Photo: Mark Wolfe for Bob Vila
Though broadly related to leaf blowers, leaf vacuums operate in the opposite direction. While leaf blowers disperse leaves by pushing air, leaf vacuums suck up fallen foliage through a tube and into a waste bag, operating much like a house vacuum. (A pool leaf vacuum does the same thing for a swimming pool.) Many leaf vacuums also mulch the debris they collect, so folks can use it to benefit the garden.
Leaf vacuums are exceptionally handy for tidying up yards and banishing leaf buildup beneath hedges and around flower beds. To help you find the ideal model, we tested popular gas, electric, and battery-powered leaf vacuums to judge their performance in real-life conditions. Read on for our reviews of some of the best leaf vacuums in various categories and to learn the most important considerations to bear in mind while shopping.
- BEST OVERALL: Toro 51621 UltraPlus Electric Leaf Blower Vacuum
- RUNNER-UP: Ryobi 40V Cordless Leaf Vacuum/Mulcher
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Worx WG509 Trivac 2 Leaf Vacuum With Mulching System
- BEST GAS UNIT: Husqvarna 125BVx Gas Leaf Blower Vacuum
- BEST CORDLESS: Greenworks 24322 40V Cordless Leaf Blower Vacuum
- BEST ELECTRIC: Sun Joe SBJ606E 3-in-1 Electric Leaf Blower Vacuum
- BEST BACKPACK: Black+Decker BEBL7000 3-in-1 Electric Leaf Blower
- BEST WALK-BEHIND: Billy Goat KV601SP Lawn and Leaf Vacuum
Photo: Mark Wolfe for Bob Vila
How We Tested the Best Leaf Vacuums
To gauge the functionality of these devices, we set up a leafy test course that gave each tool a fair trial in a real-world setting. We used each tool in both of its configurations, blower and vacuum, to see how it could build leaf piles and then vacuum/mulch them. The debris included recently fallen leaves from the current year, as well as old, built-up debris that had accumulated beneath shrubs over the course of a full year.
The models reviewed in this guide passed the test by adequately blowing out the heavily accumulated debris, gathering the recently fallen leaves, and grinding up a mixed pile. However, they all worked more slowly with wet material and were also somewhat subject to clogging if the suction nozzle was forced directly into the pile without adequate air space at the edges.
Our Top Picks
We narrowed the field of the best leaf vacuum for individual needs by testing several popular models in different categories, with the performance results in the reviews below. (Note: While we tested the Craftsman 25cc 2-Cycle Engine Gas-Powered Leaf Blower, it failed to meet our standards and so was not included in our lineup of recommended models.) Keeping the yard, garage, and flower beds free of fallen leaves can be easier with any of these top picks.
The Toro UltraPlus leaf blower vacuum is a powerful three-in-one leaf blower, high-speed vacuum, and leaf shredder designed for midsize yards. The 12-amp (A) electric motor moves up to 410 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air at speeds as high as 250 miles per hour (mph). In vacuum mode, the impeller shredder grinds to a 16:1 ratio, with 97 percent of shredded debris measuring less than a half-inch in diameter.
In our tests, this plug-in leaf blower vacuum had no trouble handling loads of leaves—no clogs and only slight hesitation in heavier piles. Moist leaves moved a bit more slowly but were sucked up and ground nonetheless. The lightweight body of this blower vacuum was easy to maneuver, and the vacuum mulcher output was comparable to the others we tested.
In addition to its vacuum capabilities, this variable-speed unit was just as effective at keeping grass clippings off the driveway and banishing dust and debris from between potted patio plants as it was at clearing fallen leaves. The unique dispersion nozzle blower attachment focused air in a low, wide pattern that reduced dust clouds, but the blow tube did seem a bit too narrow.
- Power source: 12A plug-in electric
- Airflow: 410 CFM, 250 mph
- Weight: 8.9 pounds
- 3-in-1 tool with blower and vacuum modes, plus shredding
- Lightweight design; reduces user fatigue from extended use
- Powerful airflow volume and speed to clean up heavy debris
- Sturdy bag design; includes a shoulder strap for carrying
- Requires an outlet for the power cord; mobility somewhat restricted
- Somewhat clumsy connection for vacuum tube
- Vacuum tube may be uncomfortably long for shorter people to use
Get the Toro leaf vacuum at Amazon or The Home Depot.
Those with lots of leaves to get rid of might want to consider the Ryobi leaf vacuum and mulcher. This model pulls 300 CFM of air at a maximum speed of 75 mph, processing up to eight bags of leaves per charge. It operates on the Ryobi 40-volt (V) rechargeable battery system, so the 40V 5 amp hour (Ah) battery is shareable among a full line of lawn care power tools for maximum efficiency. It charges in about 2 hours and delivers 12 minutes of runtime per charge. It features a 16:1 mulching reduction ratio, shredding piles of leaves down to just a few bags for easy handling.
In our tests, the Ryobi 40V leaf mulcher did a great job picking up fallen leaves from every surface. Notably, it removed all leaves and pine cones from a gravel area without disturbing the gravel. The battery lasted longer than expected, about 25 minutes of actual working time. We filled the bagger twice before it was necessary to charge the battery.
The only complaint we had with this unit was its weight of almost 13 pounds, which was especially cumbersome while dragging a loaded bag. It became tiring after the third work cycle.
- Power source: 40V 5Ah battery
- Airflow: 300 CFM, 75 mph
- Weight: 12.7 pounds
- Adjustable wheel height compatible with different surfaces
- Capable of vacuuming leaves from gravel without disturbing the gravel
- Large leaf bag and 16:1 reduction ratio, good for small and midsize yards
- Freedom of movement without a power cord
- Only a leaf vacuum and mulcher; does not convert into a leaf blower
- Heavy tool and no shoulder strap
Get the Ryobi leaf vacuum at The Home Depot.
The Worx WG509 boasts yard clearing convenience at a budget-friendly price. It changes between its three modes with the flip of a switch; there’s no need to change the tube or use tools to go from blowing to vacuuming. In mulcher mode, a metal impeller reduces leaves in a 18:1 ratio (18 bags to 1 bag). The 1-bushel collection bag includes a shoulder strap to reduce fatigue.
This leaf blower/vac proved to have one of the best designs of any model, at any price. It is the only unit we tested that can change from blower to vacuum without completely reconfiguring the tubes, which made it super easy to work with. It also delivered power comparable to models costing twice as much. It did clog on some coarse debris, but it performed well overall.
The model only has two speeds, but it reaches a top speed of 210 mph with 350 CFM. An ergonomic tube design reduces back strain by putting the tube at a parallel angle to the ground. The angle also helps it reach under and around landscaping elements.
- Power source: 12A plug-in electric
- Airflow: 350 CFM, 210 mph
- Weight: 9.3 pounds
- Angled tube provides comfortable reach with less back strain
- Easily switches between blower and vacuum modes; no tools required
- Quick-release bag design allows for convenient and easy emptying
- Not well designed for 2-handed operation
- Slightly awkward power cord position
- Taller users get less benefit from the tube design
Get the Worx leaf vacuum at Amazon or The Home Depot.
For large gardens and heavy leaf accumulation, it’s hard to beat the Husqvarna gas leaf blower vacuum, which draws in air at speeds of up to 170 mph and features an air volume of 425 CFM. Its easy-crank engine enables quick starting, and an auto-return stop switch automatically resets the vacuum for simpler starting. It also features cruise control for easier handling and less hand fatigue.
After fueling up with a 50:1 mix of gasoline to 2-cycle oil, the Husqvarna engine started easily with just two pulls. Powerful air movement at the suction tube easily pulled in piles of leaves, and the tube remained unclogged, even when pulling in wet debris. The mulching knives aggressively shredded twigs as well as leaves without a problem. The only issue we experienced was the slightly awkward feel of the curved tube that feeds the bag with shredded leaves.
Though the unit weighs in at 9.6 pounds, a shoulder strap helps support the vacuum to reduce arm fatigue. The Husqvarna also features anti-vibration technology to reduce hand stress.
- Power source: 28 cubic centimeter (cc) 2-cycle gas engine
- Airflow: 425 CFM, 170 mph
- Weight: 9.6 pounds
- Cruise control and anti-vibration technology helpful to reduce operator fatigue
- Soft-grip handle with easily accessed controls; shoulder strap also allows for more comfortable use
- Cordless design allows ultimate freedom of movement
- Somewhat awkward rigid bag tube and clumsy tube conversion
- Requires mixed gas
Get the Husqvarna leaf vacuum at Amazon or Lowe’s.
If a property is too large for a corded leaf vacuum, but mixing fuel for a gas model is too much hassle, check out this battery-powered option from Greenworks. Its 12A lithium-ion battery (included along with the charger) powers the vacuum’s brushless motor to run up to 60 minutes on a single charge at the lowest setting.
This cordless leaf blower/vacuum offers good suction and shredding capability. The runtime was longer than many comparable battery-powered blower/vacuum models. But still, at about 20 minutes per charge on high speed, in an average-size yard with lots of leaves, users will either need to have a second battery charged and ready to vacuum after blowing, or they will have to stop and recharge at some point in the project.
The vacuum draws in air at six speed options up to 185 mph, with an airflow volume of 340 CFM, which is suitable for light to moderate leaf accumulation. A metal impeller breaks up leaves for mulching before depositing them in the collection bag. A bigger battery puts the weight at 8.6 pounds, so you’ll need some strength for longer jobs.
- Power source: 40V 4Ah rechargeable battery
- Airflow: 340 CFM, 185 mph
- Weight: 8.6 pounds
- Cordless model with good suction power; great for wet leaves
- Fairly good runtime per charge; ideal for moderate yard sizes
- Toolless transition from blower to vacuum for user convenience
- Additional battery may be necessary to avoid downtime
- Suction tube may clog with coarse debris
- Higher price than plug-in and gas models
Get the Greenworks leaf vacuum at Amazon, Walmart, or Newegg (battery and charger not included).
The Sun Joe SBJ606E features a 14A plug-in electric motor capable of moving 440 CFM of air up to 250 mph. In small- to medium-size landscapes, this tool can make quick work of up to 16 bushels of dry leaves per shredded bagful. Support wheels at the base of the vacuum tube and a collection bag that mounts on the base of the unit take the bulk of the weight from the user’s shoulders.
Considering that it has the most powerful electric motor of the test group at a comparable weight, we expected the Sun Joe to perform significantly better than the rest. Though it held its own in hands-on testing, it did not vanquish the competition—in fact, performance was comparable across the board. What’s more, while the suction nozzle wheels and onboard leaf collection bag help to reduce fatigue for average-size users, taller folks may find it difficult to adjust the strap height properly to gain those added benefits.
This tool could be the right choice for small to midsize yards with an average annual leaf drop. At 96 decibels, the noise level is slightly higher than the competition. But the power-to-weight ratio is favorable, particularly for those who can take advantage of the weight-reducing design features.
- Power source: 14A plug-in electric
- Airflow: 440 CFM, 250 mph
- Weight: 9.1 pounds
- Good airflow; tackles most jobs on midsize yards with ease
- Comfortable design; ideal for prolonged use
- Onboard collection bag makes for more convenient, less arduous yard work
- Small collection bag needs emptying more often
- Somewhat awkward for taller users
- Larger leaves can clog the tube
Get the Sun Joe leaf vacuum at Amazon or Walmart.
This Black+Decker three-in-one electric model boasts a backpack design that lets you avoid lurching sideways with a loaded bag of leaves. Balancing the weight across both shoulders and being able to walk naturally makes yard work less awkward and more comfortable, especially during bigger jobs. The 12A motor in this backpack leaf vacuum/blower pushes 400 CFM of air up to 250 mph, and the blower unit weighs in at 11.1 pounds.
This blower was not the lightest or the most powerful of the test group, but it performed well and excelled in user comfort. The backpack feature and flexible debris tube relieved the added weight (just over 2 pounds heavier than the lightest model we tested). As the bag filled, the benefit of a balanced load became even more pronounced. The only drawback was that the positions of the power cord and on/off switch were not as convenient in vacuum/backpack mode.
Vacuuming, mulching, and blowing performance for this unit were average compared with the test group. However, those with larger yards or limited endurance may appreciate the improved balance and comfort of working with a backpack-style tool.
- Power source: 12A plug-in electric
- Airflow: 400 CFM, 250 mph
- Weight: 11.1 pounds
- Convenient backpack-style collection bag distributes weight evenly
- Good suction power; great for gathering large or wet leaves
- Zipperless collection bag allows for simple emptying
- Slightly awkward switch placement
- Power cord sometimes slips out
- Screwdriver required to switch from blower to vacuum
Get the Black+Decker leaf vacuum at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or The Home Depot.
For larger properties with lots of trees and a mix of grassy and hard surfaces to maintain, a walk-behind model could be the best leaf vacuum for the job. The Billy Goat KV601SP self-propelled lawn and leaf vacuum features a wide nozzle with powerful suction and an oversize bagger to clean large areas quickly with less downtime emptying.
This walk-behind leaf vacuum comes equipped with a 190cc Briggs & Stratton gas engine that delivers a whopping 1,707 CFM of airflow through the 26-inch nozzle and powers the rear drive wheels. A serrated impeller grinds dry leaves and debris at a 12:1 reduction ratio before sending it to the 4-bushel bagger. The heavy-duty zipperless bagger uses a clip closure for fast debris removal.
This machine includes an adjustable-height nozzle to capture different types of debris, including leaves and pine needles, pine cones, acorns, flower petals, and more. It works well on a variety of surfaces, such as grass, gravel, mulch, and pavement. An optional hose kit (sold separately) expands the vacuum’s functionality to include debris that lands on hedges, between shrubs, and in other hard-to-reach areas.
Our walk-behind leaf vacuum test included a heavy layer of leaves, clumpy grass clippings, twigs, pine needles and pine cones on grass and concrete. The Billy Goat rolled along and picked up everything in its path. Matted wet foliage sometimes required a second pass, and longer sticks partly blocked the nozzle a couple of times, but the impeller never became clogged and the bagger held an impressive amount of material.
In the absence of a blower to remove litter from hard-to-reach spots, we would have appreciated the hose attachment to access these pesky areas. Still, this was far and away the fastest and most thorough tool for the job.
- Power source: 190cc gas engine
- Airflow: 1,707 CFM
- Weight: 132 pounds
- Powerful airflow and wide intake for maximum speed and productivity
- Large no-zipper debris bag reduces downtime for dumping
- Self-propelled rear-wheel drive works on flat or hilly terrain
- Variable-height adjustment for working on grass or hard surfaces
- Also picks up twigs, pine cones, acorns, and other plant debris
- Bulky machine takes up a considerable amount of storage space
- Hose kit accessory with telescoping handle is not included
Get the Billy Goat leaf vacuum at Acme Tools, Mowers at Jacks, or Mowers Direct.
What to Consider When Choosing a Leaf Vacuum
Leaf vacuums come in various types and with different-size collection bags. There are also three power source types—gas, electric, and battery power—with each option affecting runtime and suction. Take a look below at some important factors to help determine the motor type, power, and design that will work best for you.
Leaf vacuums are made in a few types, and some kinds work better in certain situations and setups than others.
- Handheld leaf vacuums are the smallest and least powerful option, but they’re often the most affordable and lightest. These models can be vacuum only or a hybrid that works as a blower and/or sweeper too. While handhelds typically have the smallest collection bags, some models may cross into backpack territory (see below) and have somewhat larger vacuum bags. A cordless leaf vacuum is also typically handheld to provide optimal maneuverability.
- Backpack leaf vacuums are usually hybrid models that have leaf blowing as their main function. Backpack models tend to have larger collection sacks than handheld models that need emptying less often.
- Walk-behind leaf vacuums resemble lawn mowers, but instead of cutting grass, they suck leaves up into a large collection sack. These models hold the most leaves and may include a mulch function as well. However, they’re more expensive and cannot be used as a leaf blower.
Electric vs. Gas
Like lawn mowers, leaf vacuums are available in electric- and gas-powered versions.
- Electric leaf vacuums are quieter, easier to maintain, and typically less expensive. Corded leaf vacuums are best suited to modestly sized outdoor spaces since they require access to an electrical outlet. A cordless leaf vacuum blower with rechargeable batteries allows room to roam and is compact enough to be easily stored. However, they don’t match the power of other leaf vacuums and can only be used for relatively brief periods of time between charges.
- Gas-powered leaf vacuums offer greater power and the ability to cover lots of ground in one go. As a result, these models are often more expensive. Gas leaf vacuums also run loud, emit fumes, and require maintaining the proper gas-to-oil ratio.
To figure out the power of a leaf vacuum, check the product description for two numbers: mph and CFM. The mph stands for miles per hour—in this case, referring to how quickly air is suctioned into the unit and through the tube. Most units run between 110 and 180 mph, although some may reach extremes of 250 mph or so.
Somewhat more important than airspeed, however, is CFM. This describes how much air moves through the vacuum in the span of 60 seconds, indicating how powerful the unit is. While mph provides an idea of how quickly leaves can go through the tube, CFM indicates how much can go through all at once.
The CFM rankings for leaf vacuums range from between 150 to 600. A unit with a CFM under 200 may be all that’s needed to clean up an apartment balcony or a small yard, but for larger areas, it may be desirable to invest in a unit with higher CFM.
The runtime of a battery-powered leaf vacuum can limit the amount of work that can be done. Most models offer at least 20 to 30 minutes of runtime on the highest power levels. At lower levels, the battery may run for 45 minutes or more.
Battery-powered models that include two or more interchangeable batteries can increase the available work time. While one battery is in use, the other battery charges. Charge times vary from 1.5 to 3 hours and sometimes longer depending on the battery size. The amount of work may still be limited with interchangeable batteries, but it will provide more work time than a single battery.
Some manufacturers provide batteries that are interchangeable with the brand’s other power tools. In these cases, buying power tools of the same brand can add to the number of batteries available. Ultimately, that can extend possible work time even more.
Some leaf vacuums offer bells and whistles beyond simple suction. In fact, most vacuums these days are actually leaf blowers with a vacuum function. That provides extra use options with a single tool.
Leaf vacuums are best suited for smaller outdoor spaces, like those surrounding garden apartments and duplexes. Some models also offer a mulching option, which is great for repurposing leaves into healthy plant beds.
Ease of Use
A leaf vacuum’s mix of features and design can make it easier or harder to use. Bag size, for example, determines how often it will need to be emptied. Larger bags mean less frequent emptying, but they can be awkward and heavy to carry.
Weight also affects ease of use. Gas-powered leaf vacuums weigh the most, though some battery-powered models are almost as heavy. For those with a large yard, gas power makes sense because it can keep a consistent high power throughout the whole yard.
However, for those with smaller yards, the light weight of a handheld or a battery-powered model can be more comfortable. Models with a backpack bag combine the lighter weight of a handheld leaf vacuum with the convenience of a backpack.
Finally, there are controls to consider. Trigger switches and on/off buttons directly on the handle are easier to use. This allows you to turn the machine on or off with one hand. Toolless conversion for hybrid models can also add to ease of use.
Leaf vacuums aren’t complicated once you understand how they work and what features are needed for specific jobs. However, since they aren’t as common as leaf blowers, you might still find yourself scratching your head as you look at the specs. Here, we answer some of the most common questions about leaf vacuums to help you make the right choice.
Q. What machine is best for picking up leaves?
Handheld leaf vacuums work best for small yards and few leaves. Once the dry or wet leaves start piling up, a backpack or an electric model will offer longer running times and a larger collection-bag capacity. Gas leaf vacuums also work well for large yards, though they do require more maintenance and can be heavy.
Q. How powerful does a leaf vacuum need to be?
Look at the leaf vacuum’s mph and CFM when determining the power. While these measurements aren’t volts or amps, they are a better indicator of the quantity of leaves the vacuum can handle. Speeds of anywhere between 110 to 220 mph are usually adequate for leaf removal.
The CFM tells you the quantity of dry or wet leaves the vacuum can move at once. Higher numbers (at 200 or higher) mean more powerful suction and removal. However, a model with a well-designed tube can provide adequate suction at 95 CFM and above.
Q. Will a lawn vacuum pick up grass clippings?
A lawn vacuum can pick up grass clippings. However, depending on its power and CFM, it may struggle with wet clippings.
Q. Can you clean gutters with a leaf vacuum?
Although the angle of use is not quite right, it is possible to clean gutters with a leaf vacuum. However, a leaf vacuum may not have the power to remove wet leaves.
Q. How do I switch from blower to vacuum?
The process of switching from blower to vacuum depends on the make and model of the device. Some models require nothing more than the flip of a switch. Others require extra tools to remove a blow tube before functioning as a vacuum. Check the owner’s manual for specific instructions.
Why Trust Bob Vila
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Meet the Tester
Mark Wolfe is a writer and product tester with a background in the nursery and landscaping industry. For more than 20 years he mowed, edged, planted, pruned, cultivated, irrigated, and renovated beautiful landscapes. Now he tests and writes reviews about the latest outdoor power equipment, hand tools, lawn-care products, and other outdoor living goods.
Additional research provided by Glenda Taylor and Stacey L. Nash.