Few things are more beautiful than bright autumn leaves—until they’re blanketing your lawn. The rake can still get the job done, but there’s no denying that a leaf blower will get it done faster. Leaf blowers are controversial due to noise and emissions issues. This controversy has prompted manufacturers to turn out new models that are quieter and more environmentally friendly, with a trend toward powerful electric leaf blowers that compete with louder, emissions heavy gas-powered blowers. If you and your rake are losing the battle against knee-deep piles of fallen foliage, Pronto’s Leaf Blower Buying Guide will help you choose a leaf blower that will corral those leaves while keeping fumes—and fuming neighbors—to a minimum.
Electric leaf blowers are the best choice for most homeowners. They’re quieter, lighter and more eco-friendly than gas leaf blowers and cordless models make quick work of small jobs and hard surfaces. For yards that extend beyond the reach of a 150-foot extension cord, gas leaf blowers offer cord-free portability and extra power but are noisier and more of a hassle to fuel and maintain.
Electric leaf blowers are handheld; gas blowers come in handheld and backpack models. Handhelds are more affordable and sufficient for most yards. Consider a more expensive and powerful backpack leaf blower if your property is larger than half an acre to minimize fatigue and maximize efficiency.
If you need to get rid of leaves in tight spots, choose a leaf blower with a vacuum feature. Look for blower vacs that mulch with an impeller and have a mulch ratio of 16:1. Choose models with metal impellers, which are more durable than plastic.
The more power you have, the more leaves you can move in less time. CFM ratings, which measure the volume of air moved, are more important than MPH rates that measure air movement. Buy the most CFM power you can afford and choose a leaf blower with variable speeds to minimize noise and protect delicate plants and mulch from damaging top-speed air blasts.
Leaf blowers are controversial because of the noise and pollutants many models produce. Before buying, check local ordinances to see if leaf blowers are subject to decibel (dB) or exhaust emissions limits or whether they’re banned outright. If you’re using a loud leaf blower, be sure to wear ear protection to avoid damage to your hearing.
Short for Cubic Feet per Minute, this is the measure of how much air a leaf blower can move, which is the best indication of power. Ratings range from 200 to 600 CFM.
A measure of how loud a leaf blower is. The higher the dB, the more noise the leaf blower produces. Some communities have decibel limits for leaf blowers.
Miles per Hour, the measurement how fast a leaf blower moves air. Leaf blowers perform at speeds from 125 to 210 mph. This measurement is less important than CFM for gauging power.
On mulching leaf blower/vacs, a measure of how many bags of leaves can be reduced to a single bag of mulch. For example, a 12:1 ratio means that the leaf blower can chop 12 bags worth of leaves down to one bag of mulch.
Don’t cut the cord—if you have a small to medium yard, plug in that 150-foot extension cord and go with an electric leaf blower. They’re lighter and easier to deal with—no engine maintenance, no messy fuel to mix, no stopping to refill. Your neighbors will appreciate the fact that electric leaf blowers are quieter than gas-powered models, and you can rest easier knowing that you’re not polluting the air with toxic gas exhaust.
Choices range from powerful, full-size leaf blowers that can clear lawns to budget-priced, ultra-light power “sweepers” designed to blow leaves off hard surfaces like patios and driveways. Cords can be a challenge if you have to maneuver around a lot of trees, but you’ll need the extra power to dislodge leaves from grassy areas.
Rechargeable cordless electric leaf blowers are a good pick only for small jobs and hard surfaces. Rechargeables have much less power than standard electric leaf blower, and you should check the operating time to ensure that battery life suits your needs.
If your yard is too big to work with an electric leaf blower, choose a gas leaf blower. Gas leaf blowers are noisier, heavier and significantly less eco-friendly than electric leaf blowers, but they enable you move freely across wide areas. You’ll have to learn how to mix gas and oil and you’ll need a safe place to store flammable fuel.
All electric leaf blowers are handheld. If you’ve decided your yard demands a gas leaf blower, you have the option of handheld or backpack models that let you wear the blower in a harness on your back and position the handle, tube and throttle in front.
The choice comes down to how much ground you have to cover and how much power you need. If you’ve got half an acre or less, a handheld gas leaf blower should do the trick, but for bigger jobs, they can be too heavy to hold. While backpack blowers are even heavier, the weight is transferred to your shoulders, making them easier to lug for long leaf-chasing sessions on big properties. Backpack leaf blowers also have more power and can make short work of your yard work, if you’re willing to pay a premium price. If you choose a backpack leaf blower, look for models with back-saving features like thick padding and reduced-vibration fans and motors.
The simplest leaf blowers do just that: blow leaves. Once you’ve blown your leaves into piles, you bag them just as you would if you’d raked them. Many electric leaf blowers include a vacuum that pulls leaves into an attached bag; gas leaf blowers generally don’t offer this feature.
If leaves collect in difficult-to-reach areas like window wells or under shrubs, choose a leaf blower with a blower vac to save time. Another benefit of leaf blowers with blower vacs is they eliminate the final step of bagging leaf piles, although you’ll still need to transfer leaves from the leaf blower bag to a trash can or leaf disposal bag.
Most leaf blower vacs allow you to mulch the leaves by using an impeller to shred and compress them, which lets you empty the bag less frequently. Metal impellers are more durable than plastic, and you’ll want the leaf blower to have a high “reduction ratio” (or “mulch ratio”). The ideal mulch ratio is 16:1, meaning that the leaf blower can theoretically chop 16 bags worth of leaves down to a single bag of mulch. User reviews say these ratios are often unrealistic and results vary with different leaf types, so it’s best to aim for a higher ratio than you think you need.
If you’ve got a lot of leaves to move, power matters—more power finishes the job faster. Leaf blower power is described in two ways. Miles per hour (MPH) rates the wind speed of the leaf blower, or how fast it moves air. Typical MPH ranges are 125 to 210 MPH, but don’t get hung up on this number. The speed of the moving air doesn’t affect performance as much as the volume of air a leaf blower moves, which is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM ratings range from 200 to 600; to move the most leaves in the least time, shell out extra dollars for the highest CFM your wallet will allow.
When it comes to speed, variable speed is best. Choosing a leaf blower with variable speeds lets you save the loudest top speeds only for when they’re necessary, say if you need to dislodge tough debris in a tight space. A leaf blower’s lower speeds can handle plenty of tasks while minimizing noise and vibration. If you’ll be using your leaf blower in or around plants or mulch, the gentler low speeds protect your plants and stop mulch from scattering.
Leaf blowers are friend and foe alike. Some communities have banned them outright to reduce air and noise pollution in their neighborhoods. Be sure to check local ordinances for any restrictions on usage, noise or emissions levels before you purchase your leaf blower. Noise is measured in decibels (dB), and noise-level caps are often set at 65 or 69 dB, but even if there’s no cap where you live, look for leaf blower with a low decibel level to protect your own ears during use. Some leaf blowers run loud enough to damage hearing, so always wear ear protection when using one.
You’ll keep your neighbors and the planet happiest by sticking with a quieter, cleaner electric leaf blower. If you must have a gas leaf blower, look for models with 4-cycle or hybrid engines versus standard 2-cycle engines to reduce both emissions and noise. You may also consider ignoring the noise ratings and checking the actual sound of different models in case it’s not volume, but a high keening that will grate on next-door’s nerves.