Written by Terry Smith

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Best petrol leaf vacuums [UK]:Stihl and McCulloch petrol leaf vacuum mulcher shredders compared with budget brands

This article was last updated on October 29th, 2021 at 9:37 pm

I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked about leaf blowers and leaf vacuums. It seems everyone wants to know the same few things: Should I get electric, cordless or petrol? Which is better: a leaf blower or a leaf vacuum? Are leaf blower vacuum combo tools any good?

In the past, I’ve spoken and written quite a lot on this subject, and you can find a few articles by using the search bar function at the top of the page and probably most notably my best petrol leaf blower article. However, this is the first time I’ve gone into detail into petrol vacuums for the UK market specifically, and they have astonishing power, most notably designed for professionals and those with serious gardens!

Today we will look at the advantages of petrol leaf blower vacuums, how they work, address some of the issues you may run into with them, and present you with our picks, plus reviews, of the best petrol leaf blower vacuums, available online, in the UK.

My picks for the best petrol leaf vacuums in the UK:

Best petrol leaf vacuum: McCulloch GBV 322 VX Petrol Garden Vacuum – nice balance of price and performance

Heavy duty professional pick for leaf vacuums: Stihl SH 56 Petrol Vacuum Shredder

Budget pick: Parker PBV-2600 26cc 3 in 1 Petrol Vacuum, Mulcher & Shredder

What is a petrol blower vacuum and how do they work?

Leaf blower vacuums attempt to address the problem of needing to separate tools to clear your garden of leaves in the Autumn and winter. Instead of having a leaf blower tool and a leaf vacuum, these tools are designed to serve both purposes.

Most petrol leaf blower vacuums have the same basic design. There’s a small petrol engine at the rear, some handles on the casing surrounding that engine, and then either one or more ports where you connect the tubes and other attachments.

The petrol engine powers a fan which creates a strong flow of air pressure that is then channelled through a tube, and used to blow leaves off your lawn, patio, etc. and into a neat pile for collecting with some leaf grabbers or a shovel and wheelbarrow.

When switched into the vacuum function, these tools suck up leaves from surfaces and then are shredded by the fan into smaller pieces, and finally collected in a collection bag that you attach to one of the ports.

What are the advantages of a petrol leaf vacuum?

The most obvious answer to this question is that it saves you money when compared with buying two separate tools. There’s also less storage space needed, less maintenance, and they can save you time on the job too.

When used in vacuum mode, the eaves will be sucked up and then shredded into smaller pieces so you can use them as mulch, or so that they will decompose faster when added to your compost pile. It also allows you to use the full volume of the collection bag due to the smaller pieces.

If we are comparing petrol leaf blower vacuums to the more commonly seen electric and cordless versions, the main difference lies in the power. Petrol leaf blower vacuums are much more powerful than either of the other two types we mentioned, and will outperform them every time.

While corded electric and cordless leaf blowers can be quite powerful and effective, it is usually when used in their vacuum functions where they struggle. This is also where the extra power offered by petrol machines comes in handy, and where I’ve noticed the difference the most when using petrol leaf blower vacuums.

What are the potential problems when owning and using a petrol leaf blower vacuum?

Although I wouldn’t call it a problem, there are a few things that a lot of people don’t take into account before buying petrol powered tools, and the main ones are fuel and maintenance.

The fuel part is fairly easy, and you just have to remember to keep a jerry can topped up in your garage or shed. There are the fuel costs to consider before buying one of these tools, but the smaller CC engines don’t usually guzzle too much petrol.

Maintenance is essential if you want your machine to last and keep working as it should. Again, most of the maintenance tasks are pretty easy, if a bit messy, but you have to be prepared to handle them, and take care of your tools. Things like changing spark plugs, flushing out the old fuel, and cleaning filters, are all simple jobs and require minimal tools.

If you’ve no idea how to maintain a petrol power tool, there are plenty of videos and articles to be found online, like the one we featured below, so don’t let that put you off buying one.

With extra power also comes some fumes, noise, and vibration. Thankfully, modern technology has reduced all of these on the latest petrol leaf blower vacuums, so they aren’t as bad as they used to be, but you’ll still need a pair of ear defenders, just to be on the safe side.

You have to keep in mind that this is a leaf blower vacuum and not a chipper or dedicated garden shredder, and it won’t be able to deal with twigs and other hard debris, so you’ll have to be careful when using it in vacuum mode, and only suck up leaves.

How to use a petrol leaf vacuum

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of being in this common scenario. That is, I’m standing in front of a lawn covered in dead leaves and there are more than a few in my flower beds and on my decking.

The first thing to do is get my petrol leaf blower vacuum out of the shed and give it a quick going-over to see if there’s any loose bolts or screws that need tightening up, check the tubes for any cracks, and just generally see if the tool is in top working order. If this is the first time you ever use your tool, you should still do this, and then attach the necessary tubes.

Next, I need to refuel the tool. If this is the first time I’ve used the tool in a while, then I will have definitely emptied beforehand and I’ll need a complete refuel. If it’s mid-Autumn and I’m using it regularly, then it’ll probably only need a top up.

Now, most of these petrol-powered gardening tools, whether it’s a hedge trimmer, strimmer, lawnmower, or leaf blower vacuum, will have 2-stroke engines powering them. What this means for you, is that you must mix the petrol with the 2-stroke engine oil before you pour it in the machine. This will be done in the specific measuring bottle that will come with your leaf blower vacuum, and will be mixed to a specific ratio found in the instructions of your tool.

When the tool is fuelled up, you press the small pump multiple times to get fuel into the carburettor, then pull on the starter cable firmly a few times until the engine kicks in. I usually let it idle for a few moments to warm up the engine before I start.

In real life application, I would set up a tarp on the ground, at one side of my garden and have it weighed down with bricks, and have my leaf blower vacuum on the blower function. I then walk along my lawn, swinging the tool slowly from side to side, and blow the leaves towards my tarp. Once most of the leaves are on the tarp, I get some help to lift it carefully and dump the leaves into a wheelbarrow.

While I am clearing the lawn, I am careful to avoid going too close to the flower beds as the powerful blasts or air can damage my flowers and plants. If I have to use the blower near there, I will only do so if the tool has a lower power setting, and even then, I’m careful not to point it directly at the flowers.

So, how to clear the leaves from the beds? Well, that’s where the vacuum function comes in. To change from blower to vacuum can be as simple as flicking a switch, but this isn’t that common, and most of these petrol leaf blower vacuums will need you to do a little more work in order to swap functions. Usually this is just a case of unscrewing the blower tube and replacing it with a collection bag, and then opening up another part of the tool in order to connect the vacuum pipe to the other side of the fan.

When used as a vacuum, you will notice that the power is much lower than in blower mode, and this has its pros and cons. On the plus side, you can get in your beds and suck up all those stray leaves, but on the other hand, it makes clearing larger clumps and piles of leaves a bit of a slow-paced task. Some people think they will be able to suck up an entire lawn full of leaves in seconds with their vacuums, and this is just not realistic but they still have plenty of grunt.

When the collection bag starts to get full, you’ll have to empty it, and if you’re sucking up wet leaves, this can be a messier job than you expect, especially if the bag is made of cheap material and will drip moisture out of the sides and bottom.

And that’s all there is to it really. As you can see, they aren’t the most complicated tools in the word, but they do come in very handy in Autumn, and even in winter if it snows. In fact, these tools can be used in a variety of ways, as you’ll see in the following section, but first, here’s a video with a few tips on how to use a leaf blower without upsetting your neighbours-

What can I use a leaf blower vacuum for?

As we just alluded to above, it’s not only leaves on the lawn that you handle with your petrol leaf blower vacuum, there are quite a few applications that you might not have thought about but this guy wins hands down 😀

No seriously though :D, for example:

Clearing snow

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we go out in the morning to find a pile of snow on the windscreen, bonnet, etc. and we really don’t fancy getting our hands cold and wet that early in the day. Well, just grab your petrol leaf blower vacuum and bast most of it off without having to touch that frosty white stuff. You can do this to your doorstep, window ledges, decking, and any other surfaces too.

Drying your car

You don’t have to wait for a bright sunny day to wash your car in order for it to dry quickly when you own a petrol leaf blower vacuum. Just walk around and let those strong gusts of air blow away the excess moisture. Of course, you can pretty much use the same technique to dry off any surface as long as it won’t get damaged easily.

In the workshop

If DIY is your thing, or you work in the garage, shed, or workshop a lot, you’ll probably spend a lot of time sweeping up dust and debris off surfaces and floors. A petrol leaf blower vacuum will give you a lot of versatility here. You can use the blower for shifting most of it, but then the gentler vacuum in areas where you don’t want to blow other objects around.

Clearing pebbles

If you have gravel or small pebbles on your driveway, they nearly always get kicked onto the path or other places where you don’t want them, and using one of these tools can be a quick and easy way to get them back to their rightful place.

Grass clippings

It’s hard to use a strimmer without sending grass clippings all over your patio and garden path, so wouldn’t it be so much easier to clean those clippings with a petrol leaf blower vacuum? You could choose to blow them back onto the lawn and then nature break them down, or vacuum them up into the collection bag and throw them away instead.

If you’re thinking of buying one, you should check out this following section, where we review some of the most popular petrol leaf blower vacuums in the UK right now.

Best petrol leaf blower vacuums UK reviewed

Below you will find out what we thought of some of the best-selling petrol leaf blower vacuums currently available online. We have made no attempt to sugar coat our opinions, and will tell you the pros and cons of each of these products, so you can make the right choice.

For the money, you won’t find a better petrol leaf blower vacuum than the McCulloch GBV 322VX, and in my opinion, it ticks all the boxes that you need it to.

First of all, it’s got plenty of power and the 26cc engine kicks out 0.8kw of power, which then helps the tool produce the blowing speed of around 230mph. Although, when I first pulled the trigger, I thought that I’d been conned as there is about 20 seconds where the power is much lower, probably as a kind of soft start to reduce wear and tear on the internal parts.

Once that power kicks in, you have no doubts that it is what McCulloch claims it be, and it’s so easy to shift a ton of leaves off any surface, and even wet leaves off grass on full power. For areas that might need you to be more careful, there are the variable speed controls, and also cruise control for longer tasks.

Here’s the excellent McCulloch in action, just look at that performance!

One area that usually lets this kind of tool down is the vacuum function, but McCulloch have come up trumps there as well. This tool was gobbling up those leaves as I brushed over a good-sized pile without getting jammed up. There is a trick to this, and that is not to have the end of the nozzle too close to leaves, and this goes for all leaf vacuums.

The claimed mulching ratio of 16:1 isn’t entirely accurate though. While there are some leaves that will get shredded that small, others will not, so it’s not that ratio 100% of the time. Still, the tool does a really good job of creating good mulch, I just wish that the 45 litre collection bag was made to the same high quality as the rest of the tool.

Switching from blower to vacuum is a little faffy, but not overly so, and certainly not more than many similar products, and if you read the ‘how to use a petrol leaf blower vacuum’ section earlier in this article you’ll know what I’m talking about.

At 4.5kg, it’s not heavy for a petrol-powered tool, but in vacuum mode, the orientation of the machine can make things a little awkward at first, but it’s something you get used to after a while, as is the handle which as a bit of play in it to help with the vibrations.

So, although not a perfect tool, I felt that any flaws were minor ones, and that the tool delivered where it matters most: blowing and vacuuming leaves. It produces the fastest air velocity of all our reviewed products, and is a solid performer.

Pros

  • Very fast blowing speeds
  • Excellent vacuuming performance
  • Power is reduced at first to reduce wear and tear on the engine
  • Very reliable and easy to start
  • Lightweight but solidly constructed

Cons

  • Can feel a little awkward in vacuum mode at first, but you soon get used to it

The Stihl brand name is one that inspires confidence in fans of their products, and I am definitely one of those. Their SH56 leaf blower vacuum is another excellent product, but some people might be put off by the higher-than-average price.

One thing I’ve always loved about Stihl petrol-powered tools is that they are so reliable, and this trend continues with the SH56. Just a few presses of the fuel primer button, and a couple of tugs on the cord, and the 2-stroke engine bursts into life. This is true even from a cold start, so full marks in that department.

Not only is the engine reliable, but it is also no slouch, and can produce 0.9 bhp, and air velocity of 160mph. That might not be as powerful as the McCulloch on paper, but in real life application, I didn’t notice a ton of difference between them in blowing mode.

Changing to vacuum mode was a bit more complicated with this Stihl petrol leaf blower vacuum than it was with the McCulloch, and this was largely due to the way the tubes connect to the main unit. Basically, it means you have to carry a flat head screwdriver around with you because you’ll need it to ‘pop’ open the catch that keeps the blowing tube in place. This design is a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, it keeps the tube held in place firmly, but makes switching modes slower.

At 70 decibels, the noise levels are not too bad at all, and vibration is not a problem either. The handle is ergonomic and feels solid in the hand, and I love that all the main controls are easy to reach from that handle.

Here’s a photo of an old Stihl after a years’ worth of hard labour. She doesn’t look too bad does she? A testament to the build quality of Stihl products.

Stihl petrol leaf vacuum

There were a couple of times when the fan got jammed while we were sucking up leaves, but most of the time this was because we didn’t notice the collection bag getting full, or a twig was hidden amongst the leaves.

Apart from the fact that some people will think that this leaf blower vacuum is too expensive, and the tricky changing of the attachments, there’s nothing I didn’t like about the Stihl SH56. Again, it’s not perfect, but it is very reliable.

Pros

  • Excellent construction and extremely durable
  • Noise and vibration are at low levels
  • Starts up very easily
  • Ergonomic and comfortable to hold
  • Incredibly reliable engine

Cons

  • Expensive when compared to a lot of other petrol leaf blower vacuums

For those of you who are looking to buy a solid and well-performing petrol blower vacuum, but don’t want to spend too much, there is the Parker PBV 2600. For just over a hundred pounds at the time of writing this article, you can get your hands on this decent little tool.

What I was most impressed with when it comes to the PBV 2600, was that Parker has managed to avoid most of the common problems found with budget power tools. For example, there are not loose or shaky parts, and the plastic used felt fairly sturdy. However, there were one or two places where it wasn’t quite as heavy duty, but that’s to be expected for the price.

The 26cc engine wasn’t hard to start from cold either, as long as you follow the instructions carefully, you’ll be ok. I gave the primer about 10 pumps or so, played with the choke a little, and then after about 5-6 pulls on the cord, we were in business. I did notice that the engine felt a little hot after a longer blowing session on full power, so I left it to cool a little before carrying on, and it started fairly easily again.

Parker claim air speeds of 170mph, the same as the Stihl, but I found that it didn’t quite live up to that. I’m not saying it didn’t produce a lot of power, it certainly did, and shifted leaves quickly, but I felt that the Stihl leaf blower vacuum did more effectively. Then again, you pay a third of the price for the Parker PBV 2600.

The following clip features a professional gardener talking about his experience with the Parker PBV 2600. He doesn’t really go into detail, but he seems happy with his purchase-

My biggest peeve with this petrol leaf blower vacuum, is the location of the fuel primer pump, which is tucked away in a cramped area of the tool. This makes it hard to access, and I just think it is a bit of lazy thinking in the design department, this can also be seen in the upward pointing exhaust.

The vacuum mode isn’t the best, but it’s fine for picking up stray leaves around your beds and garden furniture. Just don’t expect it to deal with larger piles without them accumulating around the nozzle and jamming the air flow.

At the end of the day, you can’t complain about a few little niggles when you’re getting a petrol leaf blower vacuum for not much more than a hundred quid. Keep an eye on the engine getting hot, use it primarily as a blower and sucking up the stray leaves, and you’ll definitely feel like you got your money’s worth.

Pros

  • Construction feels solid, overall.
  • Plenty of power in blower mode
  • Started easier than expected for a budget tool
  • Low price tag
  • Vacuum and mulcher work fine if you know how to use the tool properly

Cons

  • Badly located fuel primer pump
  • Engine gets hot during longer sessions

Another lower-cost option is the Fuxtec FX-LBS 126, that surprised me with how reliable it was starting up, but like the Parker product it has some budget product related issues.

The main thing you need to know when starting up petrol leaf blower vacuums for the first time, is that you should read and follow the instructions precisely. I find this is even more important with budget products, as not doing so can damage the products and reduce their effectiveness.

Anyway, I followed the ‘cold start’ process advised by the manufacturer, which took some time and a little messing around, but I’m glad I went through it and didn’t rush, as I feel it made the product more reliable, and it would start up well after that.

I didn’t like that the fuel primer was tucked away in much the same place as the Parker PBV 2600, and having to feel for it with your finger is not helpful if you’re wearing gardening gloves.

There is the same problem with the engine getting hot as with the Parker too, and if you don’t switch it off, the tool will do that for you. Then you can find it hard to restart it until it cools down significantly.

Overall, I’d say the plastic used for the casing feels strong and durable, but the rubber coating on the handle is quite thin and will probably split after a while. Not that it would make much difference to how the tool performs, but it certainly wouldn’t help with the vibrations.

Here’s the starting guide to this petrol leaf blower vacuum. It gives you a good look at the dimensions of the tool, and how to set it up.

I did notice the vibrations more on the Fuxtec than the McCulloch and Stihl tools, but it wasn’t really bad, and if you’re only working at home for an hour or two, it won’t cause you any problems. For people thinking of clearing larger spaces though, you might want to think about spending more money.

There are some quirks that you have to get used to with this tool, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anything that light home use, but it has enough power in both modes to get the job done. There are some quality issues, just like with the parker, but you can’t complain about the price.

Pros

  • Asking price is low for a petrol leaf blower vacuum
  • Plastic casing is strong and should last a while
  • Engine produces decent power
  • Can suck up leaves without too many issues
  • No problems starting the tool up from cold

Cons

  • Engine gets hot after a while
  • Vibrations felt stronger than on more expensive products

The Stanley SLB-3IN1A leaf blower vacuum’s price tag puts it in direct competition with the McCulloch GBV 322VX, and while the Stanley is a decent product, I don’t think it quite matches up to its rival.

However, don’t let my comments lead you into thinking the Stanley SLB is any way a bad product. It actually has a very smooth running 26cc 2-stroke engine that is very good on fuel consumption, and I noticed less fumes than most of products we tested.

It’s easy to start, and the primer pump is actually in a sensible place making it easy to locate and use. In fact, all the controls are right at hand, and also brightly coloured, so you never have any problems finding what you need.

The 156mph air velocity is more than enough for most peoples uses, but if you’re looking for something to use commercially, or you just have a really large garden with a ton of leaves, it’s better to go with the McCulloch, just for the extra power.

As a vacuum and shredder, I would say it works well as long as you know the tool’s limits. This is true of pretty much all of these products though, so we’re not singling out the Stanley. I liked how well the impeller shredded the leaves, but as usual, the ratio isn’t 100% consistent.

There was a bit fiddling around involved when switching modes; you have to use a screwdriver to open up the side of the tool in order to attach the vacuum tube. However, changing the blowing tube out for the 40-litre collection bag was easier.

There’s a lot to like about this Stanley petrol leaf blower vacuum. It’s quite lightweight, mulches well, and has enough power to do what it needs to. If I needed something for larger jobs, I’d go with the McCulloch or even the Stihl, but as the Stanley is a little cheaper than the former, and a lot cheaper than the latter, I’m sure it’ll still sell well.

Pros

  • Smooth running 26cc engine
  • Low fuel consumption
  • Produces less fumes than some of its competitors
  • Vacuums and mulches well
  • Easy to locate controls

Cons

  • Fiddly to change from one mode to another and have to use screwdriver as this video shows-

Well, that’s the end of another article, but you can be sure that I’ll be hard at work creating another one straight away, to add to the already comprehensive collection on this website.

If you have time, please spend a little of it and check out some of these articles on all things gardening and DIY related. We are sure you won’t be disappointed.


About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from gardentoolbox.co.uk, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence.

View all posts by Terry Smith