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Home » Budgeting, Eco-Friendly Savings, Lifestyle Finance

5 Reasons to Switch to a Reel Mower

Last updated by on January 6, 2014

Whether moving into your first house or replacing an older lawn mower, you’ve probably been debating how you’re going to cut your lawn this year.

Having used both push reel mowers and gasoline powered mowers, the two offer completely different experiences. In fact, I just switched to a Fiskars Momentum.

I can tell you, without hesitation, I prefer the push reel mower vs. other alternatives. Here are 5 great benefits that push reel mowers have over gas powered mowers (as well as some caveats to be aware of if you make the switch).

1. Push Reel Mowers are Cheaper than Gas Powered

Push reel mowers range in price from $80 to $200. Most are below $125. Gas powered mowers are generally $200+ and some of the more advanced push models can be as pricey as $500.

But initial price is not where the costs end. With gasoline over $4 a gallon, you can expect to pay a significant amount every year for fuel. You will also have to pay for oil to change the oil.

Not only that, but gas-powered mowers usually don’t last as long as reel mowers. Push reel are cheap due to their simplicity. A lot can go wrong with a gas-powered mower, and once the engine goes, you need to replace it. The only maintenance cost with a push reel is sharpening it every few years, which you can often times do at home with a $15 kit. There is not much that can go wrong with them.

2. Push Reel Mowers are MUCH More Environmentally Friendly

Think of the positive environmental impact that would result in everyone driving a bike to and from work vs. driving a Hummer. Everyone switching from a gas-powered mower to a push reel would have no less of an impact.

According to the EPA, gas-powered lawn mowers produce 11 times the pollution of a car in one hour of use. That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. That’s about 3 times as much pollution as a car driving on the highway for 3 hours. All from that one little engine.

On top of that, the EPA estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. That’s more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Not only does this result in groundwater contamination, but spilled fuel evaporates into the air and volatile organic compounds produce smog-forming ozone when combined with heat and sunlight.

3. Reel Mowers Require Less Maintenance than a Gas Mower

I alluded to maintenance with price, but there’s also a time saving component that goes into it. No driving to the gas station and back when you run out of gas. No oil changes, and no spark plug changing. You may have to sharpen the blades every few years with a push reel, but you have to sharpen or change blades on gas mowers as well.

Push reel mowers are simpler and easier to maintain.

They also fit in a garage or shed much more easily than a gas powered mower.

4. Reel Mowers Offer Peace and Quiet

With a push reel mower you can mow whenever you want without disturbing the neighbors. That includes morning or night when it’s typically cooler and healthier for you and the grass.

You can hear birds singing and neighbors when they walk by to say hi. And you don’t feel like that tingling in your arms like they have just been working a jackhammer.

Using a push reel mower is a pleasant and calming experience. Just what outdoor gardening should be.

5. The Cool Factor

There is not a neighbor that has walked by my house who uses a gas-powered mower that doesn’t stop to ask me questions with curiosity. First, they notice how well the mower cuts. Then they appreciate how quiet and peaceful the experience looks in comparison to a gas mower experience. Then they realize how much healthier it is for them and their lawn.

Somewhere along the way, Americans were convinced that gas-powered mowers were superior to push reel. Maybe they were at one point. But push reel mowers are a lot more advanced these days. It only takes a few trendsetters in a neighborhood to make the whole neighborhood realize it – cutting down the air, ground, and noise pollution for everyone. Why not be the trendsetter?

Reel Mower Caveats

I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture here, but there are a few things you should be aware of, if you are going to make the move to a push reel mower.

– Find a mower that cuts up to 3 inches or more. I just recently decided to move from a Brill push reel mower to the new Fiskars reel mower (seen to the right), which allows you to cut up to 4 inches. The Brill, and many other reel mowers only let you cut up to 2 inches max. I like to grow my grass longer so that I don’t have to water it as much. It’s much healthier for your lawn.

– You can’t let the grass get too long, particularly if yours cuts up to a short max length. Otherwise it becomes difficult to mow. I’ve also heard that some weeds and very hardy grass varieties are very difficult to mow with a push reel. It’s something to be aware of. You may want to test out a neighbors push reel on your grass before buying (if their blades are sharp).

– Read reviews pretty thoroughly. Not all reel mowers are made made the same. Scotts, American, and Fiskars have the best reviews.

– You may have to go over some areas twice. Some people tout this as a big negative with push reels. I don’t think it is at all. We’ve probably all pushed a gas-powered mower at one time or another. It’s a hellish experience. Especially if you have hills. Pushing a 150 lb. beast up a 45 degree incline or even on flat ground is not easy. So from an energy exertion standpoint, you’re probably break even. As long as you keep your blades sharp, that is (very important).

Push Reel vs. Gas Mower Discussion:

  • Have you made the move to a push reel mower?
  • What model did you purchase and what where your thoughts on the experience?
  • Why are you sticking with a gas powered mower?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Trevor says:

    Totally agree that push reel mowers are the way to go. I have similar issues with thicker blades of grass and sometimes having to mow the same area twice, but the peace of mind I get from not polluting the environment and the enjoyment of hearing birds singing while working outdoors is well worth it to me.

  • Andrew says:

    I have a small yard and used to have a company mow it. I decided I could save a little cash by doing it myself and why not go green. So I got a reel mower along with a battery operated trimmer/blower/hedge trimmer.

    I spent the same on the equipment as one year worth of service (I had a cheap lawn service). However, the 15 minutes it takes to do my yard is enjoyable. Since I have electric stuff with the reel mower, I don’t smell like 2 stroke engine afterwards.

    There is one area where a reel mower does fail. It does not cut stuff that is not grass. That includes sticks, mulch that might be in the yard. I have some mulch every now and then. It just stops the mower from turning and I have to pull it out. So if you have a lot of trees or stuff in your yard, it might be more of pain.

  • Hunter says:

    Nice write-up. I published a reel mower article on May 9, from a somewhat different perspective. Let me know what you think.

  • Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot says:

    I have a lot of weeds right now, but this is definitely something I would look into once my lawn is more manageable. Quite honestly, I never wouldve considered a push reel mower prior to reading this.

  • Natalie says:

    A little over a year ago I bought the Scotts 20in classic. I bought it off season for $80. I had never used a reel mower before and I was considering an electric mower. I have a very small lawn at 400 sq ft. so I decided to opt for the simpler and cheaper solution. I’m really glad I did. I was afraid to touch the gas mower we used to have. It needed regular maintenance and I always wondered whether it would start or not. My husband would spend more time trying to start it than he would mowing. Then we would have to clean up after it blew grass clippings everywhere and all over us.

    Now with my reel mower not only do I enjoy the quiet and easy maintenance, but it is much safer. I was afraid to touch the other mower, and now I do all the yard work myself, joyfully. I also have a 1 yr old son running around the yard and the reel mower is much safer for all of us. Plus the grass clippings are automatically mulched back into the grass instead of being blown onto my patio.

    My only minor quibble is that any small stick will stop it in it’s tracks. So I really have to make sure the yard is perfectly clear before mowing. I think I could also solve this by sharpening the blades. They don’t seem to be shipped with the optimum sharpness. I’ll probably drop it by a sharp shop next season.

  • jlh says:

    I grew up in a Navy family. During one of my father’s unaccompanied tours, during which he was home only for a weekend every few months (and before Internet and satellite phones), my mother (between working and being the functional single parent of three little kids, got so frustrated with the gas mower that she bought a push mower. Maybe they’ve got a few more bells and whistles than the bare bones one she brought home but that thing was miserable and I’ve been scarred for life.

  • Ross @ Go Be Rich says:

    I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I would rather just push a gas mower right through the grass once and be done with it, not really having to worry about the sticks and other minor normal yard debris along the way. Besides, it’s kind of hard to bag all of the clippings to add to a compost pile.

    One benefit that does come to mind about a reel mower though is that you’re not pushing something in front of you that produces heat. When it’s already 90-100 degrees outside, I don’t really enjoy feeling that gust of hot air from a gas mower every time I make a turn.

  • TreeHugginMomma says:

    I have a push reel mower and I have used it for more than a decade and I prefer it to a gas powered mower. We have a small Urban lot so it takes less than 15 minutes to mow with a push reel. I have never sharpened my blades and it works just fine, I have been thinking about getting them sharpened for the $10 it will cost me. It might make things different.

  • Jonathan says:

    Where do the grass clippings go? I don’t see the bag in the picture…

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I currently use an old electric mower. The kind that needs to stay plugged in to an extension cord. I have to use a 100′ cord but the cord only works intermittently. And those cord lengths are very expensive. I would rather buy a reel mower than to buy an expensive 100′ ext cord. Also b/c I know the reel mower will never break down.

  • Carl says:

    One negative comment regarding push mowers: I did have a push mower years ago but we had lots of trees on our property. The trees shed a lot of small twigs so it wasn’t always a good experience cutting the lawn, as the twigs would get stuck in the blades. Thus, you had to kick the blade backwards to dislodge the twig. The new mower does look quite different from what I used so maybe they have a better remedy for cutting lawns with twig problems?

  • mdenis39 says:

    I’ve been using an electric mower for 30 years to mow my lawns. I’m on my 2nd mower in that time. Easy to use, no maintenance, almost as powerful as a gas mower. I would never change.

  • Aaron says:

    I’m with mdenis. I was given a battery powered electric mower 3 years ago in exchange for some electrical work (fittingly) and will never go any other direction. I have 2 batteries but, when I’m mowing as often as I should, I get front and back yards done on just 1 battery. My yard is 60’×130′. Price is similar to a decent gas mower and the better push mowers aren’t cheap, so I suggest that folks that can spend a little bit more go electric.

  • When we moved into a house after some years of apartment living, we were short on cash as well as in need of a lawn mower. My husband, being the lawn guy, decided he wanted a push reel mower. Me? I thought he was nuts, but since the person that does the job is the person who gets to make the call on the tools, I figured it wouldn’t hurt for us to struggle through a season or two with a push reel mower before “upgrading” to a power mower.

    Six years on, and we never have bothered. I’ve pitched in and mowed the lawn a few times, and it’s kind of fun to use the push reel mower. It works fine, keeps the grass trimmed decently and with rising gas prices, not having to fill the darn thing up is nice.

  • tom sherman says:

    i have a reel mower that cuts grass as hi as 9″ and is faster than a power mower and does not pick up sticks & such. first I removed the roller then I connected the handle of the mower to the reel body with a turnbuckle and a cord using the holes roller occupied.
    adjusting the turnbuckle determines the height of the cut.

    it functions like a wheelbarrow I lower it down from above the grass. I am skipping the details of how to attach the cord and turnbuckle. try to figure it out. use a 4″ turn buckle or a niteize cam

  • Steveo says:

    I used a push mower for 4 years in Fresno. It worked ok on bermuda grass. Now I live in Utah and our lawn (over 1000 sq ft) is blue grass and I started with an electric mower ($500). It had a hard time with longer thicker grass.

    After 10 years it quit working and I got a gas mower, self propelled from Costco for $500.

    After 20 years, no oil changes, it still mows the lawn fast and great. I prefer the gas mower. Sorry. At least I bike to work. I think the benefits to the reel mower are overstated. Its not a peaceful experience for me, its a piece of exercise equipment, some might enjoy it though. I’d prefer to do my exercise in the mountains on my bike.

    Nice article.


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