Reel Mower Vs Rotary Mower

Reel Mower Vs Rotary Mower


January 18, 2022

Every manicured lawn needs a trustworthy lawnmower but choosing one that suits your needs and the needs of your grass can be challenging.

The reel versus rotary mower decision is one that most people grapple with when buying a new mower, and there’s a whole lot to consider.

Is a reel or rotary mower better? A reel mower is a traditional style mower that uses several spinning blades that slice like scissors to cut, and a rotary lawnmower has a single blade that rotates and cuts the grass. Although the rotary is the most common model, there are also benefits possible when using a reel mower. The reel mower vs rotary mower debate all comes down to what the individual needs and the goals they have for their lawn.

If you’re in the market for a new mowing machine and want to know what each of these offers, check out our detailed guide.

A Short Guide to Reel Mowers

A Short Guide to Reel Mowers

The reel lawn mower, also known as a cylindrical lawn mower, operates as a large pair of scissors as it cuts the grass.

With a bed knife that doesn’t move and several cutting blades that turn on a shaft, you push this mower along as it does the work for you, cutting on a horizontal axis.

Reel lawnmowers haven’t always been as efficient as they are today but were a welcome improvement on the sickle or scythe that used to be the method.

The first patent for such a machine was granted in 1830 and the first domestic reel lawn mower was developed in 1856, so these machines have a long history.

Today, the reel mower comes in different styles, including the push reel mower, as well as gas and battery-operated ones.

The more blades on these mowers the better, with most having between five and 12 exposed blades that get the job done efficiently.

The Pros

  • If using a push reel mower, they’re far better for the environment and create no harmful emissions.
  • Having no engine inside means a low-maintenance mower and one that’s guaranteed to last longer.
  • When the blades are kept sharp, the precision of the cut that these mowers are capable of is second to none.
  • They’re an affordable alternative to more expensive mowers but just as capable of getting the job done.

The Cons

  • The style of the blades means you won’t get a cut as low as other mowers so it’s not ideal for people who like the very short look.
  • People find they have to mow more frequently using a reel mower, so you must be committed to at least once or twice a week.
  • You may need to put in more effort if using a push reel mower compared to an engine powered one.
  • These mowers can be limiting in the conditions they work best in, so you have to time the job right.

The Basics of the Rotary Mower

Rotary Mower

When most people think of the modern mower, it’s the rotary model that comes to mind.

These mowers operate using high-speed impact and a powerful engine, spinning around a single blade horizontally while sucking and tearing the grass at the same time.

The rotary mower is the most common style of mower used today and it comes in many different forms, including electric and gas-powered that feature an internal combustion engine.

Prized for its efficiency and ease of use, you’ll usually see people pushing these around their lawns.

The history of the rotary mower wasn’t so straightforward though, as it involved many years and attempts of trying to develop an engine that could be small and powerful enough to spin these blades at the speed they needed.

The 1930s saw the release of the first gas-powered rotary mower, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that lighter and easier domestic models were released, with many people finally making the switch from a reel mower when these became available.

The Pros

  • Using a rotary mower is the easiest method of mowing and even works in rough terrain, with thick, long grass, and when there’s debris present.
  • Most rotary mowers are powered up with a high-performance engine that takes the pressure off the operator, especially on larger lawns.
  • As the most common mower type, they’re affordably priced and readily available, with options to upgrade to premium models as well.
  • You get the choice to either bag or mulch the clippings when using a rotary mower, which saves you from having to take care of them.

The Cons

  • The single blade doesn’t always offer the most precise cut and some people will find they have to make more than one pass to get the lawn done.
  • All of the moving parts and engine components mean you have to put in more effort to keep them maintained.
  • Gas and electric models of these mowers create a lot of noise and can be disruptive in the neighborhood.
  • Using a gas powered rotary mower is one of the worst when it comes to emissions, so they’re not eco-friendly.

How They Stack Up

How They Stack Up

The rotary vs reel mower debate is one for the ages, and as they each have good things to offer, you need to look at the different ways they can serve your lawn.

Here are some important comparisons between the two that might help you decide which is best.

Their Similarities

  • Maintenance needed: Reel and rotary mowers both need regular care and maintenance to keep them humming along, but each in different ways. A reel mower’s blades require sharpening more often to keep them precise, but a rotary mower has lots of moving parts that must be maintained as well.
  • Different options available: The modern mower comes in all shapes and sizes, and this includes both reel and rotary mowers. You can choose whether you want electric or gas-powered, the size of the cutting path, and whatever other features you find important. Gone are the days of the single approach lawn mower as they can not be customized to suit all of your needs.
  • Safe to use: There’s no option here safer than the other, and if you’re operating your lawnmower correctly, the risk of injury is minimal. Although both models feature sharp blades they are directed towards the grass and not the operator, so you can feel safe when you’re using them.
  • Lifespan: A good quality lawn mower is worth its weight in gold and you can easily get at least 10 years of life out of both reel and rotary styles. Of course, there is ongoing maintenance needed to keep them running smoothly but they’re both reliable machines that you can feel good about investing in.

Their Differences

  • How they cut: The cutting mechanisms used in these mowers are their biggest difference and what dictates how well they perform. The precise cut of a reel mower means you get neater grass and a more perfected finish, but the efficient cut of a rotary mower means the job is done quicker and easier, while still achieving a neat look.
  • Physical effort: If you pushed a reel mower around the lawn then swapped it for a rotary mower, you’ll notice instantly how much easier the rotary is. Not only do they have a more powerful engine, but the fact that the cutting blades operate independently of their wheels means you can cut through even the hardest grass without breaking a sweat.
  • Emissions: Rotary mowers with gas-powered engines are bad for the environment, no matter which way you slice it. A push reel mower releases no emissions whatsoever, which is a bonus for the eco-friendly gardener. There are ways to cut emissions with these mowers though, like using an electric or battery-powered version, but you will miss some of their power.
  • Their noise output: If your reel mower is pushed by you, it’ll make virtually no noise while you cut the grass. On the other hand, a rotary mower featuring an internal combustion engine will wake up the whole neighborhood. For people who pride peacefulness over all else, you’ll want to stick with a reel mower.
  • Price: The reel mower is the cheaper option by far, even if you choose one of the gas-powered models. However, there are affordable options for rotary mowers as well, but when compared, they’re the most expensive of the two.
  • Lawn suitability: The types of lawns and landscapes that each of these mowers suits are different so you’ll need to assess which one suits yours. Simple and flat lawns with easy grass are good for reel mowers whereas hilly, debris-filled, and overgrown grass suits the rotary.

Which One Is Best For Your Lawn?

Which One Is Best For Your Lawn?

There’s no single winner of the reel vs rotary mower debate, so it’s up to you to decide which one suits your gardening and personal preferences.

The biggest difference is how much effort is required to push a reel and rotary mower but how precise its cuts are, depending on what you find more important.

The layout of your land is also important to consider, as is the condition and growth of the grass. If your lawn is straightforward to mow, using a reel mower might be the best option.

For properties with hilly terrain and overgrown or difficult grass to cut, the power and performance of a rotary mower will be better suited to this landscape.

Some people prefer the simplicity of the traditional reel mower and others want to make this task as easy as possible for themselves.

Think about your attitudes towards mowing and the final look you want your grass to have when deciding on either a reel or rotary mower, and you’ll probably find the answer pretty easily.

A Mower For Every Home

Choosing a mower is a personal experience and you should consider not just your preferences for the machine but also the goals you have for your grass.

Modern styles of both rotary and reel mowers have a lot to offer, so you’re guaranteed an efficient and precise cut whichever route you take.

Lawnmowers are serious investments with a lot of responsibility around the home and when chosen right, they can last for up to a decade.

Before you jump in and buy a new mower for yourself, read on for a few commonly asked questions about these machines that will make you a better owner.

Do Lawn Mower Blades Need to be Replaced?

You should replace your lawn mower’s blades every year, or as required whenever they start to become blunt.

Committing to a regular schedule means your lawn mower will always be sharp and precise when it cuts, and the lifespan of your mower should be longer when it’s properly maintained as well.

What Size Lawn Mower Engine Do I Need?

What Size Lawn Mower Engine Do I Need?

The engine powering up a lawnmower can dictate how quick and easy it is to mow with, so a medium-sized lawn will want at least 14hp and larger lawns will need 18hp minimum.

The size of a lawnmower and its cutting width is also important if efficiency is your goal, so look at all of these features together.

Do Lawn Mowers Need Oil to Run?

If your lawnmower features an internal combustion engine, as most do, you will need to fill it up with oil for it to run smoothly.

The role of the oil is to lubricate and cool the moving parts of the engine while they operate, as they can quickly become overheated during the mowing process.



Rebecca Vargas is an experienced gardener and landscaper and has been rendering professional services for many years. Her services cover both private homes and commercial properties. Leveraging that rich experience, Rebecca Vargas now dedicates a chunk of time to show just about anyone how to maintain their garden and yard, whether at home or workplace. GreenIQ is his way of reaching and teaching millions of homeowners across the globe about proper gardening and lawn care practices.