Reel vs Rotary Lawn Mowers

When it comes to the different types of lawn mowers, some of the more popular ones are walk-behind mowers. This is due to the many different varieties that they come in, such as their size, their power types, their weight and their price. 

Amongst these different types of walk-behind lawn mowers, reel and rotary mowers have been the most consistent and popular for the longest time. 

What are Rotary Lawn Mowers?

Rotary lawn mowers are always either electric or gas powered due to the additional need for an added power source. These lawn mowers are fairly popular on the market as they are cheaper than some other walk-behind mowers, and their design is simple enough to be easily replicated by many different manufacturers. The main way to determine whether a lawn mower is a rotary one is by understanding the way in which the blade beneath it works. The blade on a rotary lawn mower will rotate in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction in order to cut grass.

a gas powered rotary mower

What are Reel Lawn Mowers?

Reel lawn mowers are one of the longest persisting types of lawn mowers available on the market today. These mowers work by using manpower to turn the blades as they are walked along the grass. The blades are shaped in a cylindrical fashion and are attached to the axis of the wheels. This allows for them to be turned as the wheels of the lawn mower are also turned. Reel lawn mowers are available in a few different varieties, some come as just a frame and are the simplest looking mowers on the market, but some are available with a bag for catching off cuttings. Gas powered reel mowers also exist, but are rarer to find. One of the main draws of a reel lawn mower is the complete lack of emissions produced, due to its lack of a power source. 

a reel push mower

What are the Differences?

The main differences between rotary and reel lawn mowers is the way in which they cut grass and the power sources used to keep them running. Whilst gas powered reel mowers are out there, the vast majority of them are powered using manpower alone and only work when in motion. On the contrary, rotary mowers are only powered by either gas  or electricity. The way in which these two types of mowers cut is also different, as they both use different mechanisms. 

Rotary lawn mowers are easy to use and less laborious due to the gas or electric power source that they use. The main issue regarding rotary mowers is that their cut quality is sometimes compromised due to the rotating nature of the blade, leading to some inconsistent cuts or odd height settings. 

On the other hand, reel lawn mowers offer a more even and precise cut compared to rotary mowers, due to the mechanism that they use to cut grass. This precise cut is a trade-off, however, as they generally require more effort to mow the lawn and aren’t ideal for those who shouldn’t or do not want to exert themselves too much. 

Whilst some of these differences may be more beneficial than others, which lawn mower is best suited for you is based on your own preferences and circumstances.

Which Lawn Mower is Best for Me?

When buying a lawn mower, you may be spoilt for choice. Oftentimes, the most popular options available are rotary or reel mowers due to their availability. When purchasing a lawn mower, however, it’s good to consider several different factors which can help you decide which one is right for you. 

Lawn Size or Shape

The size and shape of your lawn can help determine which type of lawn mower is best suited for your situation. Whilst larger lawns may require the help of a ride-on mower or self-propelled mower, smaller and medium sized lawns have many more options available. Reel mowers are typically best suited for small lawns due to the added effort used to maneuver them, whilst rotary mowers can handle slightly larger spaces than reel ones due to their added power source. The shape of your lawn also comes into play, as irregularly shaped lawns may require a lawn mower that is easier to maneuver around objects or grass edges. 


Lawn mowers vary wildly in price, with some of the more expensive options being over $3,000. Luckily, both reel and rotary lawn mowers are on the cheaper side, starting at around $70. Reel mowers are the cheapest of the cheap, being so simple and easy to use. If you are looking for a lawn mower to suit your budget, it is possible to find inexpensive reel and rotary mowers, with reel mowers generally being cheaper to buy. 


Lawn mowers need to be stored in a shed or garage during winter months, lest they may suffer damages due to the cold weather. Whilst they can be stored outside during winter if the correct precautions are in place, it’s advisable to keep them somewhere cool and dry. 


Lawn mowers should be maintained at least annually to ensure that they are working in the best condition possible. This includes things such as checking spark plugs, sharpening blades, replacing gas and winterizing the system once mowing season is over. Some lawn mowers require more maintenance than others. Motorized mowers are more likely to need maintenance above those that don’t have an engine, such as reel mowers. The only maintenance that reel mowers will require is blade sharpening and oiling to ensure that the wheels are turning easily. 

Type of Grass

The type of grass that you have can limit the types of lawn mowers that should be used on it. For instance, dry grass is often best avoided by lawn mowers such as cylindrical ones as it can prove difficult to evenly cut it. Knowing the type of grass that you have on your lawn and what its ideal length will help when deciding on a lawn mower, as you will be able to find one which suits your grass’ needs. 


People are generally becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and any effects their habits may have on the environment. One small way people can change their emission output is by swapping over to more eco-friendly alternatives when it comes to mowing the lawn. Gas lawn mowers create the most emissions out of any type of lawn mower, and as a result, are swiftly losing popularity. As such, electric lawn mowers are becoming more and more popular as people are choosing to use them instead. There are other benefits to using electric lawn mowers, as they are also quieter, but sometimes gas mower usage is unavoidable- especially if you are planning on mowing a very large space. Rotary mowers are typically available with both gas and electric engines, so it is a matter of preference. On the other hand, reel mowers are completely emission free as they don’t require any power source to run successfully. 


As previously mentioned, electric mowers are typically much quieter than gas ones due to the engine type that they utilize. Due to their complete lack of an engine, reel mowers are even quieter. Noise may not be the most important factor when deciding on a type of lawn mower, but it may be something to consider, especially if you tend to mow your lawn early in the morning or late at night – just in case any neighbors are sleeping and could potentially be awoken. 

Final Thoughts

When choosing a lawn mower, there are plenty of options and features to weigh up. Both rotary and reel lawn mowers have their benefits and disadvantages, so it is important to take these into consideration when intending to purchase one. Whilst knowing the differences between rotary and reel mowers is important, it’s also important to consider your own preferences and circumstances which can affect the quality of your lawn. 

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