There was a time when weekends were for sweating over a roaring petrol mower that covered you in fumes and clippings. However, electric and battery (cordless) options have improved substantially, delivering more power and value for typical household properties. We help you decide whether to go the petrol, electric or battery route to keep your lawn well groomed.
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test lawnmowers.
Large lawn, large cutting width
A lawnmower with a wide cutting diameter means less time mowing the lawn and more time enjoying your weekend. Petrol lawnmowers commonly have a wide cutting diameter of 45–50cm. Electric and battery-powered models are more commonly available with cutting widths from 30 to 40cm. A difference of 10 or 20cm may not seem to be significant and may not be an issue if you own a smallish inner-city lawn; large lawn-owners will definitely notice if you have to make a dozen more runs for each mowing session.
Video: Petro lawnmowers vs battery (cordless) lawnmowers
Petrol vs battery (cordless) vs electric lawnmowers
Compared to electric- and battery-powered models, petrol lawnmowers can be a hassle to start and refuel. The cost to the local environment with fumes and noise may also be an issue. But if you have a huge lawn, petrol models should remain at the top of your list.
If you don't mind the minor hassle of dragging a cord around and you have a power point close by, then an electric lawnmower is easy to run and maintain, and would be a good option if your lawn is around 50 square metres or less.
If you looked at battery-powered mowers 10 years ago and dismissed them as useless, well, you'd have been right. But improvements in cutting performance and battery life have been significant, and battery-powered options are now well worth a look. You get the low-maintenance advantages of an electric mower without having to drag the cord around, and batteries give you up to 90 minutes on one charge. Avoid the older models – many give you just 15 minutes of use – and remember to charge the battery the night before mowing, as it can take several hours to get the battery up to full power, although charge times are now improving and you can buy spare batteries as backups.
If you have a huge yard, you may want to look at our ride-on mower article.
Two-stroke and four-stroke
Small petrol engines are generally either either two-stroke or four-stroke. Two-stroke engines tend to be simpler in design and have fewer moving parts, so they can be both compact and reliable. However, typical two-stroke engines produce a great deal more pollution because they run on a blend of petrol and oil.
Four-stroke engines, while more complicated, run on ordinary unleaded petrol and so produce a lot less pollution.
Almost all petrol mowers currently sold in Australia have four-stroke engines. Emissions law passed in September 2017 will phase out the sale of two-stroke lawnmowers entirely, due to concerns about their environmental and health impacts. Two-stroke engines will continue to be allowed in smaller power equipment such as line trimmers and chainsaws, as long as they meet emissions standards for those products.
If you've got a beloved old two-stroke mower in your shed, you will still be able to keep it and use it. But new two-stroke mowers - already a rarity in shops - will soon disappear forever.
How much should I pay?
When buying a lawnmower, check that the battery and charger is included in the final price.
Features to look for
Ease of use
The handle should be comfortable to hold and preferably height-adjustable. A turned-up handle is easier on your wrists and gives better control over the lawn mower.
Major controls should be close to hand and easy to see. The engine control lever should be on the handlebar for easy access and you should be able to operate it without too much effort. Make sure the cutting height is easily adjustable and you have several positions available.
It's generally easier to operate a petrol-powered mower when the cord is located on the engine, but a handle-mounted cord is good if you can't easily bend over – but make sure it's not mounted too high, as this can require a lot of shoulder strength to pull.
The mower should be easy to push and manoeuvre in all the conditions you'll use it. Big wheels improve handling on rough ground and a lightweight model is easier to push and turn. The catcher should be made of rigid plastic; with a bag-type catcher you can get showered in dust. The catcher should have two handles, one for carrying and one for emptying.
Mulcher vs catcher mowing
Mulching mowers produce more of a compost than a mulch, chopping grass finely and forcing the clippings back down between the blades of grass and back into the lawn. A good mulcher mower will make your lawn look neat and tidy and you shouldn't be able to see clumps of clippings or unmown grass after you've finished. Normal catcher-only lawnmowers produce grass clippings that are much longer and need to be removed from the lawn to avoid suffocating the cut grass. While the vast majority of mulcher mowers tested by CHOICE are petrol, this feature may become more common on battery models.