While you might curse those chipper souls who like to do their leaf blowing at 8am every Sunday, the appeal is undeniable: not only can a blower vac be a convenient option for clearing a large leaf-covered lawn, but its vacuum with built-in mulcher turns the leaves and other bits into 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 – for you and your neighbours.
What do I need to know about blower vacs?
You'll need to wear good ear protection when using a blower vac, as they can have sound levels up to 95 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 have plastic or other litter mixed in with your leaves, it 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 a rake, is often an easier option than fiddling around with converting from blower to vacuum (particularly for most petrol models). Our blower vac reviews include cordless (battery-powered) blower-only models and we've found several that can do the job well.
We test blower vacs by scattering a large bag of dry leaves evenly over a 60 square metre yard, blowing them into a pile, converting the model to vacuum mode and vacuuming up the piled leaves. The faster the blower vac completes the job, the better its score. The best models complete the job in about 10 to 12 minutes – which is not a lot faster than doing the job manually with a rake.
Petrol, electric or cordless?
CHOICE tests in the past have found no significant overall performance difference between petrol and corded 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. However, you will need a long outdoor extension cord (and a safety switch) and dragging the cord around behind you can be annoying.
A petrol model would be a better choice if you've got a very big area to clean up, but you'll probably need to mix fuel for them (most petrol models have two-stroke motors) and they emit exhaust fumes.
Cordless models can be very effective and convenient, at least for blowing leaves into a pile, though you need to remember to make sure the battery is charged up before you use them. Cordless models generally have a short battery life of under 25 minutes, with some lasting only a little over 10 minutes, so they are not ideal for longer jobs. We've tested some cordless blower-vacs too, but found that generally their vacuuming performance isn't as good as the petrol or electric models. They don't yet appear to have the necessary power to suck up and shred leaves swiftly and without clogging and as a result they tend to run out of juice too soon.
If you go for a cordless model, consider getting a spare battery; it can be handy if you have a larger yard that can't be covered with one battery charge, or if you get out the blower only to realise you didn't charge it last time.
There are two numbers to consider when it comes to batteries:
- Voltage (V), which indicates the power of the battery. Advances in battery technology mean that many models now come with batteries rated at 36V – some models even have 40V or 56V batteries – giving better performance than models with 18V batteries.
- Capacity (amp hours or Ah) which indicates the relative running time; the bigger the capacity, the longer the running time. While a 1.5Ah or 2.0Ah battery is probably enough for a typical yard – at least for blowing, if not vacuuming – look for larger capacities if you need longer running time.
How much should I pay?
The models in our most recent blower vacs test range in price from $82 to $429, however other models can cost more than $500.
Features to look for
Weight and balance
Your leaf blower should be well-balanced and not too heavy (remember, a vacuum model will get heavier as the bag fills up).
Collection bag (for vacuum 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.
It should be easy to convert the machine from blower to vacuum mode - preferably without needing tools. Some models need you to swap the nozzle and attach the bag when converting from blower to vacuum, while others have all the features built-in (making them more bulky) and just need you to flick a lever or switch.
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've found the ratio to be more like 4:1.
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.