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 causes ragged brown tips and increases the risk of disease.
While all reel mowers function similarly, there are differences among the options. We tested the following models to find out how blade width, mowing height, handle design, and other details affect performance in different settings. 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.
- BEST OVERALL: Great States 18-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
- UPGRADE PICK: Fiskars StaySharp 18-Inch Max Reel Mower
- BEST FOR SMALL LAWNS: Great States 14-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
- BEST FOR TOUGH GRASS: Earthwise 16-Inch 7-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: American Lawn Mower Company 14-Inch 4-Blade Mower
- BEST WITH GRASS CATCHER: Greenworks RM1400 14-Inch Lawn Mower
- ALSO CONSIDER: Greenworks 16-Inch Reel Lawn Mower
How We Tested the Best Reel Mowers
We tested these mowers in a Georgia backyard in the middle of winter. That meant a combination of dormant warm-season grasses (some Bermuda grass and some centipede grass) along with a few areas infested with cool-season weeds like annual bluegrass, chickweed, henbit, dandelion, and wild onion. The test areas included a combination of flat, sloped, and uneven lawn.
We divided the lawn into test plots so that each mower would have a chance to prove its capability under a variety of conditions. For inclusion in this article, each mower had to effectively perform the basic function for which it was built: mowing to reduce the grass height by approximately one-third. Then, beyond basic weed-free lawn mowing, we also tested each mower on the tougher conditions of overgrown and weed-infested grass. All of the mowers included in this guide easily passed the basic functionality test and earned bonus points by tackling one or more adverse conditions, noted in the reviews.
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. We tested these manual models on our lawn to find out which would be the best reel mowers for different users and circumstances. Learn about the performance details in the reviews.
Those wanting a wide 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 reel mower is simple in design and 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 mower weighs in at 27 pounds.
In our backyard test, this mower worked quickly, quietly, and easily. It was pretty easy to push in all but the thickest grass but was abruptly stopped by twigs or debris thicker than a pencil (as were the rest of these mowers). We liked the padded wide-loop handle that gave it the familiar feel of a conventional gas mower. Sharpening the blades—a task that most users would require once or twice a season—requires disassembly of one wheel to access the blade drive mechanism. The process is typical of these mowers and was only slightly complicated.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 18 inches
- Mowing height range: 0.5 to 2.75 inches
- Wide swath cuts down mowing time; great for larger yards
- Loop handle increases user comfort and control
- 10-inch wheels roll easily over uneven terrain
- Alloy steel blades stay sharp longer; less maintenance required
- 3.5 inches from blade edge to outer edge of wheels means more edge trimming
- Sharpening, when necessary, requires disassembly of the drive wheel
- Hard plastic blade height bracket seems like it may wear out prematurely
Get the Great States 18-inch reel mower at Amazon or The Home Depot.
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.
This reel mower’s five heat-treated alloy blades resist dulling, and blade height is adjustable from 1 inch to 2.5 inches, making it optimal for mowing short grass species, such as buffalo or zoysia. At just under 25 pounds, it’s also easy to maneuver.
We found this 16-inch mower to be a good “middle of the road” option: narrow enough to move well through thick grass but still wide enough to get the job done quickly. Its T-style handlebar grips gave it a more “articulate” feel that was comfortable and easy to maneuver. The 16-inch blade moved slightly easier through dense grass than the 18-inch model but still cut a generous swath.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 16
- Mowing height range: 1 to 2.5 inches
- Lower profile for easy storage; great for busy gardeners with lots of tools to store
- Comfortable handlebar style grips; ideal for prolonged use
- Easy to use screw-knob-style height adjustment
- Cuts too low for taller grasses like fescue
- Sticks, acorns, and pine cones stop the blades abruptly
- Does not cut to the edge; may need a trimmer tool
Get the Great States 16-inch reel mower at Amazon or The Home Depot.
The saying “You get what you pay for” rings true with this reel mower from Fiskars. Boasting high-quality StaySharp blades that reduce the need for resharpening, this model also includes two small front rollers to help balance and stabilize the mower. It also features InertiaDrive, a design that allows the mower to power through thicker grasses.
At around twice the price of the others we tested, the Fiskars Stay Sharp Max mower delivered performance to justify it. Weighing in at a hefty 52 pounds, the build feels heavy duty but works smoothly and efficiently. The ergonomic handle was extremely comfortable, and the machine moved almost effortlessly over all but the roughest ground. The only criticism we had was that the 8.5-inch drive wheels felt somewhat undersized. Unlike other reel mowers, the wheels are offset in a way that prevents them from flattening the grass before it is mowed and allows the mower to cut within an inch of the edge rather than 3.5 inches from the edge like other reel mowers. The toolless lever height adjustment worked with one hand, in seconds. It was a pleasure to mow with this tool, and the completed cut was clean and even.
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 it. The Fiskars mower cuts a generous 18-inch swath, making it well suited to mowing small and medium-size yards. An optional grass catcher can be purchased separately.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 18 inches
- Mowing height range: 1 to 4 inches
- Heavy-duty construction can last for several years
- Ergonomic design feel comfortable to use
- Easy to adjust and maneuver with oversized wheels
- Cuts closest to the edges so users can skip the trimmer
- Twice the price of other reel mowers
- More than twice the weight of other reel mowers
- Bulky design takes up slightly more storage space
Get the Fiskars StaySharp reel mower at Amazon or The Home Depot.
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. 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 1 to 1.75 inches, making it best suited to short grass species.
A narrow overall body width of just 20 inches, 8.5-inch rubber tires, and a traditional handlebar with padded grips makes this mower easy to maneuver in tight spaces, and it takes up minimal storage space. At just under 20 pounds, it is even light enough to hang on a wall hook. It is essentially a scaled-down version of our 16-inch Best Bang for the Buck pick, with similar height and blade adjustments. Unfortunately, this smaller model requires a wrench to adjust the height instead of using screw-knobs. However, the narrow body was even easier to push in dense grass but took almost twice as long to mow the same amount of space when the imperfections of walking a straight line, additional turnaround times, and overlapping edges are factored in. This could be a good pick for mowing a small grass patch around a townhouse or condo.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 14 inches
- Mowing height range: 1 to 1.75 inches
- Compact size makes this easy to maneuver in small spaces
- Lightweight and low profile for easy storage
- No frills gardening tool makes for low maintenance
- Does not cut close to the edges (3.5 inches from blade edge to outer wheel)
- Too lightweight for mowing sloped areas
- Height adjustment requires a wrench
Get the Great States 14-inch reel mower at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Northern Tool + Equipment.
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.
Weighing in at 26 pounds, 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.
In our tests, this seven-blade mower gave the cleanest, most consistent cut. We even used it to scalp a section of dormant centipede grass, where it left a smooth, even finish. Unfortunately, the additional blades offered more resistance, making it a little harder to push than five-blade models. Because it has height adjustments ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 inches, a good strategy would be to mow regularly at 1 or 1.5 inches and leave a little room to move higher if the grass gets ahead of you.
- Number of blades: 7
- Swath: 16 inches
- Mowing height range: 0.5 to 2.5 inches
- 7 alloy steel blades are great for mowing coarse grasses
- Easy-to-use height adjustment screw-knobs
- Cleanly maintain dense grasses at low height
- Harder to push than 5-blade models
- Does not work as well if grass grows extra long between cuts
- Not suitable for taller grasses like fescue
Get the Earthwise reel mower at Amazon.
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 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 1.5 inches.
With only four 14-inch blades slicing against the bedknife, this mower offered the least resistance of all the mowers we tested, making it the easiest mower to push. However, fewer blades meant a less consistent finish in dense or overgrown grass. Overall the ALMC 14-inch four-blade reel mower felt strong and durable and was easy to use, but it required a second pass to clean up some of the more difficult areas. It’s probably a good choice for keeping up with pathways in the veggie garden or other secondary grassy areas.
- Number of blades: 4
- Swath: 14 inches
- Mowing height range: 0.5 to 1.5 inches
- Very budget-friendly compared to similar options
- Easy to push, even in overgrown or dense grass
- Durable construction yet still a lightweight and maneuverable design
- Fewer blades produce a less thorough cut
- Requires a wrench for height adjustments
- 8.5-inch wheels do not roll as well over rough ground
Get the American Lawn Mower Company reel mower at Amazon or The Home Depot.
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 clippings, and the mowing reel has five heat-treated steel alloy blades designed to remain sharp longer. The mower weighs 24 pounds.
In our trials, the Greenworks RM1400 was easy to push and maneuver, thanks to its lightweight frame, narrow wheel base, and T-style handlebar. The mowing height is easy to adjust with spring pins but only varies within a narrow 1-inch range. The sharpening process is similar to other reel mowers, with the exception of the bedknife mounting system. Where most manufacturers use pairs of set screws on both ends to adjust and hold the angle, Greenworks uses single spring-loaded bolts at the ends to hold the proper angle. The system seems less complicated but could offer less durability—only time and extended use will tell.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 14 inches
- Mowing height range: 1.06 to 2 inches
- Grass catcher included; no mess left behind after use
- Lightweight and easy to push; great for larger yards
- Provides a clean, consistent finish
- Full grass catcher makes the mower difficult to maneuver
- Components feel less durable than other models
- Wheel assembly is more difficult to disassemble for sharpening
Get the Greenworks 14-inch reel mower at Amazon or Greenworks.
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.
Built on the same platform as its 14-inch sibling, this Greenworks 16-inch reel mower boasts a wider range of cutting heights and a comfortable ergonomic loop-style handle. In our tests the loop handle made it much easier to push and maneuver the mower, especially as the grass catcher filled. The swath size and five-blade configuration hit the sweet spot, balancing the ability to mow tall and dense grass without causing user fatigue. However, a few design features appear less durable, including lightweight plastic rollers and a two-bolt adjustment system for the bedknife. This one would make a good pick for regular use on an otherwise well-maintained lawn.
- Number of blades: 5
- Swath: 16 inches
- Mowing height range: 1.125 to 2.25 inches
- Handle folds down for compact storage
- Easy-to-use spring-pin height adjustment
- Comfortable ergonomic handle is ideal for prolonged use
- Lightweight bedknife-adjustment system
- Grass catcher may be somewhat undersize
- Construction feels less durable than the competition
Get the Greenworks 16-inch reel mower at Amazon.
What to Consider When Choosing a Reel Mower
For any home with a lawn, mowing is a fact of life that 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—it promotes dense, uniform growth.
Manual vs. Powered
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. The thickness and coarseness of the grass helps dictate if it is too tall, but if the grass is twice as tall as its recommended cutting height, it usually can pose a problem for a manual reel mower. 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 be powered by either gas or a battery, which makes it immeasurably easier to mow dense or tall 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 their traditional counterparts, electric mowers are not as noisy as gas mowers. However, 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 with large lawns, a gas reel mower or an electric reel mower might make better sense.
Blades and Cutting Height
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 ideal for getting a uniform cut on dense grass. Reel mowers also are suitable for lawn striping, a mowing technique that leaves an attractive alternating pattern in the grass.
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, and these 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.
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, look for models that feature a rear-mount grass catcher.
- 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.
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.
With no toxic fumes, no need to store fuel or charge batteries, 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?
Although a manual reel mower can easily cut through wet grass, doing so frequently is not advisable. As with other mowers, clippings will clump and look unsightly. Wet clippings that stick to the mower increase rust formation, dulling the blades prematurely.
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 in 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. For some users, this may be once a year; others may need to sharpen blades two or more times in a season.
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