Don’t buy gasoline-powered lawn mowers

May 29, 2006 | By | 16 Replies More

Unless you really and truly need one, that is. 

The lack of respect given to the push reel mower is a good example of how mindset affects consumer behavior.  I’m referring to the type of mower with a rotating cylinder of blades that is powered by your muscles.  This post is not really about saving energy.  Small residential lawn mowers use very little gasoline compared to our transportation and heating uses of oil.  Rather, I find choice of lawn mowers revealing about the nature of consumer choices, specifically about the American love affair with engines, noise and power (NASCAR, anyone?).

In the past week, we’ve spent some time discussing things people might be willing to do to conserve energy.  Here’s a no-brainer for those with small-to-medium sized yards.  Push mowers are far superior to gasoline powered mowers.  Most people simply don’t consider this choice, however. Thanks to sales hype regarding the much more expensive gasoline-burning models, buying a non-gasoline powered mower never ever occurs to most people. Major hardware stores relegate such mowers to the back shelf.  Consumer Reports gives little attention to these wonderful machines, year after year.


I speak from experience. I’ve used a push-reel non-engine lawn mowers for 12 years. They are as easy to operate as those powerful roaring gas-powered mowers. Here are seven solid reasons to chose a no-gasoline model next time you buy a mower:

  1. Push-reel mowers cost only $100 brand new. The mower I bought was manufactured by American Lawn Mower Company, based in Indiana. 
  2. Push reel mowers have no engine, so they create no noise pollution.     
  3. Push reel mowers produce no air pollution.  The California Air Resource Board has determined that using an un-tuned gas mower for 30 minutes emits as many pollutants as driving a car for 172 miles.  Gas mowers are “the single largest unregulated source of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.”
  4. Modern push-reel mowers weigh only 16 to 32 pounds, half the weight of the non-powered mowers owned by your grandparents. They are precision machines, capable of slicing through tough zoysia. 
  5. Push-reel mowers are easy to maintain. A $15 sharpening kit keeps the blades sharp forever.  
  6. The type of cut offered by reel mowers is healthy for your lawn: the scissors-cut of a reel mower sutures the grass blade, holding in much-needed moisture and keeping out diseased organisms.  There is no ripping or tearing of the grass blades.    A reel mower disperses the clippings in a fine spray–not clumps–that decompose quickly. 
    In 1990 more than 87,000 persons with injuries caused by power mowers were treated in emergency rooms. 
  7. Electric lawn mowers are not a solution to safety concerns or to noise or air pollution.   Many electric mowers produce 80 db of sound, and they depend upon the pollution-causing production of electricity. The production and disposal of lawn mower batteries (for cordless units) are horrendous to the environment.

Ever since buying one, I’ve wondered why they aren’t more popular.  There’s really no good reason.  Just like the unnecessary packaging described by Jason, the choice of lawn mower is but one of many consumer choices that, in the aggregate, would make a significant beneficial impact on our environment.


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Category: Culture, Energy, Environment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (16)

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  1. OhPlease says:

    A nice thought, but for many people they are NOT a good answer. The biggest is bagging, (either due to volume of clippings and/or for composting). And convenience… they are not terribly efficient unless the blades are kept nearly razor sharp all the time and are always slower than doing it with a power mower. As for price… I paid 90 bucks new for my gas powered, bagging mower with mulching ability. I mow once a week (all I have time for). I have yet to drain the 2.5 gallon gas can I filled up at the beginning of the season or had to top the qt of oil it took to fill the gallery up. I had an electric, but it's just not up to the task of my relativley smallish yard. Being corded it had no batteries, but the motor burned up within a few months of relatively light use on easy grass.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I use a battered, old, corded electric mower that I salvaged from the alley, to which I added a wheel and and replaced the cord. The blade is half worn away from sharpening by the previous owner, and the bolt holding it is so corroded that nothing seems to make it loosen. In my experience, electrics are indestructible and un-stallable. I use mine to mulch grass in place, although neither the deck nor the blade are optimized for this treatment. Biennial sharpening is all the maintenance it needs.

    But I've got a small city lot, mostly landscaped. Low water consumption, and little mowing needed.

  3. Christal says:

    I have a reel mower also and so far it's great. In reply to "OhPlease": You stated that the biggest problem of reel mowers is the bagging of clippings. Most reel mower companies offer a clipping extension. So your reason is baseless. Also you should not be bagging your lawn clippings in the first place. You should mow once a week so the amount of clippings is small enough to fertilize your lawn. Clippings will decompose in a few days and build up your soil. You can compost using other matierals. My Brille mower never requires it's blades to be sharpened. It takes a bit more time to mow your lawn with a reel mower…but it is worth not polluting the air…and it's good exercise. An electric mower is second to the reel mower because of the battery use and should be re-powered using a solar generator ($40). Remember not every lawn mower manufactuer is the same, so if you buy something cheap it will not last too long. Good job to Dan who salvaged something that would otherwise be in a landfill.

  4. Mowing my small lawn with a push mower is one of my favorite relaxing Saturday afternoon activities. Those of you who are using a noisy, smelly, cumbersome gas mower are missing out!

  5. Earl E says:

    I have .6 acres. I used a recharge electric but it took 3 days to cut, bought a reel push mower and stopped cutting 2/3 of the lawn. The deer moved in. Now I am looking for a gas or rechare electric large reel mower. Any ideas?

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    How much pollution does a gas-powered lawn mower produce? Here are some more stats about two-stroke engines in general, including a few specific notes on lawn mowers.

  7. Bruce says:

    I realize this is an old post.

    Please tell me about the 15.00 sharpening kit. I think I am ready to buy a reel mower BUT I am concerned about how to keep it sharpened.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Bruce: I bought my reel lawn mower at Home Depot quite a few years ago. It was manufactured by American Lawn Mower Company in Indiana. If you click on this link, you'll see a link for the sharpening kit. As you'll see, the kit still costs $15 and it will last many sharpenings.

      Sharpening is a really clever process, involving the application of a sharpening compound (a paste) onto the blades, and then hand-cranking the blades in reverse for about ten minutes. When you are finished, you test the sharpness by slowing turning the blades forward and watching them slice through pieces of paper. These are incredibly simple and well-made machines that are as easy to push as most gas-powered push mowers. American's site also has a list of numerous places where you can buy American's mowers. There are at least a few other brands of reel mowers out there (such as Scotts), but this is the one with which I am familiar. Both Scott's and American's (which is sometimes sold under the Great States label) models cost less than $100 for a 16" model (18" and 20" models are a bit more). It's a great deal to buy a lawn mower that will last for many years without any expensive repairs and without the need to deal with gasoline. My family sometimes fights to see who gets to cut the grass. If I'm not careful to speak up, I never get to cut it!

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Cross-reference to the Consumer Report's failure to spread the word regarding human-powered lawn mowers.

  9. Hank says:

    I've had a $100 human-powered mower for about 5 years now. I haven't even had to sharpen it, let alone maintain it in any other way, and it still cuts perfectly. Of course, with the drought and associated water restrictions still in force in the 'burbs, lawns don't grow anymore in Melbourne unless it rains … which it generally doesn't …

    I really don't think any able-bodied person actually needs a gas mower unless they have a giant lawn. Hell, with kids getting so damned fat these days, you'd think parents would jump at the chance to give 'em some exercise with some hand tools.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Be careful when you voluntarily mow the City's shaggy grass for free.

  11. person says:

    hmm i like the idea bout getting fat kids to exercise…

  12. Gasoline infests my life. Especially when i mow the lawn, if you know what i mean ;] ;] ;] ;]

  13. Mike Baker says:

    I'm intrigued. Never knew that folks still used these. I remember seeing these as a wee lad but never actually saw anyone operate one. Checked the reviews from Ace Hardware on the American Lawnmower Co. models and was surprised to see so many great reviews.

    Guess I am going to have to stop talking green and actually act on it! The extra exercise wouldn't hurt me any either.

    Thanks for the great information Erich!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Mike: My family has used a non-engine lawn mower for at least a decade. I'm convinced that the this generation of mowers is as easy to push as a power mower. You'll want to pick up the sticks and twigs before you mow, but other than that, it will amaze you. No more gasoline, and you can hang the mower on a nail in the garage or basement.

      The green movement consists of lots of easy changes like this, as well as other changes that require more effort. But there are lots of these easy changes that can add up to immense improvement for our environment and health.

      I do like your enthusiasm. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  14. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Actually I want one of the solar powered robotic mowers, but they are a bit pricey.

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