Is it worth getting a manual lawn mower? I put one to the test - here are my honest thoughts

With the cost of energy, and well, everything going up, you might be looking to deploy some people power in the garden this summer

Lawn bordered by flower beds and hedges leading to garden room
(Image credit: Future/Lindsey Davis)

Mowing the lawn can be quite the chore, so when the subject of manual push mowers comes up, many of us will be wondering why you would possibly want to add to the effort. 

If you don’t know what one is, this is the type of mower that was really your only option before the advent of petrol and electric mowers. It is often aptly called a hand mower, and they summon images of front lawns being mown on a Saturday afternoon in 50s suburbia. Despite them being very very low tech, they have not been fully replaced by even the best lawn mowers, with lots of options still available anywhere that sells garden power tools.

So is it worth getting a manual lawn mower? What has led to them standing the test of time? Are they in some ways better than powered mowers?

Always on the lookout for a way to be more frugal and eco-friendly in the garden (the two often go hand in hand), I decided to give this no-fuel mower a go last summer. I tried out one of the most popular model according to buyer reviews and best-of lists – the Bosch AHM 38G – to decide if a hand mower is worth the money.

Pros of a manual lawn mower

They cost little to buy and run

As well as costing far less than an electric or petrol mower to buy, they have no ongoing fuel costs. The Bosch AHM 38G I tested, costs as little as £55 on Amazon at the moment, and while you can get a cheap electric mower for under £100, you will have a small cost (probably around 5p/hour) for electricity for every use. Petrol mowers will need approximately two-thirds of a litre of fuel for every hour of mowing meaning they cost more to run – around £1 an hour at current petrol prices.

Petrol mowers also need regular servicing and all these mowers will need new blades or sharpening at some point. However, the lower additional costs still make a hand push mower, the cheapest to run and buy.

No wires, no problem

While I already have a cordless mower, there is even less faff getting a manual mower out and set up. You only have to attach the grass box (unless dispersing clippings for mulch) and you are ready to go. No plugging it in, no checking batteries are charged and you don’t even have to turn it on. If you have a long garden like mine, this freedom does take the faff out of a weekly mow.

The cut with a reel mower is really neat

Hand push mowers use a reel cutting system instead of a rotary blade. This is a barrel with blades around it and a blade on the body of the machine. As you push, the barrel and blades rotate, catching any grass in their path and cutting them much like a pair of shears. The result is a cleaner cut than a rotary blade, which severs the top of the grass, helicopter style. 

The second your rotary blade loses sharpness, it tends to push and mangle the grass, rather than neatly cut. Not only does this look messier, but makes your grass more vulnerable to disease.

My push lawn mower has a roller too, so if you like a nice stripy finish, you will be impressed by the results – even on longer grass.

Bosch AHM 38G manual lawn mower on a lawn with long grass and a full grass box

It was hard work, but the push mower even handled my long grass

(Image credit: Future/Lindsey Davis)

If you are going to mow, this is the most sustainable way to do it*

No fuel; generally made from metals that can be recycled; and easy to repair – push mowers offer a sustainable way to mow if you must. After all, we know we should leave our lawn a little longer for pollinators, so if you are a bit more laissez-faire with your lawn, an affordable manual mower for when need must is not a big investment. 

(*Okay, so a scythe is arguably more sustainable from a material stand-point. But also terrifying and nowhere near as neat.)

Easy to use and maintain

This mower type is human-powered, and you are the 'on' button. So as long as you have the energy to push the mower up and down your lawn, and know how to mow a lawn, you are good to go. 

They are fairly light and easy to use and store – you might find you can hang it neatly in your shed which is a bonus. And, maintenance is minimal. You just have to use a stiff brush to flick grass off after each mow and occasionally sharpen the blades.

Cons of a manual lawn mower

Can be hard work (especially on a big lawn)

Manual by name and nature, you will find yourself having to put a bit of weight behind your push mower. Unlike a powered rotary mower, this type of mower’s blade is powered and turned by you pushing it. On the nice even bits of my lawn, this was a breeze. However, once I reached some slightly bumpier bits, it was a bit more of a jerky operation. It certainly gives you a good workout, but isn’t recommended for those with mobility concerns.

Luckily, my lawn is fairly small, but I can see this being quite exhausting in a large space that isn’t frequently tended to. If you want to keep the job easy, mowing little and often is the secret to success with a hand push mower.

a hand push lawn mower blades clogges with grass

(Image credit: Future/Lindsey Davis)

Can clog on long or thick grass

When I made the mistake of leaving the lawn a little bit long, I found the grass had a tendency to wrap itself around the barrel and wheel axels. I could fix this wearing thick gloves and using a stick to push the grass out of the way, but it did lead to a slightly stop-start operation. 

Likewise, patches of thick grass really needed me to put my back into it. You have to give the mower a good push to get enough force to shift the barrel to clip anything brush like. My cordless mower also clogs, but has the power to handle an unruly lawn and can easily be adjusted to do a pre-mow to thin it out a bit first. 

You can't mow over sticks

Technically, you should clear your lawn of debris with any mower as it will dull the blades and can launch sticks/stones etc at your face mid mow. However, a powered mower can handle the odd stick or thin branch that falls from my cherry tree. 

The manual mower was not so accommodating. I cleared the lawn first, but inevitably missed a large twig and won't make that mistake again. It got lodged in the blades and it did feel slightly risky getting it out. 

Conclusion: is it worth getting a manual lawn mower?

A manual lawn mower is definitely worth the relatively small expense if you are looking to keep your lawn neat on a budget. It is a very traditional method of grass cutting and does require some legwork, but if you get into the habit of regularly maintaining your lawn, the results are very pleasing.

They are convenient if you have a smaller lawn or trouble reaching power points. And better than noisy petrol if you live in a built-up area. In fact, they are very quiet and the clacking noise they make is probably a very niche form of ASMR.

I wouldn’t recommend them for anyone who will find it hard to push for mobility reasons, or those with a very uneven lawn. They demand a little muscle. So if this sounds like you, either go for an affordable cordless lawn mower… or embrace the wilder look insects love instead and don’t mow at all.

So, am I still using it? The short answer is no. The longer explanation is, I have a great cordless lawn mower that is perfect for a quick job and can cope better with the fact I often leave the lawn for long periods (by both choice and circumstance). But, the Bosch AHM 38G has found a happy home with my other half’s mum who has a small lawn and had risked electrocution far too many times, cutting through electric mower cables. She is equally impressed with the cutting results and happily uses it every week or so meaning no cut is too arduous.

Do you think you will return to the late 1800s and switch to a hand push mower?

Lindsey Davis
Editor in Chief of Ecommerce

Lindsey Davis is Editor in Chief of Ecommerce for the Homes vertical at Future, looking after product content on brands including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens and Livingetc. She is also Acting Editor of having worked on the brand for nearly seven years where she was Senior Web Editor, then Associate Editor. Prior to building her expertise in shopping, Lindsey worked on the UK’s leading self build magazine and website, Homebuilding & Renovating, where she honed her knowledge around building and home transformations.