Push Reel Mowers Versus Rotary Mowers

Full disclosure: I own a Push Reel mower. I am a down and dirty earth-loving, station wagon-driving -- no wait, I mean bike-riding urban homesteading vegan. It’s true. So I’m biased.

Photo of a push reel mower by billberryphotography/istockphoto.com.

But sometimes bias can be the basis of exploration. Like when your own confusion – in this case “Wait, why would anyone want to do that ever?” – leads to new and enlightening discoveries. Discoveries like “Oh, well I guess that makes some sense.” (See, I’m actually an open-minded nut job!)

Definition of Terms

Before we get into the Push Reel versus Rotary Mower debate, let’s define our terms. A Push Reel mower is manually operated, by which I mean you use your body and your own energetic calories to propel it forward and spin the blades. A Rotary Mower, on the other hand, uses gasoline or electricity to power the engine. You still push, but it’s much easier work and the actual spinning of the blades is provided by the engine.

Also, for the purpose of this article, we’re talking about a home gardener/lawn keeper situation, and NOT commercial landscaping businesses or larger-scale groundskeeping.

So let’s do a bit of side-by-side comparison.


Using a Reel Mower has zero environmental impact. It uses no energy, creates no pollution, and doesn't burn any fossil fuel. A Reel mower has no carbon footprint.

A Rotary Mower, on the other hand, uses gasoline or electricity, which originate from fossil fuels.

C’mon, let’s be real. It’s no question. From the eco-friendly perspective, the Reel Mower takes the prize, hands down.


A Reel Mower works by “scissoring” the grass, trapping each blade between the knife edge and a cutting edge, to create a clean snip.

Rotary Mowers chop at grass with helicopter-like blades which use a sucking and tearing action. This brute force can leave the grass with damaged, brown tips.

So when it comes to optimal performance, the Reel Mower wins again. It simply provides a superior cut – which is why golf courses use Reel Mowers pulled by tractors!


Reel Mowers only work when the blades are sharp. This means they need to be cleaned and sharpened on a regular basis. The reel itself may also need to be adjusted every so often. As well, Reel Mowers only provide a superior cut when they’re used regularly. If the grass gets too long, Reel Mowers become virtually ineffective.

Rotary Mowers do not require sharpening nearly as often. They do require energetic input (either gas or electricity), but the overall maintenance is pretty minimal. They are also the better choice for longer lawns.

Rotary Mowers are definitely the more low-maintenance of the two choices, making them the winner this time around. Especially if you plan to go longer in between mowings.

In Conclusion

Well, I was open-minded as I could be, but in this case I’d have to say that Reel Mowers really take the prize. They win in environmental impact and, perhaps most importantly, in performance. Rotary Mowers are easier to maintain, but not by much. So in the end, the no-fossil-fuel device actually comes out victorious.

I love it when that happens.

Sayward Rebhal writes for Networx.com. 

Updated July 17, 2018.

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors