We’ve all had neighbors who woke up every Saturday morning with a burning yet inexplicable desire to spend three hours mowing their lawn. Unfailingly, they are always equipped with the noisiest lawnmowers known to man. Well, if you’d like to know how to protect yourself from such neighbors and avoid becoming one yourself, this article is just what you need. In addition to explaining why lawnmowers are so loud in the first place, I’ll also show you how to make them quieter.
To make a long story short, I’d like to first summarize my findings. As you will see, there are some ways to muffle the noise coming from a lawnmower. However, there are much better measures you could take to protect both yourself as the machine user and the people around you. We’ll discuss all that and more below; but first, let’s find out what kind of noise we’re talking about, anyway.
How Noisy Are Lawnmowers?
As I have explained in many of my previous articles, noise is measured in decibels. For reference, normal conversation registers at about 55–65 decibels, whereas a whisper might be closer to 30.
Every 10-decibel increase in volume registers as twice as loud to our ears. Therefore, if a normal conversation measures in at 60 decibels, a vacuum cleaner might be closer to 70 or 80. And even that is nothing compared to the kind of noise a lawnmower might produce!
Oftentimes, they’re noisier than some vehicles, though they usually hang around the 90-decibel mark. As such, using them for long periods may potentially lead to hearing damage.
After all, you may be able to get away with being surrounded by a constant droning of around 85 decibels for up to eight hours. However, the maximum daily exposure time shortens exponentially as the decibel level rises. Your time cuts in half with every 3-point increase. So when using a lawnmower that makes a 90-decibel sound, limit your exposure to half an hour at most.
In addition to the potential hearing damage you might suffer, you should also consider the other health effects of being surrounded by that kind of noise. As I have previously explained, noise pollution can lead to increased stress levels and all it entails. Now, before we discuss what you might do about your noisy lawnmower, let’s talk about why it’s so loud in the first place.
Why Are Lawnmowers so Noisy?
Obviously, lawnmowers are loud for a reason. After all, if their motors weren’t strong enough to spin their blades so quickly, they wouldn’t be able to cut grass as efficiently. And even if the motor itself is relatively quiet or non-existent, the high velocity of the spinning blades must make a sound.
Generally, a lawnmower might also be noisier if it doesn’t have an adequate muffler. Since noise-dampening features would add cost to their devices, most manufacturers don’t prioritize them.
There may also be a physical problem with your machine, on top of these things. If the engine noise has suddenly increased or you’re hearing unusual sounds, like rattling or squeaking, that may well be the case. Still, if the problem is minor, you may be able to reduce the noise by simply tightening a few loose screws. Worst-case scenario, you might have to order some new parts — or a new mower altogether.
Ultimately, there is one last reason why lawnmowers tend to be so disruptive — the environment in which we use them. Remember, the sound of a vacuum cleaner is easily confined within the walls of your home. Even if your neighbors do hear it, they only get a small taste of the kind of noise you’re hearing, as the person closest to the device.
Conversely, the sounds a lawnmower makes spread in all directions without hitting any barriers. So if the machine itself is as deafening as many of them are, it can become a serious nuisance. Fortunately, there are some things you could do to prevent that from happening.
How to Make Your Lawnmower Quieter
Now that we all know the main reasons lawnmowers can make an ungodly amount of noise, let’s see how we might fix the noise when we notice it. Right off the bat, you can tell that soundproofing a mower is more complicated than insulating a generator.
After all, unlike generators or outdoor air conditioning units, lawnmowers have to be mobile, so you won’t be able to build a soundproof box and leave it at that. Still, there are several viable solutions you might implement — starting with the most obvious one.
1. Stay up to Date on Regular Maintenance
The best way to prevent your mower from making excess noise is to stay on top of its maintenance.
For gas mowers, that means keeping the engine cooler clean, replacing or washing the air filter, and checking on the spark plug every few months. The spark plug will last for about four or five years before you have to change it. You’ll also need to change the oil at least once a year. If you need to see how to do everything I just listed, I recommend checking out this video.
Obviously, electric and battery-powered mowers are much easier to handle, but we’ll discuss those later on. In any case, these aren’t the only things you’ll need to check.
If your mower is making unusual sounds, such as rattling or squeaking, you might need to tighten some nuts and bolts. If you’re not sure where the noise is coming from, lightly wiggle each of the parts to find the ones that aren’t secured properly. Then, you can lubricate if the part in question is squeaking or tighten if it’s moving.
Of course, you should take care around the sharp blades, and only do this if the machine is unplugged and cool to the touch. With gas mowers, that will mean disconnecting the spark plug before you get to work.
2. Replace or Install a New Muffler
Most machines with an engine have an exhaust that expels the hot air the motor creates. That is also where most of the noise comes from — which is why lawnmowers have mufflers. But since the exhaust plays such a vital part in the machine’s performance, you really shouldn’t compromise that airflow. So what can you do?
Replace the Muffler
Somewhere on the side of the engine case on top of your mower, you’ll find a small muffler. As you can imagine, that little thing won’t be able to do much to stave off the noise that’s coming from the engine. However, most mowers don’t come with the kind of large mufflers that could diffuse the sound coming from the engine before expelling it.
After all, adding an effective muffler would also add to the cost production and total price point of these products. That is something most manufacturers would like to avoid. Still, if you happen to have a garage workshop, you could make your own muffler.
But first, see if the one your mower came with needs to be replaced. If you see any holes that shouldn’t be there, you can order a new one from the manufacturer of your mower. Then, it would be a matter of unscrewing the old and installing the new one.
However, if you want to go all out, you could create a new muffler from scratch. You’d have to be able to attach it to the mower’s exhaust, but other than that, you can pretty much improvise it from start to finish. If you’re looking for ideas, check out this video — although you don’t have to make it quite so complicated.
Optional: Insert a Muffler Silencer
Depending on the kind of muffler you’re working with, you may be able to install a silencer. In the article on quieting car exhausts, I mentioned several easy ways to improvise one. Since we’re talking about silencing a lawnmower here, you probably won’t be able to find a commercial muffler silencer. Your best bet would be to see if the same company that made your machine also makes those.
If not, you might be able to reduce the noise without impairing the mower’s efficacy. Remember, you still need the air to flow freely. In this case, as with the one I described in the article I’ve linked to, you could get away with using steel wool.
Simply detach the muffler that came with the mower and stuff it with steel wool or even heat-resistant insulation. Alternatively, you can stuff those materials into your improvised muffler.
3. Pad the Inside With Sound Deadening Mats
On the other hand, if the noise you’re hearing is caused by pebbles hitting the inside of the mower deck, you could pad that area. Specifically, I propose using automotive sound deadening mats. I’ve already explained how you could use these kinds of products to absorb vibrations and dampen the noise a washing machine might produce. So we just have to adapt the technique to suit our purposes here.
After cleaning the area you want to adhere the butyl mat to, cut the material to more manageable strips. Then line the inside of the mower deck to dampen some of the pebble kickback. You could also attach the material to the inside or outside of the motor case to muffle some of those sounds.
4. Buy a Quiet Lawnmower
As I have explained in my article about the best quiet lawnmowers, gasoline-powered machines are usually the loudest. And as it happens, those are the most popular mowers — in the US, at least. However, if you find that such models just aren’t silent enough for your liking, you should invest in an electric or battery-powered one.
Go for Electric, Battery-Operated, or Push-Reel Mowers
In addition to being quieter than gasoline mowers, electric models are also lighter and easier to maintain. However, they’re rather inconvenient if the cord isn’t long enough to reach the outlet. And if you’ve ever tried to mow your lawn while maneuvering around the cord, you know exactly how frustrating that can be.
Still, you don’t have to go back to your old gas mower. A cordless battery-operated one would be a real life-changer after using one of those. Not only are they half as loud as gas mowers, but they’re much easier to push as well.
But there, the downside comes from having to charge the battery. Still, there are ways to get around the problem of running out of juice mid-stride. For one, you could get a model that comes with a spare battery. That way, one can always be on the charger while you’re mowing the lawn.
On the other hand, if you’re a bit of a traditionalist, you can opt for a push-reel mower. Those kinds of machines don’t have motors at all, so you’ll be free from that kind of noise at least. But since push-reel mowers work on your propulsion, they’re only a viable choice for small lawns.
Get a European Model
Another trick you can use to get your hands on the quietest lawnmowers would be to get ones that are made for European markets. Since European noise laws are more strict than the ones we have in the U.S., manufacturers tend to send quieter machines that way.
They might rely on a special blade design or simply use a reduced engine speed to achieve quieter operation. Alternatively, they could have built-in insulating features inside the deck or a superior muffler.
If that’s the case, that may also translate to a higher price point. And if you get a European model, you may need to buy a plug adapter as well.
How to Protect Yourself and Those Around You From the Damaging Effects of Lawnmower Noise
As I have mentioned, trying to muffle the sound of a lawnmower at the source could be more trouble than it’s worth. However, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you from the insufferable noise levels. First things first — let’s make sure your hearing is safe!
Put on Noise-Canceling Headphones or Safety Earmuffs
As the lawnmower operator, you’d be the one dealing with most of the harmful effects of the noise. One way to protect your hearing and your sanity would be to use earplugs or earmuffs, taking care to choose the ones that create a perfect seal inside or around your ears. If you’d like additional protection, you can use safety earmuffs like the ones that are used in construction or at shooting ranges:
On the other hand, if you’d prefer to jam out while you go about doing your yard work, you could get noise-canceling headphones or earbuds. Some of them even have active noise-canceling technology similar to what the aforementioned Honeywell earmuffs have. And you don’t even need to be listening to music for the feature to work.
When you’re performing a loud chore like this, you need to have headphones that physically block out external noise. After all, you don’t want to have to keep increasing the volume — that’s potentially harmful too!
Implement Outdoor Soundproofing Measures
Even though a fence couldn’t completely prevent the sound of your lawnmower from reaching your neighbors, there are some things you might do to fortify yours. Over the years, I’ve found many uses for Mass-Loaded Vinyl. The dense rubber material would certainly plug any holes you might have in your fence and make it thick enough to make a difference. And I’ve even explained how you could do it in a previous article.
Of course, the noise would still move up and away. But at least its primary direction, the horizontal spread away from the source, would be blocked.
And if you’re trying to shield yourself from your neighbors’ noisy lawnmower, the same principle applies. You’ll want to have a thick wall between you — preferably, one made of stone or brick, though a wooden fence would do. There are other ways to mask the sounds coming from your neighbors’ yard, too.
Soundproof Your Home From Outside Noise
If your housemates are especially sensitive to lawnmower noise, tell them to stay indoors and close all the windows. However, sometimes advice like that just doesn’t cut it. In that case, you might want to implement some additional measures to soundproof your home from outside noise.
As always, you should start with the windows. First, check if there are gaps in the area around the window frame. If you feel a draft, apply some acoustic caulk to the area.
You should also make sure the windows are closing properly by applying weatherstripping tape. And if the glass itself is too thin to prevent noise from passing through, you can apply an acoustical film, make a window plug or get soundproof curtains.
If you have a door that’s facing your yard, you should also make it a point to soundproof that. Lastly, thicken the outside walls with furniture, soundproof blankets, or by completely deconstructing them to put in better insulation.
Alleviate Your Pets’ Suffering
Of course, humans aren’t the only ones who suffer due to excess noise. Indeed, our canine companions have it much worse, due to their refined sense of hearing. But what could you do? It’s not like you can make your pooch wear hearing protection.
Well, as a matter of fact, you can. And there are other things that might help them get over the fright of the lawnmower. For example, white noise might help your dog relax, just as it would help you.
But, if you want to give your mutt what it needs, make sure it has a comfortable and relatively soundproof crate or outdoor kennel to retire to. Whether you buy one or build one, I’m sure your pup will be grateful the next time you or your neighbors fire up your mowers or unleash a barrage of fireworks for the Fourth of July.
Go About Your Yard Chores Without Making a Racket
Ultimately, several factors determine the volume of noise a lawnmower is capable of producing. However, the machine’s engine plays the biggest part in it. Yet even electric, battery-operated, and push-reel mowers will produce some level of noise. As long as there are moving parts in the equation, you’ll have to put up with it!
Still, you can always reduce the volume of the sound by implementing some of the soundproofing solutions I’ve mentioned. And if that fails — get a pair of earplugs. Lastly, let your neighbors know that you’ll be mowing your lawn in advance. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the heads-up.