Zero-turn vs. Walk Behind Mowers: Full Comparison

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Zero-turn mowers are the newest kid on the block. Statistics show that their demand is rising, with an estimated yearly growth of about 3.4%.On the other hand, walk-behind mowers have been the ultimate go-to option for commercial and residential landscapers for tight yards.

Zero-turn vs. walk-behind mowers, which one is the better option? Here is a comprehensive comparison of these two types of mowers.

But before we can dive into the details, let’s have a quick look at the things you should consider when choosing a lawnmower. They’ll help you in determining the type of mower that will work best for you. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Z-turn and Walk-behind Lawn Mower

  1. Size of your lawn

If you have a lawn that’s below one acre or one that takes you less than 45 minutes to mow, a push mower may be your best pick. That’s because the speed and efficiency of a z-turn mower don’t make as much difference when working on small yards. After all, you cannot speed in these tight spaces.

  1. Budget

Both zero-turn mowers and push mowers come in a wide range of options cutting across different price tags. The cost increases depending on the features of a mower. But, generally, zero-turn mowers cost significantly higher than push mowers. 

The price of some high-end commercial ZTRs can be as high as $10,000, while basic push mowers cost as low as $150. Thus, if you’re working on a budget, a push lawn mower may come in handy.

  1. Comfort

Walk-behind mowers require you to walk behind the mower, guiding it on where to mow. A z-turn mower, on the other hand, is a type of ride-on mower. The operator steers the mower while sitting behind two hand levers. These are more comfortable and less tiring.

  1. The steepness of your lawn

The design of a z-turn mower makes it unstable on hills. They’re excellent for use in flat areas or on slopes that are less than 15 degrees. Thus, if your lawn is mostly steep, a walk-behind mower is your best pick. See Are zero-turn mowers good on hills for more information.

Zero-turn Mower vs. Walk-behind Mower: Head to Head

Below is a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both push mowers and zero-turn mowers.

Pros & Cons of Push Mowers

Easily maneuvers around obstaclesNot ideal for large lawns
Low impact on the environmentSome push mowers give uneven cuts
Highly portableTiring
It helps to exercise your body
Low maintenance costs
Low noise pollution

Pros & Cons of Zero-turn Mowers

Mows twice as fast as push mowersExpensive
Excellent maneuverability around obstaclesLow traction, especially on wet grass
Produces beautiful, uniformly cut lawnsNot ideal for use on sloped areas
You can attach trailers to tow supplies
Comfortable and less tiring
Powerful enough to mow large yards
High cutting precision

Now let’s look at each type of mower in detail. 

A walk-behind mower

A walk-behind mower is also known as a walk-along or push-behind mower. As the name suggests, the operator walks behind the mower, steering it in the desired direction. They are generally compact and lightweight. This design allows them to maneuver around obstacles with ease.

Walk-behind mowers are classified into five main types, cylinder mowers, rotary mowers, push mowers, self-propelled, and hover mowers.

  • Cylinder or reel mowers

Cylinder mowers have vertical cylindrical blades located at the front side of the mower. The blades rotate to trap grass, which they cut by pressing against a fixed blade using a scissor-like motion. 

The vertical blades differ from one mower to the next. Most will have 3 to 12 blades. A reel mower with a higher number of blades gives a cleaner cut.

Reel mowers are only ideal for use on flat grounds. They are also best for trimming soft and short grass. With these height limitations, you’ll need to cut your lawns more frequently than when using other types of mowers. 

Cylinder mowers are affordable and will give a short and well-defined cut. On the flip side, their blades are hard-to-reach and thus not easy to sharpen. What’s more, they have limited cutting height options and will not perform well on slopes or uneven areas.

  • Rotary mowers

Rotary mowers are the most common type of push mowers. The science behind how they work is similar to that of a blender. A rotary mower has one blade, which rotates horizontally at a super speed, cutting any grass it touches.

Unlike the reel mowers, these are ideal for cutting medium to tall grass. However, its cut is less clean and maybe a little uneven compared to other types of lawnmowers. That’s because of its cutting technique. The difference is, however, slight, and most people hardly notice it. 

  • Push mowers

A push mower is a little different from the other options we’ve discussed above. It has a motor that rotates a cutting blade, but you’ll have to push the mower manually. If you’re looking to burn some extra calories, then this mower will also come in handy.

They are usually affordable, compact, super light, and highly portable. You can carry it in a trailer or even in a truck bed. They are also easy to use and have excellent maneuverability.

A push mower is perfect for mowing any hard-to-reach areas of your lawn, such as around obstacles, sharp corners, flowerbeds, and more. They are also kind to the environment as they produce zero emissions, and their operation is relatively quiet. 

On the negative side, these mowers are tiring and time-consuming. Thus, they are only ideal for use on small-sized lawns. Pushing them up a slope can also be extremely exhausting. They are also not suitable for use by anyone with health complications.

  • Self-propelled lawn mowers

A self-propelled lawnmower takes away all the sweat from the operator. It has a transmission that pushes the mower forward. Your only job is to guide it. These mowers are super-easy to use and get the job done much faster. Thanks to their constant speed settings, self-propelled mowers produce a more evenly cut lawn than the other types mentioned above. They’ll also do well on slopes. However, they are costlier and need more care. 

  • Hover Mowers

Do you have an awkwardly shaped lawn? The hover mower will come in very handy. As its name suggests, the mower is fixed slightly above the ground. This makes it easier to operate and can move in any direction. 

You will have better control of mowing along the edges of lawns, around obstacles, and other landscaping features. The mower is also affordable. However, most hover mowers are electric-powered. They’re thus limited to mowing small yards. 

Zero-turn Mowers

Zero-turn mowers are ride-on mowers that can make a complete turn within their footprint. They’re designed with commercial landscapers in mind. They are comfortable to use, and their optimum speeds are impressive. A ZTR can move up to twice as fast as a walk-behind mower. 

Their cutting blades are located on the mower’s rear side and are adjustable to various cutting heights, depending on user preferences. Most z-turn mowers have cutting widths ranging between 36 to 72 inches. These will cut your lawns evenly to give a beautiful golf-course finish. 

Thanks to their design, z-turn mowers are also highly maneuverable. You do not have to make wide turns at the end of a mowing row. The mower also maneuvers around obstacles easily. What’s more, you can attach various attachments such as a snowblower, bagger, grass mulcher, and more. Their engines are also powerful, making them ideal for mowing extensive yards. 

On the flip side, zero-turn mowers are quite expensive. They’re also unstable in hilly areas. Their traction is also generally low, especially on wet or parched grass. 

Also, note that these mowers do not have the usual steering wheels. Instead, they have two hand levels, which the landscaper pushes forward to accelerate and pulls them back to decelerate. If it’s the first time buying a zero-turn, ensure you learn how to steer it before the first actual use. 

Zero-turn mowers are classified into two types, residential and commercial:

  • Residential Zero-turn Mowers

Residential z-turn mowers are ideal for mowing smaller property within a range of ⅓ acre to four acres. They are smaller and not as powerful as commercial ZTRs. Most of them are gas-powered, while only a few are electric-powered. 

What’s more, they are easier to steer and not as expensive as commercial z-turn mowers.

  • Commercial Zero-turn Mowers

Commercial zero-turn mowers are powerful enough to handle extensive lawns. Thanks to their large cutting decks, these will mow even large golf courses within no time. Commercial ZTRs are only available in gas-powered options. They are also costlier than residential mowers. 

The Bottom Line

There’s no ultimate winner in this head-to-head battle. That’s because both the zero-turn mower and push mower have their unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

Zero-turn mowers offer unmatched precision, are comfortable, and will give precise cuts on extensive lawns. However, they are expensive and do not adapt well to slopes. On the other hand, push mowers are easy to use, portable, affordable, stable, and require less maintenance. On the downside, they are tiring and do not always produce precise cuts.

Generally, push lawn mowers are ideal for small-sized lawns, while zero-turn mowers are best for large properties. But even most commercial landscapers will prefer to invest in both types. The push mowers will come in handy in areas a ZTR cannot access. 

Do you have any additional questions? Please feel free to engage me in the comment section below.

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EL Mehdi (Medi), the founder and voice behind Desired Lawn Mower. He is a riding mower enthusiast who enjoys spending more time discussing and covering various ride-on mower topics. He has been active in the industry for years comparing models of different ZTR and lawn tractor brands.