There are two kinds of people in your average street: the people who love their leaf blower, and their neighbours. But while you might curse those chipper souls who like to do their leaf blowing at 7am every Sunday, the appeal is undeniable: not only can a blower save your back and arms from the exertion of raking, but a blower vacuum with built-in mulcher turns those pesky leaves and other bits into a lovely mulch for your garden or compost.

Of course, before you throw away your rake and rush off to buy a blower vac, first ask yourself whether you really need one. In most yards with only a moderate quantity of leaves to clear up, a bit of exercise with a rake is probably a better option - and if you live in the suburbs, this will make you more popular with the neighbours.

What else do I need to know about blower vacs?

You'll need to wear good ear protection when using a blower vac, as most of the models we’ve tested have sound levels around 95 to 100 dB; that’s as loud as an angle grinder. Goggles and a dust mask are also advisable.

Another point to consider is that if you are likely to have litter or plastic bags in your leaves they can clog the mechanism.

If you’re not fussed about the mulching, you might consider getting just a blower rather than a blower vac. Using a blower to gather all the leaves into a pile, then picking them up by hand or with plastic “garden hands”, is often an easier option than fiddling around with converting from blower to vacuum (particularly for most petrol models).

Petrol or electric?

CHOICE tests have found no significant overall difference between the top petrol and the electric leaf blowers. Most of the electric models are generally a bit easier to use, mainly because they’re more easily converted from blower to vacuum and back again, and can be easier to start. They're also a bit quieter.

A petrol model might be a better choice if you've got a very big area to clean up and don’t want the hassle of dragging an extension cord behind you, but you'll need to mix fuel for them (all the tested petrol models have two-stroke motors) and they emit exhaust fumes.

What to look for

Weight and balance

Your leaf blower should be well-balanced and not too heavy (remember, a mulcher model will get heavier as the bag fills up).

Collection bag (for mulcher models)

A collection bag that’s easily removed and emptied, and not too large. The bigger it is, the heavier it’ll be when full.

Switching modes

It should be easy to convert the machine from blower to vacuum mode - preferably without needing tools.

Mulching ratio

Most of the tested models claim a mulching ratio of around 10:1 — that is, 10 bags of leaves reduced to one bag of mulch. However, we found the ratio to be more like 4:1.

Variable speed

So you can use just enough power to keep the leaves moving without blasting them away.

Ease of use checklist

  • Easy access to the fan area to clear blockages.
  • It shouldn’t vibrate too much. Turn it on in the store if possible and check it.
  • A trigger lock or similar feature that lets you operate the blower vac without holding down the trigger the whole time, which can be tiring.
  • Comfortable handles.

Cost

Prices range from around $60 to more than $500.