Leaf blowers are a versatile yard tool
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 will also vacuum up and finely mulch your yard debris.
There are five main categories of leaf blowers. Electric leaf blowers can be either corded or cordless (battery operated), while gas leaf blowers can be handheld, backpack style or walk-behind (wheeled). 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. Wheeled walk-behind leaf blowers are the most powerful type (at least in terms of the amount of air they can move per minute) but are most suitable for commercial use or very large properties.
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 as much as 1,000 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 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. A walk-behind blower should have large rear wheels and a swiveling front wheel so that it is easy to handle in tight spots or over rougher terrain. The ability to change the direction toward which it sends debris improves a wheeled blower's versatility, too.
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 (dB) at the tool, which translates to sound levels that are low enough at 50 feet away to keep neighbors happy. However, some, measure more than 100 dB, and can still be annoying even at some distance away. Even with a relatively quiet model, you'll probably avoid complaints if you don't fire up your leaf blower too early in the morning or late at night, and some areas have ordinances that will earn you a fine if you do. For your own protection, experts recommend ear protection when using most models. Eye protection against flying debris is a must with all blowers.
Leaf blowers vary greatly in price. 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. Gas-powered handheld models start at about $130 and go up to $300 or more, backpack models range from less than $200 to more than $500. Walk-behind blowers start at around $400 and can run into the thousands of dollars for the largest commercial models. 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.
Watch for recalls. In April 2014, Homelite recalled some electric leaf blower vacuums because they posed a fire and burn hazard. In April 2014, Troy-Bilt and Remington recalled leaf-blower models because they posed a laceration hazard. You can find more information about these and other recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission website (search for leaf blowers).
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.
Finding the best leaf blowers
To find the best leaf blowers, we analyzed side-by-side tests from experts such as those at ConsumerReports.org, Popular Mechanics and TheSweetHome.com. 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. Based on this research, we evaluated performance, ease-of-use and features to find the best electric and gas leaf blowers, along with some worthwhile alternatives to consider.