CR's tests show that models with built-in vacs aren’t as versatile as you might think
By Paul Hope
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, a CR engineer who tests leaf blowers. "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.
By far, the biggest limitation of blower vacs is that they collect only a small quantity of leaves (a few cubic feet at a time, depending on mulching capability and bag size) 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.
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.
Currently, none of the battery-powered leaf blowers we tested offer a vacuum function, and you typically won’t ever find the feature on the most powerful type of blowers, wheeled or backpack leaf blowers. It’s usually available on corded electric leaf blowers.
How to Use a Leaf Blower Vacuum
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.) After that, you can jump over to vacuum mode.
For some models, that’s as easy as flipping a switch from "blow" to "vacuum." Others might require you to install or attach a bag, which usually just twists on by hand, though, in some cases, you may need a small tool, like a hex key.
Use the blower’s vacuum mode 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 tidying up porches, patios, and decks 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—but make sure to follow the safety guidelines if you’re working from a ladder.
And, as with all leaf blowers, 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. Members 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, 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.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.