Choosing a Leaf Blower
When autumn leaves or storm debris litter the yard, a cheap leaf blower can save hours of raking and loads of back-breaking effort. Its powerful air stream can also come in handy for other purposes, such as clearing gutters or cleaning a dusty shed. We dug through thousands of consumer and expert reviews to unearth leaf blowers under $150 with an elusive combination of value, performance, ease of use, and durability. Among our picks are gas and electric leaf blowers, including cordless models. For consumers who prefer a backpack leaf blower, which raises the price, we found a relatively cheap one that may increase mobility and save users from sore arms in the long run.
Leaf Blower BrandsSeveral familiar names dominate the leaf blower market. They include Toro, Black & Decker, Craftsman, Husqvarna, Troy-Bilt, and Stihl. We also researched manufacturers including Weed Eater, Echo, Worx, and Home Depot-exclusive Homelite. Japanese brand Hitachi is more widely known for audiovisual products but also offers a line of home tools, including a few leaf blowers. While most companies make both gas and electric models at a variety of price points, some specialize. For instance, Black & Decker makes only electric models.
Pricey vs. Cheap Leaf BlowersLow-cost leaf blowers usually are best suited to light-duty tasks such as clearing driveways and sidewalks of leaves. More expensive models often have more power for tackling big yards with lots of trees and tough jobs like moving heavy, wet debris. Higher-end gas blowers may feature backpack straps to make them more comfortable to carry during long sessions. Consumers can even spend more than $300 for a professional-grade walk-behind leaf blower, but that kind of power isn't necessary unless the yard is so large or leaf-covered that carrying a handheld blower would become uncomfortable. Most people can render a driveway, a deck, a small yard, and even gutters leafless with an electric leaf blower under $100 or a gas leaf blower under $150.
Gas Leaf BlowersGas blowers are the go-to for many homeowners because they generally have more powerful engines than their electric counterparts. Users aren't tethered to a power cord or reliant on a battery that may provide only 20 minutes of run time when the task calls for 40.
Electric Leaf BlowersElectric leaf blowers usually are lighter and less noisy than gas blowers. They require less maintenance, and there's no fussing with fuel tanks or the perfect mixture of gas and oil. Some cheap electric models even vacuum and mulch and come with a bag for leaves and other debris.
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Leaf Blower Reviews: What We Considered
In researching and comparing leaf blowers, we went beyond the specs and dove into online reviews of each machine from expert sources such as Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, and Popular Mechanics, all of which conduct product testing, as well as current or past owners posting firsthand accounts of their experiences with cheap leaf blowers.
Most leaf blower reviews and recommendations from consumers appear on the websites of large retailers including Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart. Reviews most frequently address power, as well as ease of use and durability. Most indicate that users are satisfied with our top picks despite duly noted operational and design flaws.
Power and PerformanceManufacturers cite a few different specifications as indicators of a leaf blower's power. These include the size of the gas engine or electric motor, of course, but also the velocity and volume of air the machine expels, measured in miles per hour and cubic feet per minute, respectively. In general, the higher the numbers, the better. However, air speed and volume don't always directly translate to effectiveness, according to testing by Popular Mechanics, and there are other factors, such as tube and nozzle design, that play into "real world" efficiency.
Speed ControlSome budget leaf blowers operate at a single speed. Our other top picks feature multiple speed settings or a variable throttle. The advantage is greater control over how fast the air shoots out of the nozzle. Certain speeds are better for certain jobs: lower for working around delicate plants or landscaping, for example, and higher for moving heavier debris such as large twigs, stones, wet leaves, and piles of mulch.
Vacuuming/MulchingMany leaf blowers, including three of the electric models we researched, are three-in-one machines that vacuum and mulch in addition to blowing leaves. In vacuum/mulch mode, the debris is suctioned through a fan-like impeller and collected in a bag with a shoulder strap, or pushed out through a hose leading to a collection bin. The shredded organic material can be used as natural mulch around the yard. Most blower vacs come with additional components, such as a dedicated vacuum tube with a large, round opening better suited to the task than a flatter nozzle designed for blowing alone. Vacuuming/mulching capability is comparatively rare among inexpensive gas leaf blowers, and we found no widely available gas blowers with those capabilities worth recommending in this guide.
Cheap blower vacs generally feature a mulching ratio of at least 10:1, which means a pass through the impeller reduces 10 bushels of leaves to one bushel of mulch. Vacuum bags tend to hold up to 1.5 bushels, and the higher the mulching ratio, the less often the bag must be emptied. It's important to note, however, that leaf blower reviews routinely express skepticism at these statistics based on the amount of mulch they see the machines actually churn out.
Noise LevelLeaf blowers are often loud enough to affect the operator's hearing and offend neighbors. Most communities with noise ordinances set a limit of 70 decibels. (The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse maintains a library of related laws.) Noise level is typically measured from 50 feet away. Most of the blowers we researched come in under 68 decibels — less strident than the sound of a home vacuum cleaner. Keep in mind that, regardless of how a blower sounds 50 feet away, it's much louder to the person operating it. Bottom line: Always keep ear protection handy.
Ease of UseThe primary goal of using a leaf blower instead of a rake is to make wrangling leaves less physically demanding. That makes electric leaf blowers an appealing choice for many consumers, given that they start with the simple flick of a switch and are generally lighter than their gas counterparts, even before factoring in the weight of a full fuel tank. For properties filled with bushes, trees, furniture, and ornamental doodads, reviewers appreciate and generally prefer the power of a gas engine, along with the freedom to roam widely. Although gas-powered machines require more upkeep, consumers rarely complain about these demands in reviews. One thing to consider is the strain a handheld unit can put on the arm during long periods of use. Buyers with very large yards may want to consider a relatively inexpensive backpack leaf blower instead.
DurabilityMany reviews refer to recently purchased leaf blowers, so it's hard to know whether they will endure long term. Some reviewers consider the build quality of newer blowers slightly inferior to older models, and some just seem to have picked up a lemon. One problem that plagues some gas leaf blowers is that fuel lines can disintegrate, sometimes within the first year of use. Many reviewers attribute this to the presence of ethanol in the gasoline. The fuel lines can be replaced, and numerous reviewers say this is no big deal, but users in the know — including some tipped off by repair technicians — advise sticking with ethanol-free gasoline. (TruFuel is a brand of premixed fuel and oil that contains no ethanol.)
The Achilles' heel of leaf blowers that double as vacuums and mulchers seems to be the bag. At least some reviews of all the combo models we researched gripe about one bag-related problem or another: It frays, develops holes, pops off the housing, is too small, is not well-positioned. Another potential weakness is the impeller, the fan-like part inside the leaf blower that creates the blowing or vacuuming effect and shreds vacuumed debris into mulch. The serrated blades may pit or break when objects such as small rocks get sucked into the mechanism, throwing the machine off-kilter. Buyers tempted by less costly units with plastic impellers should consider paying a bit extra for one with a metal component.