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How to buy the best lawnmower

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

three lawnmowers

Battery (cordless) lawnmowers have improved substantially over the years, making them a good choice for many homes. But petrol and electric models have their own advantages too. We help you decide whether to go the petrol, electric or battery route to keep your lawn well groomed.

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Lawnmower types: petrol, battery (cordless) and electric

Petrol 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 the petrol mowers we've tested over the years are usually excellent grass cutters and quick to refuel, so they're a good option for mowing big areas of grass. 

Battery (cordless) lawnmowers

For a small or medium lawn typical of a suburban home (up to about 500 square metres), one of the top-performing battery mowers is probably a better choice – they're very capable machines, and you skip the need to store petrol. The batteries are usually compatible across a range of power tools from the same brand, which is very convenient if you also have a line trimmer, brush cutter or power drill. And of course there are no petrol exhaust fumes to worry about. But you do need to remember to charge the batteries ahead of time.

The more the battery life improves, the bigger the area you'll be able to mow. Some hold enough charge for 1500 square metres or more, though if you've got spare batteries and/or a fast charger to hand, you'll be able to mow all day, just like you would with a petrol mower.

Electric lawnmowers

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. Make sure to use a suitable outdoor-rated extension cord plugged into a safety switch, which will shut off the power immediately if you accidentally damage the power cord.

What size cutting diameter does your 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 30–40cm. 

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.

Battery technology is improving

If you looked at battery-powered mowers 10 years ago and dismissed them as useless, you might have been right. But improvements in cutting performance and battery life have been significant, and battery-powered options have been well worth a look for a few years now. 

You get the low-maintenance advantages of an electric mower without having to drag the cord around. 

In our reviews, we find the battery gives typically about 45 minutes of mowing, which is usually more than enough for a typical suburban yard. But they can range from under 20 minutes to well over an hour, so make sure to check the results of our lawnmower test to find one capable of covering your home yard size. 

Remember to charge the battery well before mowing (doing it the night before is a good idea), as it can take two or three hours to get the battery up to full power. That said, charge times are improving and you can buy spare batteries as backups, though they don't always come cheap.

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

Most battery mowers have removable batteries, making it easier to swap out a spent battery for a fully-charged one, or to trade up to a new battery with a bigger capacity. A few have built-in batteries, which keeps things simple but offers less flexibility.

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 after a few years, a manufacturer might discontinue a product and no longer offer a replacement battery. That might leave you with a perfectly good mower but no compatible batteries – probably unlikely with a major brand, but it could happen with a one-off model or a cheapie brand that drops out of the market. 

Unfortunately you might not 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. But you might be able to find an after-market or generic battery that will work.

With petrol mowers, you can be assured petrol will be around for a while longer, though in the long term, petrol prices and pollution regulations will probably work against them.

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 do lawnmowers cost?

The models in our most recent battery and electric lawnmower test range in price from about $200 to over $1500, including the battery and charger. Battery lawnmowers are usually sold as a kit (including mower, battery and charger) but you can buy them as a "skin" only (i.e. just the mower – the battery and charger are sold separately). Make sure to check what's included in the price.

Petrol lawnmowers range in price from about $200 to over $2000.

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.
  • We find that rigid plastic catchers are best. With a cloth bag type catcher, you can get showered in dust. The catcher should have two handles to make it easier to carry and empty.
  • For battery models, a safety key which prevents the mower from starting unexpectedly when removed is a good 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.