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Leaf blower vacuum at work
Photo: Ryobi

Do You Really Need a Leaf Blower Vacuum?

Models with built-in vacs aren’t as versatile as you might think

At first glance, leaf blowers with a built-in vacuum would seem to offer a one-tool solution to blowing and bagging fallen leaves. But in a case of more may be less, many owners end up never using the vacuum function.

"The vacuum on most leaf blowers isn't really designed to deal with a huge pile of leaves," explains Dave Trezza, CR's leaf blower testing expert. "And it's rare that we see a leaf blower live up to its promised mulching ratio."

Many blower vacs promise to shred leaves and reduce their volume by a ratio of 12:1 or 16:1. Of course, Consumer Reports doesn't take manufacturers' word for it. We measure. And we find that many tools only shred leaves down to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. That gets to the biggest limitation of blower vacs—they collect only a small quantity of leaves before you have to empty the bag, which is a messy task.

That may be why manufacturers have started to drop leaf blower vacuum functions entirely.

But sometimes more can be just right. If you have a small yard and are diligent about keeping up with leaves as they fall, or if you want to surgically suck up leaves from around bushes and flower beds, a leaf blower vacuum combo can save you time and effort.

None of the battery-powered blowers we tested offer a vacuum function, and you won't find the feature on the most powerful type of blowers, wheeled or backpack models. It’s usually available only on gas and corded handheld units.

How to Use a Leaf Blower Vacuum

To convert your machine from leaf blower to leaf vacuum, in most cases you'll have to switch the tube to the opposite side of the fan. Sometimes that requires special tools. Even if it doesn't, the task is cumbersome enough that you’ll want to do it as seldom as possible. 

More on Yard Care

That means you won't want to start with the vacuum. Instead, blow the bulk of your leaves into a large pile. (For tips, check out CR experts' clever strategies for dealing with leaves.) Then switch to the vacuum. Use it to suck up any stragglers and to work around bushes and flower beds, where a blower could damage plants or send soil and mulch flying. Be sure to empty the bag right away and flip it inside out to clean it thoroughly. Lingering leaves, particularly if they’re wet, will break down and start to smell funky.

The vacuum is also helpful for keeping porches, patios, and decks tidy as trees shed their last leaves of the season. Some models (and aftermarket attachments) have curved nozzles specifically designed for blowing or sucking leaves out of your gutters. Just make sure to follow safety guidelines if you’re working from a ladder.

And don’t rush to store your tool at the first sign of winter, either. The blower function can be used to clear a light dusting of snow from decks, patios, and walkways, buying you a little time before you have to break out your snow blower.

How We Test Leaf Blowers

CR's test engineers rope off a standardized swath of grass and dump bag upon bag of leaves inside the boundary. We use a larger area to mimic big yards and a smaller section for smaller properties. We time how long it takes to clear the area completely, then use that data to derive a score for sweeping, akin to the experience you'd expect if you're the type to tackle leaves as soon as they fall.

But not everyone is so diligent, so we devised a test for the conditions you may experience if you tend to let leaves lie. We call it "loosening," and to score leaf blowers in this test we first embed leaves in tall grass, then time how long it takes to clear them and roughly many are left behind.

For models with a vacuum function, we measure out the same quantity of dried leaves and time how long it takes each blower vacuum to suck them up. Then we measure the volume of the mulched leaves to see how thoroughly the impeller chops them into fine bits and shreds.

Our experts also assign each model a score for ease of use and handling, which together capture the experience of carting the tool around, getting it started, and adjusting its settings.

Finally, we measure noise, both at the operator's ear, which determines the models that require hearing protection, and at 50 feet, which determines how early you can feel comfortable firing up the blower without annoying your neighbors.

We test leaf blowers from such brands as Craftsman, Echo, Husqvarna, Toro, Stihl, Ryobi, and Worx, among others.

Read on for the top picks for leaf blowers with vacuum functions, plucked from our leaf blower ratings.

Best Leaf-Blower Vacs From CR's Tests

Electric Plug-In Leaf Blowers
Toro 51619
Overall score: 80
Ranking: 2 of 15 handheld electric leaf blowers
CR's take: The Toro excels at sweeping and loosening leaves, in large part because of nozzles that concentrate airflow. The leaf blower vacuum is powerful and easy to convert—just snap on the broader vacuum tube and leaf collection bag. No special tools are needed to change functions. A metal impeller mulches leaves to one-sixteenth of their original volume, a quarter of the bulk of many competing models. That means you'll have that many fewer bags to put on the curb.

Toro 51602
Overall score: 78
Ranking: 4
CR's take: This Toro nearly matches its top-rated counterpart and can be had for a little less cash. Like the Toro 51619, it's effective at loosening stuck leaves, and has variable speeds, which is nice for dialing back power when you work around flower beds. The vacuum function is also similar to its brandmate.

Gasoline Handheld Leaf Blowers
Husqvarna 125BVx
Overall score: 80
Ranking: 1 (tied) of 20 handheld gasoline leaf blowers
CR's take: The Husqvarna is the only gas handheld we recommend that has a vacuum function. It earns top marks for sweeping and loosening, and it’s a strong vacuum as well.

Recently Tested Leaf blowers

See our full list of Leaf blower Ratings