How to Use a Leaf Blower or Vacuum

Image of a Black & Decker leaf blower.

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 3 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 3 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $15 (if tarp purchase is needed)

A leaf blower or vacuum is a versatile tool that you likely have 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.

When to Use a Leaf Blower

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

Warning

Wear pants and eye protection when using a leaf blower. Large gas powered units can have a muzzle velocity of more than 200 miles per hour.

When to Use a Leaf Vacuum

This device is termed a "blower/vac" due to its use in two different modes: blower mode and vacuum, or "vac" mode. In reality, most people find leaf blower/vacs ineffective as vacuums for 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, such as:

  • 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 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 that replaces the lowly leaf rake for this purpose.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Leaf blower or blower/vacuum
  • Leaf rake

Materials

  • Large tarp

Instructions

Materials and tools to use a leaf blower

The Spruce / Almar Creative

  1. Lay Out the Tarp

    Spread a large tarp out on the ground. Don't bother clearing the leaves under the tarp; you'll get to those later. It might be helpful to place heavy rocks on each end of the tarp to keep it from blowing up when the leaf blower gets close to it.

    Blue tarp laid on grass and held down with concrete blocks

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Blow Leaves by Sections

    Beginning in the far left-hand corner of your lawn, blow the majority of leaves into a pile on the tarp.

    Tip

    Don't be fussy: It's counter-productive to try to round up every last leaf using a leaf blower/vac.


    Fallen leaves blown on to blue tarp

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Remove the Leaves

    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 by dragging the tarp away (you'll probably need help).

    Blue tarp lifted up and dragged to remove leaves

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Compost the Leaves

    Dump the leaves into an enclosure where they can be composted or from which they can later be added to a compost bin.

    Leaves on tarp poured into compost bin

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  5. Move to Other Corners and the Center

    Move on to the other corners, proceeding in the same manner. Then tackle the leaves in the center of the lawn in like fashion.

    Blue tarp replaced on to lawn with concrete blocks

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

An Alternative to Composting

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: mulching in place. 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.

Removing Thatch

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 for the grass to breathe. Lawn aeration performed in spring or fall helps control lawn thatch.

The blower/vacs used 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. 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.

Fallen leaves and thatch being raked up from grass

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Watch Now: How to Use a Leaf as a Stencil