A person using a leaf blower vacuum

Whether you're rustling up oak leaves in fall or magnolia petals in spring, leaf blowers with a built-in vacuum mode would seem to offer a one-tool solution to blowing and bagging. 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 are supposed to shred leaves and reduce their volume by a ratio of 12:1 or 16:1. Of course, Consumer Reports doesn't take a manufacturer's word for it. We measure. And we find that many tools shred leaves down to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. 

It's also worth noting that most models with a vacuum function aren't designed to mulch sticks or twigs, and either can jam the tool. All leaf blower vacuums work best with dry leaves, which the impeller can easily shred. 

That gets to the biggest limitation of blower vacs: They collect only a small quantity of leaves before you have to empty the bag, a messy task. That may be why some manufacturers have started to drop leaf blower vacuum functions entirely.

More on leaf blowers

So who can take advantage of a leaf blower vac? 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—the vacuum mode on your leaf blower can save time and effort.

None of the battery-powered or gas blowers we tested offer a vacuum function, and you'll never find the feature on the most powerful type of blowers, wheeled or backpack models. It’s usually available only on corded electric 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. 

But you'll want to start in leaf blower mode, and corral the bulk of your leaves into a large pile. (For tips, check out CR's 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. When you're finished, be sure to empty the bag 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 gutters. Just make sure to follow the safety guidelines if you’re working from a ladder.

And don’t rush to store your tool at the first sign of winter. 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.

Best Leaf Blower Vacs From CR's Tests

If you're in the market, CR's leaf blower buying guide is the place to start. You can also jump right into our leaf blower ratings. We currently test six types of leaf blowers from brands including Ego, Echo, Husqvarna, Ryobi, Kobalt, Toro, Remington, DeWalt, and Little Wonder. 

CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of three of the best handheld vacuum leaf blowers—two corded electric picks and one gasoline-powered—any of which will easily handle a small yard.

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