Lawn Mowers: The Great Debate – Reel vs. Rotary

Driving through your neighborhood, you’ll notice a variety of lawns. Some homeowners are after that perfectly manicured look, while others appreciate a longer lawn that looks more like 70’s era shag carpet than the fairways on your local golf course. Regardless of your preference, that lawn needs mowing and you need a mower. The turfgrass industry has provided a number of innovations over the years, and there are several factors to consider when choosing perfect lawn mowers to suit your needs.

Lawn Mowers

Cost, maintenance, and safety are some of the main factors to consider when shopping around for the perfect lawn mowers. Storage space, lawn size, and sensitive neighbors all play a part in the decision process. Turfgrass experts are constantly debating what particular mower provides the best cut. Reel mowers, rotary mowers, riding or push? There are so many options, but we’re going to outline the main differences to help you choose the best mower for your application.

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Rotary lawn mowers use a single rotating blade to chop the grass. Think of how the blade on a helicopter rotates and you’ll have a good idea of how rotary mowers work. These are the most common mowers for homeowners. Reel mowers, on the other hand, have several blades (between 3 and 7) that spin vertically against a single stationary blade, slicing like scissors. There are pro’s and con’s to each style.

Let’s Get REEL

Before motorized rotary lawn mowers were invented and became popular, most lawns were mowed using a push reel mower. These relatively simple machines are regaining popularity as people begin to realize their benefits.

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1. Pollution

Push reel mowers have the benefit of producing no emissions! Nowadays people are becoming more and more aware of their environmental impact. While not having a motor means you have to put a little more effort in, the lack of pollution provides push mowers a great environmental advantage over their motorized counterparts. According to, “…running an older gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour can produce as much air pollution as driving a new car 500 kilometers.” This has caused many homeowners to make the switch from a gas-powered rotary mowers to manual reel mowers.

2. Noise

This is where your sensitive neighbors will love you! Push reel mowers are nice and quiet, as long as they are well maintained. Beyond the soothing snipping of the grass as the blades spin, there should be no loud noise that could cause your neighbors to complain. If you start to hear some squeaking or scraping, your reel mower may require some lubricant. These quiet lawn mowers allow you to mow your lawn early in the morning or later at night when temperatures are cooler.

3. Cost

From the need for regular repairs, to the skyrocketing prices of gas, rotary mowers have a much higher bill when it comes to maintenance. While both mowers require regular blade-sharpening, push reel lawn mowers don’t need much more maintenance, aside from the previously mentioned lubrication. Even when making the initial purchase, push reel mowers won’t set you back as far as a rotary mower will.

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This is a larger scale reel mower. This one in particular is used to mow sod fields.

4. Safety

If you are a rotary mower owner, you surely know the dangers of those hidden stones that quickly turn into bullets when you drive over them… They could cause a lot of harm to someone standing nearby. With push reel mowers, that stone would simply become lodged in the turning blades and you can safely remove it.

5. Finer Cut

Imagine throwing a knife at a piece of paper to try to cut it. While that will certainly slice through the paper, it will likely create more of a jagged rip than a clean slice. Now imagine attempting that same cut with a pair of scissors. It’s much more precise and even. There’s no tearing or ripping. Rotary mowers are like throwing a knife at your lawn, as opposed to the scissor-like precision of a reel mower. The push reel mower will cleanly slice through your grass, giving it an overall tidier look than rotary lawn mowers. This cleaner cut also helps to combat certain lawn diseases, and is overall better for the health of your grass.

Bring it Back AROUND

Rotary mowers were first manufactured commercially in Australia in the 1950s. Since then, they have become one of the most popular lawn mowing solutions across the globe. While we have made quite the case for reel mowers, rotary mowers still have their place!

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1. Efficiency

Occasionally, push reel mowers can miss sections of grass if it is too long or thick. You may have to go back over some areas that you have already mowed! Rotary mowers on the other hand, ensure a relatively even cut after one pass even if your lawn is long and shaggy. There’s no need to go back with a weed whacker to tackle areas that were missed.

2. Flexible

Thick grass can easily bog down the blades of push reel mowers, and tall weeds or grass will simply be pushed aside as opposed to being cut. Rotary mowers are much more flexible. They work well for thick, tall grass and don’t get clogged easily.

3. Large Lawns

Push reel mowers are powered merely by the person pushing them. This can be exhausting, especially if your lawn is bigger than average. A powered rotary mower can be much easier to mow larger areas. You may even want to invest in a riding rotary mower if you have a really big property.

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4. Uneven Ground

Reel mowers need even ground to produce an even cut. If you have a bumpy yard, it may be necessary to go back over sections that were cut unevenly. It can also cut sections of your lawn too short, often referred to as scalping, which is very damaging to the grass. Bumpy lawns are no problem for rotary mowers. They are able to give your grass a relatively clean cut, regardless of the uneven ground.

5. Debris

It can be a lot of work removing every bit of debris left on your lawn. While it is always a good idea to be sure your lawn is clear of large bits and pieces, it can be too much of a chore to gather up the small stuff. Rotary mowers will easily mulch up those small pieces. Push reel mowers can get jammed by every pebble or twig and have to be manually fixed each time. If you have a lot of twigs or leaves on your lawn, a rotary mower might be preferable.

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Research Your Lawn Mowers

It is important to weigh all these pros and cons carefully when considering which lawn mower works best for you. If your lawn is large and you’ve got a few trees that are prone to shedding small twigs or seed pods, a rotary mower might suit your needs. Otherwise, if your lawn is small and the ground is fairly even, a push reel mower would likely be your best bet. Regardless of your specific needs, the perfect mower is out there waiting for you. Be sure to research all your options before making the investment.

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