Rakes on grass and rakes or brooms on hard surfaces would be the most environmentally friendly. They do not stir up (to the degree which all blowers do) particulate matter (PM) which contributes to ill health. They also do not put out the hostile gasoline/kerosene/ dirty oil polluffon emitted by 2-stroke gasoline powered machines such as blowers and weed-wackers. The models that also mulch have the added benefit of cutting down the ske of leaves thrown into the City dumpsters.

However, an electric or battery operated vacuums which meet low decibel levels required by ordinance are the best second choice. Most of the vacuums mulch 7-10 bags of leaves down to onea ready for compostinga and they can be used as electric leaf-blowers. They cost $33-$75, with no further expense for gasoline or costs for time driving to purchase gasoline. One battery-operated model costs $40 plus about $40 per rechargeable battery. One electric model comes with a 100 foot extension cord.


Gardener arguments against these machines focus on fear that a worker will be electrocuted if they use them near water or on rainy days. However, if electric machines are used as directed, even damp leaves may be picked up safely.

Outdoor plugs are required to be GFI (Ground Fault Interrupt), which, in working condition, should stop deadly shocks. Homeowners easily replace non-conforming receptacles with GFI receptacles inside garages or homes. There are also extension cords which have this safety feature.

1. Consumer Affairs Manager at the Underwriters Laboratory stated:

  • ul sealWhen you buy or use an outd class="inside"oor electric machinea be sure it has the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval (a large U L in a circle). The first time you use ita be sure you read all of the directions. Use the machine only as directed, and use common sense, and you cannot be electrocuted or get a shock.
  • The UL seal guarantees that samples of this type of machine have been tested, and meet the United States safety sSndards. The tests conform to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines. They include ELECTRICAL LEAKAGE tests to be sure no electricity can leak from the inner housing to the outside of the machine.
  • The user should check if instructions prohibit use in falling rain. But, even if the cord has a nicka the user won't get shocked because the vacuums are designed so the impeller blade forces leaves into a bag. The electric motor is in a sealed chamber and cannot come into contact with leaves or debris.

2. The Electrical Test Lab of the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety suggests you also look for their approval label on the machines (not on the box). This means that the machines of this type that they tested were safe for their designated use.

3. Sears Consumer Affairs Representative stated "The only time you might get shocked is if you vacuumed leaves out of a swimming pool." Damp leaves do NOT go through the same section of the machine that the electricity and motor is in. They are pulled in by a fan, and chopped in a different chamber of their own. The plug has a cover ("shroud") all around it so water and dampness cannot get to the prongs which are recessed inside the machine. The cord has a restraint to keep the plug safely recessed.

Sears Craftsman 71-79834 sells for about $55 (800-235-5878). It is a blower or vacuum, and shreds 7 bags of leaves into one for better mulching.

The Weedeater "Baracuda" also vacuums, and grinds leaves into mulch.

The widely respected, nonpartisan consumer research magazine Consumer Reports investigated leaf blowers and vacuums. Buyers will need to check that decibel levels meet Los Angeles City noise ordinances. One Craftsman lists a 82-84 decibel level on its package:

4. Consumer Reports:
  • "The average electric blower typically creates about half the racket of a gasoline model"
  • Regarding vacuums: "These machines are handy for vacuuming leaves away from shrubs, flower beds and other places where raking or blowing prove impractical"
  • Some electric blowers have a second, lower speed setting.
  • Chipper-shredders are designed to be pushed, mower-style, over lawn to pick up leaves in large areas
  • Lawn mowers can gather leaves into grass catcher or blow them out the discharge chute into piles.
  • "...we suggest you choose an electric blower rather than a gasoline-powered model. The electrics produce less noise – and less danger from fuel spills or fingers scorched on hot engine surfaces. The four highest rated electric blowers outperformed the hand-held gasoline-powered models."

Consumer Reports Ratings on electric blower/vacuums, rated in order of performance, noise and convenience:

bv1000Black & Decker BV1000 ($75) finished vacuuming a 30-gallon pile of leaves in 25 seconds. It can be used with a $45 "leaf collection system" that shreds leaves.
  1. McCulloch Air Stream II ($75)
  2. Weed Eater 2580 ($65)
  3. Stihl BE 55 ($64)
  4. Craftsman (Sears) 79838 ($65)
  5. Toro 850 Super Blower Vac ($67)
  6. Weed Eater 2560 ($55)
  7. Toro 700 Rake-O-Vac ($60)
  8. McCulloch Air Stream I ($68)
  9. Ryobi 180r ($62)

In addition:

  1. Weed Eater RB90 ($70), a cordless blower and Toro 300 Clean Sweep ($30) electric blower both good for smooth surfaces, decks, driveways.
  2. Weed Eater 2510 ($33) electric blower good on lawns, too.

In comparing electric with gasoline models, Consumer Reports also states, "These high-priced [gasoline backpack models] ...don't vacuum. They were all very loud. And - despite their size, they weren't inherently more powerful than the other blowers..." Yet, over the past year and a half, when I have contacted several garden-shop distributors of leaf-blowers to ask about electric blowers, I was surprised to be given sales pressure against electric machines of any kind. I had not considered at the time that more profit is gained from sales of machines such as Echo's $425 gasoline model than from a $40 electric model.