We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (2024)

Over the last year, we've tested over a dozen lawn mowers—both gas and electric, push, self-propelled, riding, and battery-operated—and we found that riding lawn mowers stand out as being a comfortable and efficient option for mowing lawns over an acre in size. While they cost more than traditional walk-behind mowers, they help you tackle different types of terrain, including slopes and larger properties, in a fraction of the time.

For this list, we researched highly-rated riding mowers—including zero-turn mowers and tractors—and tested six for over six months in our backyards in Iowa and New Jersey. During our testing, we evaluated each mower on how easy it was to operate and refuel (for gas models), battery life (runtime for battery-operated models), comfort while riding, and how well the mower cut the grass during different types of weather and grass conditions. We also considered their maneuverability around obstacles, the accessories and attachments available (sold separately in some cases), and their value.

It rained heavily during the beginning of our testing, and we found that all of the riding mowers we tested handled damp grass with ease. We also liked that the chute of each mower threw the grass clippings a good distance, and we never experienced issues with the grass clumping in the mowers.

Whether you need a small riding mower for your 1-acre lawn, a zero-turn option for larger properties, or a lawn tractor that can help you with many tasks around the yard, here are the best options we tested.

What We Like

  • Intuitive and easy to use

  • Joystick for steering and speed control

  • Long battery runtime

  • Very clean cut on all types of grass

What We Don't Like

  • Initially received a defective mower, although customer service was excellent

After six months of testing, the Ryobi Brushless 42-inch Electric Zero Turn Riding Mower has moved into our top spot thanks to its consistent performance, quiet operation, and ease of use. This zero-turn mower has a 42-inch deck and power that Ryobi claims is equivalent to 31 horsepower. Although it is the most expensive mower on this list, we think it's well worth the cost if you have a large lawn (and the budget). We found it to be fun to drive and very easy to use.

This mower easily handled wet grass, thick grass, and tall grass, leaving our lawn looking great. Setting the cutting height, which ranges from 1.5 inches to 4.5 inches, is easily accomplished with a single lever and four blades. The clippings discharge from the side, although you can purchase a bagger or mulching kit separately if desired.

We love that it comes with four batteries: two 80-volt, 10-amp-hour batteries and two 40-volt, 12-amp-hour batteries, which can all be charged simultaneously. In our testing sessions, the batteries still had plenty of charge left once mowing was finished (Ryobi claims that you can mow up to 3 acres on a single full charge). We had no trouble cutting our half-acre lawn even when the riding mower's battery life was below 50 percent.

Unlike many other riding mowers, which have levers, pedals, or steering wheels to control the motion of the machine, this one has Ryobi's iDrive joystick. This joystick lets you set your speed forward or reverse, as well as turn and maneuver the mower (it has a maximum speed of 8 mph, the highest on our list). The mower also has an LCD screen, so we could easily monitor the battery life and runtime.

We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (2)

While riding the mower, we especially appreciated how quiet it is compared to gas mowers—we could talk to nearby family members while riding it—and how smooth and comfortable a ride it provides, thanks to the superior seat suspension that absorbs many of the bumps and vibrations. The mower also has some nice extra features, including headlights, cup holders, and USB charging ports.

We do want to note one slight hiccup with the assembly. While it was fairly straightforward and quick to assemble the mower and give the batteries an initial charge, our first test mower had an electrical problem. It required several phone calls and a technician's visit before determining that the mower was defective. However, we were quickly provided with a new mower, which was already assembled and ready to go. Despite this unfortunate start, we were very impressed with the manufacturer's customer service.

While this mower is undeniably a big investment, its performance, power, and ease of use make it well worth the cost for those with big yards. Compared to a gas lawn tractor of the same size our testing team member previously used, we found this model to be much more efficient, cutting the grass in less time, with less noise and no gas fumes. We also like the fact that it has a 5-year warranty.

Cutting Width:42 inches | Power Type:Battery | Weight:700 pounds | Cutting Options:Side-discharge | Size of Yard:Up to 3 acres

What We Like

  • Very easy to maneuver even around tight turns

  • Excellent performance cutting both wet and dry grass

  • Smooth, comfortable ride

  • White Glove Service

What We Don't Like

  • May require more than one pass for thick grass

Although all riding lawn mowers are pricey, we think the John Deere S100 42-Inch Gas Hydrostatic Riding Lawn Tractor is an excellent budget-friendly option, at less than half the cost of our best overall. During our initial testing period, it performed like a champion on all three mowing sessions at our 10-acre New Jersey yard (although the manufacturer recommends it for yards up to 1 acre in size). And since it's a lawn tractor, you can attach other tools (like a tow-behind dump cart) to make lawn maintenance easier.

We were amazed at how easy it was to maneuver even around tight corners or close to trees. It did a great job of cleanly cutting both dry and wet grass; remarkably, it did not leave any ruts on the wet grass, just small indentations.

The mower provides a comfortable, smooth ride; we drove it down a 500-foot gravel path to reach the lawn without any discomfort or difficulty. It has 13 cutting levels ranging from 1 inch to 4 inches, and we found it very easy to set the desired cutting height. Even better, it was delivered all assembled and ready to go thanks to its "White Glove Service."

The cutting deck is 42 inches, which is a good size for making quick work of the lawn yet not so large that it's bulky or hard to steer. It has a tight 18-inch turning radius and discharges the clippings to the side. However, you can purchase clipping bags, mulchers, and several other yard maintenance accessories separately. We found that it also easily cleared away fallen leaves from the grass.

Like most gasoline-powered riding mowers, you will need to occasionally perform oil changes, but the process is not too difficult. And thanks to the electric start, it's very easy to power the mower up and get right to work.

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We found the seat to be quite comfortable, and you can adjust the position to suit your height. All of the controls are easy to identify and use, although it took us a few minutes to get used to the side-by-side foot pedals for going forward or reversing. The mower's top speed is 5.5 mph going forward and 3.2 mph in reverse. It can cut the grass in either direction. It has headlights if you want to mow at dusk or dawn and a cup holder to keep your favorite beverage close at hand while you work.

After six months of testing in our home, we've found that it doesn't always tackle thick grass properly at first (which we didn't encounter in our initial test) and requires a second pass in some cases to have a clean cut. We also wished that the mower would automatically mow when you put it in reverse. Instead, you need to press a button to engage the deck. While it's not a deal breaker, it's a bit of an inconvenience.

These issues aside, we still think this is a great budget-friendly option, especially for smaller yards. This riding mower is covered by John Deere's 2-year/120-hour bumper-to-bumper warranty. It's quite reasonably priced for a riding mower; overall, it's hard to go wrong with this hard-working mower.

Cutting Width:42 inches | Power Type:Gasoline | Weight:414 pounds | Cutting Options:Side-discharge | Size of Yard:Up to 1 acre

  • We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (8)

  • We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (9)

  • We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (10)

What We Like

  • Excellent performance

  • Comfortable and fun to drive

  • Long battery runtime

  • LCD screen and app for tracking battery life

What We Don't Like

  • Somewhat jerky when changing speeds

  • Assembly a bit complicated

If you are looking for an electric riding lawn mower with all the power of a gas model but without the fumes or bother of a gas engine, the RYOBI80V HP Brushless 42 in. Battery Riding Lawn Tractor is our top choice. We found it fun to ride; with a maximum forward speed of 7 mph, this is a zippy mower that speeds up or slows down almost immediately when adjusting your foot on the lever.

The mower has a 42-inch deck and four steel blades with 13 different cutting height positions to choose from (within 1.5 to 4.5 inches), so you can really fine-tune the look of your lawn. We do wish that the mower deck stuck out a little more on the left side so it would be easier to mow closer to the fence or around other obstacles.

Despite this, it did a great job cutting the grass, whether wet or dry, at our third-acre Iowa yard and even chopped up small sticks, leaves, and weeds we pulled out very easily. Just note that we did occasionally find clumps of grass that we needed to go back over to chop up. It features a warning beep when backing up; while we appreciate this safety feature, it admittedly did become tiresome to hear the beep every time we reversed.

According to the manufacturer, it has the equivalent of a 21-horsepower engine, but it runs on the included three 80-volt, 10Ah batteries, which allow you to cut up to 2 acres on a single charge (about 60 minutes of runtime) and quickly recharge in less than 2.5 hours thanks to the onboard charger. In our testing, the batteries never dropped much below 80 percent capacity (so we never had to stop and wait for the mower to recharge).

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Like our best overall mower, also by Ryobi, we appreciated the LCD touchscreen that lets you keep track of the battery runtime and charging speed, as well as blade speed, driving speed, and blade height. Other extra features we like include LED headlights, front and back storage compartments, two tow hitches, two cup holders, and two USB ports to charge your phone.

The mower discharges clippings to the side, but you can purchase a bagger and mulching kit separately, as well as various lawn care attachments. Note that it was somewhat tricky to assemble, taking us over an hour to have it ready to go. It comes with a 5-year limited warranty.

Cutting Width:42 inches | Power Type:Battery | Weight: 557 pounds | Cutting Options:Side-discharge | Size of Yard:1 to 2 acres

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  • We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (14)

What We Like

  • Excellent cutting performance

  • Very comfortable, smooth ride

  • Easy maintenance

  • Zero-turn radius

What We Don't Like

  • A bit of a learning curve to handle

If you want a powerful gas zero-turn mower that can quickly tackle lawns up to 4 acres, this mower from Toro is an excellent option. We found that it was easy to maneuver between trees and other obstacles on our Iowa lawn. It has a hefty 50-inch cutting deck (the largest on our list), so the zero-turn capability comes in handy when swiveling such a large mower around flowerbeds, between trees, or near retaining walls or other obstacles. We also found it very easy to set the cutting height, which ranges from a low of 1.5 inches to a high of 4.5 inches.

On our first mowing session, the grass was wet, and the mower's tires slipped a bit while moving down a slope, but on subsequent sessions, we had little problem in mowing over wet grass, thick grass, leaves, and other small lawn debris. The mower left the grass very evenly cut, with a lush, full appearance. We do want to note that due to the deck size and the trees in the yard, we have found ourselves needing to use a push mower and trimmer occasionally for smaller areas that we can't maneuver around with the riding mower.

Like many riding mowers, the clippings discharge to the side; you'll have to buy a bag or mulching kit separately if you want them. We loved Toro's MyRide suspension system, which kept the ride smooth and pleasant even when the terrain wasn't completely level. With a top speed of 7 mph, this mower can get the job done fast. It has a cup holder to keep a cold beverage close at hand, but unlike many other riding mowers, it does not have headlights.

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One great feature of this gas mower is that while it does require annual oil changes, it's designed to make the task as easy as possible, so you won't have to waste your afternoon on maintenance. It also has wash-out ports underneath the deck, so you can quickly blast away caked-on grass, mud, and grunge with your garden hose. The sturdy construction, including the steel deck, means that this mower can take a beating and keep right on mowing without a pause. It comes with a 3-year residential limited warranty.

Even after six months of testing this riding mower, we've found ourselves mowing our lawn more than we have in the past (about once or twice a week). Now that we are more comfortable using it and have passed the initial learning curve, we love it even more than during our initial testing and have found it to be very easy to maneuver around our property.

We've found this mower to be so easy to use that we've found ourselves mowing our lawn more than we have in the past (about once or twice a week in the last six months). Now that we are more comfortable using it and have passed the initial learning curve, we love it even more than during our initial testing and have found it to be very easy to maneuver around our property.

Cutting Width:50 inches | Power Type:Gasoline | Weight:694 pounds | Cutting Options:Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 4 acres

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  • We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers to Maintain Your Lawn (18)

What We Like

  • Easy to store

  • Charges quickly

  • Includes mulching kit

What We Don't Like

  • For small yards only

Not everyone needs a beast of a mower that can handle yards up to 4 acres in size. If you have a lawn that’s 1 acre or less, or you have a lot of obstacles on your property that require a smaller mower to maneuver between and around them, we recommend this battery-powered mower from Cub Cadet. It has a 30-inch deck (the smallest on our list) that can slip through a 36-inch gate and which won’t take up a lot of space in your garage or garden shed. While we were unable to test this mower ourselves, it’s still our top choice for smaller yards.

The mower comes with a 56-volt MAX 30 amp-hour battery that can mow up to 1 acre or for 1 hour before needing a recharge, which takes roughly 4 hours. It’s supremely quiet compared to gas mowers, and the ride is smooth and comfortable. Plus, no need for oil changes, pouring gasoline into a fuel tank, or smelly fumes. You can adjust the cutting height within a range of 1.5 inches to 4 inches, and no bogging down on tall or thick grass. The 18-inch turning radius is tight enough to easily work your way around most obstacles.

One feature that we especially approve of, and yet isn’t offered on many riding mowers, is this model’s cruise control, which allows you to set your speed up to a maximum of 5.5 mph and then let the mower keep your pace steady; no need to concentrate on maintaining an even speed by pushing pedals or gripping levers.

Plus, it has a very comfortable high-back seat with armrests, LED headlights, a cup holder, and two onboard USB ports to power up your phone or music while you ride. Additionally, unlike every other mower on our list, this one includes the mulching kit—all others require you to purchase that separately—so you can turn the grass clippings into fine mulch to help feed your lawn. It comes with a 3-year warranty.

Cutting Width:30 inches | Power Type:Battery | Weight:362 pounds | Cutting Options:Mulch, side-discharge | Size of Yard:Up to 2 acres

What We Like

  • Automatic transmission

  • Good traction on hills

  • Extra leg room

  • Compatible with a variety of accessories

What We Don't Like

  • Bagging and mulching kits sold separately

  • Limited cutting heights

While we were not able to personally test the Bronco 42, we still recommend this 19-horsepower, 42-inch gas mower for yards up to 2 acres in size, especially if your yard has a lot of slopes. This sturdy mower has an automatic transmission and uses a simple foot pedal to control your speed, just like your car. That means you are likely to feel comfortable handling the mower from the start, even if you have never used a riding lawn mower before.

The mower has anti-scalp, 20-inch all-terrain wheels, making it much easier to mow smoothly over uneven terrain or up and down slopes without bogging down or damaging your turf. Note that, as with all riding mowers, you should always mow from side to side across a slope, not up and down the slope, to maintain stability.

There are five cutting height settings, which are easy to adjust with a single lever and range from 1.25 inches to 3.75 inches. That’s a smaller cutting range than many other riding mowers, but it easily handles most common lawn grasses, and the double blades, large wheels, and sturdy construction of the mower allow it to plow right through tall or thick turf without a problem.

The Troy-Bilt Bronco 42 has a step-through frame that offers more leg room, and the mid-back seat and rubber footpads keep you comfortable while you work. Its 18-inch turn radius is tight enough to maneuver around most yard obstacles, such as trees, fences, flowerbeds, or playsets.

The machine has a rear hitch to pull garden carts, sprayers, and spreaders. It comes with a side-discharge chute for clippings, but if you prefer to bag or mulch the grass clippings, you’ll need to buy those accessories separately. Like all gas mowers, you’ll need to carry out periodic oil changes, usually recommended after every 50 hours of use or annually. It comes with a 2-year warranty.

Cutting Width:42 inches | Power Type:Gasoline | Weight:520 pounds | Cutting Options:Side-discharge | Size of Yard:1 to 2 acres

Final Verdict

After six months of testing, our best overall pick is the Ryobi Brushless 42-Inch Electric Zero Turn Riding Mower. We've found that it's easy to use and does a great job cutting grass consistently across different conditions. Our best budget pick is the gas-powered John Deere S100 42-Inch Riding Lawn Mower. We found it easy to maneuver around obstacles while creating a very smooth cut (although you may need to go over thick grass more than once). It comes with “White Glove Service” delivery, so you won’t have to assemble it.

How We Tested the Riding Lawn Mowers

We tested six riding mowers, including gas, electric, and zero-turn options, on our properties with varying terrain and lawn conditions, including slopes, rough spots, tall grass, and wet areas. We initially tested for 18 hours (three testing sessions for each mower), reported our findings, and continued testing for six months. Each mower was evaluated on its assembly, design, performance, usability, safety, and value

  • Assembly: Similar to how we tested lawn mowers, we started by recording how long it took to unbox and assemble the riding lawn mower, as well as the difficulty or ease of assembly. (Two of the mowers were delivered assembled and ready to go, however.)
  • Design and performance: Once the grass was long enough to require mowing, we tested the riding mowers on three separate occasions. For each session, we recorded the date and weather conditions, the size of the area to be mowed, the height of grass to be cut, and the length of time it took to accomplish the mowing. At the end of the session, we noted how cleanly and evenly the lawn had been cut, as well as how well the side-discharge chute shot the clippings back onto the lawn. (Only one of our tested mowers included an option other than side-discharge of the clippings; commonly clippings bags and mulching kits are not included with a riding mower, but must be purchased separately if desired.)
  • Usability: As we rode the mowers, we noted how easy it was to speed up or slow down the machine in both forward and reverse, how easy it was to raise or lower the cutting height, how well the mower maneuvered around obstacles, and how evenly it cut all types of grass, including tall or thick patches and wet turf. We also tried out any extra features on the mowers, including headlights, cupholders, USB charging ports, or onboard storage areas.
  • Safety: We paid attention to seat and ride comfort, noting whether the mower was unusually rough, had excessive vibration, or had any safety features.
  • Value: Finally, we summarized each experience with the mower, noting whether we felt it was a good value for the performance delivered.
  • Long-Term Testing: We used these mowers consistently (in some cases, twice a week) for over six months and then reported back on how well they tackled thick or longer grass during different weather conditions. We also reported any changes to their durability or performance with long-term use.

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What to Look for in a Riding Lawn Mower

Power Source

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to buy a gas- or electric-powered riding lawn mower. Mayer says, "Like in the automobile world, battery-powered equipment is popular right now. Electrical mowers on both the residential and professional/commercial side are becoming more preferred over gas powered. You have to take into account that they both require different maintenance schedules, and it’s important to ask questions like 'How long does the battery last, and what is the cost of a replacement battery' before making a commitment to electric."

As a general rule, gas mowers, including our best budget choice, the John Deere S100, are more powerful than electric models, but they’re louder, less eco-friendly, and require more maintenance, including regular oil changes. Plus, in some locations, gas mowers have very stringent requirements for emission levels that some models can't meet. However, Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance, notes that the power of a gas mower can be especially useful if your lawn has rough areas, thick weeds, or especially tough grass.

Electric mowers, on the other hand, like our best electric riding mower, the Ryobi 80V Brushless Electric Riding Mower, are typically less powerful and require you to keep an eye on the battery charge level, but they’re also quieter, easier to start, and better for the environment. Still, while electric mowers require consistent charging, they often don't require as much maintenance as gas models that have spark plugs, belts, and filters that must be maintained over time.

Deck Size

The deck size of a lawn mower dictates how wide a path it cuts—larger decks cut wider paths on each pass. Most residential riding mowers have decks that are around 42 inches, but if you have a very large property, you might want to consider a mower with deck that's considerably bigger, like our best gas mower pick, the Toro TimeCutter Zero-Turn Mower, which has a 50-inch deck. And of course, small properties, or lawns with many obstacles, might do best with a mower that has a smaller deck.

Keep in mind that the larger the mower, the harder it will be to maneuver through gates and other obstacles, plus the more space it will require in your garage or shed. Also, a mower's deck size will impact its turning radius—except for zero-turn mowers, which can manage wider decks thanks to their overall design—and will also make it more challenging to navigate uneven terrain. Our best overall pick, the Ryobi 80V Electric Zero-Turn Riding Mower, turns on a dime even with its 42-inch deck.

Engine Power

While the typical push mower's engine is just 2 to 5 horsepower or the equivalent in battery power, a riding mower requires considering more oomph, with most having engine power or equivalent battery power of 13 to 30 horsepower. James says, "Make sure the riding mower you're considering has enough horsepower to handle your specific needs. A larger engine will be able to handle thicker grass and steeper hills with ease."

As a rough guideline, a lawn that's less than an acre can be handled by a riding mower with at least 13 horsepower, but a 3-acre lawn needs at least 18 horsepower to get the job done, and even more if your lawn has slopes or rugged terrain.

Grass Clippings

Don’t forget to consider how the lawn mower handles grass clippings. Just about every riding mower has a side-discharge chute to spit the clippings back out onto your lawn. But many brands also offer mulching kits or clipping bags for their riding mowers; note that you'll generally have to purchase these separately. If you want to mulch or bag your clippings, be sure that any riding mower you are considering offers these options, and remember to add the price of the accessories to the cost of the mower itself.

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FAQ

  • Are zero-turn mowers faster than riding mowers?

    The defining feature ofzero-turn mowersis a zero-degree turning radius, but these mowers are generally also much faster than regular riding mowers. However, keep in mind that it's easier to maintain control around obstacles at lower speeds, so unless you have a very large, flat lawn, you're unlikely to be running your mower at top speed very often. Plus, zero-turn mowers are much more expensive than regular riding mowers.

  • What type of lawn is best suited for a riding mower?

    According to Mayer, a riding lawn mower is suited to any type of turf, but because these machines are heavy, they can cause soil compaction, which can affect the health of your grass. You can help prevent this by not mowing when the ground is wet, and by trying to avoid mowing over the same area more than once.

  • How fast do riding lawn mowers go?

    The top speed for standard riding lawnmowers ranges from 4 to 6 mph. Zero-turn mowers are much faster, with some going 8 to 10 mph at full speed. While speed is a great factor to consider if you prefer to quickly complete outdoor tasks, a speedy job does not always result in a better cut, so don't automatically assume that you need the fastest mower available.

  • How do you transport a riding mower?

    The easiest way to transport a riding lawn mower is with a trailer. Mowers can be driven up a ramp into a low trailer and towed behind a vehicle. You may also transport riding mowers in the bed of a pickup truck, but special ramps are required. Of course, if you are merely loaning the mower to a neighbor or somewhere very close by, you may be able to ride the mower to the location, as long as the terrain permits this and you keep the blade turned off and elevated.

Why Trust The Spruce?

Michelle Ullman is a freelance writer for The Spruce, focusing on home improvement and gardening topics since 2020. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs around the house and yard.

For this list she relied on input from our team of testers, but also considered dozens of other riding lawn mowers of various types, evaluating each for features, power, effectiveness, ease of use, and overall value. She also considered feedback from customers, both positive and negative, as well as reviews and information on landscaping websites.

Our Experts:

  • Marc Mayer, Director of Technical Operations at TruGreen
  • Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance
  • Daniela Galvez, senior editor at The Spruce
  • Jenica Currie, commerce editor for The Spruce

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