Non-Gasoline Lawn Mower: protect your air and ears

Solar Powered automatic mower

Buds on the trees, spring-training baseball, and April showers all mean one thing:  In a few weeks you are going to crank up the mower and cut your grass.  While gasoline mowers get the job done, they emit a disproportionate amount of air pollution (compared to cars) due to their two-stroke engines and lack of catalytic converters (that will change due to new EPA rules set to take effect in 2010 and 2011).  Why should you care about gasoline emissions?  The EPA states:

Small engines used in power equipment emit a variety of pollutants. These include hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which lead to the production of groundlevel ozone, the principal component of smog.  zone can impair human lung functions and inhibit plant growth. In addition, NOx contributes to the production of acid rain. These engines also produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas which results from incomplete fuel combustion. Infants and people with heart disease or respiratory problems are especially sensitive to carbon monoxide poisoning.


According to EPA estimates, in many large urban areas, pre-1997 lawn and garden equipment accounts for as much as 5 percent of the total man-made hydrocarbons that contribute to ozone formation.

Not only that, but gasoline mowers are loud and annoying to your neighbors.  Imagine the poor Jones' sitting on their porch trying to enjoy a nice glass of ice-tea and quietly read the paper while your VROOOMING up and down your lawn trying to make it look like the infield on opening day.   OK, fine, you hate the Jones', but you probably hate their noisy lawn mower too!

Thankfully we can cut air/noise pollution and our yards at the same time with several options:

  • Human-powered push reel mowers (you need the exercise and silence)
  • Electric mowers (quieter but less powerful than gasoline)
  • Propane mowers (less polluting than gasoline, no spills, more powerful than electric)

Push Reel Mowers
Obviously the quietist and environmentally friendliest because they require power only from you.  I've never used one but I've always wanted to own one.  This site seems to have a bunch of information.  I'm guessing that you have to cut your grass frequently with a push mower, but we all need to get outside more anyway.  If you have a small yard and you like seeing your neighbors, this is the way to go.  Also, you have zero costs for fuel (other than the burrito for lunch) and minimal uptake.

Electric Mowers

If a push mower just wont work for you but you still don't want to use gasoline you can try an electric mower.  HowStuffWorks has a nice article on electric mowers(although their main purpose is to sell you one).  Electric mowers are quieter than their fossil fueled bretheren but not near as powerful.  Like push mowers, you have to make sure your grass doesn't get too high or the blades wont be powerful enough to cut through the grass. 

If you really want to ensure no fossil fuel goes into powering your electric mower (through the coal powered electric grid) than you can listen to Guy Marsden and make a solar powered electric mower.  Mother Earth News has a great article on Electric Mowers which they close with:

Cordless, battery-powered lawn mowers are quiet and work great for small to medium-sized lawns, require less maintenance and cause less airborne pollution than gas-powered mowers. Electric mowers still are at a disadvantage on larger lawns, however, because they are not self-propelled and can have trouble handling heavy or wet grass. Upfront cost is considerably more than a gas-powered mower, but cordless, battery-powered mowers should save you money over time, thanks to lower energy and maintenance costs.

Propane Mowers

The March 2010 issue of Popular Science has a great piece on propane mowers.  You cook with propane in your grill, why not cut your grass with it.  While still a fossil fuel, it is better for the environment than gasoline.  The Pop Sci article states:

 Propane fuels your camp stove and patio grill because it burns efficiently and is easy to store safely. Now the same canisters are making lawn mowers more eco- and user-friendly, too. The propane-powered Eco Mower spews 26 percent less greenhouse gases and 60 percent less carbon monoxide than a gasoline model, plus you can replace its fuel conveniently and inexpensively.

If you have a big yard and your grass grows fast than a propane mower may be your best bet.  They even have a riding mower option so you can cruise around your yard in eco-style (and maybe even toss back an organic beer while you're at it)!


There are several options out there that will enable you to maintain your lawn while helping your family breathe easier and have a more peaceful summertime.  Why not think about making the switch and cut gasoline out of another area in your life.

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I think that cordless lawn mowers are the way to go. All the advantages of an electric lawn mower, but without the hassle of an electric cable trailing behind you.
I prefer the push reel mowers. Although you have to mow the lawn on a regular basis to avoid the grass getting to long, they leave an excellent finish if the blades are set up correctly. You also get a good workout, especially if your yard is a decent size.
Both electric and rechargable lawn mowers still cause emissions. The use of these products only forces the emissions bill over to the utility companies unless of coarse the electricity is being generated by water, wind or solar. The recycling process of batteries found in both solar and rechargable mowers containing lead is also an environmental problem. Emission reduction technologies do exist for small engines demonstrating unprecedented emission reductions for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen but do to a lack of emission regulations they remain IDLE, and my question is why?? However, in my opinion this is, if in-fact these emission reduction technologies did get to market it would put a stop to R&D monies given to large companies, and they're not going to let that happen.
One more great convenience from having a robot lawn mower is its numerous safety features that allow it to identify trees, rocks along with other obstacles. You won't must worry about it bumping more than anything. It has specially equipped bumpers to avoid scratches, a mower lift detection so which you can't cut yourself, infant lock - safe from curious smaller children, and a lot more. So that you can keep your lawn looking healthy, a robot lawn mower, as being a matter of truth really uses the cutting method because it has been proven being much more very good for grass. The robot lawn mower also has the edge-mode feature wherein you can assign it to just cut along the edge of your lawn in order to keep its beauty.
The 4-stroke could be the most average from the new garden lawnmowers you’ll normally find. These engines run on normal unleaded petrol. The benefits of this are that you simply solely simply use petrol. You'll find far less fumes to contend with relative to the 2-stroke motor and there is a wider cutting region, that equates to a smaller amount mowing time and a lot more time on the deckchair with a glass of wine admiring your tough work.
I have one of the Scott reel mowers, and while it's nice and quiet, I don't mow frequently enough for it to work in my yard. My St Augustine grows like mad and if I don't mow weekly it ends up pushing it down instead of cutting it. By the time I get done all the pieces have stood back up and it looks completely ridiculous - short in most places with stray long pieces scattered throughout. It's also really awkward to get around trees and other obstacles and it doesn't mow as wide as path as it looks like it would at first glance, so I end up doing a lot more weedwhacking than I did with my gas mower. It jams fairly easily and I have to stop often to pick things out of it that I wouldn't even notice with a power mower. My backyard is more weeds than grass and the reel mower hasn't a chance of making it through that, so I'll be buying a power mower soon. Thanks for the mention of propane; that's an intriguing option I hadn't heard about. I'll keep the reel mower around for the days when the power mower runs out of fuel, or when my toddler wants to help me in the yard, as I feel a lot safer mowing with the reel mower when he's around.
While I could probably save the world even more by using a push-reel mower, we have been using a Black and Decker rechargeable mower since May of 2006 ( I still love it -- quiet, effective, doesn't stink, starts instantly every time, uses hardly any electricity ... and no gas. I think the robotic one in the picture looks neat -- should call it the Lawnba, as it seems to look and work just like the Roomba vacuum :-) Tom
Tom, how high can your grass get before it clogs up the blades? I know when I was younger and lived with my parents I would cut our grass in the summer with a regular gas mower, but if I waited more than a week or two and it had rained a few times the grass would be too thick and clog up the blades. Does the B&D model have a charge indicator on it?

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