14 Lawn Mowing Mistakes Everyone Makes (and How to Fix Them)

Have you ever put the wrong gas in the lawn mower, or "scalped" your grass with too close a cut? We've all been there. Here's where most of us go wrong when mowing our lawns, and some best practices to follow going forward.

By Caitlin Castelaz | Published Mar 23, 2023 2:16 PM

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woman examining a broken lawnmower on its side

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According to 2023 figures provided by Angi, the average cost to mow a lawn is $124—it’s no wonder that so many homeowners choose to cut their own grass! While mowing one’s own lawn certainly deserves an A for effort, not everyone gets top marks in execution.

If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence than it does in your backyard, it could be that you’re making one of these cardinal mowing mistakes. Are any of these bad practices costing you a better-looking lawn?

1. Buying the wrong mower

Bearded man kneeling to look at lawn mower while shopping at a hardware store

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You could be making a whole lot of extra work for yourself because you’re using the wrong mower. If you have more than a half acre of property, mowing with a push mower will take an inordinately long time. On the other hand, in a small yard (1/4 acre or less), a lawn tractor will only get in the way. When shopping for the right mower for your yard, consider the size of your lawn, the terrain, and how many trees you need to maneuver around.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Lawn Mowers We Tested This Year

2. Running the mower at half speed

Man on a riding lawn mower in an orchard

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Some folks mistakenly believe that running a riding lawn mower at full speed is bad for the engine and shortens the life of your machine. That’s not necessarily true. Every tractor has an optimal blade tip speed, and hitting a higher RPM on your engine means you’ll get an even better cut.

RELATED: 13 Low-Cost Solutions for an Ugly Lawn

3. Mowing too quickly

Lawn out of focus with dust rising in wake and uneven grass in foreground

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While it’s okay to run the mower at full speed, it isn’t a good idea to rush through mowing the lawn. Take your time to ensure you get a clean, even cut. The last thing you want is for the lawn to look messier than it did before you cut it.

RELATED: 12 Tips for Homeowners Who Want to Spend Less Time Mowing

4. Using dull blades

Person wearing gloves sharpening a lawn mower blade

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One of the simplest paths to a clean-cut lawn is a fresh set of blades. Lawn mower blades wear down with use, just like razor blades do. You’ll be able to tell when it’s time to sharpen your mower blades by looking at grass blades after you mow them: Ragged, jagged, and torn grass is a sign the blades need to be sharpened. It’s a good idea to keep a spare set of mower blades in the garage so you can swap in fresh blades while you’re sharpening the dull set without waiting to mow.

RELATED: How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades

5. Cutting the grass while it’s wet

A lawn mower wheel covered in wet grass

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Mowing wet grass isn’t a great idea: Not only is it unsafe to operate heavy machinery on a slick surface, but damp clippings are also likely to stick to, and clog, your mower. The better strategy is to keep an eye on the weather forecast and mow before it rains.

RELATED: Solved! The Great Debate on Mowing Wet Grass

6. Not mowing often enough

A woman mowing long grass with a push mower

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Want to keep your lawn looking luxurious all summer long? Cut it often, but don’t cut too much at once. For the strongest, healthiest grass, you’ll want to cut no more than 1/3 off the top each time you mow. Adjust the blade height as necessary, and don’t allow the grass to grow too long between cuts.

7. Cutting grass too short

A lawn mower cutting grass too short

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Do you think you can save time by giving your lawn a major trim so you don’t have to mow as frequently? Think again. Mowing more than 1/3 of the grass blades damages the lawn. Known as “scalping the lawn,” a super short cut makes the yard more prone to weeds, and forces the grass to focus on regrowing its blades than deepening its roots. If you’re hoping for a lush lawn (and who isn’t?) avoid giving it a crew cut.

RELATED: 7 Things Your Lawn May Be Trying to Tell You

8. Sticking to a rigid schedule

Man caring for drought affected lawn with lawnmower not in use

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It might be convenient for you to mow on a regular schedule so you can check the chore off your to-do list, but it’s important to have some flexibility. In the spring and summer, grass grows quickly and needs to be trimmed more often. That said, wait a day or two after rainfall and allow longer breaks if your location is going through a drought.

RELATED: Solved! How Long Does it Take Grass to Grow? 

9. Mowing in the same pattern every time

A woman mowing a lawn in vertical stripes

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When you follow the same path every time you mow the lawn, the grass begins to grow in the direction it’s being cut. Varying the pattern ensures the grass will grow upright, as well as avoiding ruts in the lawn. Mix up the direction every time you mow the lawn.

RELATED: 6 Things to Know About Lawn Striping

10. Cleaning up the clippings

Woman in plaid shirt raking grass clippings on mowed lawn

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There’s no need to rake and bag after you mow: Save yourself the effort and leave the grass clippings on the lawn. The scraps will decompose quickly and provide beneficial nutrients to the soil.

RELATED: The Best Things You Can Do for Your Lawn

11. Not cleaning the mower

A man cleaning the blades on the bottom of a lawnmower

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You’re supposed to clean the underside of a mower after every use, but many homeowners let this little chore slide. The next time you mow, take the time to do the cleaning. Not only do clippings block proper airflow necessary for mulching or bagging clippings, but moisture and fertilizer traces can corrode the deck of the mower, causing premature rust and wear.

RELATED: 7 Tips to Keep Your Mower in Working Order

12. Ignoring the maintenance manual

Man replacing a lawnmower filter

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If you treat your lawn mower well, it will return the favor. Consult the product manual to determine how often you need to change the oil and filters. These simple maintenance tasks will improve performance, extend the life of the mower, and make it run more smoothly overall. Filters generally need to be changed after 250 to 300 hours of use (or once per season); the oil should be changed after 50 hours of use. Mark reminders on your calendar so you don’t miss a crucial tune up.

RELATED: Solved! The Best Type of Oil to Use for a Lawn Mower

13. Improper mower storage during the off season

Adding fuel stabilizer to lawnmower's gas tank

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The last thing you want come springtime is to find that the mower won’t start because of sticky, separated fuel in the tank. Not only is it frustrating to deal with, it’s not great for the mower. Add fuel stabilizer to the tank and run the mower for 10 to 15 minutes to circulate the stabilizer before you stow it away for the season.

RELATED: How to Winterize a Lawn Mower

14. Ignoring safety protocol

Woman getting ready to mow lawn with a dog by her side

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However big or small your mower is, it’s a powerful piece of machinery. Taking proper safety precautions every time you mow is essential. Most important, keep the little ones and pets inside while you mow. Be sure the discharge chute is properly attached to the mower, too, so debris doesn’t fly up and hit you.