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Question of the Week: Why do you use a gasoline, electric, battery-operated, or push lawn mower?

2008 August 18

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

For many, mowing the lawn is a summertime fact of life. We cut the grass in different ways, each of which varies in its convenience and how it can affect the environment.

Why do you use a gasoline, electric, battery-operated, or push lawn mower?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Para muchos, el cortar el césped es una actividad veraniega común. Cortamos el césped de varias maneras, cada una varía en su conveniencia y cómo puede afectar el medio ambiente.

¿Por qué usa una cortadora de césped a base de gasolina, que funciona a base de baterías, o cortadora de cuchillas tradicional?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

123 Responses leave one →
  1. Bob Kay permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I use a lawnmower because it is easier to cut the grass than to spray pesticides to kill weeds or get cited for not maintaining the yard.
    Personally, I would prefer to use animals to graze my acre of city yard. If I divided the yard into 2-3 grazing zones with some woven wire fence, all I would need would be a few sheep to keep the yard trimmed without any yard maintenance. However, the Atlanta City Ordnance prohibits farm animals from being in the city so I am not able to do this. I did this previously on 5 acres in Buford, GA and my sheep actually kept the property beautiful. The grass was trimmed perfectly and they removed all brambles, thorny bushes, kudzu and other tree-killing vines.

  2. Ross Q B permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Years ago I decided I would go electric. I was sick of the hassel of getting gas and the maintenance of gas lawnmowers. Electrics are much quieter (the neighbors like that, too), and my son’s asthma could do without the air pollutants. I found I quickly got used to the cord (tip: start near the plug and work your way away from it). Best part was that I got my Black and Decker mower at a tag sale for twenty bucks and it lasted me almost ten years! Now I’m scouting the tag sales for another one!

  3. Richard permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I have had both an electric (Black and Decker) and a gas model (Toro). The gas-powered unit is more powerful. I have also had to fix each one. Unfortunately, an electric motor is more difficult to put back together successfully (too many springs). This is why I had to buy a new mower!

  4. Tim permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I have use a gas powered push mower for years, but I recently bought a non-motorized reel mower for two reasons. First, it really give you a good workout out, both arms and legs. Secondly, I can listen to my iPod without damaging my ears (i.e. I don’t have to turn it up to hear it over the sound of the mower engine). It makes mowing the grass much more enjoyable. I have to use ear plugs with the powered mower.

    There are a couple of caveats. I do have to mow more frequently (not a problem because I like the exercise) and the reel mower does not mulch leaves and such. However the clippings are small enough that I don’t bother raking the grass. Now I only use the power mower when the grass gets too long or its too wet to use the reel mower. If you’re interested, I ordered mine from Amazon for less than $100.

  5. Tom Milczarczyk permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I use a gasoline mower because it has the power that I need. In comparison to an electric mower, it is more efficient. Additionally, the electric cord is a nuisance and a hassle.

  6. Dan Bevarly permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I live in Southwest Florida and use a self-propelled gas lawnmower (6.5 hp 21″ cut). The typical lawn grass here is St. Augustine. In my native state of KY, we call it “crabgrass” and usually kill it. It is the only thing that grows here in the sandy soil. I tried a push mower when I moved here and gave up on that right away. It was like pushing through swamp mud. The self-propelled model moves right through it. I cannot imagine what a chore it would be to use a manual, rotary mower. That would be a real “Iron Man” task.

  7. Nick permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Because my goat died

  8. Joan permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Yah, I also use a new, lightweight “reel” pushmower, it’s a nice little workout on my sloped yard. Willi is right; dandelions just bend over and spring right back up if they get too long. However, bees like dandelions, I’d rather see them in my lawn than pour chemicals into the ground.

  9. Jim K permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I’m waiting on a compressed air mower, until then I’ll just use my scythe.

  10. Lois in Washington permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I put in as small of a lawn as possible when I moved in. I originally had a gas powered mower that was given to me. After many feable attempts at starting it, and inconvenient trips to the gas station, I decided that my arm and I both needed a break and bought a Black and Decker cordless at a county sponsored ‘dump your gas mower’ event. I would often go into the office on Monday with a sore arm, which made the frequent intensive desktop publishing that I do bothersome. I’ve had mine for 7 years and would never go back!

  11. Dale Armstrong permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I use an electric mower because I’m stupid. My yard is too big for a corded mower (and it’s not that big). I got the corded mower because the battery-powered mower didn’t develop enough torque. Well, the corded one doesn’t, either, leaving tufts of grass uncut. That means I have to push the mower more slowly, I have to constantly keep moving the cord out of the way, and I have to go back over parts that didn’t cut. What takes 45 minutes with a gasoline mower takes two hours to cut with the electric. I’m proud of my environmental contribution, but I’d buy a battery mower next time if the makers have been able to increase the torque.
    –Dale Armstrong, EPA press officer retired

  12. Dale Armstrong permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Don’t cut so close to the quick and they won’t scream.

  13. Irvin permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I am using a gasoline engine driven mower because I can’t afford to buy anything else. I would like to have an old fashion push mower.

  14. Susan Ruch-New Jersey permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Because I do not have a CHOICE to buy E85 which is cleaner and better for the environment. I would use E85 in my lawnmower and my car if I could buy it.

    I believe the Federal Government should just Mandate that every gasoline station (180,000 of them) must sell E85 and Natural Gas alongside gasoline. Gasoline is a toxic waste and for every gallon gas you burn you only use 25% of the energy, the other 75% goes out the tailpipes and out of lawnmowers also. Alcohol before gasoline used to be the fuel of choice and gasoline was the alternative. Rockefeller used to dump tons of gasoline into the rivers just to get rid of it. Now we are addicted to oil and especially foreign oil and as Americans we all should be screaming to tell our government to do something right now. We should not be funding terrorists from other countries and one glitche in the oil anywhere in the world will just crumble our economy, if it isn’t bad enough already. I like the “Open Fuel Standards Act” Boone Pickens is absolutely correct. We cannot keep spending and sending $700 billion a year out of our country. He says use it all! Wind, solar, natural gas, ethanol, biodiesel, electric and whatever else we can come up. Our men, women, children and grandchildren are depending on us so they do not have to fight wars over who’s got the Oil.

  15. MIKE permalink
    August 18, 2008

    I HAVE ALL ELECTRIC YARD TOOLS EXCEPT MY 42″ ZERO TURN RIDER AND WILL SWITCH TO ELECT. RIDER MOWER AS SOON AS MODERNELECTRICTRACTORS.COM STARTS SELLING ONE-HOPEFULLY THIS FALL.

  16. Jack permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I have been using an electric (cord) or Battery (cordless) lawnmower for about 15 years. My current lawn is about 1/3 Ac. At times I do have to wait for a recharge to cut the entire lawn, however that is not much of an inconvenience. I switched because of the noise and exhaust from the gas powered equipment. The only gas powered yard equipment we have now is a snow blower. I only use that for the deep or heavy snow. I usually shovel. So far 1-gallon of gas is all I use in winter. Oh, by the way for the past 9-years the snow average has been about 80-inches where I live, with 3-years having over 100-inches.

  17. Les Pace permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Lawn Mowing: with 2 1/2 acres of lawn, I have not found any better way than a gas or diesel powered lawn mower, have both.

  18. James H. Cook Jr. permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I mentioned that I wanted an old school manual lawnmower and a coworker said that he had one stuffed in his parent’s garage. He gave it to me and I have used it several times this Summer to snip my grass. All it takes is a little muscle but no petroleum product, noise, or emission!

  19. Les Pace permalink
    August 19, 2008

    E-85 causes more polution and is less efficient than regular no lead
    gas. The problem is three fold; one, the high cost to produce alcohol,
    the amount of air borne pollutants produced in production, and the
    low efficiency in the burn. This was proven in 1974 when the same program was promoted and failed.

    Lessons learned but forgotten.

  20. Stephenie permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Richard, I’d like to know what brand of mower you have? The reason I use a gas powered mower is because it is self-propelled and doesn’t require much “pushing” on my end. I would like an electric but have found they are very heavy because of the battery weight. Is it possible to get an electric that is self-propelled?

  21. Richard permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Willi Es

    What are you calling pollutants? It can’t be carbon dioxide, because the chemistry just doesn’t work.
    You fill the gas tank of a lawnmower with a quarter gallon of gasoline for an hour’s worth of mowing.
    At 25 miles to the gallon, a car will use 26 gallons to drive 650 miles.
    That’s 104 times the CO2 emitted by an hour’s use of a lawnmower!
    By the way, the electic mower uses electricity and thus uses natural gas, fuel oil or coal in the process. So electric mowers are not entirely emission free.
    We need to get a handle on the overall energy balance if we want to soto really understand this problem.

  22. Stephenie permalink
    August 19, 2008

    May I ask what brand of electric mower you have? I’m in the market. Also, does it mulch?

  23. Stephenie permalink
    August 19, 2008

    What kind of solar panel do you recommend and where can I get instructions on how to install it myself? Or is it cheap enough to pay someone to install it?

  24. Jerry permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Electric yard tools are not powerful enough and inconvenient if you have a cord. You can add to that for other yard tools like a power washer, chain saw, log splitter and snow blower. You could cut and split logs for the wood stove by hand but that takes a lot of time and work, besides heating your house with wood saves a lot of gas and oil and with modern wood stoves they emit a lot less pollutants. The wood would just rot and carbon dioxide would be emitted as the wood decomposes. Cutting grass by hand is a lot of work too. It is best to naturalize you lawn and reduce the amount of lawn to mow. Gas powered snow blowers are often the only option if you have a lot to shovel and live in a place that gets a lot of snow.

  25. Susan Parks permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I use a gas mower and prefer the hassle-free schedule of cutting when I feel like it, not having to be concerned with a charged up battery or a trailing cord wagging behind me. A gallon or two of gas usually outlasts the season. I would probably like a manual pushmower like I used in grandma’s back yard though I remember it to be very heavy and required a good deal of strength. Certain yards are simply not accommodating to a pushmower.

  26. Anonymous permalink
    August 19, 2008

    We use a mechanical push reel lawn mower (the old fashioned kind). Our yard is small. It is a bit more work than a powered mower, but I feel good not relying on fossil fuels for my lawn.

  27. Willi Es permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Richard, good point. I should have clarified as to what pollutants I was referring: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Of course there is more carbon, by weight, in 26 gallons of petroleum than there is .25 gal. But even with the new four stroke, catalytic-converter supplied mower engines, they still put out as much PAHs as a modern car traveling about a hundred miles.

    On another note, even when I’m pushing my reel mower, I, too, am expelling CO2. So there actually is no current way around the global warming gas production thing!

  28. Bill S. permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Same small gas-powered mower for nearly 20 years. Still works beautifully so it may be around for another 20. But I use it less and less. Each year we try to eliminate a little grass. In place of the grass, we put in bushes, native wild flowers, groundcover (mostly pachysandra), stones, and bluestone paths (no mortar). We also don’t feel the need to have the grass we do have constantly well manicured. In the course of a growing season, I cut the grass no more than six times. I filled up the five gallon gas can I have before last summer and I still haven’t had to refill it. Also don’t use pesticides or fertilizers, so the grass we do have is pretty weedy, which doesn’t bother us in the least. I’m not suggesting use of a gas powered machine is as environmentally preferable as a rechargeable unit. But if you don’t get seduced by the stereotypical perfect lawn, you can really keep a mower’s use down to a minimum.

  29. Anonymous permalink
    August 19, 2008

    How wonderful of you…but you didn’t answer the question.
    Battery, gas or electric?

  30. Francine permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I’ve been using an electric corded lawn mower for six years and I love it. I was worried at first that the electric extension cord was going to be a major hassle but it’s really not. (My weed whacker also is electric and does a great job.)

    Also, I got a mulching blade for my mower, so there’s no raking and the cut grass I leave, to decay and go back into the soil (unlike my idiot neighbors who meticulously rake and bag their lawn cuttings, starving the lawn so they have to fertilize it.)

    BTW, who in Washington is sitting on their butt about consumer incentives? I think there should be a permanent no-sales-tax on electric lawn and garden tools… people (and golf courses, and lawn care businesses) need more reasons to buy electric, more than just a personal feel-goody-goody.

  31. john permalink
    August 19, 2008

    gas. I may switch next time I need a mower, but don’t support creating demand (embedded energy) for a new product when my old one still works. But I don’t mow as frequently as many people do (I’m sure sure my neighbors wish I did :)

  32. Andrea permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Even if you do consider global warming to be a natural occurrence I would think that the air quality would give you pause. I used to live approximately 100 miles from a large city. Within 20 years time the air quality went from being nice and clear to smoggy from all that particulate pollution in the air. And, there is great scientific evidence that particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter is a health hazard.

    In regard to your comment about green companies fleecing the flock, I do agree with you. Same with “all natural” products. Mercury is “all natural” but I don’t think I want to sprinkle my meals with it.

  33. Bonnie Aylor permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Well, currently I do not use a lawn mower. That it interesting that there are electric lawn mowers, if I had a solar paneled house I’d say that or battery is the way to go! Why? Its pulling out of renewable energy and not causing harm. I’d also have to have one with a return bag that recycles the clippings.

    BUT, I plan to have a large property for conservation and dogs and animal rescue. SO, I might need a larger riding style mower (except when I’m in the mood for heavy calorie reduction), do the make those in electric? I hope so, with recycled clippings.

  34. Sara permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Most of my lawn is used to grow vegetables, so I weed it by hand. And when it comes time to mow the small patch of lawn that I do have–I use a pair of scissors.

  35. Dee Krasnansky permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I have just given my gas-powered mower to my son and I now use my unautomated push mower. The reasons are several but the most important is that this device does not pollute either by emissions or by noise. Also, I will save money in gas and oil.

  36. john permalink
    August 19, 2008

    what are the specifics on such a mower. I haven’t heard of such a thing and wouldn’t have thought you could push a mower that could hold a charge for 8 hours of use.

  37. becky permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I use a reel to reel push mower (people powered) because
    a) very little noise – does not hurt my ears or bother the neighbors
    b) does not add to air pollution
    c) does not cost anything to run – no gas to buy or electricity to pay for
    d) it’s good exercise for me
    e) extremely low maintenance – just sharpen the blades every few years.

  38. Gary permalink
    August 19, 2008

    Electric! No messing with $4.00+ a gallon gasoline, no exhaust fumes, no having to deal with oil changes. The cord is not a problem (just start nearest the plug and mow away from it), and I know that power plant emissions can be cleaned up much more than even the cleanest gasoline mower.

  39. Jen J. permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I used to use a push mower and an electric weed wacker for edges and corners. I liked the push mower for the exercise and knowing that I wasn’t spewing CO2. Our whole yard was just one big lawn. But over time, I’ve replaced the lawn, planting native and drought tolerant ornamentals, fruit trees, fruits, veggies. Friday, I just took over the rest of my lawn with super easy permaculture mulching (basically a lot of newspaper, cardboard and then mulch and bark on top of that). It looks terrific! I’m so happy no more lawn! Over time we’ll add more native plants and groundcover to the new garden space. No more mowing for me!! In CA with its mediterranean climate it just makes no sense to have a lawn.

  40. Amy permalink
    August 19, 2008

    I try to use my 1901 pushmower, but it is difficult to find someone to sharpen the blades…(does anyone know of someone in the Ann Arbor MI area?) so I end up with a large patch in the middle of the cut path that isn’t cut and it can take twice as long to mow the lawn…however, I rarely cut my grass anyway and with no rain this summer and three dogs to tear it up (and graze on it during the day) I’ve only mowed it twice this summer!

  41. Linda permalink
    August 19, 2008

    We have both an old-fashioned reel mower (people powered and I can start it myself) and a huge self-propelled high wheel mower that’s gasoline powered. We have a large area that needs to be mowed to keep the forest from encroaching too far and we sometimes need the heavy-duty machine, especially in the back, where the terrain is rough and it tends toward jungle. When the front yard is short and dry and just needs a quick trim, I can handle it myself with the reel mower. When it’s rank and overgrown and we start to lose the dog (a 65 pound lab…) my spouse breaks out the gas mower; I would, but I can’t manage it any more as it’s too heavy and too hard to start. Every now and again, my neighbor’s goats escape and help out, but they aren’t too discriminating about what they “mow”, so that’s not as big a help as it might be.

  42. mac permalink
    August 19, 2008

    HAVE YOU EVER TRIED PUSHING 4 ACERS WITH A ELECTRIC MOWER?THATS WHY I USE A DEER RIDER,, I DO HOWEVER HAVE A BATTERY WEED EATER. BUT MY WIFE USES IT. HMMMMM MAYBE THATS WHY IM FAT, AND SHES NOT,

  43. Kevin permalink
    August 19, 2008

    1. Gasoline. It’s practical for my yard and relatively small emissions. Push mowers are good for very small yards only. Electric cords are a pain.

    2. It’s not easy to find where to answer your questions. This whole format is way too busy !

  44. Jim Adcock permalink
    August 20, 2008

    I don’t mow using any of the above during the summer. It is natural for grass to go dormant during the heat and dry of the summer. Just don’t water it! No water, no mowing in the heat. Go for a swim in the lake instead. Take along some beer and some brats. Now THAT is what summer is for!

  45. Linda permalink
    August 20, 2008

    We don’t water the front yard until it starts to crackle underfoot; the back has never been watered. Average yearly rainfall for Alabama is listed at about 60 inches. I also don’t use pesticides and encourage all the native grasses (and various “weeds”) I can entice into the area. Even so, we’ve had enough rainfall this Summer to keep the gas mower in service; it’s growing too fast to tackle with the reel mower. We have to keep it under some control or it turns back to snake-infested poison ivy and kudzu in short order.

  46. Anonymous permalink
    August 20, 2008

    I bought a gas mower when I bought my house 10 years ago. Last year I decided to buy a push mower only to find that none of the stores had them.

  47. Laurie permalink
    August 20, 2008

    I use a Brill reel mower and love it. I can mow early in the morning before my neighbors wake up, listen to an interesting audiobook on my iPod and get a great workout on my slightly sloping yard. It doesn’t get much better than that!

  48. Eileen permalink
    August 21, 2008

    I own a corded electric mower and a push-type reel mower. My son does the mowing, and uses the push-mower almost all the time. We only drag out the electric when the grass has escaped mowing for several weeks, or at the beginning of spring when it is very lush.

  49. Chris permalink
    August 21, 2008

    I love using a push mower. There’s no smell of gas. The noise of the blades sliding against each other is very calming. Its a bit of a workout getting the blades turning sometimes, but compared to manoeuvring a heavy gas mower, its not much more work at all.
    There’s something really old world about using a push mower. It makes me feel like I’m in a time when things are just a little bit slower. Just a little bit calmer. People are just a little bit more friendly.

  50. Samee permalink
    August 24, 2008

    My dad uses a gasoline one, and off course it’s out of order now! we used to have an electric one and that one is broken too. It is expensive to fix those two types. The push mowers at least wont get broken, & perhaps easy to fix.
    We used to have a push mower before moving to united states, and kept complaining about living in a third world country :) and now, the machined WORLD is annoying us :(

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