Is a Gas Model for You?
Each of the three types of leaf blowers has pros and cons:
Corded electric models are inexpensive and work well, but the cord is a hassle and limits you to 100 ft. from the outlet. Still, if you have a small yard and don't use a blower often, you can't beat the low cost and zero maintenance of an electric unit.
Cordless models are by far the most convenient choice because you never have to deal with extension cords or gasoline. Some are powerful enough to move lots of leaves from a small yard, but the battery's run-time may not be long enough for a large yard.
Gas models aren't limited by run-time or cord length. They can run all day as long as you refill the tank. Plus, they're available in more styles and power ranges. Next to corded blowers, gas-powered machines have the lowest overall cost. That's why we chose them for this story.
How Long Will it Last?
With a little care, you can expect to get about 1,000 hours of use before your gas blower needs repairs. For a typical homeowner, that's about 10 years. The key to years of trouble-free operation is to always use a fresh gas/two-cycle oil mixture and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for changing the air filter and replacing the spark plug.
Choose the Style to Fit Your Yard
Handheld units for urban and suburban yards
Handheld blowers are the most economical and work best for most average urban and suburban lots. Most weigh about 9 lbs. Handheld blowers are the easiest to set up, use and store.
Combination blower/vacuum for mulching
A blower/vacuum can blow leaves into a pile and then shred and pack them into a shoulder bag. The reduction ratio is the number of bags of dry leaves per bag of compacted leaves. The ratios vary from 10:1 to 16:1. Some of the handheld blowers can be converted into blower/vacuum models with a conversion kit.
Backpacks for large lots
Backpacks are a better choice for herding leaves on large, heavily treed lots, or if you simply can't handle the weight of a handheld unit for long cleanups. All backpacks come with a right-hand blower tube. If you're a lefty and can't operate the throttle with your right hand, choose either the hip-mounted design or a unit with 'cruise control.'
CFM and MPH Ratings
Air velocity (measured in miles per hour) is what gets leaves moving. Air volume (measured in cubic feet per minute) keeps the leaf piles moving over a large area. In general, blowers with higher cfm and mph ratings perform better than units with lower numbers, but not always. A well-designed blow tube can more than make up for the difference in specs. The Echo PB-255LN, for example, has the lowest cfm-to-mph ratio of all the machines, yet it outperformed other handheld units with higher air movement ratings.
Manufacturers list engine size in cubic centimeters (cc). More cc usually means more power, but the cfm and mph ratings are better guides to overall performance.
Vibration Reduction. Vibration increases fatigue and causes hand and finger numbness and tingling. The better units mount the engine on springs and add vibration-dampening to the handle and extra padding to the backpack. Look for those anti-vibration components.
Rotational Control. The spinning impeller and air speed create a 'gyro' effect that rotates the machine off center, so you have to constantly steer it back. That leads to arm fatigue. The better machines cancel out the gyro effect and refer to this feature as 'rotational control.'
Quick Storage. Some models have a quick-disconnect tube so you can store the unit in less space. On backpack models, look for a tie-down strap to secure the blow tube to the frame.
Warranty. Echo, Ryobi and Hitachi offer a longer manufacturer warranty right out of the box. But Stihl and Husqvarna extend the warranty if you buy and use their two-cycle oil or canned premixed gas.
Shop locally and check online reviews
Check out several brands at different small-engine repair shops/dealers and home centers. If they have demo models, fire up a few and compare the feel and comfort. Narrow your choices and then check online customer reviews to spot consistent negative comments.
Read the store's return policy
Many local and online stores allow you to return an unused leaf blower. But some won't allow returns once you've added fuel.
Buying online is a commitment
Buying online might save money, but only if you're happy with the purchase. If you change your mind and want to return the blower, prepare to dig deep because return shipping can be expensive depending on the model.
Know your local ordinances
Many homeowners' associations and city ordinances limit leaf blower use to certain times and decibel levels. Check local regulations before you buy a gas, corded or cordless blower.
Buy for your dominant hand
All handhelds can be used with either hand, but the air intake tends to suck your pants into the screen. To avoid that problem, choose a model with the intake located opposite your dominant hand.
Blower/Vacuum Operating Tips
- Twigs, garden mulch and landscape rocks can damage the impeller, so scout your yard and remove those objects before using the vacuum feature.
- Wear a dust respirator when shredding dry leaves and emptying the shoulder bag?shredding kicks up a lot of dust.
Avoid Start-Up Problems
If you buy just enough gas to last for a month and mix it with fuel stabilizer and two-cycle oil, a gas blower will start up just fine. Or, you can eliminate the stale gas problem entirely by buying premixed canned non-ethanol fuel (doing this extends the factory warranty on some brands).
Leaf Blower Safety Tips
- Wear leather gloves to decrease vibration-induced hand and finger numbness and tingling.
- Wear hearing protection. Newer leaf blowers are usually rated below 75 decibels, but that's based on the noise level 50 ft. away from the machine. The noise level right at the machine can easily approach 100 decibels — high enough to cause permanent hearing loss.
- Wear eye protection. Leaf blowers kick up dust, dirt and rocks.
- Let the machine cool for 15 minutes before refueling. Heat from a hot engine can ignite gas vapors as you fill the tank.
STIHL BG 86
9.7 lbs. ? 459 cfm ? 154 mph ? Right-side intake, left-side starter pull ? 2-year warranty
The BG 86 shares our Best Overall award with the Echo below. This model costs a bit more and has a shorter warranty, but it's a standout for power, vibration reduction and comfort. The primer bulb is designed to prevent flooding if you press it too many times. The washable air filter eliminates the cost of replacement filters.
STIHL BG 56 C-E
9.3 lbs. ? 418 cfm ? 134 mph ? Right-side intake, left-side starter pull ? 2-year warranty
This is the lightest blower of the bunch, but it's powerful enough to do the job. It also has an innovative starter mechanism and a semiautomatic choke. Instead of a powerful jerking motion to get it going, it starts up with just one long, easy pull.
10.2 lbs. ? 354 cfm ? 191 mph ? Left-side intake, right-side starter pull ? 5-year warranty
Like its cowinner of our Best Overall award, this machine is a top performer. Despite its lower cfm and mph specs, it outperformed other models with higher air ratings. Plus, it incorporates a very effective rotational control design that keeps it pointed where you want it. The three-position handle is comfortable. Echo backs it up with an excellent warranty.
12.2 lbs. ? 430 cfm ? 200 mph ? Left-side intake, rear starter pull ? 2-year warranty
This Troy-Bilt model is the heaviest of all the handhelds, but it's priced right and powerful enough to handle most yards.
Handheld Models Continued
TROY-BILT TB2MB Jet
11.58 lbs. ? 650 cfm ? 130 mph ? Front intake, rear starter pull ? 2-year warranty
The entirely new design features a front-mounted impeller that sucks in air from the front to eliminate the gyro effect. It has a very high cfm rating, but we think a higher mph rating would make it a more effective blower.
8.6 lbs. ? 441 cfm ? 170 mph ? Left-side intake, right-side starter pull ? 7-year warranty
The Hitachi is an economical no-frills unit with the best warranty in the group. It's powerful and lightweight, but you'll feel the vibration, so wear leather gloves when using it.
9.4 lbs. ? 425 cfm ? 170 mph ? Left-side intake, left-side starter pull ? 2-year warranty
This powerful machine earned our Best Buy award. It has very good rotational control and Husqvarna paid attention to the details with intuitive controls, even down to the Off switch that resets itself to the On position so it starts back up as soon as you pull the cord. The blow tube length is adjustable so you can set it for comfort. This Husqvarna is a new model and may not be available at all stores.
ECHO ES-250 Shred 'N' Vac
10 lbs. ? 391 cfm ? 165 mph ? Left-side intake, right-side starter pull ? 5-year warranty
This model earned our Best Overall award. It delivers great performance with very good vibration and gyro control. This blower/vac is the easiest to convert to vacuum mode and has a 12:1 reduction ratio. Best warranty of all the blower/vacs.
9.5 lbs. ? 400 cfm ? 150 mph ? Left-side intake, rear starter pull ? 3-year warranty
This model is our Best Value winner. This powerful blower with good vibration and rotational control, works well in vacuum mode, but switching to vacuum mode requires a star bit wrench and a flat-blade screwdriver (the Echo blower/vac switch-over doesn't require any tools). The reduction ratio is 12:1.
13 lbs. ? 450 cfm ? 150 mph ? Right-side intake, left-side starter pull ? 2-year warranty
Good power, but a bit heavy and has some rotational force. The spring assist makes starting easier. Sears offers an optional electric starter and a special bit that allows you to spin the engine with your drill. The reduction ratio is 10:1. Converting to vacuum mode requires a screwdriver.
12.6 lbs. ? 450 cfm ? 205 mph ? Right-side intake, left-side starter pull ? 2-year warranty
Good power, but slightly heavier than others. The blower includes a reduced-effort starting mechanism. The handle has a 'cruise control' throttle lock so you don't have to keep your finger on the trigger. The vacuum/mulching feature reduces 16 bags of dry leaves to one bag.
13.5 lbs. ? 445 cfm ? 145 mph ? 2-year warranty
Lightest backpack that's powerful enough to do the job. Unique mesh back panel to eliminate vibration on your middle back. We'd like to see a bit more padding at the top and bottom, though.
25.4 lbs. ? 642 cfm ? 186 mph ? 2-year warranty
Pricey, but it's the cream of the crop and the winner of our Best Overall award. Powerful, comfortable, extendable blow tube. An excellent machine.
24.7 lbs. ? 651 cfm ? 233 mph ? 5-year warranty
A solid, powerful, comfortable machine that gets the job done. Best warranty of all the backpacks.
18 lbs. ? 510 cfm ? 185 mph ? 3-year warranty
This model earned our Best Value award. Easy to start, comfortable and economical. It's powerful enough for larger yards.
23.2 lbs. ? 631 cfm ? 232 mph ? 2-year warranty
Very powerful and lots of back padding. It's a great alternative to the Stihl if you want to save some money.