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How to buy the best lawn mower

Petrol, electric or battery – find out which is best for your patch of turf.

three lawnmowers

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.

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What size cutting diameter does my lawnmower need?

A lawnmower with a wide cutting diameter means you'll spend 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, but large lawn-owners will definitely notice if you have to make a dozen more runs for each mowing session. If you have a smallish inner-city lawn, the difference probably won't worry you.

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 while the top performing battery mowers are now on par with their fossil fuel burning counterparts, if you have a huge lawn then opting for a petrol mower will give you more options that are capable of getting the job done.

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. 

Battery-powered mowers would be a good option if your lawn is up to 500 square metres. The more battery life improves, the bigger the acreage you'll be able to mow, with some holding enough charge for up to 1300 square metres, though if you've got spare batteries and / or a fast charger to hand you'll be able to mow all day, just as with a petrol mower.

Battery technology is improving...

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 (although they don't always come cheap).

The lawnmowers we test generally have at least 36V battery voltage (often running 2x 18V batteries on the one unit). How long the batteries last depends on a number of factors besides the battery, including the quality of the blades and how long the grass is.

But there's still a downside

All lithium-ion batteries lose their ability to hold charge over time. We've had at least one report that within four years, a lawnmower battery had dropped to half the running time it originally had when at full charge. 

And of course, in four years, manufacturers might discontinue a product and no longer offer a replacement battery, which could mean a new mower. Unfortunately you wouldn't be able to use a battery from another brand, as manufacturers aren't collaborating to create any battery standard that would allow you to switch batteries between brands. At least with petrol mowers you can be assured petrol will be around for a while longer.

Video: Petrol vs battery (cordless) lawnmowers

Which is best for your lawn? A petrol lawnmower, a battery (cordless) mower or an electric (corded) mower?

2 stroke vs 4 stroke petrol lawnmowers

Small petrol engines are generally either two-stroke or four-stroke. 

Two-stroke engines are simpler in design, have fewer moving parts and are more powerful than the equivalent capacity four-stroke, so they can be both compact and reliable. 

However, typical two-stroke engines produce a great deal more pollution because they require a mix of petrol and oil, which you'll need to mix yourself to the required fuel/oil ratio. 

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. An 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'll be able to keep it and use it. But new two-stroke mowers won't be found.

How much should I pay for a lawnmower?

When buying a lawnmower, check that the battery and charger is included in the final price. 

The models in our most recent battery and electric lawnmower test range in price from $288 to $1299. 

The models in our most recent petrol lawnmower test range in price from $529 to $1229.

What features should I look for in a lawnmower?

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 lawnmower. 
  • 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. Minimum cutting height varies, but one of the battery models we tested can only cut to 35mm at its lowest point. If you want anything shorter than that you'll need to shop around or go for a petrol model.
  • It's generally easier to start a petrol powered mower when the pull cord is located on the engine, but a handle-mounted cord is good if you can't easily bend over – make sure it's not mounted too high, as this can require a lot of shoulder strength to pull.
  • Push button or key ignition models don't require any strength or dexterity to start so they're even easier to operate. 
  • 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, particularly on uneven ground.
  • Self-propelled models are all easy to push, as they do it themselves.
  • The catcher should be made of rigid plastic, with a bag-type catcher or you can get showered in dust. The catcher should have two handles, one for carrying and one for emptying.
  • For battery models, a safety key which prevents the mower from starting unexpectedly when removed is an important feature, particularly if you have young, curious children.
  • Most battery mowers have batteries which can be removed for charging. This means if you have spare batteries you can swap them over and keep mowing when you run out of charge.

Mulcher vs catcher mowing

Mulching mowers produce more of a compost than a mulch, using a special 'mulching plug' to repeatedly feed the cut grass through the blades, chopping it very finely before forcing the clippings 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.