Sharp, level blades and smooth, quiet operation; not hard to push. Precise, clean cut. Assembly and blade adjustment is straightforward and simple.
Doesn't cut dense weeds, and has the tendency to miss tall blades of grass - though these are common issues. Pricey and heavy.
A basic design with 16-inch wheels. Clear assembly instructions. Mid-range price.
Blade tends to dull quickly. Handle isn't as durable as other models we considered. Doesn't work well on uneven areas. Adjusting the blade height is difficult.
Mulching system reliably catches most clippings. Blade is sharp and strong. Easy to assemble. Not too expensive.
Handle has a flimsy feel. Blade mechanism tends to squeak after several uses. Not effective at cutting uneven lawns or thick growth.
Combines affordability and effective cutting. Lightweight yet rugged. Blade is easy to adjust. Quick and easy to assemble.
Blade is on the short side; some owners report going over tough patches several times. Won't cut all types of grass or weeds, especially those with sturdy stalks.
Easy to put together. Large front wheels and long, contoured handle for leverage. Mid-range price.
The mulching system doesn't hold much grass. Design is a bit bulky and difficult to store. Running over tough sticks and branches could bend the blade.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
With the rise of gas-powered lawn mowers, it was thought that the older reel mowers would soon be relegated to the scrap heap. But they’ve held on, and in recent years they’ve even been making a comeback among those looking for a quieter, more eco-friendly way to keep their lawns looking sharp.
But these new reel mowers aren’t like the one you’ll find hanging in your grandparents’ tool shed. They’re lighter, easier to maneuver, and some of them come with fancy bells and whistles like attached grass catchers.
With so many choices available to you, it can be difficult to determine which is the best option for you and your lawn. That’s where BestReviews comes in. We’ve made it our mission to help consumers like you find the products you need.
The first thing you have to figure out is whether a reel mower is right for your yard.
If you have a small to medium-size yard that’s relatively smooth and flat, a reel mower will work just fine.
If you have a yard that’s rocky, bumpy or full of weeds, a reel mower won’t work as effectively and you’ll be left with a patchy lawn. That’s because reel mowers lack the cutting force of traditional rotary lawn mowers.
If you have a large yard, a reel mower also isn’t ideal simply because it will take much longer to cut. These machines usually can’t cut as wide of an area at a time, and they rely entirely on you to propel them, as opposed to rotary mowers that are often self-propelling.
If you don’t think a reel mower is right for your yard, you may want to check our review of the best rotary lawn mowers instead.
Reel mowers have either four, five, or seven blades, with five the most common. The right number for you depends on the type of grass you’re cutting.
A four- or five-blade reel mower will do a good job on thin or fine grass.
All lawn mowers need their blades sharpened periodically, and this is true of reel mowers as well. But how often they need sharpening depends on the type of mower you get.
Reel lawn mowers fall into two types: contact and no-contact (or silent cut). This refers to whether or not the blades make contact with the mower’s bedknife.
Need to be sharpened more frequently.
Require backlapping at least once a year (This is a technique to sharpen blades in which you spread an abrasive solution on the blades and run them backward.)
Don’t require backlapping.
Don’t need to be sharpened as often (These don’t get dull as quickly thanks to a space between the blades and the bedknife. But at least once a year, you must adjust this space in order to keep the machine functioning properly.)
The wider your reel mower, the less time you’ll spend mowing because you can cut a larger swath at once. Most reel mowers are between 14 and 18 inches wide, but you can find some as narrow as 12 inches and as wide as 20 inches.
But while wide reel mowers will cut down on your mowing time, they aren’t as easy to maneuver as narrower models. If you have a lot of trees or obstacles in your yard that you need to mow around, a narrower reel mower may suit you better.
While most reel mowers on the market today are pretty lightweight, you should make sure that you’ll be able to push around the model that you choose. One downside to going with a larger reel mower to shorten your mowing time is that it’s also heavier. And don’t forget to think about the other members of your household who will be using the lawn mower as well.
Most reel mowers enable you to adjust the height of the blades, enabling you to choose how short you want your grass to be. This is usually done with a lever on the base of the machine that raises or lowers the reel.
Think about how tall you want your grass to be and make sure you choose a machine that can accommodate this. If you’re not sure, go with a mower that has multiple settings so that you can try them out and decide which one is best.
Setup is a relatively minor detail, but if you’re not particularly handy, you don’t want to purchase a reel mower with a bunch of little pieces that are difficult to assemble. Make sure the model you choose comes with detailed instructions so you can get it up and running quickly.
If you prefer not to leave your grass clippings in your lawn, or you use them for fertilizer, you should look for a mower that includes a grass catcher. This is a small bag that fastens to the back of the mower and collects all of the clippings as you go. It’s usually detachable, so you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
Reel mowers can cost anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the type you buy.
You can find a narrow, five-blade reel mower for between $50 and $75.
For about $75 to $80, you can find basic reel mowers and feel relatively confident that you’re purchasing a durable machine that will hold up well over time.
Mow on a schedule. Your reel mower will be more effective if you mow about once a week instead of waiting until the grass is very tall.
Mow weeds when they’re small. If dandelions or other weeds crop up in your yard, your reel mower may not be powerful enough to cut through them. Try to tackle them when they’re small, or else consider pulling them up by hand.
Wipe off your mower blades periodically. This helps keep them clean and will keep your mower working at its best.
Don’t cut more than a third of the height of the grass. Cutting it shorter can make it difficult for your grass to grow back.
Q. Is it difficult to push a reel mower?
A. Not necessarily. While it’s true that reel mowers rely entirely on your muscle power, these mowers also much lighter than rotary mowers. It does require a little effort to get the machine going, but then your momentum should carry you.
Q. How does a reel mower work differently than a rotary mower?
A. A reel mower functions like a pair of scissors, neatly cutting the grass as it rolls over it. A rotary mower sucks grass up so it’s standing straight and then employs a fast-moving blade to chop it off. While the rotary mower is more powerful, this mowing method can damage your grass and cause your lawn to dry out.
Q. How often should I sharpen the blades on my reel mower?
A. Reel mowers don’t need sharpening as often as rotary mowers, but how often they should be sharpened depends on several factors, including how often you use the mower and the condition of your yard. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to see the recommended sharpening schedule. You’ll usually see estimates ranging from once a year to once every eight years. But it all comes down to when the blades start to get dull. If you notice your reel mower isn’t performing as well as it used to, it might be time to get its blades sharpened.