Garden Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers - Which one to Choose?

Garden leaf vacuums, mulchers and blowers are valuable tools for any home owner with the backyard and garden. They help the user to keep the area clean and tidy, saving time and effort. But, with all the models available on the market and with the different features, power sources, types etc. it is sometimes hard to choose the right one. But it shouldn't be ...

corded lawn vacuum 1

Required Features and Specifications

When buying a good garden leaf vacuum, mulcher, and blower unit, it is important to know what the unit is going to be used for.

Small dry leaves require less power to be vacuumed or blown away, while large wet leaves, small branches and even grass clippings require stronger units with much faster air flow.

Air Speed

Air speed is one of the most important specifications when checking garden leaf vacuums/mulchers/blowers specifications. Maximum air speed should be in 200+ mph range with at least 2 different air speed settings. Electric corded units usually feature ~250 mph air speeds, allowing them to vacuum/blow even wet leaves relatively easy.

Note that air energy increases with the square of the air speed, thus air flow of 250 mph has 4x more energy than the same amount or air (in pounds or kilograms) flowing at 125 mph. Hence, if you see for example a leaf blower with high CFM value, but modest power, check the air flow speed, it might be surprisingly low - note that such units are excellent leaf blowers as long as the leaves are dry.

Volume of Air

Air volume that unit provides is usually given in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and it ranges up to 400 CFM for stronger units.

However, note that garden leaf vacuums and blowers don't use the same nozzles for vacuuming and blowing, thus some units feature different CFM values when operating in vacuum mode or blower mode.

Weight of the Garden Leaf Vacuum

Smaller lighter unit can be easily carried with single hand and are highly maneuverable. However, such units usually feature weaker motors, sound insulation, most parts are made of plastic etc. Such units weigh 5-8 pounds (~2.3 - 3.6 kg).

Heavier units are carried using both shoulder strap and a carrying handle, they have stronger motors, important and mechanically stressed parts are made using steel or aluminum etc. Such units weigh from 7-8 (~3.5 kg) pounds to 12 (~5.4 kg) or even more pounds.

Metal or Plastic Impeller

metal impellerImpeller is very important part of the garden leaf vacuum/mulcher/blower. As it spins at high revs, it creates flow of air that actually do the required job.

With the advancements in technology, especially chemistry, plastic impellers are light, tough, durable and fairly cheap and are commonly used in electric and some gas leaf blowers.

However, they are not the best choice for garden leaf vacuums and mulchers combos - as the leaves are vacuumed into the unit, leaves are shredded to pieces by fast spinning impeller blades and although leaves are generally soft, they can wear down the plastic impeller relatively quickly. And if the smaller branches are vacuumed, they can leave marks on the impeller blades or even break them.

But, plastic impellers are cheap to replace.

Metal impellers are much tougher than plastic ones, but they are also heavier, they cost more and they require more energy and time to rev up.

However, metal impellers generally have no issues when shredding tough leaves, smaller branches and other similar organic material, commonly found at home backyards and gardens.

Some metal impellers even feature blades that should be sharpen in order to improve their mulching capabilities, but that should be done only according to the manufacturer's instructions - sharpening the blades can also lead to weakening the blades' edges and shortening impeller's operating life and thus should be done only by trained professionals.

Personally, even the smallest leaf vacuum/mulcher should have metal impeller.

Mulch Bag

leaf collection bagIn order to collect leaves, leaf vacuums feature mulch/leaf bag usually positioned under the unit.

Since leaves can be very voluminous, good impeller that shreds leaves into the mulch is very important.

Most of the leaf vacuums/mulchers feature 1:10 to 1:16 ratio of the mulch:leaves volume, decreasing the number of times the bag must be emptied during the cleaning job.

Mulch that is created during cleaning can be used for mulching (hence the name) in the garden, or can be used for making compost, etc.

Other leaf collecting systems use flexible cleaning hose and large bag that is placed on the floor or small cart. Such systems are recommended for gardens and backyards with large amounts of leaves, since they reduce number of bag emptying even more, speeding up the cleaning process even further.

Power Source

Generally, there are three types of garden leaf vacuums/mulchers/blowers and these include electric corded leaf vacuums, electric cordless leaf vacuums and gas leaf blowers.

 Electric Corded Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers

corded lawn vacuum 2

Electric corded units have many advantages when compared with other units, for example:

- since they are powered using mains power, they are rather strong, with most units having 10-15 Amps motors. Such motors easily create air speeds up to 250 mph and air flows of up to or even more than 400 CFM. Such units can be used for cleaning even wet leaves and often grass clippings, mulching them into the collection bag.

- they have zero CO2 footprint, and during operation they release no fumes and gasses, unlike gas operated leaf vacuums/mulchers/blowers. Also, electric corded units are relatively quiet during operation.

Like other units, electric corded units feature different nozzles for vacuum and blower modes, collector bag and few other parts for converting them from blower to vacuum mode and back.

extension cordOne of the greatest disadvantages of corded electric units is their dependency on mains power, requiring long extension power cables to be used during vacuuming.

When choosing proper extension code, be sure to get heavy duty outdoors extension cord, dimensioned according to the electric load they are going to power - if you have, for example 12 Amps unit, go for at least 15 Amps power cord.

Of course, thicker power cords are better in terms of electric efficiency, but they are also harder to handle.

Having brightly colored extension power cord is highly recommended, since it can be easily seen in the grass or among the leaves, although this is not of such importance as if powering lawn mowers. But, just in case, get bright yellow, orange or red power cable.

Cordless Garden Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers

cordless lawn vacuum 2

Cordless leaf vacuums use the energy stored at onboard batteries to power the units.

Cordless units don't depend on the extension cords and mains power and are fully autonomous in terms of external energy sources.

However, cordless garden vacuums are limited by the energy stored in the batteries.

Modern lithium batteries store plenty of energy in the lightweight package and provide fade-free power during operation. And when they are discharged, they can be quickly recharged.

Cordless garden leaf vacuums are generally weaker than corded units, having limited air speed and/or air flow in order to preserve the battery. Also, they often feature several nozzles and variable speed control, allowing the user to finely tune unit according to the requirements.

Since they are electric, cordless units also emit no carbon dioxide, nor smelly fumes nor exhaust gasses. Also, they tend to be very quiet during operation.

Since good lithium batteries are not cheap, cordless leaf vacuums are highly recommended to people already having cordless tools with the batteries that can be used in corded leaf vacuum - most popular brands have sets of tools that use the same lithium batteries, decreasing the cost of operating such tools.

In that case, purchasing 'bare tool' (leaf vacuum only, without the batteries) can be rather cheap.

 Gas Garden Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers gas leaf blower

Gas powered units are energy independent unit - when onboard fuel tank gets empty, they can be refilled within seconds and resume with the operation.

Also, they can be much stronger even when being compared with electric corded units.

However, they have some serious drawbacks, too:

gas can- they don't have zero carbon dioxide footprint. In fact, they exhaust plenty of CO2 during operation, although newer 4-stroke units burning gas only have rather clean exhaust. 2-stroke units using fuel-oil mixture tend to be smelly, even when using newer 2-stroke motors oils. IMHO, of course.

- when the mufflers are set correctly, noise levels are not as bad as they were 5-10 years ago, but they are still noisier units that corded and especially cordless units.

- when being compared with electric units, they are also maintenance intensive units.

Because of all these features, gas operated units are mostly used as commercial gas leaf blowers.

Long Story Short: So, which leaf vacuum/mulcher/blower to buy?

If you have large garden/backyard, go for corded unit, just be sure to get long enough extension cord. If dimensioned properly, such unit will do its job properly, while keeping operating and maintenance costs to minimum.

cordless lawn vacuum 1If you have cordless tools with required lithium batteries, consider buying a garden leaf unit that can utilize those batteries. Such unit can be purchased as 'bare tool' only at very affordable price, just be sure that it is strong enough to do the job properly.

Also, if you intend to buy several cordless tools over time, maybe it is the best option to start with the cordless garden leaf vacuum unit with the good battery/batteries and charger. Over time, other cordless tools can be bought as 'bare tools' at very affordable prices.

If you have a really large area to cover, without mains power present, consider gas operated unit. Even if the mains power unit is present, stronger gas unit can do the job faster, saving some time. If that saved time justifies more maintenance tasks, stronger noise and other common 'issues' that come with gas units, consider them for such operations.

Note: whatever you do, be sure to read the manuals thoroughly, especially safety instructions! Better save than sorry...