How to Use Leaf Blower or Vacuums

Image of a Black & Decker leaf blower.
David Beaulieu

A leaf blower or vacuum is a versatile tool that can usually be found in your garage. It's commonly used to aid in yard clean-up. While it may seem simple—just wave it around to move those pesky leaves off your lawn—there is a proper way to use them so you can get optimal results. Of course, this doesn't mean that you will never use a rake again. We still recommend that you keep a rake on hand (unless your physical condition does not allow you to pick up a rake). Knowing when and how to use a leaf blower/vacuum will save you both time and effort.

Using Leaf Blowers and Vacuums

Just a couple of examples:

If you need to "sweep" dried grass clippings, leaves or dirt off your driveway, patio, sidewalk, etc. quickly, then—as long as you're not especially concerned about picking them up just as quickly—it may make sense to use leaf blower/vacs. If pick-up is a concern, use a shop-vac instead.

If you have a large lawn and it becomes covered with great masses of leaves in fall, it may make sense to use leaf blower/vacs as a first step in the leaf-removal process. That is, using a leaf blower/vac in conjunction with tarps, round up the bulk of the leaves into separate piles. For instance:

  • Beginning in the far left-hand corner of your lawn, blow the majority of leaves into a pile, on a tarp.
  • Don't be fussy: it's counter-productive to try to round up every last leaf using a leaf blower/vac.
  • When you've blown the majority of the leaves into a pile in this corner of the lawn, fold the tarp over the leaves and remove the pile (you'll probably need help) by dragging the tarp away.
  • Dump the leaves into an enclosure where they can be composted or from which they can later be added to a compost bin.
  • Move on to the other corners, proceeding in the same manner.
  • Then tackle the leaves in the center of the lawn, in like fashion.

But we emphasize that the idea here is not to be fussy. Remove the bulk of the leaves, then finish up with a leaf rake.

If you don't compost your leaves and are, instead, facing the proposition of having to dispose of them in leaf bags, consider an alternative to removal: namely, mulching in place. I.e., a mulching mower may make more sense for you than a leaf blower/vac. Just run the mulching mower over the leaves, letting it chew them up into fine pieces that will work as a sort of lawn fertilizer. Another alternative is to run either a regular or a mulching mower over the leaves with the bag attachment on, then dump them from the bag attachment into your leaf bags. The bag attachments for some mowers hold more leaves than do the vacuum bags of leaf blower/vacs, so the job will go faster.

Leaf blower
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Common Disadvantages

Such as everything else in life, no matter how convenient blowers or vacuums can be there are drawbacks. This is especially true when it comes to lawn aeration.

Leaves are not the only type of debris you need to remove from your lawn. Thatch also needs to be removed. A build-up of thatch on your lawn can make it difficult to breathe. Lawn aeration performed in spring or fall helps control lawn thatch.

The blower/vacs we use for fall leaf removal do not, in any way, address the issue of thatch. By contrast, if you use leaf rakes wisely, you can accomplish leaf-removal and thatch-removal at the same time.

What do we mean by "wisely"? Well, assuming we're talking about an established lawn, don't be afraid to lean on that leaf rake some, applying enough pressure to dig the tines in a little. This will help dislodge some of the thatch that has accumulated on your lawn, in addition to taking care of the leaves. Not that this is a cure, in and of itself, for serious thatch problems. But every little bit helps.

Raking leaves in yard
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Vacuum Mode

The devices in question are termed, "blower/vacs" due to their use in two different modes, of course: blower mode and vacuum, or "vac" mode. It's time now to consider the capabilities of blower/vacs in vacuum mode.

Frankly, most people find leaf blower/vacs ineffective as vacuums for the purpose of, say, removing a large number of leaves from the lawn, because:

  • They just don't vacuum up a large number of leaves very quickly
  • Their vacuum bags don't hold a sufficient quantity of leaves to make them worthwhile for leaf-removal purposes (you'd find yourself constantly stopping to empty the bags)

Nonetheless, it might make sense to use leaf blower/vacs in vacuum mode in certain select areas of the yard for the removal of a small number of leaves, dried grass clippings, dirt, etc., where it would be difficult to use leaf rakes; for instance:

  • Areas where leaves fall between rocks
  • At the base of a fence, where leaves become trapped
  • In nooks and crannies around the house and outbuildings
  • On decks

You could also blow the debris out of such areas, then pick it up later. But why make extra work for yourself? You're paying for your equipment's vacuuming capability, so why not put that capability to work in those cases where it truly is effective?

When to Use Rakes

After you remove the bulk of leaves from your yard, you'll still have some leaves to remove. And that's where leaf rakes come into play.

The best way to pick up those stray leaves is by using that old favorite, the leaf rake. Techie diehards who scorn leaf rakes as a matter of principle will persist and desperately try to pick up the remaining leaves with leaf blower/vacs. But doing so just doesn't make sense, in terms of efficiency: leaves aren't very cooperative in such matters! Technology simply hasn't come up with an inexpensive product, at this point in time, that replaces the lowly leaf rake for this purpose.

The Bottom Line

  • Use leaf blower/vacs in vacuum mode to remove small amounts of leaves, etc. from tight spots, where leaf rakes would be hard to use.
  • Use leaf blower/vacs in blower mode (in conjunction with tarps) to gather the bulk of your lawn's leaves into piles, for removal by hand.
  • Leaf rakes are still the most effective tool for putting the finishing touches on lawn leaf removal, or for leaf removal in small yards.
  • Leaf rakes offer the added bonus of helping you keep thatch under control.