Leaf blowers are a great yard tool year-round
Leaf blowers are versatile tools that go well beyond just sweeping up leaves. With the right machine, you can clean spider webs off the house, tidy up around landscaping, clear grass clippings off the driveway, and even blow away light snow. Some can even blast leaves and vegetation that are wet and heavy; and some will vacuum up and finely mulch your yard debris.
There are four main categories of leaf blowers: corded electric, battery-operated electric, gas-powered and backpack styles. Gas-powered models tend to be more powerful, but they also are noisier and involve the hassle of fueling up. Many find electric models more convenient to operate, if you don't mind dealing with a cord or limiting your use to the run time of the battery before it needs to be recharged. Backpack-style leaf blowers are often used by professional landscapers or those with large yards because they cut down on the fatigue of carrying a piece of landscaping equipment for long periods.
Leaf blowers depend on airflow to move leaves and other debris. Manufacturers measure airflow using miles per hour (mph) or cubic feet per minute (cfm). The airflow of the models in our report range from just over 100 mph to more than 230 mph, and from less than 100 cfm to nearly 500 cfm. Keep in mind, however, that higher airflow doesn't necessarily mean more power. After testing eight leaf blowers, Popular Mechanics reports that the manufacturer rating "for airspeed and volume is an unreliable gauge of effectiveness -- some of the least air-worthy were the most trustworthy." For this reason, it's essential to consider reliable reviews before making a purchase.
Handling is also a major factor to consider with grass blowers. Some handheld models weigh less than 10 pounds -- but even that can start to feel heavy over time. If you have a large property or plan to use the blower frequently, it's wise to look for one with ergonomic controls and a comfortable-grip handle. Backpack models should have padded straps and be designed to distribute weight evenly over your shoulders. Some blowers have a "cruise control" feature that locks in the speed, eliminating the need to keep a constant hold on the trigger.
Some leaf blowers include a conversion kit that enables the model to vacuum, finely mulch and collect debris in a bag. A built-in impeller minces leaves and other detritus into smaller bits, which are then compressed for easy composting or disposal. For most blowers, the ability to suck up leaves is a secondary function, so performance rarely matches their sweeping and loosening abilities. Owners often use the vacuum feature for decks when they don't want to send pet hair and debris flying into the yard.
Be respectful of your neighbors. Using leaf blowers has become a point of contention in some areas due to their excessive noise. The quietest leaf blowers measure less than 65 decibels when 50 feet away, which is a good level to keep the neighbors happy, but some measure more than 70. You'll probably avoid complaints if you don't fire up your leaf blower too early in the morning or late at night. And, for your own protection, experts say you should never operate a leaf blower without adequate ear and eye protection.
Leaf blowers vary greatly in price, with electric corded models ranging from less than $50 to over $100. Cordless models also start at under $100, but can go as high as $300, and gas-powered handheld models start at about $150 and go up to $300 or more. The quality of the engine or battery and other parts, as well as the number and type of features, will affect the price. Most leaf blowers have a two-year warranty, although some go as long as five or seven years for consumer use.
In April 2014, Troy-Bilt and Remington recalled leaf-blower models because they posed a laceration hazard; owners are advised to stop using these products immediately and call the manufacturer for a replacement. There are a few earlier recalls also listed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, involving products made by Expert Gardener, Homelite and others.
Of course, to make the best use of a leaf blower, you need to have leaves, grass clippings or other yard debris to sweep. If you're in the market for additional lawn and garden tools, check out our reports on lawn mowers, lawn tractors, string trimmers and hedge trimmers.
To find the best leaf blowers, we analyzed side-by-side tests from experts such as those at ConsumerReports.org, Popular Mechanics and This Old House. These professional evaluations are an accurate way to compare performance and handling on an even playing field. To better understand durability and real-world function, we analyzed thousands of owner reviews from retail websites such as HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and Amazon.com. Finally, we looked at review sites such as LeafBlowerDirect.com and 10rate.com, which also weigh in with reviews and recommendations.