Best Leaf Blowers and Tips for Fall Leaf Removal

3 time-saving strategies from CR's experts that will make fall yard cleanup easier

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It’s time to break out the rake and leaf blower. But while the rest of the country is working to get rid of fallen leaves, Consumer Reports is doing just the opposite.

"We use so many leaves for our leaf blower tests, we often start collecting and saving them a year ahead of a test," says Dave Trezza, CR's test engineer who heads up our testing of leaf blowers. Putting the newest leaf blowers through their paces requires 2,500 pounds of fallen foliage some seasons.

Clearing and collecting that volume of leaves has given our experts more than a few insights on winning strategies for leaf removal. Here are some leaf removal tips from Trezza and his team of experts, as well as the short list of best leaf blowers from CR's tests.

Shred the Leaves

In cooler parts of the country, homeowners are already putting away their gas mowers and winterizing them so they'll start next year. As part of that prep, we recommend that you empty gas from the tank. You can do that and give your lawn nourishment at the same time by mowing fallen leaves as you run the tank dry: The mower chops the leaves into bits that serve as nutrient-rich compost for your lawn. Even if you prefer to bag your leaves, you'll fit more per bag if they're shreded.

There are limitations to this strategy. If the leaves are piled too high or are wet, even the most powerful walk-behind mower can stall out. So if you hear the engine start to strain, try switching from bagging or mulching mode to side discharge, or just slow down and cock the front end of the machine to let in more air and give the blade less bulk to process at a time.

When you’re finished and ready to store your mower for the season, be sure to have the blade sharpened. Trust us, it’ll need it.

Look High and Low

Mulched leaves also make for good bedding around shrubs, but you’ll want to use your leaf blower to clear whole leaves from beneath them first. If your blower can vacuum as well as blow, you can fill the blower’s bag or, if you want to feed your lawn this way, leave the bag off. (Wear eye protection and a dust mask.) A few blowers also come with a gutter attachment, a long tube that curves around at the end, for clearing leaves from gutters. You can also use this tool to blow leaves out from beneath bushes or even a low deck.

Lay Out a Tarp

If you need to move your leaf pile from one place to another, say, from one shade tree to the next, use a large (a 9 x 12-foot) polyethylene tarp. An old shower curtain will work in a pinch. Spread it out flat and rake the leaves directly on it, blow them on with a leaf blower, or use a mower in side-discharge mode. It'll be easier to haul if you thread a rope through the grommets and knot the ends.

How We Test Leaf Blowers

CR's test engineers rope off a standardized swath of grass and dump bag upon bag of leaves inside the boundary. Backpack blowers and wheeled blowers get a larger area with more leaves since both are designed for larger yards and professional landscaping crews. They time how long it takes to clear the area completely, then use that data to derive a score for sweeping, akin to the experience you'd expect if you're the type to tackle leaves as they fall.

But not everyone is so diligent, so we devised a test for the conditions you may experience if you tend to let leaves lie. We call it "loosening," and to score leaf blowers in this test we first embed leaves in tall grass, then time how long it takes to clear them and roughly many are left behind.

Our experts also assign each model a score for ease of use and handling, which together capture the experience of carting the tool around, getting it started, and adjusting its settings.

Finally, we measure noise, both at the operator's ear—which determines which models need hearing protection—and at 50 feet, which determines how early you can feel comfortable firing up the blower without annoying your neighbors.

Read on for the top picks in each category of our leaf blower ratings.

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