Leaves are beautiful, aren’t they? They look lovely on the trees in the summer, charming when changing color in the fall.
Then a total nightmare covering your yard, roof, and driveway.
Rotting away, smothering the grass, allowing mold to form, harboring disease, blocking the guttering, damaging roof tiles…not so lovely now, are they?
And if hours of raking isn’t your idea of fun, you’re going to want to find an alternative.
In this article, we explore the different types of leaf blowers available, so you can choose the right one for your needs.
Prepare to be blown away!
- Leaf Blower Buying Guide – The Short Version
- What is a Leaf Blower?
- Leaf Blower Types
- How to Choose a Leaf Blower
- How to Use a Leaf Blower
- Leaf Blower Problems and Controversies
- Leaf Blower Alternatives
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Leaf Blower Buying Guide – The Short Version
To keep things snappy, here are the main leaf blower types we’ll be looking at in more detail later on:
- Corded electric leaf blowers.
- Battery-powered leaf blowers.
- Gas-powered leaf blowers.
- Backpack leaf blowers.
- Walk-behind leaf blowers.
Stay with us as we examine the pros and cons of each, as well as their environmental impact, practical alternatives, and a brief buyer’s guide to help you when you’re shopping.
What is a Leaf Blower?
It might seem like a basic question, but do you know what a leaf blower is capable of? Some alternative leaf blower uses? How about a spot of leaf blower history?
Read on to find out.
Leaf blowers are a tool that expels a blast of air from a nozzle, commonly used to clear leaves (as their name suggests) from somewhere they’re not wanted.
Self-contained units with a choice of power sources were invented by Japanese company Kyoritsu Noki in 1977, but they have origins as far back as 1947 when a backpack fogger was created.
You might be more familiar with the name Echo – which the company changed to in 1978.
Although they manufactured the first leaf blowers, it is arguably the Sthil and Husqvarna models that dominate the market today – even if they based their products heavily on Echo’s pioneering machines.
This article on the German vs Swedish leaf blowers will tell you more.
And aside from shifting leaves, there are several other uses for leaf blowers that can make them a practical and useful addition to your power tool arsenal (depending on the type of blower, of course).
- Clearing debris.
- Clearing puddles/standing water.
- Drying surfaces.
- Snow blowing.
- Clearing gutters and pipes.
- Fire fighting.
That’s just a small selection of other jobs the leaf blower can be effective at. Let me know in the comments if you use one for anything else.
Leaf Blower Types
Below, you’ll find a breakdown of all the types of leaf blower you’ll find commercially available today, with a brief buyer’s guide to follow, to help you choose the right one.
Handheld Corded Electric
By far the most common type of leaf blower – is the handheld corded electric. There’s a strong chance that if you don’t already own one, you know someone who does – and probably borrow it from time to time.
One of their main advantages of corded blowers is that they’re relatively inexpensive, and there are some heavy-duty products out there that are capable of quite a bit of power – in some cases even more than gas models.
Of course, their obvious downside is you need to be in reasonable proximity to an electrical outlet, and that could involve several extra feet of extension cords if you need to shift leaves further away.
But they also rank among the lightest of leaf blower options, which makes them a solid choice for elderly or infirm users, or anyone who might struggle to operate a blower for tackling larger jobs.
Handheld Battery Powered
Offering a similar power output to corded models, battery-powered leaf blowers have the distinct advantage of being highly portable, and free to roam anywhere on your property – or anyone else’s property, for that matter.
However, as much as this is an impressive advantage, there are a few caveats. Obviously, you have a limited run-time, which is usually around 30-minutes on most decent blowers at full power.
After that, you either need to wait until the battery is charged, or have a stack of backup power packs ready to go – which can make things pricey.
Battery-powered leaf blowers are often heavier than corded models, too, so you should be aware of this when operating the machine for extended periods of time.
Handheld Gas Powered
Of the three handheld leaf blower options, gas is by far the most powerful (all things being equal).
But they’re also the loudest (and I mean loud), as well as spluttering out the highest level of emissions, which doesn’t make for a happy Mother Nature. (Or, for the user’s health – for that matter.)
Available in two-cycle and four-cycle variants (more on this, below), gas powered leaf blowers are also the heaviest of all the handheld options, and you need to be physically fit in order to lug one around.
The addition of a support strap or harness is also highly recommended, as even the strongest user will get tired swinging one of these things across a large lawn.
This article on the best gas-powered leaf blowers is a good place to start if this is the type you’re looking for, and this general piece on the best handheld leaf blowers will have a selection of gas, corded, and battery models to choose from.
Now we move onto the seriously heavy-duty leaf blowers, which, technically, could also fall into the gas-powered category, above.
Having said that, there are battery-powered backpack blowers available – but they don’t come cheap.
Backpack blowers are designed to offer extreme power and portability, and come into their own for clearing larger yards and gardens, or for shifting stubborn, soaking wet leaves.
Of all the types of leaf blowers that are commercially available, backpack blowers generally offer the highest wind speeds, and some can reach over 250 MPH.
Commonly used on commercial properties, this article on the best backpack blowers is for anyone who has a lot of ground to cover, and needs the convenience of having a portable hurricane on their back.
You might think that walk-behind leaf blowers offer the most powerful wind speeds of all the options on the market – but this isn’t necessarily the case.
What they do offer, however, is the highest volume of air – which means you can shift larger piles of leaves at a much faster rate.
Walk-behind blowers are ideal if you have both a large area to maintain, and a very high volume of leaf debris to manage every year.
And, as the only leaf-blower you don’t have to carry, they can be very beneficial for anyone who isn’t getting any younger, and can’t lift or operate what they once could.
Let the earth take the weight, instead.
Check them out at this article on the best walk-behind leaf blowers, although bear in mind they’re really only suitable for clearing very large areas, and they are by far the most expensive type – for a good one, at least.
How to Choose a Leaf Blower
With all these options available, you might have a bit of a headache when it comes to selecting the right one.
But it’s actually not as complicated as you think, and you can check out this short, bite-sized guide with some top-tips on what you should be looking out for.
Gas vs electric – Your first decision should be regarding the power source. Gas is more powerful but pollutes, corded electric is cheaper but with limited range, battery has range but a shorter run time.
This article on gas vs electric leaf blowers offers a more in-depth look at an argument that will likely never be settled.
Backpack vs handheld – When it comes to the backpack vs handheld leaf blower debate, it’s really down to the size of the property you have to cover. That link will tell you all you need to know.
Run time (battery) – If you’re choosing a battery-powered model, be sure to check the run time on a single charge, as well as how long it takes to charge back up. Additional battery cost is also another consideration.
Two/Four Stroke (gas) – If choosing gas, you should consider between two-cycle or four-cycle engines.
In a nutshell – a two-cycle is lighter and more powerful, but requires a mix of oil and gas to run and has higher emissions. A four-stroke is far more fuel-efficient, much quieter, and will last longer.
CFM vs MPH – When looking at a leaf blower’s specifications, you might see these two numbers.
CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Meter – and refers to the volume of air a leaf blower is capable of expelling. MPH is the wind speed in Miles Per Hour that will exit the nozzle at full power.
A higher CFM means you’ll be able to move more material, and a higher MPH means you’ll be able to move more stubborn debris.
Noise levels – Please, think of others, and consider the noise level of the leaf blower you’re interested in. To be honest, gas-powered leaf blowers shouldn’t be anywhere near a residential environment at all.
Controls and comfort – Look for leaf blowers with intuitive, easy-to-use controls. Is it comfortable to carry? What does it do to dampen vibrations? How steep is the learning curve?
Mulcher/vacuum – Some leaf blowers are capable of mulching and/or bagging leaves with a vacuum. In other words, they suck as well as blow. This article on leaf blowers vs vacuums should tell you more.
Attachments – Some leaf blowers will give you a crazy amount of attachments for sending air into gutters, downpipes, and in other hard-to-reach areas. It’s up to you to decide what’s superfluous or not.
Cost – Backpack and walk-behind leaf blowers especially aren’t cheap – so your budget should always be part of the equation. Corded electric models are the best choice if you’re watching the pennies.
How to Use a Leaf Blower
Take a look at the video below for some expert advice on how to get the best out of your leaf blower – all while keeping the neighbors happy.
Leaf Blower Problems and Controversies
While they might seem like the answer to all our autumnal problems – for shifting leaves, at least – leaf blowers are not without their well-documented problems.
Most notably – the noise levels.
The deafening roar that some of these machines can make (that’s what it takes to achieve a mini-hurricane in your hands) has led to a number of bans and restrictions worldwide.
Studies have indicated that, on average, leaf blowers can reach around 89 decibels. In layman’s terms – that’s VERY loud, and can seriously damage your hearing with prolonged use and no ear protection.
Environmentally speaking, gas emissions from leaf blowers are a heavy source of air pollution, and again, prolonged use and exposure have resulted in reported health risks.
A study conducted in 2011 discovered that the number of pollutants emitted by a gas-powered leaf blower over a 30-minute run time was the same as those given off by a Ford F-150 driving from Texas to Alaska.
Which might well make you think twice about using one in the first place.
Leaf Blower Alternatives
With the future of residential leaf blowers uncertain, it might be a good time to look at alternatives and to go back to the good, old-fashioned rake.
At the moment, I use my small, battery-powered leaf blower for cleaning grass clippings from sidewalks, but the heavy-duty rakes come out for one day a year, after the final big leaf dump in late October/early November.
This article on rakes vs leaf blowers might surprise you, and if you’ve got a small to medium-sized property, a leaf blower might be overkill.
Alternatively, you could try a push-behind lawn sweeper.
You might also decide to leave the leaves – as they can provide excellent nutrients and other benefits to your garden.
A thin layer of leaves over your grass can protect it from the winter freeze, which can be great for revitalizing your lawn in the spring.
Finally, one perfect solution is to pay the kids, grandkids, or a local teen saving for college to do it for you.
Delegation – the key to becoming a successful human being!
What kind of leaf blower should I get?
It depends on what you’re using it for. A good place to start is to take the size of your property, and the volume of leaves you need to shift into consideration.
Are you in a residential area, or are you alone out in the sticks?
What are you comfortable carrying and operating?
Read the buyer’s guide above, which will point you in the right direction.
What is the most popular leaf blower?
Impossible to say, but look for Echo, Sthil, Husqvarna, Red Max, and Dewalt models if you need the heavy-duty stuff.
WORX, Ryboi, Craftsman, and Troy-Bilt are commonly more affordable, and more suitable for small to medium-sized properties.
However, that’s not set in stone – and just a general guide to what’s available.
There are many different types of leaf blowers to choose from, (and leaf-clearing methods) and it’s important you take the time to find out which option is right for you.
And for your yard.
And for your neighbors!
Let me know your leaf-blowing experience in the comments. What’s the best solution for you? Which leaf blower would you go for, and why?
Stay safe out there!