Best Small Riding Lawn Mowers: 2020 Review and Buying Guide

Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!

Anyone who has operated a push lawn mower will tell you that it requires lots of energy and time. If you have a large lawn, using a push mower can easily take up to several hours. Not to mention, if used incorrectly a push mower can result in achy and strained muscles. Switching to a small riding lawn mower can make your life easier, and the expense isn’t as bad as you might think. Here’s our guide to and our recommendation for the best small riding lawn mowers.

PRODUCT FEATURES
Troy-Bilt 382cc Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Troy-Bilt 382cc Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower
  • 30-inch cutting deck
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to maneuver
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Husqvarna Z254 Hydrostatic Zero Turn Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Husqvarna Z254 Hydrostatic Zero Turn Mower
  • 54-inch cutting deck.
  • Cuts in reverse
  • Speeds of 6.5 MPH
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Husqvarna Z242F Hydrostatic Riding Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Husqvarna Z242F Hydrostatic Riding Mower
  • 42-inch cutting deck
  • comfortable
  • cooling system
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Troy-Bilt 452cc Mustang Fit Riding Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Troy-Bilt 452cc Mustang Fit Riding Mower
  • 34-inch cutting deck
  • Ergonomic seating
  • Quick turns
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Ariens 915213 Zero Turn Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Ariens 915213 Zero Turn Mower
  • 43-inch cutting deck
  • Adjustable seating
  • Reduced vibration
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Snapper 2691402 Zero Turn Mower - Tired from mowing the lawn? You need one of these small riding lawn mowers!Snapper 2691402 Zero Turn Mower
  • 42-inch cutting deck
  • Strong construction
  • 13 cut positions
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Why Would I Want A Riding Lawn Mower?

It’s no secret that riding lawn mowers can make your lawn care routine easier and less time-consuming. If you have a large lot, then a riding mower is the best way to practically maintain your yard. Riding mowers have the ability to push through stubborn growth, and with speeds of up to 6.5 MPH, they cover lots of ground quickly. 

Here are some of the main features you should look for when shopping for a mower. Understanding these features will allow you to make the best selection for your lawn.

Types of Riding Mowers

Zero Turning Radius (ZTR) Mowers

Zero turning radius mowers are known for their ability to turn on a dime. The steering system allows drivers to make a full 360 degree turn without needing to stop mid cut. In addition to the incredible maneuverability of these mowers, zero turning radius mowers are fast.

Lawn and Garden Tractors

These types of mowers are large and heavy duty. They were built for cutting grass on expansive yards. Some lawn and garden tractors can tow other units, while others can serve as snow blower combination tractors.

Some lawn and garden tractor models offer a smaller construction for more modest sized lawns. For that reason, our list will cover some of the smaller lawn and garden tractors for those who need a little more power.

Rear Engine Riding Mowers

When it comes to comfort and ease of use, rear engine riding mowers are best. As the name indicates, the engine is located on the back of the lawn mower near the seat. This is the best type of riding lawn mower if you need to navigate obstacles like fence gates and flower beds or ride through narrow passages. Because of its compact size, a rear engine mower is the ideal small lawn mower for shed storage.

They are popular because they are comfortable to operate; however, they are slower than zero turning radius mowers and of course, lawn tractors.

Red Small Riding Lawn Mower in action cutting grass

Cutting Deck Size Differences

The cutting deck of any lawn mower determines how much grass is going to be cut in a single pass. Generally, the larger the cutting deck, the fewer passes you will have to make as you cut your lawn. Cutting deck sizes range anywhere from 20″ to 50″ or more.

There are some great advantages to having a larger cutting deck, including less time spent mowing. But there are other factors to consider:

The Size of Your Lawn

Obviously, if you have a larger lawn, you will want a lawn mower with a larger cutting deck. The typical rule of thumb is that if your lawn is half an acre or smaller, then a 40 or even 30 inch riding mower is a good selection. If your lawn is half an acre to two acres, then a 42 to 48 inch cutting deck is appropriate. Lawns larger than 2 acres will typically require a mower with a 50 inch cutting deck.

Storage

Keep in mind that the larger the cutting deck, the larger your riding mower will be. You will need a place to store it when it’s not in use. Shop appropriately when considering your cutting deck so that you do not buy a mower that’s too big to store.

Time

Not surprisingly, a mower with a larger cutting deck will often save you time, but not always. If you purchase a lawn tractor, even a smaller one, you will likely waste more time getting your mower in and out of storage then you would if you had a smaller rear engine mower.

Also, larger cutting decks don’t always mean a shorter mow time. For example, a zero turning radius with a higher horsepower is able to clear a lawn faster than a mower with a larger cutting deck and lower horsepower.

Riding Lawn Mower Safety Tips and Guide

A riding lawn mower is a piece of machinery that can cause harm and injury if not used properly. Because of this, it is important that you are alert and attentive when you are mowing your lawn. Here are some safety tips to remember.

Close Fitting Clothes

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: clothes can get caught in a blade, pulling you off the mower.
  • Wear Safety Goggles: protect your eyes from dust, flying grass, and rocks or debris that may turn into projectiles while you’re mowing.
  • Avoid debris: large sticks, toys, or rocks can get stuck underneath the blades and thrown into the air at a high rates of speed. Pick up any objects from the lawn before you start mowing.
  • Be aware of tall grass: hidden objects, animals, and holes can cause injury. It’s always best to approach tall grass using a push mower, not a riding mower.
  • Consider mower safety features: automatic stop functions and front and rear guards are features to look for. These will auto-stop your mower immediately in the event of an accident and keep projectiles from launching from underneath the cutter.

Lawn Mower Care

As with any machinery, proper care will ensure that your riding lawn mower will last you a long time. In addition to reading your owner’s manual, be sure to do the following when maintaining your mower:

  • Properly store your mower: You want to have a place to store your mower when it is not in use. Lawn mowers can typically be stored in a garden shed or a garage. If the season is over, be sure to cover it.
  • Maintain fluids: As with any vehicle, you want to maintain the gas and oil levels in your mower. Be sure to change the oil regularly. After the season is over, empty the gas tank and store the gas separately. Some manuals recommend storing the mower with a full tank but adding in fuel stabilizer.
  • Clean the undercarriage: After each use, clear out the undercarriage so that you don’t have globs of grass sticking to your mower. Collected grass can lead to operating issues.

Closeup of red Lawn mower cutting grass

Factors To Consider When Buying a Small Lawn Mower

When purchasing a riding mower, consider these factors to make the best selection for your home.

Cutting Deck

As mentioned earlier, the cutting deck should be a priority when it comes to selecting the best lawn mower for your home. A bigger cutting deck does not always mean a better lawn mower. The cutting deck simply refers to the width of the grass that gets cut during each pass. Keep in mind that horsepower and the speed of your lawn mower is what determines how fast you can mow your lawn.

Size

Riding lawn mowers are best kept inside a shed or a garage so as not to expose them rain, excessive heat, or snow. If you are unable to keep your lawn mower in a shed, garage, or enclosed space, then a riding mower cover is the next best solution.

Type

Knowing your lawn size is imperative to helping you select the best type of riding lawn mower for your needs. For larger lawns that require more than just simple cutting, a heavy duty lawn and garden tractor may be the best fit for your needs.

Personal preferences also play a big role here. For example, if you’re looking for a lawn mower that can quickly get the job done, then a zero turning radius is the best option. If time is not a major factor for you but comfort is, then a rear engine would be your best bet.

Our Top 6 Best Riding Lawn Mowers for Homeowners

Our thoroughly researched list includes a mixture of all three types of riding lawn mowers, including smaller-sized lawn and garden tractors.

Troy-Bilt 382cc Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower

The Troy-Bilt 382cc Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower is a great mower for smaller lawns, because it’s also small, with just a 30-inch cutting deck. It’s also lightweight at 336 lb when you compare it to other mowers (most riding mowers will weigh anywhere between 400-600 lbs). But don’t let the compact size fool you; it can reach up to 4.25 MPH hour on a straightaway. It’s best for flat yards with modest slopes.

My favorite thing about the Troy-Bilt 382cc is the handling. It’s not a zero turn radius mower, but it does give you 18 inches of turn radius that will still let you navigate around garden beds, fencing, and other obstacles in your yard. It’s also comfortable; the adjustable seat and added back support work great with the soft grip steering wheel so that you are not straining your back or arms while mowing.

Troy-Bilt 382cc Neighborhood Riding Lawn Mower
    The Troy-Bilt 382cc has a compact size and modest top speed of 4.5 MPH making it ideal for average sized lots. It can make quick and narrow turns and is comfortable, making it a great step up from any push mower.

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Husqvarna Z254 Hydrostatic Zero Turn Mower

Husqvarna is a popular name in the lawn care industry, and the Husqvarna Z254 Riding Mower is a great example of why. The brand is known for its innovative yet large riding mowers. But even with a giant 54-inch cutting deck, the overall footprint of the Z254 is smaller than others in its class. This is our pick for homeowners who have large yards but want a mower that’s not too overwhelming in size. You can even cut in reverse.

Under the hood there is plenty of power. This mower features a 26 HP Kohler engine that reaches an impressive max speed of 6.5 MPH on a straightaway. The powerful construction effectively makes it one of the best zero turn riding lawn mowers available, and that power is coupled with safety features, including a braking system that uses the steering levers for quicker reaction time. 

Husqvarna Z254 Hydrostatic Zero Turn Mower
    The Husqvarna Z254 is a powerhouse and was designed for larger lots with its 54 inch cutting deck. Though it has a larger cutting deck, the body of the mower is still rather compact and is easy to store away in a garage or garden shed.

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Husqvarna Z242F Hydrostatic Riding Mower

The Husqvarna Z242F is another powerful hydrostatic zero turn riding mower that delivers a comfortable and powerful ride (important if you have a large lawn littered with weeds and stubborn grass). Like its sister above, it can reach a max speed of 6.5 MPH. It’s a bit smaller (42″ cutting deck) and about 15% cheaper.

The entire Z200 has extremely durable construction that uses tube steel frames and a rugged caster. For stubborn yards, (especially if you are moving at a high speed) you don’t have to take it easy on this machine because the strong caster and blades will be able to take it.

Many quick riding, zero turn radius mowers are not comfortable, but that’s not the case with the Z242F. Husqvarna (true to its brand) has fitted the mower with an ergonomic seat design, adjustable seat backing, and spring suspension support for a smoother ride.

Husqvarna Z242F Hydrostatic Riding Mower
    The Husqvarna Z242F offers ample power with a top speed of 6.5 MPH making it an ideal riding mower for large lawns. With the added comfort in seat suspension, you can mow for longer periods of time without feeling the strain of it.

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Troy-Bilt 452cc Mustang Fit Riding Mower

This is a less-bulky zero turn radius mower. Its 34″ cutting deck makes it ideal for small to mid-sized lawns, and it can navigate narrow pathways, fences, or flower beds. The ergonomic seating has a high back and promotes good posture so you are not hunched over when riding. It’s also fitted with dual suspension springs to cushion the bumps that zero turn mowers are known for. Additional features include control levers and the ability to mow in reverse.

Troy-Bilt 452cc Mustang Fit Riding Mower
    The zero turn radius allows you to zip around the lawn and turn corners with a clean cut. The highlight of this mower is the comfort provided by the ergonomic seating. Although it offers a shorter cutting deck, this mower is still ideal for medium to large lawns.

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Ariens 915213 Zero Turn Mower

The Airens 915213 is a powerful zero turn riding mower. Though it sports a healthy 42-inch cutting deck, this mower is a workhorse making it great for larger, stubborn lawns.  The power comes from a Kohler 6000 twin-cylinder engine that is paired with an electric start hydro transmission. Though it’s a powerful engine, I’m impressed with how little noise and vibration it puts out (even the hand lever controls have dampers to reduce vibration in your grip), all while offering better torque and mileage. With this power, the Ariens 915213 is able to reach speeds of up to 6 MPH, perfect if you have long flat stretches of yard.

The high-back, padded adjustable seat and three-way adjustable armrests give the Ariens a comfortable mowing experience.

Ariens 915213 Zero Turn Mower
    The Airens 915213 was designed to suit the needs of stubborn lawns and overgrown yards. The 43-inch cutting deck lends itself well to average sized lawns. But with the power and speed, larger lawns could fare well with this mower too.

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Snapper 2691402 Zero Turn Mower

The Snapper 2691402 Riding Lawn Mower is another one of the best zero turn riding lawn mowers designed for larger than average lawns. This model has a larger construction than its smaller counterpart, the Snapper 2911525BVE. The feature the Snapper 2911525BVE has going for is its durability. I appreciate a sturdy construction with zero turn mowers and this model delivers with its fully-welded steel frame and powerful cutting deck that is backed by the thick welded front axle. The mower deck is durable and protects the ball bearings in the caster spindles so that you get a sharp cut each time. 

The mower is extremely versatile thanks to the mower deck that can move between 13 different height positions, allowing you to cut anywhere from 1.5 inches to 5.4 inches, great for large lawns that may want clippings to act as fertilizer after a mow. 

Snapper 2691402 Zero Turn Mower

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Conclusion

In terms of power, speed, and advanced technology, the Husqvarna Z242F Hydrostatic Riding Mower is our pick for the best overall. With a top speed of 6.5 MPH, you can save considerable time when mowing, and the 42 inch cutting deck is good for both medium and large lawns.

The Husqvarna Z254 Hydrostatic Zero Turn Mower and the Ariens 915213 zero turn mower can also reach those speeds, but the Husqvarna Z242F wins because of comfort: an ergonomic steering wheel, a seat that cuts back strain while mowing, and a smaller frame that allows it to store well.

We hope our pick of the best riding mowers has helped you narrow your choices when looking for the best mower for your home. Let us know in the comments section below which small riding mower you prefer and why!

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