Rotary Mower Vs. Typical Lawn Mower: A Guide

the blades of a lawn mower

The differences between a rotary mower and a typical reel mower are more than just the engine. There are many considerations to make and the following guide will aid you in deciding which mower is best for your yard maintenance needs.

Rotary Mower

A rotary lawn mower is an engine driven mower with blades that spin horizontally. They are generally square with four wheels and have a grass catch bag. Rotary mower blades rotate rapidly and work by tearing the grass.

Reel Mower

A reel mower is typically a manual push mower. However, some reel mowers are fitted with engines and catch bags. They are cylindrical in shape and of a simple design. Reel mower blades spin vertically and have a scissor like action.

Healthiest Cut

Rotary mower blades cut grass by sucking it up and tearing it off. This action leaves a ragged edge on the grass, making it more susceptible to infection and dehydration.

A reel mower’s scissor-like cutting action leaves a clean cut. This causes less damage to the grass and is therefore healthier.

Large Yards

Though a reel mower is healthier for grass, it is not practical in terms of time and effort for larger yards. A reel mower, without a motor and drive, is hard to push. Most new rotary motors come with a forward drive, making them very easy to push.

Grass and Yard Conditions

Rotary mowers can be used on any type of grass and any growth condition. Yards with thicker grass species, or those that are over grown, will require a rotary mower.

When purchasing a reel mower, look at the manufacturer’s specifications. Some reel blades are not rated for certain types of grass such as Bermuda. Reel mowers also have difficulty cutting overgrown grass, so frequent manicuring is a must with a reel mower.


Simple reel mowers are markedly less expensive than rotary mowers. They also require less maintenance and there is no need to purchase gas, oil, batteries or electricity.


Rotary mowers run on gas, electricity or a battery. All of these have a negative impact on the environment. If yard clippings from rotary mowers are not mulched or composted, they end up in landfills. There, they take up space and don’t break down as quickly as they might if they were composted. In some states, laws have been passed to prevent this.

Traditional reel mowers require only manpower, and have no negative impact on the environment. Those without catch bags mulch clippings back onto the grass so there is no need for extra disposal.


Rotary mowers do not distribute grass clippings evenly, causing small piles of grass to build up in different areas of the lawn. Since rotary mowers are often used less frequently, the grass blades being mulched are also bigger. Bigger grass blades and piles of grass do not break down as easily and are therefore less healthy for the grass. Reel mowers, however, produce an even mulch distribution and smaller grass clippings.


Rotary mowers require regular tune ups including oil changes, new spark plugs, gas stabilizers and blade sharpening.

Traditional reel mowers require blade sharpening, blade adjustment and parts lubrication. Rotary vs. reel can make all the difference to the health of your grass, the environment, your time constraints and your budget. Choose wisely and your mowing experience will be a pleasant one.