Raking leaves and sweeping up garden debris will be a thing of the past with our pick of the best garden vacuums
Clearing up after a day’s gardening is something few of us get excited about. And if you’ve ever had to clear up after a moulting autumnal magnolia, oversized oak or shedding sycamore, you will know what a time-consuming job it can be using only traditional hand tools. For these jobs, a garden vacuum could well be the answer.
It puts an end to having to sweep the leaves and grass cuttings into piles, praying the wind doesn’t whip up and undo all your hard work. Garden vacuums simply suck it all up, allowing you to deposit it straight into your garden waste bin or composter.
That’s not all, though – since the best models, as well as sucking up the debris, can mulch and compress it all so you don’t have to.
It means that garden vacuums are surprisingly useful, especially when you consider that many on the market also double as leaf blowers, which means you can easily move waste around as well as dispose of it with one single unit.
Below, you will find our favourite garden vacuums for all budgets and lawn sizes, plus we’ve put together a buying guide to help you discover the key considerations when buying the best garden vacuum for you.
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How to choose the best garden vacuum for you
What is a garden vacuum?
A garden vacuum works on the same principle as the one you use on floors and carpets in your home. Comprising a long tube, a bag to collect the waste, and an impeller, as the impeller spins, air is pushed out of a vent in the unit, and in so doing creates an area of low pressure that’s a partial vacuum. Suction is created by air rushing through the intake to fill the vacuum – carrying your garden trimmings with it. Since there isn’t much tech involved, the prices can be very reasonable.
Do I want a garden vacuum or a leaf blower?
Why not have both? Because a garden vacuum works a lot like a leaf blower running in reverse, most models are either dual-purpose or convertible, allowing to blow leaves or suck them up with a flick of a switch or a quick refit or removal of the tubes and bag. You can round up your leaves into a pile, then suck up the pile for easy disposal. Pure garden blowers tend to be a little smaller and lighter, but we would say the dual-use models are worth the extra size and weight.
What features should I look for?
Garden vacuums are simple devices, so there’s not an awful lot to look out for. The main thing to consider is how they’re powered. Mains powered machines are reliable and powerful but come with the downside that you’re tied to a wall socket. That means dragging an extension cord around if you’ve got a good-sized lawn to deal with.
Cordless models don’t have that drawback, but they’re also not so beefy: you might struggle to shift wet leaves, especially if they’ve had time to soak on the lawn or driveway. What’s more, you will usually get around 15-30 minutes out of them; depending on the size of the area you’re clearing, that might not be enough.
Petrol models give you the best of both worlds, but you will need to keep the (flammable) fuel in a shed or garage and head to the petrol station for a top-up. You will also need to mix it with oil, as you’re more than likely dealing with a two-stroke engine, and any failure to do could cause damage before too long.
Capacity and conversion
The other key things to think about are the type and capacity of the bag and how easy it is to convert the machine from its blower to vacuum modes. Most garden vacuums use a simple bag to store any leaves and debris, with a zip to open it up before releasing the load into the bin. With some budget models, the bag can be cheap and poorly designed, allowing the mulched leaves – especially if wet – to stick in place in the fabrics or around the zip or seams. It’s a small thing, but one that leaves you swearing when it’s time to empty out.
As for switching modes, some models simply have a switch that flips between blower and vacuum, but in other cases you will need to remove and reattach tubes, bags and handles when you want to change. This tends to make the device more effective in each job, though, so you need to weigh the hassle against the results.
One final thing to watch out for is the weight and ergonomics. These can be big, heavy machines that you will need to hold in place just above ground level, so comfortable handles, carrying straps and a low and well-distributed weight are all worth paying for. Some budget models get around this by attaching wheels at the bottom of the tube but try rolling these around on a lawn or driveway and you will find it doesn’t quite work out.
Using a garden vacuum
Masses of wet leaves are hard to shift, clog the nozzle and give your vacuum a lot to chew through, so it’s sometimes worth leaving it a few days if you’ve had a lot of rain. Use the blower function to blow your leaves and debris into piles, and – if you have a gravel path or driveway – blow them away from the gravel before you try to suck them up. While you can suck lighter leaves off gravel with the vacuum at its lowest setting, you don’t want to hear the noise one of these things makes when it sucks up any loose stones (or think about the damage they might do to the impeller).
Most of all, don’t feel you need to suck up every last leaf. It’s a garden, not your living room. You can also guarantee that, just when you think you’ve finished, the wind will blow in something else to deal with.
What else might I need?
Manufacturers recommend ear and eye protection as the powerful motors can be noisy and may kick up a lot of debris. You will want sturdy gardening gloves and shoes, too. If you’re using a mains-powered model, an extension reel will be a necessity, as even the longest of supplied cables isn’t going to be enough to let you roam freely.
For a petrol model, you will need an approved container to collect the fuel from a filling station, and two-stroke oil (a small bottle is often supplied by the manufacturer to get you going) to convert standard unleaded into something the machine can use. Not doing this will eventually cause a lubrication failure, where the increased wear on the parts of the engine exposed to the fuel mixture will eventually make it seize up.
How we test garden vacuums
We push garden vacuums to their limits with a number of tests involving large wet tree leaves, smaller shrub leaves and hornbeam, beech and box hedge clippings. We use all of the blower modes featured to see how effective they are at driving leaves and debris off the lawn or driveway and into piles. We then use the vacuum function to suck them up, before emptying the bags into a garden waste bin.
In addition, we take note of how each machine works at different power settings, and measure noise levels at the highest and lowest settings. We also look at how easy it is to switch between blower and vacuum modes, and how quick and easy it is to empty the bag. With corded models, we check for any features for managing the cable, while with cordless models we keep working as long as possible from a full charge, in order to test the battery life.
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The best garden vacuums you can buy in 2023
1. MacAllister MBV2800: Best low-cost garden vacuum
Price when reviewed: £49 | Check price at Screwfix It’s a struggle to find a good garden vacuum for £50, but the MBV2800 offers fantastic value for money. It requires four screws and a bit of self-assembly to hold the two-part tube in place, but with that done the unit feels solid – you will be grateful for the wheels and shoulder harness taking some of the near-6kg weight.
This is one spectacularly powerful vacuum/blower, blasting leaves off driveways or the undergrowth with ease in blower mode. Then, with the switch set the other way, it will suck them in and crunch them with an impressive mulching action. With no need to move tubes or attach the bag, all it takes is a flip of the chunky switch on the side. And if you find the things too intense or noisy – and you will do – you can adjust the ferocity using the dial in the handle. We found the zipped bag a little tricky to empty; but if you don’t want to spend too much money to simply rid some leaves, this is the garden vac to buy.
Key specs – Type: Electric garden vac, blower and mulcher, 2,800W; Bag capacity: 40l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 119 x 18 x 65cm; Weight: 5.9kg
2. McCulloch GBV 322VX: Best petrol-powered garden vacuum
Price when reviewed: £185 | Check price at Very Thanks to a 25cc two-stroke engine, this blower/vacuum/mulcher can blow at speeds of up to 320km/hour, giving you the power you need to blow wet leaves off your soggy lawn or drag them from your driveway. It’s noisy at full tilt, dishing out around 108dB – not much lower than the average rock concert – but you can reduce it using the variable speed control, with a cruise control function to lock the current speed. The efficient VX nozzle means that, while blowing, you can often get away with less.
The best things about the 322VX are that it’s relatively light, easy to start and ready to be taken all around the largest garden, with no worries about the cord or the battery running out, though filling and maintenance is a hassle. The worst thing about it is that switching it from blower to vacuum mode (or back again) involves detaching and switching all the tubes. At least the machine disassembles for easy storage, while the vacuum also mulches, compressing the waste in the bag by a ratio of 16:1. Left-handers should take care not to touch the hot engine during use, but if you’re looking for a heavy-duty blower and vacuum, this is the one to buy.
Key specs – Type: Petrol Garden Vac, 25cc; Bag capacity: 45l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 96.5 x 37 x 30cm; Weight: 4.4kg
The Flymo PowerVac 3000 easily has enough power to sort out all but the largest gardens. The 3000W motor can push out air at speeds of 310km/hr, and had no problems blasting damp leaves on the driveway or hoovering them up from a set of concrete steps. It also shreds your debris down to tiny fragments, with a compression ratio of 16:1. Combine that with a 45l bag and you can clear a large area without stopping for an empty.
The Flymo is a little heavy at 4kg, but it’s well-balanced and feels extremely solid. It’s a bit noisier than the Worx WG505E, with a noise level of 83dB, but it’s nothing some ear protectors won’t block out. In fact, the only thing that really counts against it is that it’s more of a convertible than a true vacuum/blower; you have to detach the blower tube and a fan guard then fit the bag and vacuum tube every time you want to switch.
Key specs – Type: Electric garden vac, blower and mulcher, 3,000W; Bag capacity: 45l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 87 x 20 x 30cm; Weight: 4kg
4. Bosch UniversalGardenTidy: Best all-round corded garden vacuum
Price when reviewed: £87 | Check price at Tooled-Up This corded model doubles up as a vacuum and a leaf-blower, converting between the two when you attach a slimline nozzle for leaf-blowing duties or a larger pipe and bag for vacuuming. The downside of this is that the conversion process takes a few minutes and involves attaching a handle and removing and replacing a release screw, but the hassle’s worth it. Rather than a blower that makes a poor vacuum or a vacuum that’s a huge and heavy blower, you get something that works well in either format, doing an impressive job of shifting leaves or sucking up a range of garden debris.
The good news doesn’t end there, either. In leaf blower mode it’s both very light and surprisingly quiet, with noise levels of around 99dBA thanks to Bosch’s ProSilence technology. As a vacuum, it mulches leaves and twigs to pack more into the 45 litre bag, while repelling dirt and moisture to keep the collected debris reasonably dry. It also feels fantastically well-built, to the extent that we struggled to get the vacuum tube apart when we packed it away. It hasn’t got the convenience of the cordless models or the power of the Flymo PowerVac, but the UniversalGardenTidy makes getting rid of leaves feel easy.
Key specs – Type: Electric garden vac, blower and mulcher, 1,800W; Bag capacity: 45l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 115 x 23 x 67cm; Weight: 3.4-4.7kg
5. Kärcher BLV 18-200: Best garden vacuum for easy clearing
Price when reviewed: £210 | Check price at Kärcher Kärcher’s garden vacuum bends over backwards to make your garden clean-up easy. For a start, it’s cordless, meaning you can get around a large or awkward plot without having to worry about the trailing cable, and the basic 2.5Ah battery will give you around 15 minutes of vacuuming or blowing. It’s also well-designed and pretty easy on the arms and back, weighing in at just 3.5kg, with little wheels to support the lengthy tube while you’re working. There’s no need to attach or detach tubes to switch between blower and vacuum – all it takes is a flick of a switch – and the 45l bag and built-in mulching mean you will probably run out of charge before you need to empty the machine.
It can’t match the corded vacuums for power, so you might struggle with piles of large wet leaves. However, press a button and it will jump into a boost mode, which is great for clearing soggy clumps of rubbish or powering through when the pipe gets clogged. It’s an expensive machine and you have to pay extra for the battery and charger, which will set you back a further £75. However, it shares the same battery and charger system as Kärcher’s other cordless garden tools.
Key specs – Type: Cordless Garden Vac, 18V; Bag capacity: 45l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 124 x 38 x 17cm; Weight: 3.5kg
6. Worx G583E: Best cordless blower/vacuum combo for power
Price when reviewed: £150 | Check price at AmazonThe Worx WG583E sports a similar design to the Flymo PowerVac and the Bosch UniversalGardenTidy, but with two big differences. First, the conversion from blower to vacuum and back again feels easier and, second, there’s no trailing cable. It’s a beefy little beast, hurling out huge amounts of air on its highest power setting to send leaves flying across the lawn. Switch to vacuum mode and it will suck up great piles of them in seconds, then neatly shred and compact them so that they barely fill the 35-litre collection bag. Big, damp leaves prove no problem, and the unit even tackled patches of moss thrown down by the local seagulls and conifer clippings from a hedge.
The downside here is battery life. On full power you’ll practically see the indicator run down, and you’ll be lucky if you get more than 10 minutes of vacuuming from the two 20V.2Ah batteries. Engage Eco mode, however, and you can double that lifespan and still pick up or blow dry leaves. It’s still worth having a spare set of batteries with this model, and it works best for those who have some other Worx gear, whether batteries can be shared across other tools from the brand.
Key specs – Type: Cordless garden vac; Bag capacity: 35l; Mulching: Yes; Dimensions: 500 x 275 x 33mm Weight: 3.8kg