The Best Gas Lawn Mowers of 2021

Choose the right walk-behind, self-propelled, or riding mower to manage your yard.

By Tony Carrick | Updated Aug 20, 2021 5:29 PM

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The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option

Photo: homedepot.com

Many homeowners hope to have a verdant, well-manicured lawn that makes them the envy of the neighborhood. While proper fertilization and watering are essential to growing gorgeous green turf, the right mower is critical for maintaining it. Choosing the best machine can be a rather difficult task, however. Gas lawn mowers come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small push-behind models with 20-inch decks to monster lawn tractors capable of cutting a 46-inch-wide swath.

Choosing the best gas lawn mower from among the many options and brands on the market depends on several factors: yard size, type of terrain, even the physical strength of the operator. Use this guide to explore these machines and the factors and features crucial to consider when searching for the best gas lawn mower.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Honda 21 in. 3-in-1 Gas Self Propelled Lawn Mower
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Troy-Bilt 21 in. Gas Walk Behind Push Lawn Mower
  3. BEST MANUAL LAWN MOWER: Honda 21 in. Gas Push Walk Behind Lawn Mower
  4. BEST SELF-PROPELLED: CRAFTSMAN M250 160-cc 21-in Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
  5. BEST FOR SMALL YARD: Yard Machines 20 in. 125 cc Gas Walk Behind Mower
  6. BEST FOR LARGE YARDS: Toro TimeMaster 30 in. Self-Propelled Gas Lawn Mower
The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option

Photo: homedepot.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Gas Lawn Mower

There are three basic types of gas lawn mowers: manual walk-behind mowers, self-propelled mowers, and riding mowers. While selecting the right type for the yard is key, it’s also important to keep in mind the engine and deck size. Ahead, learn more about these and other important characteristics of gas lawn mowers.

Types

  • Walk-behind: The most basic of lawn mowers, walk-behind models (also called push-behind) consist of a small single-cylinder engine with an output of 125cc to 190cc. The larger the cylinder size, the more powerful the engine. These mowers typically have a pull start and require the operator to physically supply all the power to push them forward.
  • Self-propelled: An upgrade to the walk-behind mower, self-propelled lawn mowers look similar to push mowers but have a belt attached to the motor that powers the front or rear wheels to drive the mower forward. The operator engages the wheels by squeezing a control bar.
  • Riding: This type of mower has a seat for the operator as well as an engine and mowing deck. A riding mower’s engine is considerably larger than a push mower’s engine in order to provide enough power to propel the machine forward and run its multibladed mowing deck. Riding mowers, which include zero-turn and tractor models, have larger decks than walk-behind and self-propelled mowers, making them better suited to bigger yards.

Engine Size

The engine size on push-behind and self-propelled gas lawn mowers is measured in cubic centimeters of cylinder size (cc). Most walk-behind lawn mower engines range between 125cc and 190cc. The larger the cylinder size, the more powerful the engine. The larger engines of riding mowers are measured in horsepower (hp), typically ranging from 10 to 22 hp.

No matter the type of mower, engine size is an important consideration, as it pertains to the size of the mower’s deck. Mowers with larger decks have longer blades or multiple blades and therefore require larger engines to power them.

When considering engine size, it’s also wise to factor in the turf and terrain the machine will be mowing. A yard with thick grass might require more power than one with thinner grass. Likewise, a yard with a steep slope may need more power to move a self-propelled walk-behind mower as well as a riding mower up and over the terrain.

Lawn Size and Terrain

Yard size and terrain play a significant role in choosing the best gas lawn mower. A walk-behind model may be adequate for smaller lawns up to ¾ acre in size. For yards that are sloped or hilly, consider purchasing a self-propelled mower that will make it easier to handle challenging terrain.

Yards that are ¾ acre or more typically require a riding lawn mower. A riding mower with 12 horsepower is suitable for yards up to an acre, while mowers with at least 18 horsepower should be used for lawns larger than 2 acres.

Deck Size

The deck size of a lawn determines the width of the cut the machine can make in a single pass. As such, the deck largely determines how long it will take a mower to cut the grass. A walk-behind mower with a 20-inch deck is suitable for small yards of about ½ acre. Larger yards of up to ¾ acre require a larger 22-inch deck. Riding mowers have decks that range between 28 and 46 inches. Although a larger deck can cut more grass on a single pass, they are harder to maneuver around tight spaces.

Drive and Wheel Size

The type of drive and wheel size impact a lawn mower’s handling. Most walk-behind lawn mowers have wheels that range in size from 8 to 11 inches. Some manual push-behind gas lawn mowers have 11-inch rear wheels that make it easier to push over rougher terrain.

Self-propelled lawn mowers come in both rear-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive models, each with unique advantages. Front-wheel-drive self-propelled mowers allow the operator to turn the mower more easily because they tilt the drive wheels up. Rear-wheel-drive mowers have better traction at the center of the mower, though, allowing them to climb steeper terrain more easily.

Some walk-behind mowers have all-wheel drive, which offers superior traction that makes them ideal for yards with steep slopes and rough terrain.

Cutting Options

Depending on the model, gas mowers may offer three ways to deal with clippings: side discharge, bag, and/or mulch. Side discharge propels the clippings out the side of the mower. Many gas mowers include bags or bins that collect the cut clippings, preventing them from dropping back onto the lawn. Some models may include mulch kits that trap the clippings inside the deck, allowing the blade to cut them multiple times before depositing these tiny bits back into the yard to act as fertilizer.

Additional Features

Gas lawn mowers can come with a variety of additional features that add functionality. Some self-propelled models have variable speeds that allow the user to adjust the speed that the mower moves with handlebar controls. Higher-end lawn tractors have hydrostatic transmissions that let the rider change speeds without having to shift gears manually.

Our Top Picks

The products described below narrow the field of gas lawn mowers to some of the best on the market in different categories. There are models suited to small yards as well as large lawn tractors capable of cutting up to 3 acres. All these lawn mowers feature powerful engines, multiple cutting options, and ample deck sizes.

Best Overall

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: Honda 21 in. 3-in-1 Gas Self Propelled Lawn Mower
Photo: homedepot.com

Whether it’s generators, automobiles, or lawn mowers, Honda has a reputation for producing durable, high-performing engines—like the one in this 21-inch gas mower. The powerful 170cc engine sits atop an ample 21-inch deck, and unlike walk-behind models that have a single blade, this Honda’s deck boasts two offset blades that produce smaller clippings than other blade styles.

A simple clip system makes it easy to switch between mulching, bagging, and side discharge of grass clippings without needing to add or remove attachments. Honda goes with rear-wheel drive for its propulsion system, which gives this mower superior ability to manage tough terrain and climb slopes. Handlebar controls make it a breeze to switch between the mower’s variable speeds.

Product Specs 

  • Engine: 170cc
  • Deck Width: 21 inches
  • Functions: Mulching, bagging, side discharge

Pros

  • Dual blades produce smaller clippings
  • Clip system makes it simple to toggle between functions
  • Smart drive allows for easy speed control
  • Rear-wheel drive provides excellent traction

Cons

  • Honda mowers among the most expensive on the market
  • One of the heavier walk-behind mowers at nearly 80 pounds

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: Troy-Bilt 21 in. Gas Walk Behind Push Lawn Mower
Photo: tractorsupply.com

Those with a small yard and a small budget should check out this Troy-Bilt mower, which doesn’t skimp on features even despite being one of the more affordable models on the market. A walk-behind mower, it features large 11-inch back wheels that make it easier to push. The 159cc engine provides plenty of power for the blade in the 21-inch deck, while a Tri-Cut system produces fine clippings for effective mulching.

Cutting options include bagging and mulching functions as well as side discharge. This mower also includes Troy-Bilt’s popular maintenance-free engine, which won’t require an oil change for the entire life of the engine.

Product Specs 

  • Engine: 159cc
  • Deck Width: 21 inches
  • Functions: Mulching, bagging, side discharge

Pros

  • Affordably priced
  • Large rear wheel for easier pushing
  • Three-function cutting system

Cons

  • Affordable, but a little pricey for a push-behind
  • Smaller engine than higher-end models

Best Manual Lawn Mower

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: Honda 21 in. Gas Push Walk Behind Lawn Mower
Photo: homedepot.com

A simple design coupled with a powerful engine and features that add durability make this Honda one of the best manual models on the market. This mower boasts a 160cc engine, which provides plenty of power to turn the blade inside its 21-inch durable steel deck.

Its 8-inch wheels (with ball-bearing rear wheels) make for easier pushing over rougher terrain. This mower offers two cutting functions, a mulch kit or side discharge, and six cutting levels. When lawn labor is done for the day, the handles fold quickly and smoothly inward for compact storage.

Product Specs 

  • Engine: 160cc
  • Deck Width: 21 inches
  • Functions: Mulch, side discharge

Pros

  • 8-inch wheels with make it easier to push
  • Six cutting levels
  • Folding handles for compact storage

Cons

  • One of the more expensive walk-behind mowers
  • No option for bagging grass clippings

Best Self-Propelled

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: CRAFTSMAN M250 160-cc 21-in Self-Propelled Lawn Mower
Photo: lowes.com

This mower bears the Craftsman name yet is outfitted with a renowned Honda engine. And while its 160cc engine isn’t quite as powerful as the 170cc engines on Honda mowers, it still boasts excellent reliability and ease of use. Like all Honda engines, it’s self-choking, so there is no need to prime the engine by squeezing a bulb.

As for Craftsman, the company makes traction and handling a priority, which is evident in the 11-inch rear wheels, front-wheel drive, and knobby tire tread. This mower clambers easily over rough terrain and up steeper slopes. The 21-inch deck allows for side discharge, mulching, or bagging, while a dual lever makes for hassle-free adjusting between the mowing deck’s six heights.

Product Specs 

  • Engine: 160cc
  • Deck Width: 21 inches
  • Functions: Mulch, side discharge, bagging

Pros

  • Equipped with a 160cc self-choking Honda engine
  • Large back wheels and heavy tread handle tough terrain
  • Variable speed controls

Cons

  • Slightly smaller engine than those found on Honda mowers
  • More plastic parts for a mower at this price point

Best for Small Yard

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: Yard Machines 20 in. 125 cc Gas Walk Behind Mower
Photo: homedepot.com

Small yards need good grooming too, and this manual walk-behind mower is a fine choice to get the job done. It’s certainly spartan, with a 20-inch cutting deck, only three cutting heights versus the more popular six, and side discharge as the only cutting option. But its stripped-down weight of just 50 pounds (almost 30 pounds lighter than some walk-behind mowers) and small profile make it easy to maneuver around tight spaces like flower beds, trees, and lawn ornaments.

Though it lacks the features and options of some walk-behind mowers, it also costs significantly less and is easier to handle. And when the mowing is done, the handle folds in for a small, easy-to-store footprint.

Product Specs 

  • Engine: 125cc
  • Deck Width: 20 inches
  • Functions: Side discharge

Pros

  • Small size, light weight make it easy to maneuver
  • Affordable price compared to other push-behind mowers
  • Simple design for ease of use

Cons

  • No bagging or mulching feature
  • Smaller engine than mowers with similar-size decks

Best for Large Yards

The Best Gas Lawn Mower Option: Toro TimeMaster 30 in. Self-Propelled Gas Lawn Mower
Photo: homedepot.com

This large self-propelled mower from Toro offers an alternative to a riding model for those with a bigger yard. It boasts a 30-inch deck, just as large as some riding mowers, making it capable of handling lawns measuring an acre or more. Dual blades under the deck supply admirable cutting ability with a powerful 223cc engine.

In addition to mulching, side discharge, and bagging options, this mower includes some nice extras, such as Personal Pace and Traction Assist, which improve maneuverability while providing better performance over uneven terrain.

Product Specs

  • Engine: 223cc
  • Deck Width: 30 inches
  • Functions: Mulch, side discharge, bagging

Pros

  • Wide 30-inch cutting deck speeds up the job
  • Variable speed with traction control makes for easy maneuverability
  • Three functions for versatility

Cons

  • Significantly more expensive than other self-propelled mowers
  • Large size requires more strength to maneuver

Our Verdict

With its powerful and reliable 170cc Honda engine and numerous features that foster easy operation—including variable-speed self-propelled rear wheels and three cutting functions—the Honda 21 in. 3-in-1 Variable Speed Gas Self Propelled Lawn Mower is a great all-around gas mower for those with yards up to 1 acre. For those with larger lawns of up to 3 acres, the Cub Cadet X1 Enduro LT Gas Riding Lawn Mower, with its hydrostatic transmission and powerful 22-horsepower engine, is an excellent choice.

How We Chose the Best Gas Lawn Mowers

In reviewing dozens of the top gas lawn mowers on the market, we focused on three major attributes: deck size, engine size, and cutting functions. Gas lawn mowers are a rather broad classification, so we broke the mowers down into smaller, manual push-behind models suitable for smaller yards, self-propelled models for medium-size yards, and riding lawn mowers for large yards in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison.

Mowers with more powerful engines, larger deck sizes, and more cutting functions in the same category at similar price points received higher ranks than those with smaller engines and less functionality. Our rankings also took into account the reputation of the brand.

FAQs

For questions about lawn mower longevity, maintenance, and/or storage, read on—plus get answers to other common questions.

Q: How long do gas lawn mowers last?

A gas lawn mower will last between 8 and 10 years if properly maintained. How often the mower is used, how long it takes to mow the lawn, and even how hard the mower must work to cut the grass can impact its lifespan.

Q: What is the best gas to use in a lawn mower?

Unleaded gasoline with a minimum of 87 octane is the best gas to use for a lawn mower engine. While higher-octane gas won’t hurt an engine, there is no benefit to using this more expensive gasoline.

Q: How do I maintain a gas lawn mower?

Unless the mower doesn’t require oil changes, make sure to change the oil regularly. Most lawn mower manufacturers recommend doing this at the start of the mowing season. Clean and replace air filters to prevent debris from clogging the engine, replace the spark plug annually, and use a gas stabilizer before storing the mower for the off-season. Finally, periodically flip the mower over to remove built-up grass clippings.

Q: Are gas lawn mowers safe?

When used properly, gas lawn mowers are as safe as other types of lawn mowers. All gas mowers have a safety feature, sometimes referred to as a dead man’s switch, that prevents the blade from operating unless the operator is holding a bar on the handle closed.

Q: Do all gas lawn mowers come with bags?

While most walk-behind gas mowers come with bags, not all do. Models designed for mowing smaller areas may not include bags. Riding mowers often offer an optional bagging system sold separately.

Q: How do I store a gas lawn mower for winter?

To winterize a lawn mower, leave the gas tank empty. Drain the engine oil, then refill it with fresh oil. Store the mower in a dry, well-protected place that is away from a water heater or furnace.