Are Reel Mowers Any Good?

There are few images more iconic when it comes to suburban homeownership than a smiling homeowner pushing a reel mower across their lawn on a weekend morning. But before you invest in one of these models, you probably are wondering if these gas and electric reel mowers are actually any good. As powered models that run on gas or electricity have become commonplace today, it’s important to understand what benefits these simple yard tools offer. Reel mowers were designed to be simple.

They feature 2 or 4 wheels, between 3 and 7 grass cutting blades attached to a spinning reel, and a stationary bed knife. As you push the mower forward, the blades rotate, pulling blades of grass between them and the bed knife. This allows the trapped grass to be snipped much like you would cut a piece of paper with a scissor. While antique models were difficult to push, modern reel mowers are designed using high-strength, lightweight materials that make it easier than ever to push them along.

And since they cut your grass using a clean snipping action, lawns are left looking neat, tidy, and professionally manicured. This is why groundskeepers at baseball stadiums and golf courses rely on large reel mowers that are pulled along with tractors. Another added benefit of these models is that, since they have no motor, they are silent and don’t emit any fumes that can pollute the environment or be harmful to your family’s health.

Plus, they are virtually maintenance-free, only requiring you to sharpen the blades once every year or two. These models are also safer than powered models since you don’t have a rapidly spinning horizontal blade that can send rocks or debris flying at you and are the perfect option for anyone looking for a simple, pleasurable way to get some exercise since you get to push these lightweight mowers around your lawn without the aid of a bulky, self-propelled motor.

Do Reel Mowers Cut Better?

Do Reel Mowers Cut BetterThe major thing to consider, and the reason why many professionals and homeowners swear by these manual models, is that reel mowers simply cut your lawn better. Compared to a gas or electric rotary mower which uses a single horizontally-spinning blade to tear through your lawn, a reel mower snips each blade much like a scissor. This snipping action is actually healthier for your lawn. Unlike the tearing motion of a rotary mower which can damage your lawn, the snipping cuts of a reel mower allow your grass to retain its natural moisture.

It also allows your grass to be healthier and more resistant to common problems such as insect infestation and disease. Even better, since each blade of grass is clipped in a uniform manner, healthy lawns are trimmed in a neat, even way that allows them to look incredibly well-manicured and cared for. The downside to reel mowers is that, while they’re great for cutting regularly maintained grass, they’re not ideal for anyone who tends to let their yard get out of hand.

This is because they lack the power offered by motorized mowers and any lawn that’s higher than 4” will prove difficult to mow with a reel mower. While it can be accomplished on a rare occasion when you skipped a week or two, consistently mowing an overgrown lawn with one of these manual models is going to quickly grow frustrating. The other factor to consider is that these models are best suited for small or medium lawns without a lot of trees overhead.

This is because a reel mower is powered by your muscle and momentum.  Large plots of land or properties scattered with tons of thick twigs and branches are going to be much tougher to navigate with a simple reel mower than with a powerful gas-powered rotary model.

Reel Mower vs Rotary Mower

When deciding between a rotary mower and a reel mower, there are several factors that should be considered. While they are built with the same task in mind, they are designed differently making each better at handle certain situations. A rotary mower generally uses electricity or gas to power its single horizontal cutting blade. This blade spins rapidly in an east to west motion that tears through grass at a selected height setting.

Since they’re more powerful, these models are good for heavy, overgrown lawns, large properties, and for plowing through debris such as leaves and twigs. The downside of these models is that they’re considerably heavier than a reel model and take up more storage space. They also aren’t as healthy for your lawn since the tearing action used to cut the grass has been proven to damage lawns, robbing grass of moisture and leaving them susceptible to insects and disease.

Also, since these mowers have a motor, they’re loud. They’re not practical for anyone looking to mow their lawn late at night or early in the morning unless you’re looking to annoy your family and neighbors. And since gas models emit fumes, you can expect to inhale a decent amount of exhaust that’s harmful to both yourself and the environment. Rotary mowers are also more expensive to operate and maintain. They generally cost more than reel mowers, meaning a higher upfront out-of-pocket cost.

And since you’ll need to regularly buy fuel, plug in an extension cord, or charge a battery, the operating cost of these models can be quite considerable in the long term. On the other hand, reel mowers use their multiple blades which rotate in a north to south direction to snip each blade of grass. This makes them healthier for your lawn, allowing your grass to retain its natural moisture and be more resistant to disease and insect infestation.

They’re easy to push, as long as the blades are kept sharp, and are perfectly capable of efficiently cutting a small or medium lawn in no time. And since they leave fine clippings in their wake, they offer a natural fertilizer for your lawn, saving you money since you won’t have to buy as much fertilizer from the store. Reel mowers are also incredibly quiet so they’re perfect to use any time of day and since they’re so compact, storing them in your garage or tool shed is a breeze.

And since these manual models don’t have a motor, there are no emissions given off, making them a healthier alternative for both the environment and for you. As far as cost, reel mowers are the most cost-effective option to maintain your lawn. They require virtually zero upkeep except for an occasional blade sharpening which can be performed once every year or two. They’re also much more affordable than a gas or electric mower and don’t require you to pay for any electricity or gas, meaning they offer zero operational cost.

This will save you a ton of money in the long run. The downside to reel mowers is that since they are manually-powered, they’re not the best option for large yards, properties with tons of leaves and twigs that need to be mowed over, and consistently overgrown lawns that don’t receive regular care. While they can perform in these conditions, the results will be less efficient and it will take considerably more effort and time to accomplish the task than it would with a rotary mower.

Reel Mowers Pros and Cons

The final thing to consider before going out and buying a reel mower is the pros and cons of these yard tools. While they are a fantastic alternative to gas or electric rotary mowers, you should first take a look at the advantages and disadvantages that these models offer.

  • Pros

No Pollution

Since a reel mower has no motor, they create zero pollution. And we’re not just talking about harmful gas combustion fumes that are bad for both your own health as well as the environment. Noise is an all too common form of pollution nowadays. And since these mowers don’t have a working motor, they produce no sound at all. This makes them great for mowing your lawn on a quiet morning or evening without having to worry about drowning out your own thoughts or annoying your neighbors and family.

More Affordable

Not only are reel mowers generally cheaper that a gas or electric rotary mower, they also don’t require you to charge a battery, plug in your mower, or fill up a gas tank. This translates to zero operating cost for the life of your tool.


Reel Mower Pros and ConsUnlike a powerful rotary mower which can accidentally clip someone’s toe or send a stray pebble flying at high speed when it ricochets off the rapidly spinning horizontal blade, reel mowers are considerably safer to use. This means that you won’t have to send your kids inside when you’re mowing the lawn anymore, allowing for more quality family time. The only way that someone can get hurt by a reel mower is by standing right in front of it and, since they’re manually controlled, it’s much easier to simply stop pushing that it is to quickly turn off an engine.

Better Results

Since reel mowers snip your grass in a scissor-like way, it’s healthier for your lawn. Results are even and professional and your lawn retains its natural moisture, is resistant to disease and insects, and simply looks better.

  • Cons

Harder to Use

Since you’ll be pushing you reel mower with your own momentum, you’re doing the legwork. While this mower is perfect for small yards, it’s not practical for large yards measuring more than around 3,000 square feet. While it can perform the job, doing so regularly will just be too time-consuming and exhausting.

They’re also not as efficient at mowing very high grass and heavy debris like leaves and sticks. This means that if you tend to let your grass go for a while between mowings, it’s going to be tougher and slower to mow it efficiently with a reel mower than a powerful rotary model.

Rough Terrain

Reel mowers are best-suited for relatively even plots of land. You’ll be pushing it around using your own momentum and due to the design of the tool’s reel, it can be prone to stopping or getting bogged down if you yard has deep crevices, bumps, or ridges.


If you are looking for an alternative to a gas or electric mower that is healthier for both you and the environment, a reel mower is a great option. While not suited for homes with uneven terrain, large yards, or with consistently overgrown grass, they’re the perfect solution for anyone with a small or medium-sized yard. Economical, quiet, and healthier for your lawn than rotary mowers, they’re a simple, maintenance-free way of keeping your lawn neat and tidy.

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