When it comes to fall leaf removal, there's the hard way and the smart way.

Best Leaf Blowers and Tips for Fall Leaf Removal

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

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.

Top Leaf Blowers From CR's Tests

Corded Handheld
Toro UltraPlus 51621

Price: $90
Overall Score: 82
Rank: #1 of 15
CR's Take: If you have a small yard and access to an outdoor outlet, consider this plug-in electric. It offers top-notch sweeping, excels at loosening embedded leaves in grass, and has a powerful vacuum—perfect for sucking up stray leaves from flower beds and churning them into fine mulch. It’s also exceptionally quiet at a distance of 50 feet, which your neighbors will appreciate. That said, it's still noisy enough that you’ll need hearing protection.

Battery Handheld
EGO LB5302
Price: $200
Overall Score: 80
Rank: #1 of 14
CR's Take: Battery-powered blowers blend the convenience of instant starting and the freedom of untethered portability. This blower from EGO is powerful enough to loosen embedded foliage and sweep leaves into large piles. It's also among the quietest models in our ratings. Like all battery-powered tools, its runtime is limited by battery life, but the blower accepts any EGO battery, including the larger 5.0 or 7.5 amp hour batteries that come with the company's lawn mowers or snow blowers.

Gas Handheld
Husqvarna 125B
Price: $150
Overall Score: 80
Rank: #1 (Tied) of 20
CR's Take: For a yard too large to tackle with a corded or battery-powered blower, this gas-powered handheld proves both potent and refined. It makes quick work of piles or deeply embedded leaves, earning a perfect score in each of those key tests, and it's relatively light at 9.4 pounds, making it easy to tote. Like most gas models, it's loud enough that you'll need to wear hearing protection. Still, it's among the quietest models at 50 feet, so you don't have to worry about getting an early-morning start on yard cleanup, even when you work close to your property line.

Battery Backpack
EGO LB6002
Price: $300
Overall Score: 88
Rank: #1 (Only model tested)
CR’s Take: The EGO is everything a backpack blower should be. It’s powerful, and able to free stuck leaves from high grass and corral them into neat piles. But it’s also quiet—so quiet, in fact, that it’s the only backpack blower in our ratings that doesn’t require hearing protection for the user. That makes sense given that all the other backpack models have large, gasoline engines. In a larger yard you can also lock in a precise blowing speed, which eliminates the need to keep the trigger pressed while you work. Our experts got 20 to 30 minutes per charge from the included 5.0 amp hour battery, which takes about 100 minutes to recharge.

Gas Backpack
Stihl BR 350
Price: $350
Overall Score: 89
Rank: #1 of 11 gas backpacks
CR's Take: Our product experts advise upgrading from a handheld blower to a backpack model if it takes you 40 minutes or longer to clear your yard of fallen leaves. This top-performing Stihl delivers superior sweeping and thoughtful features, including the ability to control power from the handle—helpful if you’re working around flower beds or carefully trying to amass a single pile of leaves for bagging. Because the blower is extremely portable, it’s easy to work in hilly yards where a wheeled model is out of the question.

Gas Wheeled
Troy-Bilt TB672 
Price: $400
Overall Score: 84
Rank: #4 of 7 wheeled blowers
CR's Take: Don’t let its spot in CR's rankings fool you. This top-of-the-line wheeled blower has an overall score just two points behind our top-rated wheeled blower, at less than half the price. It’s exceptionally powerful, earning perfect marks for sweeping and doing a solid job loosening embedded leaves from high grass. It’s even quiet from a distance, though if you’re shopping for a wheeled blower, you probably aren’t overly concerned with waking the neighbors—they tend to be best suited and only necessary for large, rural yards.

For more information, be sure to check out CR's Leaf Blower Buying Guide before visiting a dealer or home center.

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