Best Cheap Leaf Blowers
- Published on
- By Louis DeNicola
When autumn leaves or the remains of a storm are strewn about the yard, a cheap leaf blower can save hours of raking and loads of back-breaking effort. Although you can spend $500 or so for a professional-grade backpack blower, that kind of power isn't necessary unless your property spans acres of trees so numerous that carrying around a handheld blower would be exhausting. Most people can render driveways, decks, yards, and even gutters leafless with an electric leaf blower under $100 or a gas leaf blower under $150. Some handheld models even vacuum and mulch and come with a bag for leaves and other debris.
Cheap Leaf Blowers Buying Guide
Toro, Black & Decker, Craftsman, and Weed Eater dominate this market, but there are other worthy players, as well. We researched cheap electric and gas leaf blowers and identified several in each category that stand up to scrutiny. The best electric leaf blowers we found are the Toro 51609 Ultra (starting at $70) and Worx Trivac WG500 (starting at $88). These are both corded models; battery-powered cordless leaf blowers are generally less powerful and more expensive. Among gas leaf blowers, our top picks are the Hitachi RB24EAP (starting at $139) and Weed Eater FB25 (starting at $80). Two leaf blowers that disappoint are the gas-powered Ryobi RY09056 (starting at $99) and the electric Sun Joe SBJ604E (starting at $77).
The choice of gas vs. electric depends largely on your yard-maintenance needs and the size of your property. If you'll be clearing an area whose borders are within reach of a power source (usually about 100 feet), electric leaf blowers are typically lighter, less loud, and less costly than gas models. They start without the hassle of pulling on a cord and don't give off fumes. Most also vacuum and mulch leaves and other organic debris (occasionally small pebbles, too). On the downside, you must manage the power cord, which can be challenging if there are lots of obstructions.
If you need to clear layers of leaves, pinecones, and thick twigs off a broad swath of territory, a gas leaf blower is the way to go. Gas-powered models generally carry heftier price tags than electric but pack more of a punch and have no cord to confine your range. That said, gas leaf blowers are messier (you must mix gasoline and oil in the proper proportions and keep up with maintenance); starting the machine requires effort (and it may be temperamental); controlling the speed takes some practice; the cost of fuel and oil is ongoing; and you must be extra cautious about keeping flammable material around.
Before buying a leaf blower of any type, make sure local municipal ordinances permit them. Several communities -- particularly in California, which maintains strict emissions standards -- ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Others restrict or prohibit leaf blowers because of noise or limit their use to certain parts of the year.
A final note of caution: Leaf blowers, and gas leaf blowers in particular, are noisy enough to cause hearing loss, so wear ear protection. It's also a good idea to wear goggles and a mask as defenses against dust and pollutants, such as bird droppings and chemicals, that get blown around along with the leaves. And always remember to keep other people and pets away in case debris flies in their direction.
What We Looked for in the Specs
Light Weight.Consumers want a machine that will be comfortable to carry. After all, the primary goal of using a leaf blower instead of a rake is to make wrangling leaves less physically demanding. Electric leaf blowers are generally lighter than their gas counterparts, even before factoring in the weight of a full fuel tank. That said, the heaviest leaf blower we researched is an electric model, the Sun Joe SBJ604E, which weighs in at 11.7 pounds. Compare that with our pick for the best cheap electric blower, the Toro 51609 Ultra, which weighs just 7.5 pounds.
Multiple Speeds.Some budget leaf blowers operate at a single speed, while others feature multiple speed settings or a variable throttle. The advantage of multiple speeds is greater control over how much air shoots out of the nozzle and how quickly. Certain speeds are better for certain jobs: lower for working around delicate plants or landscaping, for example, and higher for moving large twigs, stones, wet leaves, and piles of mulch. The Worx Trivac WG500 is the one model on our list with only one speed, but it does have an airflow regulator, which offers some measure of control.
Vacuuming/Mulching Capability.Many leaf blowers, including all 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 out through a hose leading to a collection bin). The shredded organic material can be used as natural mulch around the yard. Vacuuming/mulching capability is comparatively rare among cheap gas leaf blowers; the Ryobi RY09056 is one example. 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.
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. The higher the ratio, the less often the bag must be emptied. Vacuum bags tend to hold one or one and a half bushels. Our top pick among electric leaf blowers, the Toro 51609, boasts a 16:1 mulching ratio.
Low Noise Level.Leaf blowers are loud enough to affect the operator's hearing and offend neighbors, even where their use is legal. Most communities with noise ordinances set a limit of 70 decibels (the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse maintains a library of related laws). Manufacturers measure the decibel levels of leaf blowers from 50 feet away, so they will be much louder to you, making ear protection vital. Most electric blowers come in under 70 dBA; the quietest we researched is the Worx TriVac WG500 at 63 dBA. By contrast, our top pick in the gas leaf blower category, the Hitachi RB24EAP, emits up to 107 dBA, although some users assert it isn't as loud as feared.
Leaf Blower Reviews
In researching and comparing leaf blowers, we went beyond the specs and dove into firsthand accounts of what consumers can expect from each machine based on the experiences of current or past owners and industry experts. Most leaf blower reviews and recommendations we found appeared on the websites of large retailers, such as Amazon, Home Depot, and Sears. However, several reviews also came from expert sources, such as Popular Mechanics.
We found that opinions of a given model can vary widely; it seems the key to buying a leaf blower on a budget is to match the machine's capabilities to the task at hand. Most online posts indicate that users are satisfied with our top picks despite duly noted operational and design flaws. Reviews most frequently address leaf-blowing/vacuuming efficiency (i.e., power), ease of use, and durability.
Power and Effectiveness.Manufacturers 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 directly translate to effectiveness, according to testing by Popular Mechanics; sometimes it's quite the opposite. Experts point out that features such as tube and nozzle design also play a big role.
In the budget segment, electric leaf blowers tend to push out a lower volume of air at a higher speed than their gas counterparts. Leaf blower reviews at Home Depot tout the power of both our top picks. The Hitachi RB24EAP (starting at $129) boasts a 23.9cc gasoline engine and airflow of 170 mph and 441 CFM. That combined force is more than adequate for clearing yards, driveways, gutters, and garages, although a few dissidents assert that the machine seems underpowered and struggles with heavy, wet leaves. Reviewers say their expectations were blown away when they switched to the electric Toro 51609 Ultra (starting at $70) from a gas model. Its 12-amp motor, 235 mph velocity, and maximum air volume of 390 CFM easily shoo away grass clippings, leaves, and small sticks and stones, users report. At low speeds, the blower vac sucks up leaves and debris without disturbing underlying decorative pebbles or fragile plantings.
Ease of Use.Many consumers favor electric leaf blowers because they're relatively light, start with the flick of a switch, and don't require messing with fuel and oil. Maneuvering the long power cord trailing from the machine takes some finesse, though, and some users find this burdensome; a few reviewers advise forsaking an electric model in favor of gas for any property filled with bushes, trees, furniture, and ornamental doodads. Although gas-powered machines require more upkeep, consumers rarely complain about the demands. Many owners of gas leaf blowers proudly note the number of outdoor tools filling their garages. Reviews also indicate that users appreciate the freedom to roam widely (no tether to a power source) as well as the power of a gas engine.
Three-in-one blower vacs present a unique set of potential problems. One thing users like most about the Worx Trivac WG500 (starting at $88) is that all they have to do to go from blower mode to vacuum-and-mulching mode is attach the bag and flip a toggle. With the Ryobi RY09056 (starting at $99), the transition from blower to vacuum/mulcher requires a flat-head screwdriver.
Durability.We read quite a few electric leaf blower reviews attesting to the longevity of older models. Some have reportedly lasted a decade or more and eventually been replaced with an updated machine. Many online posts refer to recently purchased leaf blowers, so it's impossible to know whether such enduring performance will repeat. Some reviewers consider the build quality of the contemporary versions slightly inferior and some just seem to have picked up a lemon.
One problem that seems to plague some gas leaf blowers is fuel lines that disintegrate, often within the first year of use. The proximate cause of the problem, according to reviewers, is the presence of ethanol in the gasoline fueling the engine. 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 pre-mixed fuel and oil that contains no ethanol.)
Electric models don't face those problems but have their own challenges. The three electric leaf blowers we reviewed are combination blower vacs. The Achilles' heel of such machines is 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, the zipper rips, etc.
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. A metal impeller, found on the Toro 51609 Ultra, is least likely to be damaged. The impeller on the Worx Trivac WG500 is made from heavy-duty plastic, and one review on Amazon suggests it's prone to chipping. Still, the reviewer reports that Worx honored the warranty. (The company also just came out with the Worx Trivac WG505 (starting at $90), which has a metal impeller but is not as widely available as the WG500 and has been reviewed by only a few consumers so far. We are keeping an eye on this new model.) Most cheap leaf blowers, the Worx Trivac included, come with a two- or three-year warranty. The Hitachi RB24EAP tops them all with a seven-year warranty.