Alternatives to gas leaf blowers that are better & actually save time

autumn tree in Amherst NY
Take some time to enjoy just looking at the pretty leaves, too! Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

When it comes to dealing with leaves, lots of folks in Western New York depend on gas-powered leaf blowers.

Here are alternatives that are better, and one that will actually save you time!

Drawbacks to gas leaf blowers

So loud!

There’s nothing like enjoying a warm afternoon in your garden and having the tranquility disrupted by the abrasive noise of a gas-powered leaf blower.

Not only is it annoying; it can be harmful to people’s hearing. Some gas-powered leaf blowers produce more than 100 decibels of low-frequency, wall-penetrating sound—or as much noise as a plane taking off, according to this article from Audubon Magazine. The noise can cause tinnitus and hearing loss with long exposure.

Air pollution, health risks

Gas-powered leaf blowers (and other gas-powered lawn equipment) are an “important source” of toxic and cancer-causing exhaust, according to “National Emissions from Lawn and Garden Equipment,” a paper from the 2015 International Emissions Inventory Conference.

Fine particulate matter is also a problem with gas-powered lawn equipment. Fine particulate matter can cause serious health problems, including respiratory problems, heart problems and early death, according to this PowerPoint from the authors of the same paper.

They conclude that communities should create policies to protect the public from these air pollutants. See more below in “Legislation proposed.”

Cheating your lawn

When you remove leaves from your lawn, you’re passing up free mulch and soil amendments for your grass. See more details below in “Leave the leaves.”

Alternatives to gas leaf blowers

Leave the leaves

Don’t move the leaves at all.

The last time you mow your lawn for the season, run over the leaves. The little bits of chopped leaves will fall into your lawn, adding plant material to the soil, which is beneficial in many ways.

Since you’re mowing the lawn anyway, it doesn’t take any extra time. So that’s zero time compared to however long it takes you use your leaf blower. How easy is that?

Don’t worry if a few more leaves fall after you mow. As long as you don’t have a thick mat of leaves, it won’t kill the grass. Even if we get a heavy snow before you’re able to get to that thick mat of leaves, you’ll probably have a chance to take care of it in spring before the grass starts growing again. In addition, many insects need leaf cover during winter, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Here’s another benefit of leaving your leaves: Those big piles of leaves raked into the street can be a hazard for bicyclists. And when those leaves get wet, drivers can have a hard time stopping. Keep leaves where they fall and it makes things easier for everyone.

Use a different tool

Instead of getting rid of your leaves, you may want to use them to mulch the perennials in your garden beds or to create compost for next year. In that case, you need something to move the leaves where you want them to be.

Electric-powered leaf blowers are quieter and cleaner than gas-powered leaf blowers.

You could also use a rake. It’s cheap. No emissions, no pollution, plus you get some exercise.

Legislation proposed

There’s a proposal in New York State to ban gas-powered leaf blowers during the summer only. The proposal is in the Health Committees of both the State Senate and State Assembly.

Groups are forming in other parts of the state on this issue.

Huntington CALM (Clean Alternative Landscaping Methods) is in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Its focus is to develop local efforts to phase out obsolete, two-stroke gasoline powered lawn equipment and replace it with clean, quiet, battery-powered equipment.

Leave Leaves Alone! was developed by a group of residents in Bedford in Westchester County (north of Long Island), most of whom were Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. They are concerned about the environmental pollution and destruction of soil properties caused by the practice of leaf blowing. 

More than 100 U.S. cities and towns now ban gas-powered leaf blowers or limit their use, according to “Why Cities are Taking Action to Limit Loud and Polluting Lawn Care” in Audubon Magazine.

In 2020, Larchmont (in Westchester County), became the first northeast town to pass a complete ban.

31 Comments on “Alternatives to gas leaf blowers that are better & actually save time

  1. Hi John, I have put your comments back up.

    On my site, I’m trying to create real discussions with real people. That’s why I really had to give it a lot of thought before I restored your comments.

    I asked you to tell me the name of your business so I know you are a real person. You declined.

    Why? It sounds to me like you don’t want to be accused of being “political.” So let’s not talk about politics.

    Instead, let’s talk about problems and how we can make things better for everyone concerned.

    You had addressed some of these problems in a thoughtful way. So even thought you’re from CNY, I decided to restore your comments.

  2. Hi Connie,

    You dont have to post this but just so you’re aware Google is giving you a wider audience and your blog appeared in my news feed. So for that reason and living in CNY I feel it’s legitimate to comment, perhaps it was too long of a comment but there’s a lot to say. Plus I read the comments and noticed others posted from outside WNY.

  3. Hi Connie,

    You’re correct I’m from CNY, but your movement is impacting all of New York State so I brought the discussion to you. And the threat to my livlihood is real. I’m too small to put my company’s name out there politically for it to be obliterated by someone who doesn’t like my views. But I stand by them. I have a real issue with people deciding the fate of my business without knowing the pain/reward ratio involved with landscaping. We are not superheroes or tough animals. Our work absorbs pain. I spend most of my free time recuperating in bed. If there were battery powered equipment that could do the same job but more expensive I’d switch. I’d even pay an extra environmental tax on new equipment within reason but banning them is shortsighted. I try educating customers to reduce their impact making natural choices such as pruning by hand and at the right time of year and not shaping every plant into a geometric shape. Mow high and less often, and skip the fertilizer. I’m willing to help customers make these changes while making their yards look great and natural. But not many get it. So rather than educating people this ban is really using the leaf blower as a convenient scapegoat.

  4. Hi John Green, I took down your two comments. Why? Because I don’t believe you’re a real person from WNY. If you are, please tell me the name of your landscaping company and I will be happy to put your comments back up.

  5. If this ban takes effect, who’ll reimburse me the $3000 cost of the leaf blower? Thank you for the legislation proposed section. I read Larchmont’s reasoning behind their ban and it’s full of feel good half-truths. If they say they’re basing their decisions on facts wht are they weighting their arguments with comments like how it causes home owners to use more pesticides. The opposite is true as matted leaves will encourage weed growth and erosion come spring unless you immediately plant grass seed (expensive and how environmental is grass seed production? ) It’s unfortunate that the world is the way it is because the two extremes always battle each other and the pendulum swings back and forth never settling on the best practice available. In this case you got big landscaping companies who have bad practices to extract money on one side and on the other concerned citizens who don’t know what it is like to rake 25+ cu yds of leaves in a week. Don’t tell me banning leaf blowers is a justice issue for lawn care workers. Asking them to endure more pain with heavy physical labor is a justice issue that no homeowner appreciates or would be willing to pay to alleviate with a ban in place. Holistic approaches are suppose to review all methods and weigh the pros and cons considering impacts of each and then selecting the most prudent solutions that are beneficial to all stakeholders, not just yours. When I enter customers’ yards I become an advocate for them, the environment, the targeted plants, the wild life I encounter and my business to make the best decision possible even if my profit suffers a bit; doing everything right. For instance I don’t use electric hedge trimmers – those should not be used in almost all cases and I will refuse if a homeowner insists. A ban wouldn’t be needed if others followed suit. But we don’t talk about people’s decision making inadequacies as the real root cause of all our problems. A ban like this will hurt me more than the big landscaping companies who have huge pools of cheap labor.

  6. People who want to ban gas powered leaf blowers should work with a landscaping crew for a season using only a rake. I guarantee you you will be in so much pain you will see things a little differently. I use as much hand equipment as physically possible and learned the hard way that a gas powered leaf blower is a necessity. No one will pay what it would cost using only a rake. That $500 leaf cleanup now just became $1200 or more. That is because commercial leaf blowers can be as much as 3x or more efficient. After using a rake for years and switching to a leaf blower I wondered why I didn’t do it sooner. Banning leaf blowers is asking your lawn care professional to endure more pain. Studies have shown that people view lower wage earners as somehow indifferent to pain, like a tough animal. This ban has a tinge of elitism to it. A real solution includes the voices of all stakeholders not just the loudest one. And BTW, do you know why grass clippings are blown back on the lawn? Your suggestion to just leave them there tells me your not fully versed on environmental issues. Grass clippings left on the road and side walks are the #1 contributor to phosphorous overload in our streams and rivers which has detrimental impacts downstream. Instead of an outright ban, ban non-commercial blowers as most of those are gimmicky anyways and a rake can outperform many of those. And incentize engine manufacturers to improve their engines’ efficiencies. Also, create a fund for elderly fixed income citizens who may not be able to afford lawn care if the ban moves ahead. With rising wages and a ban on leaf blowers you’re looking at $75/hr multiplied by 3x the time it currently takes. Keep in mind many people have 4 cu yds or more of leaves and debris, no one is going to want to live near that anymore and you’ll want to retire away from nature because of the pain and expense.

  7. I find it interesting that this story brought up so many comments. I agree we all need to get rid of those leaves, I used to put them at the curb when I lived in Lockport, the city would pick them up or kids would set them on fire..not a good solution. One time our fire dept. went by in their truck and threw a cigarette into our pile, I put that fire out..now I’m an official volunteer. I see both sides of all the comments. We all just need to try and do our part, whatever it is. Its nice to see the passion, as I’m guessing we all love our gardens or those your taking care off, it makes our communities more beautiful!

  8. I find some arguments disingenuous. Like the gardener who says it’s faster. It’s likely they work by the hour anyway. My observation is that they use these noisemakers to to inform the homeowner that they’re working.Besides the noise it blows up dust. I know, I could wear a mask when I walk by. That said I agree there are some legitimate use of blowers, but not as a replacement for the other gardening tools.

  9. Hi Dave, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m glad you use hearing protection. I hope that home gardeners who use gas leaf blowers currently also use hearing protection.

    Again, I don’t see leaves killing grass to be an issue for all the reasons in the article and in my previous comments.

    I understand that electric leaf blowers aren’t as powerful as the gas models and it’s more cost effective for you to use a tool that gets the work done more quickly. Yes, you may have to raise rates. But I wonder if it means you will lose customers. Here in WNY, it seems like landscaping companies generally have waiting lists. (And maybe there are work-arounds– leave it up to the customer to sweep grass clippings off their driveway and sidewalk and charge them the same price, something like that.)

    It’s not just an issue of noise. It’s also an issue of air pollution. We have to make trade-offs.

  10. Thanks for bringing up the leaf issue. I have been thinking about going to a battery blower, can’t stand the fumes from the gas/oil mixture. I do actually enjoy raking some and mostly mow, shred and then rake them for our many gardens. Seems some are a bit narrow minded, life changes, we all have to learn to adjust for our environment. Thanks Connie for all the garden information.

  11. Hi Connie
    As a professional lawn care person. I use a BR 800 Stihl gas powered blower. Has a decibel rating of 78. Of course I and most landscapers use hearing protection. Recommended by the manual and common sense. The battery powered equipment is getting better but does not do the job of these modern gas powered blowers. Because time and money are always an issue, we need to get the job done quickly and efficiently. As for leaving leaves on the lawn, this will suffocate the grass then weeds take its place. Yes I do mulch a lot of leaves into the lawn and it can be a good thing. There is a limit though, you can only mulch in so many leaves. The blowers are not only for leaves, we use them to clean hard surfaces from grass clippings, dust, and other debris. The companies that spend the extra money on the battery powered blowers and other equipment will not run as efficient and will need to raise their rates, but they will be quieter 🙂

  12. I rake my leaves into a pile then on to a tarp then drag them to the curb. Works well and quickly. I do have a battery operated leaf blower for the hard services like down the driveway and the sidewalk.

  13. What many don’t know is that not all leaf mulch is good for the landscape. All trees in the same family as black walnut produce a plant toxin called juglone. This toxin is in all parts of the tree (roots, leaves, bark, etc). Juglone is deadly to other tree species. Only a few landscape plants and lawn grasses, can survive around these trees. So, the leaves and other debris from these trees needs to be removed. I know this from experience. I have had a love-hate relationship with my black walnut for 21 years.

  14. Just ban leave blowers once and for all. They blow out toxic exhaust and annoying as hell.

    The worst one is gardeners trying to blow the soaked leaves to death the morning after drenching rain the night before. Just take the thing. What’s wrong with people?
    .
    I never heard of this worst invention before the 90’s. People live better with rakes and brooms. I think whoever productive these things should be sent to hall of blower for life.

  15. Hi folks!

    I seem to be getting angry comments about how alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers won’t work in other parts of the country. These comments also say my article has incorrect information.

    If you leave a comment saying that something in the article is incorrect, please point out the error, tell me what the correct information is and include your source. If you don’t include those details about what fact is incorrect, what the correct information is and your source for the correction, I will delete your comment.

    If you leave a comment talking about how alternatives for gas-powered leaf blowers won’t work outside of Western New York, the comment will be deleted.

    I’m doing this because I suspect these comments are being left by “trolls” or scammers.

    I want to keep this a place where we can have civil discussions about important issues.

    Thanks!

  16. Hi Carol, click on the links to “State Senate” and “State Assembly.” You can not only find out more about the proposed legislation, but you can contact your state senator to tell him or her how you feel about it. I just found out about this as well. Both bills are just in committees at this point. While I don’t know exactly what steps you might take, there is still plenty of time to act. I suppose contacting your senator or assemblyperson is one way to start. Another way might be to contact one of the sponsors of the bill. Or contact Leave Leaves Alone or Huntington CALM.

  17. Hi Aaron, this publication is for Western New York, so I can’t speak about the situation in your area. If you would believe I have gotten information wrong, please point out which things are incorrect, tell me what the correct information is, and show me your source.

  18. I like the content of this newsletter. I always pick up some new information. For instance, I wasn’t aware of the pending legislation. Had I known I would have certainly added my name to petitions in support of progressing these issues into law.

  19. Hi Rick, here is another source from 2018: “Seven models of the most popular gas blowers deliver sound at the operator’s ear of between 101 and 104 decibels. Decibels are measured logarithmically, so that a difference of as little as three decibels represents a doubling of the sound’s energy. We’re talking about noise that’s several orders of magnitude above the CDC limit of 85 decibels, and that’s at the ear of the operator.”

    I have looked online at particular models of gas-powered leaf blowers, but I can’t find any that list in their specifications how loud they are. Perhaps you can provide us with this information. I’d really appreciate it.

    I will note that even at 80 to 85 decibels, a leaf blower can damage hearing in two hours.

    Rotting leaves are actually good for the soil. As I said in the article, even if you have a mat of leaves on the lawn (this happened to me one year when we got an early snowfall and had almost constant snow cover all winter), you can remove the mat in the spring. Your grass will be fine.

    If you have someone in your household who has a medical condition triggered by the leaves, then of course move the leaves to an area where they won’t affect the person. Of course, you can do that using rakes or electric leaf blowers.

    I’m not trying to scare anyone. I’m offering alternatives to gardeners.

  20. 100 decibel leaf blower!! I would check your facts, they are no where near that mark. Leaving the leaves to rot and get moldy is not a good thing as it will kill your grass and if anyone in your house has asthma better break out the nebulizer!! Articles like this are pure scare tactics with bad information..

  21. Hi Mark, this magazine is for Western New York. I can’t speak to conditions in New England. For WNY gardeners in a situation like yours, I would suggest looking for a battery-operated leaf blower that can run a long time on one battery charge.

  22. Hi Lyn, this article was going to be on the many ways to use leaves, then it morphed in a different direction. Thanks for all the tips you have offered to the readers of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com!

  23. Hi Meredith, that electric leaf mulcher sounds convenient. I have a leaf mulcher that is electric, too, but it’s on a stand and you have to bring the leaves to the mulcher. Still, I think it’s great.

  24. Hi Behroo, thanks for pointing that out. It’s difficult enough to keep them clear of leaves that just fall there, but when there are piles of leaves blown or washed onto the grates and the backed-up water is frigid, it’s a mess.

  25. Leaves are one of the gifts of nature we ignore. Utilizing them is the answer. All the ways mentioned in the article are wonderful. I also save extra mulched leaves in large Contractor Bags for use as mulch next spring. Punch some holes in the bag for air flow and store them in the garage if you have room or outside where they are out of the way. At a recent conference the big topic was how mulched leaves are the best mulch you can use. They keep weeds, down, improve water retention and replenish needed nutrients to the soil. A win win situation. SAVE THOSE LEAVES!!!

  26. I never understood leaf blowers, the wind will just blow them around anyway and in City of Buffalo i believe it’s actually illegal to rake them into the street… bad idea for so many reasons. What I do love is my electric leaf mulcher! It easily cleans excess leaves out of garden beds and chops them up. I can then return them as mulch or bag them to break down for great soil amendments for next season. Leaves are too good to be thrown away.

  27. Another reason not to rake leaves into the street is that they blow or wash into the curb receivers, causing street flooding during heavy rains.

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