Electric vs Gas Leaf Blower, what are the differences? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each power type?
Like most modern tools and appliances, a leaf blower is designed to make standard household chores much less time consuming. If you’ve got property with trees on it, chances are you spend a significant amount of time on weekends clearing up leaves from your lawn or driveway. And trees don’t just shed in Autumn, they may do so year-round. Raking is quiet and nice for the environment, but your back is going to thank you for purchasing a leaf blower. Not only will it get the job done in a fraction of the time compared to raking, but you can also use it as a multipurpose tool. Leaf blowers can be used to clear dirt off pavements, sidewalks, and driveways, and for cleaning your patios or gutters.
Types of Leaf Blowers
When you go to purchase a leaf blower, you will find that they come in a variety of sizes and are powered by gas or electricity. There are three types of leaf blowers :
- Handheld: Smallest and lightest of the three, optimized for maneuverability. It is perfect for cleaning small lawns, gazebos, or for blowing leaves out of the driveway.
- Backpack: More powerful than a handheld model, and better if you have a lot of area to cover since most of the weight is strapped onto your back. Preferred by homeowners with properties 0.5 acres and larger.
- Walk behind: Wheeled, heavy machines with more power than any homeowner could possibly need. These are used by landscaping crews who want maximum performance for large jobs (1 acre and above).
Handheld and backpack models are what your typical homeowner would use, and they are both available with electric and gas options. Which power source is right for you? It depends, gas will give you more performance at the cost of higher maintenance whereas an electric leaf blower is much simpler to use. Electric power comes in two forms- corded, and cordless. Both have their pros and cons which we shall discuss in more detail, later on in this article. Another thing to consider is that different homeowners have varying levels of experience with power tools and lawncare equipment. If you’re used to mixing fuel for 2- stroke engines and cleaning the air filter, you might find a gas powered leaf blower better suited to your needs. If you’re a rookie with tools who just wants to blow some leaves into a pile, maybe a cordless electric model is more up your alley.
Finally, we must consider weight. This is extremely important if you are choosing a handheld model, because the longer you operate it the more stress it puts on your wrist joints and arms. People with back problems might find it uncomfortable to use a handheld blower, since you need to bend down in order to get closer to the leaves. The ergonomics and tube length come into play when choosing a leaf blower for such users, but we recommend you spend the extra money and buy a backpack blower instead. You won’t have to bend down with backpack models, and they will also get the job done much quicker.
With gas powered leaf blowers, you also have to worry about vibration levels since prolonged exposure to high levels of vibration can cause permanent nerve damage. And it messes with your blood circulation, which is why you get that weird prickly feeling around your fingertips after operating a power tool.
How Does A Leaf Blower Work?
What a leaf blower does is suck up air from the surrounding and pump it out of a nozzle at extremely high velocities, such that it generates enough force to move leaves and other debris. In order to pump out air with such force, it uses centrifugal force. This is the inertial force exerted on a body moving in a rotating frame of reference, directed away from the center around which the body is rotating. Every leaf blower has an impeller housing with a specially designed fan within, this fan is driven by an electric motor or gas powered engine. When the fan spins, its blades pull in air from an intake located on the side or behind the leaf blower. Air is pushed around within the housing, at great speeds. Centrifugal force acting on the air pushes it outside the impeller housing through a narrow tube.
VIDEO | See How A Leaf Blower Works
This outlet is significantly smaller than the intake which results in increased air pressure. Since the air volume doesn’t change but the pressure is higher within the tube, you get air moving at speeds in excess of 100mph as it exits the blower nozzle. The more restrictive of an opening you use on the tube, the higher pressures you get, and this in turn increases air velocity. Airflow is determined by the size of the intake and impeller housing. Larger leaf blowers will achieve higher CFM, which is crucial for doing more work in less time. A faster impeller coupled with a narrower tube results in higher MPH, or more airspeed.
In most gas powered handheld blowers, you will find 2-stroke engines. This is because they are generate one power stroke per rotation of the crankshaft and can do more work for a given engine size. They also have fewer components (no valves or cams), so the overall weight of the leaf blower is reduced. Power to weight ratio is extremely important in handheld models, which is why you rarely find 4- stroke engines in them. Two cycle engines can function upside down and sideways, thanks to their simplistic lubrication system which relies on oil mixed with gasoline. This is very useful since a handheld model will be operated at an angle when you lean down, or if you want to clean gutters and drains that are above shoulder height.
Four stroke engines are typically found in backpack and walk- behind models. They are more expensive, relatively complicated, and heavier. The primary advantages of a 4-cycle engine are fuel efficiency, noise, and emissions. It will also last longer and generates more torque in the lower RPM range. However, a 4 stroke engine cannot be operated sideways or upside down because oil from the crankcase will seep through between the piston rings and cylinder walls, entering the combustion chamber. This will result in misfiring and cause the engine to seize.
With a backpack blower or walk-behind type unit, you will never operate the machine sideways or upside down, so 4-stroke engines are a viable option due to their increased efficiency and reliability. Keep in mind, most low to mid-range backpack blowers still use 2-stroke engines. Only premium models such as the Makita EB5300TH are equipped with 4- stroke engines. Some advanced handheld models such as the Makita BHX2500CA and Troy Bilt TB4HBEC are powered by tiny 4-stroke engines for superior fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
On certain leaf blowers, you will find an additional function — vacuum. Essentially, this redirects airflow within the impeller housing. Instead of sending the air into the blower tube, it sends the air into a collection bag. Now, there are models that just suck up leaves into a bag and there are also models which mulch the leaves. Mulching allows you to dispose the leaves very easily, since the volume is reduced by around 10 to 16 times. The same impeller that is used to suck leaves in, also shreds them on the way into the collection bag. These finely chopped leaves can be used in your lawn as fertilizer. When these leaves decompose, they will enrich the soil with valuable nutrients. Or, you can just dispose of the entire heap at once instead of having to refill the bag 10 separate times like you would if you were using a standard leaf blower.
When purchasing a leaf blower with the vacuum and mulch option, you can choose between two fan types — Clean and Dirty. Dirty fan means the impeller directly shreds leaves and twigs before sending them into the collection bag. Typically these impeller blades are made from metal, but some of the cheaper models may use plastic blades which puts the impeller at a much higher risk of getting damaged. Either way, if you are working in an area with hard objects such as stones collected around the leaves, you might want to get a leaf blower with a clean fan system. In a clean fan blower/ vacuum, the leaves are forced through shredding lines. This way, they never make direct contact with the impeller.
Electric vs Gas Leaf Blower
Gas- powered leaf blowers are simply more powerful than electric models. There is no getting around that fact. And, they typically boast better power to weight ratios as well. But there are also significant disadvantages to using a gas powered blower. You have to mix fuel and oil in the correct ratio if it is a 2- stroke model, and you need to pull a recoil starter cord every time you need to start up the blower. This can be pretty annoying at times, because the engine will simply refuse to start unless you press the primer bulb 5 or 6 times. Other times, you have to play around with the choke, especially in the morning when it is colder outside. And then, you have to carry out maintenance- change the spark plug, clean the air filter, inspect the spark arrestor, tune the carburetor, etc. All this will require you to have some patience, and you must be willing to get your hands dirty.
Another problem with gas-powered leaf blowers is fuel storage — you can’t just put the gasoline in a water bottle or milk jug. You need to purchase containers that have been designed to store fuel. If you are going to store the leaf blower for more than a month, you must drain all fuel from the tank and fuel lines, so it doesn’t gum up the carburetor. And you must add fuel stabilizer to the gas in the container, to make sure it doesn’t lose its combustibility over time.
With electric leaf blowers, all you have to do is press the start button. Seriously, that is it. No messing around with gasoline and engine oil, no chokes, no starter ropes, no air filters, no carburetors, etc., all of which is incredibly discouraging for anybody new to outdoor power equipment. On a corded electric leaf blower, you simply plug in the extension cord. On a cordless model, you connect a charged battery. And you’re good to go. Not to mention, the noise is going to be lower compared to any gas model. And you don’t smell like gas when you walk back into the house.
Recent advances in lithium ion batteries and brushless DC motor technology has resulted in cordless electric models that can give some of the smaller gas powered blowers a run for their money. Lightweight composite materials mean that you don’t need to construct the entire body from metal in order for it to be durable. And electric leaf blowers are better for the environment, since they operate with zero emissions.
Corded-Electric vs Battery Leaf Blower
Corded leaf blowers are best used for cleaning smaller lawns and patios where you have access to a 120V electrical socket within 50 to 100 feet of the blower. On some properties, you will have trouble reaching the edge of the lawn with a corded model. And the cord can get tangled up if you’re working around fallen branches and twigs. Not to mention, the live cord is a big accident waiting to happen if you’ve got kids and pets running around in the vicinity. The typical corded electric blower weighs around 8 pounds and is on average lighter than cordless models. If you’ve got a tight budget, you have to go with corded electric leaf blowers since they are the cheapest. One thing to note, is the fact that corded models are only available in the handheld style. They are relatively powerful too, if you get one with a 14 amp motor like the Sun Joe SBJ605E.
Cordless leaf blowers offer all the benefits of gas without any of the weakness. No fumes, no mixing gas and oil, easy to start, and highly maneuverable unlike corded models which have limited mobility. You can even find professional-grade cordless backpack leaf blowers, such as the DEWALT DCBL590X1, which is powered by a 40V 7.5Ah lithium ion battery pack for increased power and runtime.
Cordless models these days are all equipped with lithium ion battery packs, and you need to pay attention to the Ah or ampere- hour rating of these batteries instead of just the voltage. A 20V 6.0 Ah battery will provide more energy for a longer period of time than a 40V 2.0 Ah battery. Some of the backpack cordless models accept dual batteries so they can deliver more blowing power and extended runtime for professional landscaping jobs. Look for models that support fast charging if you’ve got a lot of property to cover on a daily basis. And buy at least 2 battery packs, so that one is charging while the other is working.
Handheld Leaf Blowers
These typically weight in at under 10 pounds and are available with all 3 power options — gas, electric, and cordless. Designed to be as light as possible, a handheld doesn’t give you the same level of power as backpack unit. But it also costs and weighs much less, making it the perfect choice for homeowners with small lawns who don’t do a whole lot of cleaning. You can easily get underneath outdoor furniture and around AC units with a handheld model, something the backpack style blower cannot do. If you have a bunch of toys, rocks, shrubs, etc. and the garden is small, a handheld is much easier to get between nooks or crannies. Unlike a backpack unit which you must unstrap in order to restart, a handheld is much more convenient since you can simply shut it down and put it aside.
Gas Powered — Makita BHX2500CA :
One of the more unique offerings in the handheld leaf blower segment, it is powered by a 4- stroke engine. Despite the more complex engine, this Makita weighs just 9.8lbs. And you get all the benefits that come with a 4 cycle motor- better fuel efficiency and runtime, less emissions, and commercial grade reliability. You don’t have to mix engine oil and fuel, and the soft grip molded handle decreases vibrations.
Cordless — Snapper HD 48V MAX :
Despite being a cordless handheld model, the Snapper HD 48V MAX leaf blower generates an impressive 450CFM of airflow. Its utilization of a brushed motor is what helps keep costs low compared to other cordless blowers on the market, and this is actually a great choice for beginners who want something lightweight and convenient but don’t want to deal with electric cords. It comes with a “BOOST” function to temporarily increase airflow by 25%, but it will decrease the battery life which is already pretty short at 20mins (and that is IF you use the low speed setting).
Corded Electric — Toro 51621 UltraPlus :
The 51621 UltraPlus is a fine example of inexpensive corded leaf blower vacuums. It comes with a gigantic handle that allows you to get a solid grip all the way from the rear to the front of the handle, and the center of mass is pretty well balanced because the handle is so high above the body. The 51621 lags behind on airflow but makes up for it with an insane 250MPH air speed rating. Its vacuum mode performs really well, and we were pleased to see a metal impeller on this little corded blower despite its affordable price tag. The vacuum conversion attachment includes a shredding ring which takes leaves apart even before they go through the impeller. This 2-stage process results in extremely fine mulching.
Backpack leaf blowers
With a backpack leaf blower, most of the weight is supported by your back and shoulders. All you have to do is hold and point the nozzle with your arm. This means you don’t feel fatigued stretching out your arm like you would with a handheld model, and this is super useful if you have back problems or work in a landscaping crew which has to clear several acres of property daily.
Backpack style blowers can accommodate larger engines and impellers, which results in more airflow. Some of the higher end models are so powerful, you can even use them to blow snow! Unlike handhelds which are limited to around 400CFM, backpack leaf blowers can go upwards of 600 CFM which allows you to cover more area in less time. You can blow large leaves, twigs, dirt, walnut husks, and even damp leaves with a good backpack leaf blower. They have larger gas tanks so you can expect more runtime. And some cordless backpack blowers can accommodate up to two battery packs for extra runtime and power compared to handheld cordless models.
Gas Powered Backpack Blower — Makita EB7660TH :
While most gas operated backpack blowers still use 2- stroke engines, Makita goes an extra step to ensure efficiency and low emissions. Features such as automatic engine decompression and toolless handle adjustment make this blower stand out from the rest. And the performance is as you would expect from a premium backpack blower- 706CFM and 206MPH, delivered courtesy of a commercial grade 75.6cc engine. As we discussed earlier, anti- vibration is an important feature in any gas powered leaf blower. The back panel is padded, and there are heavy duty vibration mounts to cut off both vertical and horizontal vibrations from reaching your back.
✓ Learn more by reading our dedicated article on backpack leaf blowers.
Cordless — Greenworks 80V :
The Greenworks cordless 80V backpack leaf blower is on the higher end of the power spectrum with 580CFM and 145MPH. At least by backpack blower standards, but that is to be expected because it uses an 80V 2.5Ah battery. It outperforms most of the competition in the cordless backpack leaf blower segment, thanks to the utilization of a brushless DC motor. They are also able to provide a 4- year warranty, because brushless motors are simply more reliable than brushed ones like the motor used in the Snapper HD 48V MAX cordless handheld blower.
Walk behind leaf blowers
One of these will easily handle properties 1.5 acres and above in area. You can blow away damp leaves, paper, cardboard, twigs, mulched grass, etc. with relative ease while operating a walk behind leaf blower. These weigh upwards of 100 pounds, and are extremely cost efficient despite their high price, if you have a ton of area to cover. They also require a lot of storage space, and you’ll probably need a trailer to transport one of these. Designed for landscaping businesses, walk behind blowers are typically used for spring cleanup to prepare the land for fertilizing or mowing. Walk behinds can generate up to 4X the CFM of a typical backpack leaf blower. Contractors use these to clear parking lots and giant driveways of fallen pine needles and twigs.
Gas Powered — Southland SWB163150E :
If you want lots of air volume, nothing beats a walk- behind leaf blower. The Southland SWB163150E is a nice example of this fact, with 1200CFM of airflow and 150MPH of airspeed. It is powered by a commercial grade 163cc 4 stroke engine, since a 2-stroke would be highly inefficient at this size and we need all the runtime we can get while clearing leaves from large properties sized an acre or more. Can be used for fall cleanup, parking lot striping, and asphalt sealing on driveways.