Summer Noise: A Rant Against Leaf Blowers

  • Ah, summer, you break my heart.

After long months of snow and frost, a long stretch of grey, rainy weather, summer’s arrival is very welcome. The warmth, the sunlight on your skin, the summer hat, the smell of sunscreen… People smile, say hi, drivers find more courtesy and patience, kids come out to play.

But as soon as the first warm day breaks, the din begins.

All day airconditioners drone in windowsills of unoccupied houses. A quarter of the cars in the supermarket parking lots have engines running. Gardens are frustrated daily by mowers. And then there is the most annoying of summer pests:


I was potting the herbs at my front door when I heard one of the condo’s cleaners approaching, leafblower at full throttle. I waved an arm around the corner to indicate I was there, in the small space at the bottom of the steps. All he did was throw the machine’s engine into a lower gear, and so he still managed to blow most of the dust he had gathered onto me.  I looked up at him, showing my surprise and disgust on my face – it was the only means of communication what with all the din. He didn’t catch on, and kept the machine going, standing there, in the cloud of dust. Only when I yelled to him to turn it off, did he do so.

He didn’t do it on purpose. He just didn’t realize what he was doing.

  • Bad bad bad!

People get so used to their machines, they quickly forget about the nuisances (cf. Facts below). They spew hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide into the air, as well as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide. They dislodge “fugitive dust”: minuscule dust particles and micro organisms that have no business being in the air, in our mouths and lungs. They wreck our hearing: operators are supposed to wear ear protections (and masks). But what about us?

Still people walk behind them, for hours, at their leisure. Like it’s a walk in the park.

I think that’s the problem: the “operator” walks behind them. This distances him from what it is  he is assaulting (the lawn, the leaves, wildlife, people), and even makes him think he is immune to the assault (most forgo ear protection or masks). He is desensitized. His senses dulled, his brain follows soon after, “zoning out” into the rhythmic drone of the machine and a body on automatic.

  • Get a broom!

Leaf blowers are misused and therefore ineffectual. They are leaf blowers: meant to move relatively heavy leaves onto a heap from where they can be collected and carted away. Most cleaners now – like our condo’s cleaners – use leaf blowers as brooms. So they become dust blowers. And do they blow!

First of all, even for what they are designed to do, they are no match to the good old rake (read this story).

But our cleaner is after the cigarette butts, the wrappers, the occasional leaf, even pennies and pebbles. So he sets his machine to the highest setting. This whips up into the air very small particles, rodent droppings, bird waste, pollens, molds, bacteria, and viruses that would normally get dislodged only by heavy winds. We’ve all seen the huge dust clouds, and we know they will settle later, after the cleaners have gone.

The largest pieces get blown into the gutter. I’ve observed this not only in our cleaning crew, but all over the place. I’ve seen a Town cleaning crew blow the leaves off the park onto a private home’s lawn, and left there – the wind soon carried all the leaves back to the park.

Probably this has to do with distaste for menial work. You give a guy a tool with an engine, and his task won’t be so menial anymore.

  • The leaf blower Zone

But the blindness to the incompetence of the leaf blowers also has to do with the Zone.

When you’re in that leaf blower zone, you are “in the moment,” and in the moment things are moving along nicely (in what direction, who cares).  You get obsessed with the one thing that just won’t budge – a piece of gum, stuck to the sidewalk, for instance – and you attack it, full force, no matter the dust and gasoline fumes and the time. But you won’t bend over and pick it up, of course, nor will you bend over and pick up the collected debris afterwards. That’s what you have the leaf blower for, right, and other people’s property!

After he turned off his infernal machine, my leaf blower guy walked over to his truck and returned with a small bucket and a couple of white paper towels. Halfheartedly, he swiped the larger dust bunnies that had settled on the pavement into the bucket. When he came up out of his bent position, he groaned, putting his hand in the small of his back.

Get a broom and get moving: it will do the job much better, faster, and it will be healthier for all involved!

  • Leaf Blower Facts

P.S. These  facts are for the most part rather old. I dug them up 5 years ago for a letter to our management company (the new cleaner company started using leaf blowers and often blew dust into our home through our open windows!). If anyone has more recent information, let me know.

  1. According tot the average 1999 homeowner type leaf blower and (1999) car data, the hydrocarbon emissions from one-half hour of leaf blower operation equal about 2,200 miles of driving, at 30 miles per hour average speed. Hydrocarbons are unburned or partially burned fuel that react in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone. (Air Resources Board report written for the California Legislature in 2000, available through
  2. One-half hour of a homeowner-type leaf blower useage generates as much carbon monoxide as 110 miles of automobile travel at 30 miles per hour average speed (2000 Air Resources Board report, cf.
  3. Most two-stroke engines also generate particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide. (Arizona Sierra Club)
  4. They dislodge “fugitive dust“: minuscule dust particles and micro organisms that have no business being in the air, in our mouths and lungs. How about some rodent droppings, bird waste, pollens, molds, bacteria, and viruses for a snack? (source)
  5. They wreck our hearing. It takes sounds in excess of 85 decibels (db) to damage hearing, but noise at less than 75 db may be linked to hypertension, and that at just 65 db leads to stress, heart damage and depression. A ringing telephone can reach 80 db; a hair dryer hits 90 db; an ambulance siren can top out at an excruciating 120 db. (source)  Leaf blowers are routinely used less than 50 feet from unconsenting pedestrians and neighboring homes, and a blower measuring 70-75 dB at 50 feet can reach 90-100 dB at the operator’s ear. (source)

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  1. Thank you so super much for the info. I can use it all in a project I am working on about the environment.
    Thanks again!!

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