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A leaf vacuum is a handy tool for collecting all the foliage that lands on your lawn each autumn. Rather than trying to work your leaf blower or rake to reach the mess around your landscaping, behind patio furniture, and up against retaining walls, a leaf vacuum simply inhales everything in its path. It’s an especially nice lawn care upgrade if you plan on bagging up all your leaves, as all leaf vacuums double as leaf mulchers, shredding their contents into mulch for convenient storage and efficient composting. Whether you’re looking for a portable handheld model that doubles as a blower or a powerful, lawn-mower-style walk-behind machine, we can help you find the right machine for the job.
The Expert: I’m a freelance writer who has written about landscaping, home improvement, gardening, and home security for publications like Bob Vila, U.S. News and World Report, Switchful, and Futurism. My home backs up to a densely wooded area that creates a beautiful backdrop of fall colors when autumn arrives. Unfortunately, it also produces a huge leaf clean-up job when all those leaves eventually hit the ground. Since many of these leaves cram their way amongst my landscaping and behind patio furniture, I find the leaf vacuum to be a must-have tool that allows me to extract them without having to get on hands and knees.
What to Consider in a Leaf Vacuum
When you’re picking out a new leaf vacuum, you need to understand what they can and cannot do. A leaf vacuum is not a replacement for a rake or a leaf blower. It won’t be able to just suck up every leaf in sight as though you're vacuuming dirt off your living room carpet.
If you have a lot of leaves to collect, the vacuum can effectively suck them up and mulch them. However, most leaf vacuums are designed to cover a small area at a time, so spending a little time raking or using a leaf blower to gather up your leaves makes a big difference. Your leaf vacuum will make quick work of large leaf piles and hard-to-reach pockets of debris, gobbling them up and breaking them down into mulch.
To clear everything without gathering leaves first, you’ll need a walk-behind leaf vacuum, which you can run over your lawn like a lawn mower to collect leaves.
Electric vs. Gas
When choosing a leaf vacuum, you’ll need to decide which fuel type works best for your yard. Electric leaf vacuums are more gentle on the environment and easier to use, but gas powered models offer more leaf collecting power.
Electric Leaf vacuums offer convenience, but their suction power is limited. They're easy to start and don’t require very much maintenance. However, corded models are limited to the 1500 Watts you can get from a standard electrical outlet, and cordless models are limited by the output of their rechargeable batteries.
With those limitations, they cannot match the capability of a gas-powered model. An electric model might struggle to break down heavier material like wet leaves, twigs and acorns, while a gas-powered leaf vacuum may have no problem processing whatever you throw at it.
Your range is also limited, either by the length of a power cord or the runtime of a rechargeable battery. Given those limitations, electric leaf vacuums are ideal for smaller, more contained jobs, like gathering leaves that have collected on a back porch, or navigating amongst some landscaping.
Gas-powered leaf vacuums offer far more power than their electric powered counterparts, allowing you to suck up bigger and heavier clumps of leaves and heavier debris, such as acorns and twigs. They’re also less prone to clogging. Their large engines make them heavier than electric models, and they typically feature pull starters, which means they aren't as easy to start as electric models. They also require some maintenance between seasons: You may need to mix fuel and periodically change the oil. The extra work is worth it, though, if you have a larger yard with a lot of landscaping to clear and leaves to bag.
Bagging Capacity and Mulch Ratio
As a leaf vacuum sucks up lawn debris, it shreds everything to create additional room in its collection bag. Your leaf vacuum's mulch ratio tells you approximately how many bags of uncut leaves will fit when mulched. For example, a leaf vacuum with a 12:1 ratio can chop up 12 bags of whole leaves down to a single bag. A higher mulch ratio generally means the vacuum can grab more leaves before you need to unload it. It also generally means you’ll need to use fewer bags, which is useful if you’re planning on putting everything on the curbside for pickup.
That said, mulch ratio is not a particularly exact measurement. The actual amount of material that can fit in the collection bag will also depend on the size of the bag, which can vary from model to model. It’s also important to keep in mind that the ratio corresponds to the collection bag, not a standard size for garbage bags. Don’t assume that a leaf vacuum with a 16:1 mulch ratio will turn the 16 bags on your curb into one.
There is an extra consideration here if you plan to recycle those chopped up leaves as mulch to nourish your lawn and garden. (Which we absolutely recommend.) If you plan on using your shredded leaves as mulch or compost, look for a model with a higher mulch ratio (10:1 or higher). Shredding your leaves down to smaller pieces will help them break down to compost more effectively.
How We Selected The Best Leaf Vacuums
I picked the best leaf vacuums based on my personal experience clearing lawns and gardens with leaf vacuums over the years, as well as some external research to finalize my top picks. That research included weighing the specs for each model, comparing the features of various leaf vacuums, and scouring dozens of customer reviews.
Husqvarna 125BVx Gas Leaf Blower
While there are many great electric leaf vacuums out there, none of them can match the power of the gas engine on Husqvarna’s 125BVx hybrid leaf vacuum-blower. It’s equipped with a large 28cc 2-cycle gas engine that’s capable of grinding up leaves to tiny fragments with its 16:1 mulch ratio. That means you can fit a lot of leaves into its collection bag before you’ll need to stop and empty it.
Along with vacuuming up leaves, it also functions as a powerful blower with a max air volume of 425 cubic feet per minute (cfm), above average power for a handheld leaf blower. The 125BVx features Husqvarna’s quick start system, which purges air from the carburetor prior to start-up so you don’t have to pull as hard to get it running. If you have a lot of leaves to break down or extensive landscaping to clear, this is the machine for the job.
Black+Decker 3-in-1 Electric Leaf Blower, Vacuum, & Mulcher
If you have a smaller yard or only need to deal with light leaf coverage each fall, there’s no sense spending hundreds of dollars for a high-end leaf vacuum. This model from Black+Decker will get the job done at half the cost of the most powerful models. It comes equipped with a 12-amp motor that’s capable of chopping leaves down to fine material with its high 16:1 mulch ratio. It also functions as a powerful blower with a respectable 400 cfm air volume, so you can gather the leaves prior to vacuuming them up. When that isn’t enough, pressing the “Powerboost” button amps up the power for a short time, giving you the extra oomph to pull or push large piles when you need it.
And unlike other leaf vacuums that have collection bags that hang awkwardly off your shoulder, Black+Decker equips this vacuum with an ergonomic backpack style collection bag that’s easier on your back. If you’re looking to clear off a patio or break down small piles of leaves on the cheap, Black+Decker’s leaf blower is the answer.
Echo ES-250 Shred N Vac Handheld Leaf Blower
A large yard covered in a thick blanket of autumn’s beauty demands a powerful machine to uncover it, and that’s exactly what you’ll get with Echo’s gas-powered combination leaf blower and vacuum. Yes, you’ll spend more for this yard machine than other leaf vacuums, but you’ll appreciate the power of its 25.4 cc 2-cycle gas engine, which mashes up leaves at a 12:1 ratio. Couple that with its large collection bag, and it’s ready to take on big jobs without stopping to unload.
The vacuum quickly converts into leaf blower mode, pumping out a respectable 391 CFM air volume, so you can blow all your leaves into a nice pile before running them through the vacuum. I also appreciate the electronic ignition, which makes it easier to start, and a cruise control feature so you don’t need to focus on maintaining a consistent grip on the throttle.
Greenworks 40V 505CFM Cordless Leaf Blower/Vacuum
As cordless battery-powered leaf blowers and vacuums go, Greenworks offers the best design, power, and run time you’ll find. This leaf vacuum uses a large 40-volt battery that gives you up to 60 minutes when in blowing mode and 15 minutes in vacuuming mode. With its 12:1 mulch ratio–high for a cordless model–it’ll break down leaves for easy bagging or for use as compost. It also features a variable speed trigger and a “turbo” button to give it a power boost when you need to clear wet leaves and twigs.
I felt the Greenworks vacuum stood out, though, because of its ergonomic design. It has wheels at the end of the vacuum tube, allowing you to roll it along the ground, taking pressure off your back. Switching the machine from blower to vacuum is also easier than other models I’ve tried, thanks to its quick conversion design.
As with other handheld leaf vacuums, this Greenworks model doubles as a blower with a modest 340 cfm air volume, making it suitable for lighter leaf clearing duties. With its limited runtime, the Greenworks leaf vacuum won’t do for larger jobs, but it works well for mulching small piles of leaves or clearing a patio.
Troy-Bilt CSV070B Self-Propelled Chipper Shredder Vacuum
If you want to skip the raking and blowing altogether, you’ll want a high-powered walk-behind model, like leaf vacuum from Troy-Bilt. The CSV070B picks up a 24-inch wide swath of leaves off your lawn as you push it. You don’t even need to push much, since it’s self-propelled.
It has a lower mulch ratio than many of my handheld picks, but compensates for that fact with a larger-than-average 2-bushel collection bag. For hard-to-reach spots, there’s a 10-foot vacuum hose attachment, so you can reach leaves that are up against fences and retaining walls or in and around landscaping.
In addition to leaf vacuuming duties, the CSV070B also has a small hopper that allows it to function as a light duty wood chipper, which can chew through branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter. If you have the space for a lawn-mower sized machine in your shed or garage, this leaf vacuum is as powerful as they come.
Toro Ultra Blower Vac
Toro’s electric Ultra Blower Vac will more than suffice for clearing small areas with light to moderate leaf coverage. It functions as both a leaf blower, outputting 340 cfm of air volume, as well as a vacuum, so you can move the leaves into a pile before mulching them. A quick release latch system makes it easy to switch between blower and vacuum on the fly.
Though it isn’t as powerful as some of our other picks, it will still reduce leaves to pieces that are less than half an inch, making it easier to bag them or use as compost. I also like the fact that Toro equips this vacuum with a metal impeller, making it less likely to jam on large lawn debris like twigs and large clumps of leaves. If you only need a little bit of help, skip the gas-powered leaf vacuum and go with this user-friendly model instead.
Worx Trivac 12 Amp Blower, Mulcher and Yard Vacuum
The Worx Trivac stands out among hybrid leaf vacuums because of its impressive capacity as a leaf blower. Its extra wide vacuum tube, it can move 600 cfm of air, which means you’ll be clearing your property faster than most other electric vacuums and even a few gas ones. It also nails the leaf vacuum fundamentals: Its metal impeller won’t jam or break, and it shreds leaves at a high 16:1 mulching ratio.
I love the fact that it uses the same tube for blowing as it does for vacuuming, so there’s no need to remove and attach tubes to convert from vacuum to blower. All you need to do is flip a switch to alternate between the two functions. It’s an easy-to-use that’ll make your fall clean up a lot easier.
Stihl SH 86 C-E Leaf Shredder Vacuum
If you don’t mind paying the premium price tag that comes with this top brand in yard care equipment, you won’t find a more powerful leaf vacuum than the Stihl 86 C-E. With its large 27.2 cc gas engine, it’s capable of picking up and grinding heavier material, including wet clumps of leaves, acorns, and twigs.
The SH 86 also has some useful quality-of-life features you won’t find on all gas leaf vacuums, including an anti-vibration system that helps to keep your hands and arms from going numb over long leaf clearing jobs. There’s also an “Easy2Start” system that allows you to get the motor going with a quick pull. Along with its vacuuming capabilities, the Stihl SH 86 also serves as an excellent handheld blower with an impressive max air volume of 444 cfm. If your annual leaf collection duties involve clearing a lot of landscaped areas or breaking down many piles of leaves, then the Stihl SH 86 may be worth the investment.
Q+A with Lawncare Expert Tony Carrick
PM: How does a leaf vacuum differ from a leaf mulcher?
T.C. You know how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? Well, all leaf vacuums are leaf mulchers, but not all leaf mulchers are leaf vacuums.
All leaf vacuums use an impeller or a blade to grind up the leaves after they vacuum them up, so they can fit more leaves in the collection bag. Thus, all leaf vacuums are technically mulchers. However, there are also other kinds of leaf mulchers: Standalone leaf mulchers, for example, give you a larger impeller on a stand, so you can drop piles of leaves in for shredding. It’s a good option if you don’t want to carry a heavy machine, or prefer to mulch leaves directly into a waste bag for easy disposal.
PM: Will leaf vacuums pick up wet leaves?
T.C. Yes, most leaf vacuums will pick up wet leaves, but your success may vary, depending on the size of your leaf vacuum’s engine. Since wet leaves are heavier and clump together, so you need a more powerful leaf vacuum than you do with standard foliage.
Since gas powered leaf vacuums offer the most power, they are best suited for picking up wet leaves.
PM: Why do I still need a rake if I have leaf vacuum?
T.C. While you can collect leaves on small areas of grass with a vacuum, most leaf vacuums are made to collect pockets or piles of leaves, rather than suck up everything in their paths. (That’s why you might splurge for a walk-behind leaf vacuum–it’s much more powerful.) Raking or blowing the leaves into a pile before vacuuming them up will actually take less time and energy.
You really start to see the benefits of the vacuum once you’ve gathered all your leaves. When you vacuum leaves, you’re also chopping them up into small pieces, turning them into mulch. This allows you to fit many more leaves into a trash bag than you normally could, reducing the amount of bags you need to use. Better yet, you can skip the bagging altogether and use those shredded leaves as mulch or compost, to add nutrients to a garden or lawn.
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