lifespan of your mower. If water gets into the spark plugs, air filter or fuel tank it can cause performance issues like low power or shutting off while mowing, or even prevent your mower from starting. 

For best results and to get the longest service life out of your mower, don’t mow wet grass and always store your mower in dry conditions.

What’s the best way to store a lawn mower?

Here in the upper Midwest, it’s best to store your lawn mower in a garage for winter. This will keep it dry (to prevent rust) and protect plastic parts against extreme temperatures. If there’s no room in the garage, a storage shed is your next best option. Make sure the shed is dry, lockable, and has a flat entryway (so the blades don’t get dinged going in and out). 

Storing a lawn mower outdoors is far from ideal, but if that’s your only option then do whatever you can to keep the mower dry through the winter. Put it on a deck or patio, or somewhere the blades won’t be in contact with anything, and cover it with a tarp. You can also store your mower in the basement—just make sure it’s clean, and drain the gas and oil. Some walk-behind mowers fold for compact storage, which makes things much easier.

Can lawn mowers overheat?

They sure can. The most common cause of overheating in mowers is low engine oil, so get in the habit of checking the oil before each use. Another thing to be aware of is debris buildup on the cooling fins, which blocks the air circulation that cools the engine down. Clogged decks and chutes can also overwork the engine and cause overheating. Clean the deck and chute regularly (with the mower OFF) and avoid mowing damp or wet grass, which puts extra strain on the engine.

Do lawn mowers have alternators?

Ride-on mowers have alternators, but walk-behind mowers don’t. The alternator in riding lawn mower engines charges the battery while the engine is running, just like alternators in car engines. 

Can you jump start a lawn mower with a car?

Yes, you can use your car to jump start the battery in a gas-powered lawn mower, as long as the mower uses a 12 volt electrical system. Most new lawn mowers have a 12V battery, but always check the sticker on the side to make sure.

Lawn Mower Parts

Fleet Farm sells a wide variety of lawn mower parts and accessories, including mower and tractor attachments, wheels, batteries, blades, baggers, and everything else you need to tune up or customize your mower.

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Find the Best Lawn Mowers at Fleet Farm

Fleet Farm sells quality lawn mowers at fair prices in stores throughout the upper midwest. More importantly we have knowledgeable staff ready to help you find the best lawn mower for your property. If you have a question that wasn’t covered in this guide, please contact your local Fleet Farm or reach out to our customer service team online: