The Best Reel Mowers for Lawn Maintenance

Lawn-mower technology has advanced in the past few decades, but there are still many reasons to opt for a reel mower—read on for top recommendations and tips on navigating this mower market.

By Glenda Taylor | Updated Jun 30, 2021 3:09 PM

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The Best Reel Mower Option

Photo: amazon.com

Quiet in operation, simple to maintain, and largely affordable, reel lawn mowers can be smart options for yard maintenance. Taking up about a third of the storage room needed by a traditional mower, they’re easy keepers.

Reel mowers also might be better for a lawn’s health than standard mowers. They make a sharp cut along the top of the grass blade, similar to the way scissors cut. Traditional rotary mowers have blades with a tendency to tear the grass, which increases the risk of disease.

While all reel mowers are similar in function, there are differences among the options. For example, most reel mowers are entirely manual, so they require some physical effort to operate. Keep reading to learn what to look for when shopping for a reel mower, and find out why the following models are among the best reel mower options available.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Fiskars Stay Sharp Max Reel Mower, 18 Inch
  2. RUNNER UP: Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
  3. UPGRADE PICK: Great States 18-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
  4. BEST FOR SMALL LAWNS: Great States 14-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
  5. BEST FOR LARGE LAWNS: American Lawn Mower Company 18-Inch Reel Lawn Mower
  6. BEST FOR TOUGH GRASS: Earthwise 16-Inch 7-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
  7. BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: American Lawn Mower Company 14-Inch 4-Blade Mower
  8. EASIEST TO PUSH: Fiskars 17 Inch Staysharp Push Reel Lawn Mower
  9. BEST WITH GRASS CATCHER: Greenworks RM1400 14-Inch Lawn Mower
  10. ALSO CONSIDER: Greenworks 16-Inch Reel Lawn Mower
The Best Reel Mower Option

Photo: amazon.com

Types of Reel Mowers

Unlike standard mowers, the majority of reel mowers are manual, although consumers can find a handful of gas-powered and battery-powered models.

Manual

Everything old is new again—or so it seems with more of these old-fashioned mowers popping up in home improvement centers and online stores. One of the drivers of the manual mower’s resurgence is its eco-friendliness. No fuel to store, no fumes, and no pull cord that can cause a struggle.

The downside to mowing with a manual lawn mower is the near impossibility of cutting the grass if it’s allowed to grow too tall before mowing, especially if the lawn is dense. For the best results with a manual reel mower, cut the grass more often during fast-growth periods, such as in early spring and the rainy season.

Powered

Like traditional rotary mowers, reel mowers may come powered by either gas or a battery, which makes it immeasurably easier to mow tall or dense grass. Some gas and electric reel mowers also include self-propulsion, which virtually eliminates the need to push the mower—the user needs only to guide it.

While gas reel mowers are just as noisy as gas traditional mowers, electric mowers are not as noisy as gas mowers, but they still have a motor and will produce more noise than a manual reel mower. Opting for either a manual or powered reel mower is mostly a matter of personal choice. For those who have large lawns to mow, a gas reel mower or an electric reel mower might make better sense.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Reel Mower

For any home with a lawn, mowing can be a fact of life and is required in most neighborhoods. To cultivate a lush green expanse, regular mowing is essential. When mowing is done correctly—frequently enough to remove no more than one-third the height of the grass—mowing promotes dense, uniform growth.

Blades

Reel mowers feature between four and seven steel blades. On some models, the blades are treated with a nonstick coating for easier mowing. More blades lead to a cleaner cut because the grass blade doesn’t bend as far before it’s severed. For most lawns, mowers with four or five blades work well.

A few reel mowers have six or seven blades, which makes them well suited to getting a uniform cut on dense grass, and they can also make mowing tall grass a bit easier. Reel mowers also are suitable for lawn striping, a mowing technique that leaves attractive lawn stripes.

Cutting Height

The blade cutting height is preset on a few reel mowers, often at around 1.5 to 2 inches, which is well suited to short grasses but not tall-growing varieties, such as fescue. Other models offer adjustable cutting heights. Consider your grass type and its optimal growing height. If yours is a tall variety of grass, opt for a reel mower that will adjust to the best mowing height for the grass.

Swath Width and Grass Type

North American lawns feature a multitude of grass varieties. Easy-to-cut grass types include perennial rye, Kentucky bluegrass, and fescue. These grass types are suitable for cutting with wider mowers. On the other hand, thick grasses, such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, and zoysia, are better suited to mowing in narrower cutting widths (swaths). In either case, mowing frequently will make using a manual mower easier.

The swath width of a reel mower and the type of grass the yard contains influence usability. Standard swath widths on reel mowers range from 14 to 20 inches. While a wider swath means you won’t have to mow as many passes, it also makes the mower more challenging to push because more grass means more resistance.

Additional Features

Reel mowers don’t come with many bells and whistles, but a few added features can enhance the mowing experience.

  • Grass catcher: Some prefer to allow grass clippings to settle back on the lawns. The clippings act as a mulch that biodegrades to offer organic nutrients to the soil. For those who prefer bagging grass clippings, a rear-mount grass catcher makes it easy.
  • Padded handles: Nonslip, padded foam handles make it easier to grip the mower handles and reduce the risk of blisters.
  • Rollers: Reel mowers have two sizable front wheels, but some come with additional back rollers or front rollers that add stability to the mower and help the user maneuver the mower near borders and edges for clean cutting.

Our Top Picks

Using a reel mower is an environmentally friendly way to mow the lawn and get a bit of fresh air and exercise at the same time. The following manual models are some of the best reel mowers on the market and are made for durability and performance. Advanced design makes them easier to push than the reel mowers of yesterday.

Best Overall

The Best Reel Mower Option: Fiskars Stay Sharp Max Reel Mower, 18 Inch
Photo: amazon.com

This Fiskars reel mower boasts StaySharp blades that reduce the need for resharpening. This model also includes two small front rollers to help balance and stabilize the mower, and it features InertiaDrive, a design that allows the mower to power through thicker grasses.

Cutting height is adjustable from 1 to 4 inches, and there’s an adjustable chute so the clippings can be directed to fall in front of the mower or behind. The Fiskars mower cuts a generous 18-inch swath, making it well suited to mowing small- and medium-size yards. At 51 pounds, it’s a tad on the heavy side, but it comes with padded nongrip comfort handles. Optional grass catcher sold separately.

Runner Up

The Best Reel Mower Option: Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

For affordability and mowing ease, this five-blade reel mower is a worthy option. It features a smooth cutting operation and a cushioned T-handle that makes it easy to maneuver around corners. Its 16-inch swath width makes the mower relatively simple to push, and it features back rollers for added stability.

The Great States reel mower has five heat-treated alloy blades that resist dulling, and blade height is adjustable from 0.5 inch to 2.5 inches, making this reel mower well suited to mowing short grass species, such as buffalo or zoysia. At just under 25 pounds, the mower is easy to maneuver.

Upgrade Pick

The Best Reel Mower Option: Great States 18-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

Those wanting a wider swath on a reel mower may want to consider the Great States 18-inch five-blade mower that cuts a hearty swath to reduce mowing time. This Great States reel mower is simple in design but allows for adjusting mowing height from as low as 0.5 inch to as high as 2.75 inches. It comes with 10-inch composite wheels and back stability rollers.

The blades are made from heat-treated alloy to retain their sharpness longer, and the handle comes with nonslip cushioning to help reduce blisters and to improve grip. The loop-style handle folds down for easy storage, and the Great States mower weighs in at 27 pounds.

Best for Small Lawns

The Best Reel Mower Option: Great States 14-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

The narrow swath width of this Great States Push Reel Mower makes it well suited to mowing small yards. With just a 14-inch swath width and a ball-bearing reel, this little mower is just right for a small lawn and more petite users. It features a T-handle with cushioned nonslip grips and comes with 8.5-inch rubber tires for traction.

This narrower-than-most reel mower is easy to maneuver around trees and corners, and it comes with a back roller for added stability. The blades are made from a heat-treated alloy to help reduce dulling, and it comes with a low adjustable cutting height from 0.5 to 1.75 inches, making it best suited to short grass species.

Best for Large Lawns

The Best Reel Mower Option: American Lawn Mower Company 18-Inch Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

Large lawns benefit from a reel mower with a wider swath to help get the task done promptly. The American Lawn Mower Company’s five-blade mower suits the bill. It cuts an 18-inch swath to make quick work of manual mowing. It comes with large 10-inch composite wheels and back rollers to help stabilize the mower. It also features a loop handle and padded nonslip cushioning to reduce blistering and hand fatigue.

The loop handle folds down to take up less storage space, and the mower weighs in at 27 pounds. The grass cutting depth is adjustable from 1 to 2.75 inches, making this reel mower suitable for cutting various grass species.

Best for Tough Grass

The Best Reel Mower Option: Earthwise 16-Inch 7-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

The Earthwise Reel Lawn Mower comes with seven blades—two more than most reel mowers—giving it extra oomph for powering through dense grass. The Earthwise mower cuts a 16-inch swath with its steel alloy blades that are designed to stay sharp longer. The grass-cutting height is adjustable from 0.5 to 2.5 inches, suitable for a range of grasses, including St. Augustine, buffalo, and Bermuda.

This reel mower comes with a T-handle that makes it easier to maneuver around the corners of houses and trees, and the handgrips feature nonslip cushioning to reduce hand fatigue and blistering. The mower weighs 26 pounds.

Best Lightweight

The Best Reel Mower Option: American Lawn Mower Company 14-Inch 4-Blade Mower
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With a total weight of just 20 pounds, this 14-inch American Lawn Mower is the lightest reel mower in the lineup. It features four cutting blades made from heat-treated steel alloy to reduce dulling, and it has 8.5-inch polymer wheels and rear rollers to increase stability.

This smaller American Lawn Mower is well suited to mowing a small lawn, and its light weight makes it simpler for more petite users to operate. It comes with a T-handle and cushioned nonslip grips for comfortable mowing. The handle on this lightweight, low-maintenance reel mower folds down for storage, and it is light enough to be hung on wall hooks in the garage if desired. Cutting height is adjustable from 0.5 to 2.75 inches.

Easiest to Push

The Best Reel Mower Option: Fiskars 17 Inch Staysharp Push Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

Those who want the healthy cutting action of a reel mower but aren’t excited about struggling to push one through tall grass may want to check out the Fiskars Staysharp Reel Lawn Mower. Its hearty 17-inch swath width is 30 percent easier to push than other manual mowers of the same size. This is due to Fiskars’ patent-pending InertiaDrive technology that features a larger cutting reel and thicker heat-treated alloy steel blades.

At 40 pounds, it’s not the lightest reel mower in the lineup, but its unique design reduces the force it takes to push the mower and increases the mower’s cutting power. The Fiskars reel mower features an adjustable cutting range of 1.5 to 3.5 inches high.

Best with Grass Catcher

The Best Reel Mower Option: Greenworks RM1400 14-Inch Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

Bagging grass clippings is a cinch with the Greenworks Reel Mower. The mower cuts a 14-inch swath, and the mowing height adjusts from 1.06 to 2 inches, making it well suited to most low-growing lawn grass species. It comes with a T-handle that makes it easy to mow around tree trunks, and it features nonslip cushioned grips for comfort. The handle folds down for convenient storage.

The Greenworks mower comes with a handy grass catcher that connects to the rear of the mower for collecting grass clipping, and the mowing reel has five heat-treated steel alloy blades designed to remain sharp longer. The mower weighs 24 pounds.

Also Consider

The Best Reel Mower Option: Greenworks 16-Inch Reel Lawn Mower
Photo: amazon.com

With a slightly wider swath than the other Greenworks mower in the lineup, this 16-inch reel mower deserves a look. The wider swath means fewer passes when mowing, and the 10-inch front wheels make the mower easier to push. This Greenworks model also comes with two rear wheels for stability, and it features a detachable grass catcher for collecting clippings when desired.

This Greenworks reel mower offers an adjustable mow height from 1.125 to 2.25 inches, and it comes with a cushioned, ergonomic loop handle that folds to take up less storage space. The mower weighs 26 pounds.

The Advantages of Using a Reel Mower

Reel mowers are almost always powered manually. The physical pushing of the mower turns the blade cylinder, which in turn cuts the grass. Since they’re push-powered, reel mowers excel when cutting fine, straight-growing grasses but can bog down in coarse, wiry grass. The following are some of the advantages of using a reel mower.

  • Avoid diseases. A clean cut helps grass avoid diseases such as “brown patch,” which can leave a lawn pockmarked with areas of dead grass.
  • Affordable mowers. While pricing varies based on quality and design, expect to pay about half the cost of a powered push mower.
  • Low maintenance requirements. Manual reel mowers only require occasional cleaning and blade sharpening. A gas reel mower requires the addition of oil, draining fuel over winter, and other maintenance tasks.
  • Relatively compact and lightweight. Many reel mowers weigh around 20 to 30 pounds, and they often feature fold-down handles for easy storage.
  • Free of exhaust and fumes. Breathe the aroma of freshly cut grass rather than toxic exhaust fumes.

FAQs About Reel Mowers

With no toxic fumes, no need to store fuel, and quiet operation, the reel mower is making a comeback. This eco-friendly mower will reduce your carbon footprint while offering some physical exercise. For those thinking of investing in a reel mower, a few questions are to be expected.

Q. Is it hard to push a reel mower?

Manual reel mowers are easy to push in thin sparse grass, but it takes more force to move one through tall, dense, or coarse grass.

Q. Can you mow wet grass with a reel mower?

A manual reel mower can easily cut through wet grass—you can even mow when it’s raining if you choose.

Q. How often should you mow with a reel mower?

Mow as often as is necessary to keep from removing more than one-third of the grass’s blade. This may mean mowing two or more times a week during the fast-growing grass season.

Q. When should I sharpen my reel mower?

In general, it’s a good idea to sharpen the blades on a reel mower after 20 to 25 hours of use.

Final Thoughts

With an increased focus on clean air and a lower carbon footprint, a manual reel mower makes good sense. However, it may not be suitable for all mowing situations. If the grass is high as a result of it being a while since the last mowing, a reel mower may bog down rather than cut the grass. For those who want to contribute to a cleaner environment but aren’t sure they always want to push a mower, one option is to have a powered mower as a backup to a reel mower.