Tell me about electric lawnmowers.
April 28, 2015 7:11 AM   Subscribe

We are getting to the time of year where I am going to have to start mowing the lawn. Our old reel-style mower died at the end of last year, and it kind of sucked anyway. I do not want to mess with gas. Do you have an electric lawnmower, either corded or battery powered? Is it great? Is it terrible? Please tell me about it.

Every set of customer reviews of every electric mower I have seen online has been half "This is great!" and half "This is total crap it stopped working immediately/the battery caught on fire/it cut into the chassis and destroyed itself!"

I am looking to spend $300 or less.
Battery is preferable, but corded will do.
We have a medium sized lawn, mostly pretty flat. I would like to be able to mow the whole thing in one go, not waiting around for the battery to recharge.
Ideally I would be able to go buy it at Lowe's or Home Depot this weekend, but if I have to order online, that will be okay.
I want this machine to last at least several years.
posted by Adridne to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a Black and Decker rechargeable mower for eight years and the battery will just need to be replaced this year. Until late last year it could do my city double lot (50' wide) without a recharge, initially I could just about get two mows out of a charge. Rechargeability is really handy rather than using a cord.
posted by readery at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2015

I've got a Black & Decker with a cord, and it works great-- no complaints whatsoever except for that it's a hassle always dealing with the cord as you mow.
posted by 4th number at 7:26 AM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used a corded mower for a couple of years. I referred to it as "vacuuming the yard." Keeping the cord out of the way of the mower wasn't a problem. Rolling it up each time was a slight pain, but not too bad. The main thing we regretted was going for the smallest mower. Doing your lawn in 13" swaths is a giant pain in the butt no matter how small your yard is.
posted by MsMolly at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is what we've had for almost a year now and we love it. Easy to charge, does our (smallish) lot easily, only about as loud as a vacuumn cleaner. Our house is old without very many outdoor outlets (and lots of prickly bushes) so I'm not sure how we'd even deal with a corded mower.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:36 AM on April 28, 2015

We have this one. Our yard is probably smaller than yours, and it's kind of steep, so having the very light corded mower is better than toting around a heavy battery.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:37 AM on April 28, 2015

I've got the cheapest corded mower that Home Depot had when I bought it back in 2008. Still works fine, even though I leave it out in the rain occasionally. I'm on a third of an acre and I would never go back to gas or get a rechargeable. Avoiding the cord is easy enough, and it's lightweight and super quiet.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:48 AM on April 28, 2015

We have a Black & Decker 24V cordless mower that we bought second-hand. The battery lasted about a year before we needed to replace it but it was still cheaper than a new mower. It works fine but we have a small yard - if you have a huge yard I don't know if the battery would last long enough. But for us it's great.
posted by GuyZero at 7:56 AM on April 28, 2015

My dad had the same corded electric mower for at least 20 years and then replaced it with another corded electric mower. I like them. The electrics are quieter and less smelly than the gas mowers and they work well. My dad's mowers have been very reliable, much more so than my gas mower. There seem to be fewer things that can go wrong. The only drawback is that you have to avoid running over the cord. I trained myself to always be aware of where the cord is in relation to the mower and have never had a problem. It required some mental effort at the beginning (I couldn't zone out quite as much as I did with a gas mower), but is something I now do automatically.
posted by Area Man at 7:56 AM on April 28, 2015

The battery is the weak part of the system. Even the best battery is expensive and heavy and sucks. The cord takes a little while to get used to, and requires about 30 seconds of thought to plan your route*, but really makes up for it in the weight, power, and ease of use categories. I have the one step up from the bottom Lowes corded mower from 3 years ago. Can't recall the exact brand but it is blue, and it is basically unkillable. It's the simplest machine in the world - electric motor, switch. Period.

*basically you just need to remember to mow from nearest the outlet to farthest.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:59 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you had a relatively old reel mower, consider getting a new model - they are a lot better than what you were working with. "New features ... allow mowers to roll more smoothly and handle more nimbly than the clunkers of yesteryear." A good-quality reel mower wouldn't be that much cheaper than a basic electric (better ones are around $200), but you wouldn't have to mess with cords or recharging or as many repairs, and if you have a flat lawn, it's not that hard to push.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:01 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Growing up in the 80's/90's I used a Toro corded mower and I've had the same corded Black and Decker since 2002. My experience with both brands is that they last an exceedingly long time with near-zero maintenance other than replacing or sharpening the blade occasionally. I've been using corded mowers for almost 30 years and have run over the cord twice in all that time. Not having to mess with gas is awesome. It takes a little bit of time to learn to "dance" with the cord, but you get used to it. Cords are cheap and as long as you have enough length trees aren't much of a problem (I currently mow a 1/3 acre lawn with lots of trees).

The only negative I can think of is that the electrics I've used tend to do poorly with really long or wet grass...usually not an issue unless you've let your grass grow out for 2+ weeks or for some reason can't wait to let the lawn dry out.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 8:02 AM on April 28, 2015

I used a corded electric mower in the mid 90s and hated hated hated it. The cord was a pain in the ass to deal with, especially if there were any trees/shrubs/other obstacles at all, the smaller size just amplified this annoyance, and it seemed like sometimes I'd have to go over an area twice because there wasn't much power (or maybe the included blade just sucked).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:09 AM on April 28, 2015

I'd want to stay away from a battery powered mower, because I don't want to replace that every few years. Consider optimal battery storage; have you ever seen "Store in a hot place." ? How's your garage temperature in the summer? Mine would make a good dry sauna; stupid black south-facing garage door.

I've got a cheapie 12amp (I think we got it on sale for <$100 CAD) mulching/bagless mower. We've had it for 4 years now. My only complaint is that the cheap plastic handle on the throttle broke about an inch past the elbow. It still works fine, but it's a bit inconvenient that only one finger really holds it on instead of the whole hand.

Even during the times when I forget to mow for a couple of weeks, so long as I remember (or remember to remind my son) to go slow, it doesn't choke on the grass, and it mulches well. One can easily hear how fast the blades are spinning, and if they're slowing down, then you slow down. I love not having to worry about gas/oil, and having it reliably start. I've got a 100' extension cord, and it's not that annoying to deal with; and I've get to re-use that for my hedge trimmer, rather than buying an expensive battery powered hedge trimmer where the battery will need replacing :)

If the cheapest 12amp mower I could find works this well, a reasonably well researched corded mower should last you 20+ years.
posted by nobeagle at 8:13 AM on April 28, 2015

I have a 75'x100' lot with lots of trees, shrubs, beds.

Reel mower: Cost $100. Terrible, even when sharpened. Also, no housemates knew how to use it. They'd just push it up on its rear roller and tamp the grass down.

Battery mower: Cost $500. Very heavy. 1st battery could mow all of the back yard in one charge, but not front and back. Battery failed after about 5 years. New $120 battery couldn't even mow half of the back yard.

Corded mower: $80 on Craigslist. It is indeed like "vacuuming the yard." The cord is not an inconvenience. The mower is VERY light. Mowing the lawn has never been easier.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:14 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I bought a used corded electric mower a couple years ago from a co-worker. Then it died and I got a gas powered mower from another co-worker. I've got a little over a quarter acre of flat front and back yard (about 11,000 sq feet 98x120 or something like that). I halved the mowing time when I started using the gasoline mower. Dealing with cord the whole time was a pain so I wouldn't recommend one.
posted by eatcake at 8:29 AM on April 28, 2015

I used a corded electric mower for a few years. I had issues when the grass was really long, but if you're used to using a reel mower, you know to not let this happen anyways. I had a tendency to run over the cord (I had to replace several electrical extension cords) but paying close attention to what I am doing when doing physical labor is NOT my strong suit. (For instance, I actively avoid using any power saws, because the likelihood of me taking out a finger or two is greater than 25% at any given moment).

Other than that, it seemed fine and was much quieter than a gas mower. It was also easier to use than our current gas mower (which I have only used once, see above for why).
posted by RogueTech at 8:48 AM on April 28, 2015

I've got a Black & Decker with a cord, and it works great-- no complaints whatsoever except for that it's a hassle always dealing with the cord as you mow.

Same here, although navigating the cord is a dance you eventually get used to.

My first electric mower was a Black & Decker (corded) with a flip-over handle. Once you got to the end of a pass, instead of turning the mower around and playing jumprope with the cord, you just flipped the handle to the other side of the mower, and the cord remained out of the way. B&D discontinued the model with the flip-over handle (no idea why -- it was awesome!), but it looks like you still might be able to find some online. K-mart has one, of all places.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:14 AM on April 28, 2015

I bought this Greenworks corded electric mower last spring. My front lawn is pretty small, but my back yard is about average.

I like it much more than my gas mower, which was pretty good quality.

-It's quiet compared to a gas mower. I can listen to music or podcasts with earbuds at a lower volume than with a gas mower.
-It starts instantly with the push of a button.
-It's very lightweight and maneuverable.
-No gas fumes, no messing with oil and gas mixtures, or storing gas in cans.
-It has a 16 inch cutting swath which isn't too bad. Bigger ones are available but I was being cheap.
-It's plenty powerful. Since I hate mowing, I usually put it off long enough to have to deal with long grass, and it's never bogged down, even when dealing with thick weedy areas.
-No problems starting up after sitting during the winter.

-Yes, you have to contend with a cord. But it's not too bad if you just plan out your route. I coil the cord close to the fence and zig-zag away from it as I go. There's some occasional cord-dancing required, but I'd much rather contend with that than mess with gas and oil.
-You have to pay for an appropriate extension cord. If you buy corded, make sure the cord is rated for the amperage of the mower. It's not just going to be a cheap $10 cord. I think I paid about $50 for a long enough cord of the appropriate amperage.
-If you get a corded one, it is entirely possible to chop through your cord in a moment of inattention. (If this does happen, repair the cord by just putting a replacement male and female end on. Probably not a bad idea to have a set on hand just in case.)

This is my second year using this mower, and I won't go back to gas. I would possibly upgrade to a wider mower, and maybe cordless at some point, but I love electric.
posted by The Deej at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2015

I have a corded electric mower. My lawn isn't square, so it takes a little thought to have a sensible mowing pattern and manage the cord. I have broken the magnet in the mower more than once by mowing in rough areas, but it's replaceable. If you buy a rechargeable electric mower, please make sure the battery is sensibly disposed of at the end of its life; they are full of heavy metals. I love not creating pollution with a small gas engine, not having to deal with starting a gas mower, and the electric is pretty light. +++A1 would buy again.
posted by theora55 at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2015

We got an electric, corded one and I LOVE it. It's far lighter and seems more maneuverable than the gas ones, it doesn't stink, and it's far quieter.

EDIT: Also we got it for free from craigslist.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:46 AM on April 28, 2015

I have the Greenworks above. It's great. There is a little hassle involved with the cord, but gas mowers have quite a bit of hassle too, with the keeping gas and oil around and fixing things more frequently. I have yet to chop through the cord.

I would NOT get a battery mower. Most of the battery-powered tools I've bought have died in a couple years, like my drill and my Roomba. Replacement batteries are usually prohibitively expensive. Battery tech has gotten a lot better, but appliance manufacturers are still using out-of-date designs that don't last.
posted by miyabo at 11:35 AM on April 28, 2015

I have a gas lawnmower and a Greenworks snow blower with an electric cord. My yard is too big for a corded mower, while my driveway is just about small enough to manage with a corded blower.

The big downside to the corded device is cord management. It sucks to deal with the big, heavy gauge cable (and you'll definitely want big, heavy cable, otherwise you run serious risks of melting the cable at the bends and producing shorts). Cord management is extra hard with numb fingers in heavy mittens, so hopefully you'll have better experience with a corded mower.

If you get a corded mower, consider getting a cord winder reel to go with it, but read reviews carefully about how they wind/unwind/bend the cord.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:23 PM on April 28, 2015

I love my older Worx cordless mower more than any other tool or piece equipment I own. It mows my 40 ft x 200 ft lot on a single charge, and my battery is at least 4 years old at this point. It's quiet, and I don't smell like gasoline and incompletely combusted hydrocarbons when I'm done using it. I assume newer mowers are even better with regards to battery life. The one caveat I have about it is that, as with corded electrics apparently, you can't let the lawn get too long or be too wet when you mow.
posted by mollweide at 5:47 PM on April 28, 2015

Had a corded Black&Decker for years. Would get again. The cord isn't a big deal if, like many people have said, you mow from side to side zigzagging away from the outlet. And they are very light and maintenance-free.

Tip for the cord: when winding up the cord, don't do the coil-around-the-arm thing from one end to the other. Lay the whole thing out flat in a straight line in the grass, pull it along the ground a bit to get all the twist out, then coil it in place, pulling the rest toward you as you go. Then you don't end up with a rat's nest of permanently bent/twisted cord.
posted by ctmf at 6:12 PM on April 28, 2015

I bought a corded 18 inch Lawn Hog in 1995 and it is still going strong. I've had to sharpen the blade a few times and I replaced it once in all that time. It's a mulching mower that came with a bag, and I've also used it to "mulch" twigs, leaves, and thatch. I love it.

The cord dance becomes second nature. To store the 100-ft cord (I have a big yard), I don't coil it, I chain loop it. There are a number of instructional videos showing how to do this, but it's essentially just like crochet - you double the cord, make a loop at the middle, stick your hand through the loop and grab cord, pull it through the loop, and repeat until the entire cord is chained. Then you plug the male and female ends together so it won't unravel until you need it to.
posted by caryatid at 7:55 PM on April 28, 2015

I had a corded mower for years and got used to the cord dance but the first time I got sick and had to hire a kid - he was about 14 - to mow for me he immediately cut the cord. Then you've got a live wire electric cord in your lawn. Does the kid know to go un-plug it at the source? Are there other kids around who might run up to the live part and touch it while the first kid is walking back to the source?

So my advice is buy a battery electric mower or don't hire kids to use your corded mower on your lawn.
posted by cda at 7:48 AM on April 29, 2015

Thank you everyone!
It sounds like a lightweight corded mower with a wide deck is the best option for me.
posted by Adridne at 7:11 AM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got this Kobalt mower and a 100' heavy duty cord at Lowe's.
It's great! It was hard managing the cord the first time, but now that I've done the lawn a few times and figured out a good path to take, it's not bad at all. And it's way easier than dealing with gas and oil.
posted by Adridne at 5:02 PM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

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