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Lawns in the U.S. are getting smaller. It's not that land is shrinking; developers are building on smaller lots than in the past. As a result, the median lawn size is at an all-time low, less than one-fifth of an acre, according to a 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. A walk-behind lawn mower is ideal for not a lot of plot.
"In a small yard you're more likely to be turning around or navigating around obstacles more often," says Misha Kollontai, a Consumer Reports senior test project leader who covers mowers. "A walk-behind mower is more appropriate for such jobs than a tractor or riding mower. It's easier to navigate."
Consumer Reports has found plenty of winners among the newest crop of gas and battery-powered walk-behinds. We're giving nearly half of the 80 walk-behind mowers we tested this winter our "Recommended" stamp of approval. That's up from about a third last year.
The stars in the class of 2021 include push and self-propelled standouts from DR Power Equipment, Ego, Hart, Honda, Ryobi, Toro, Troy-Bilt, and more.
One reason we were able to recommend so many models this year has to do with mulching, the process of cutting clippings into fine pieces. "We're seeing noticeably better mulching performance for both gas and battery push mowers," Kollontai says. "They're more able not only to cut your grass well, but to better mulch it and disperse it on your lawn."
But not every walk-behind mower measures up. Several that left behind ugly clumps have an Overall Score of 60 or lower on CR's 100-point scale.
How CR Tests Lawn Mowers and Tractors
To get you ratings and reviews of the latest models by early spring, our testers travel to our mower-testing facility in Fort Myers, Fla., to conduct tests in late winter at grounds we prepare each year. We plant 1,800 pounds of grass seed (predominantly annual rye, prized for its dense growth) and cut 500,000 square feet of grass in three modes—mulching, side-discharging, and bagging, a total of 3,000 pounds of clippings. We mow both level turf and slopes to get a feel for each model and review the convenience features.
The Overall Score incorporates all that performance data, along with predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings from our latest member surveys. They leverage data on more than 78,000 lawn mowers and tractors that members purchased between 2010 and 2020.
Start with our lawn mower buying guide if you're not sure which type is right for your needs.
CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of this year's very best walk-behind mowers from such brands as Cub Cadet, Ego, Honda, Ryobi, and Toro. For even more options, check out our comprehensive lawn mower and tractor ratings.
Worst Battery & Gas Walk-Behind Mowers
About half of the 80 walk-behind mowers in our ratings perform well enough for CR to recommend. Others struggle in our exhaustive cutting tests. Here, we list a few of them. Check CR's mower ratings for a more complete list.
Finding the Perfect Lawn Mower
Is your lawn mower failing to make the cut? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert John Galeotafiore explains to host Jack Rico how to find the best mower for your needs.