Vacuuming has come a long way since 1908 when an Ohio store janitor, James Murray Spangler, sold his patent for an Electric Suction Sweeper to one William Hoover. The two men would undoubtedly be astonished to discover that, these days, vacuum cleaners don’t need to be plugged in with a cord, don’t all have bags for collecting the dust, and, in some cases, don’t even need a human to operate them.
But with so many options to choose from, it’s just as confusing for the modern consumer, who simply wants to find the best vacuum cleaner out there. For a start, do you want a stick, an upright, a canister, or a robot? And what do those terms even mean? Then, there are other considerations, such as whether you want the power that comes with being tethered to an outlet, or the freedom of a battery, if you should go bagged or bagless, and whether getting a dog automatically means that you need a new vacuum cleaner. Keep reading to find out all this and more.
Things to consider when buying a vacuum cleaner
Unlike many household gadgets and appliances, choosing the right vacuum means finding one that fits with your lifestyle. So the best vacuum cleaner for you may not be the best for your neighbor. We’ll start by explaining the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of the different types of vacuum cleaner, and then we’ll look at other aspects—how heavy you’re comfortable with it being, whether you have pets, the pros and cons of cords and cordless, or bags and bagless, and by the end, you’ll know all you need to about picking the right vac for your home.
Let’s start with the stick vacuum
Vacuum cleaners these days come in all shapes and sizes and there are various aspects you might want to think about when working out which one you want. Here’s a quick rundown of the main types available.
Stick vacuums get their name from the fact that they look a little like a broomstick. Although they tend to be lighter weight and more slimline than their upright counterparts, some designs can be tricky to maneuver because the weight is in the handle rather than at the base. That said, their low profile heads make it easier to clean under furniture, and some come with the option to convert them into a handheld, making cleaning car interiors and stairs a cinch.
Best cordless stick vacuum: Dyson V11 Torque Cordless Vacuum Cleaner
This stick vacuum is packed with features, from the high torque cleaner head for powerful cleaning, and an LED screen that lets you know how much battery power is left (up to 60 minutes on a single charge). The screen also helps identify any blockages or filters that need maintaining, plus there are an easy-clean bin and drop-in charging station. It costs a pretty penny—although the fact it also converts to a handheld means you’re basically getting two vacuums for the price of one.
How about the canister vac?
Canister vacuums have a tank and motor in a compact wheeled unit that’s attached to a hose that can then be connected to a number of different heads, depending on what you’re trying to clean. They’re very versatile, so if you regularly vacuum furniture and curtains they can be a useful choice. They’re also good for effectively cleaning staircases, as they can be moved up and down with ease in a way that uprights can’t. However, as they’re usually less lightweight than most stick cleaners, if you’ve got multiple staircases, a stick might be a better option.
Best canister vacuum cleaner: Miele Classic C1 Pure Suction Canister Vacuum Cleaner
Six different suction settings allow you to adapt your vacuum for everything from curtains and rugs to furniture and wooden floors, and the combination floor head lets you jump easily between surfaces. The combination of bags and an air filter on the exhaust effectively retains dust, leaving the air clean.
Then there’s the robot vacuum
Robot vacuums sound like the dream—you just set them down and let them go, sneaking under furniture with ease—and some even come with a mop function. However, while they can normally map your home to avoid furniture or alter suction levels to accommodate a rug versus a wood floor, even the best robot vacuums can’t do stairs and you’ll also have to give them a decent area to roam around. If you don’t do a good tidy-up beforehand, they’ll either grind to a halt or plow on and knock doggy or kiddie toys over.
Best robot vacuum cleaner: iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum
Smart mapping helps your robot vacuum get to know your home and adapt its cleaning schedules accordingly, while integration with household assistants like Google and Alexa means you don’t have to lift a finger. With a docking station that doubles as a trash can for up to 60 days of waste, and a smart system that suggests extra cleans when the pollen count is high or pet shedding season starts, you really can set it and forget it. The only drawback? The very punchy price.
How lightweight do you need your vacuum to be?
Unless you’re opting for a robot vacuum cleaner, you probably want to think about how heavy your pick is going to be. If you only live on one story and don’t have any stairs to climb or clean, this might not matter so much to you. But the minute you have to clean a staircase (or two), it’s going to be an issue.
If the weight of your vacuum cleaner worries you, then you probably want to look at a stick cleaner. In many cases, you’ll find you’re getting extra bang for your buck as sticks are the type of cleaner that most readily can be converted to a handheld, ideal if you want to clean the car or deep-clean the sofa. A corded stick cleaner will be the lightest option—the batteries in corded options add some heft.
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Best lightweight stick vacuum: Tineco A11 Hero Cordless Lightweight Stick/Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
With three power modes and up to 40 minutes of runtime, this cordless stick makes light work of carpets and hard floors and easily converts to a handheld for attacking upholstery. A fully-sealed HEPA filtration system means it’s great for anyone with allergies, and the easy-empty tank avoids mess.
Do you have pets?
Our four-legged pals are, as the saying goes, a man’s best friends. Only when they’ve scattered their dry food all over the kitchen floor and left enough fluff, hair, and fur on your sofa that you could make a sweater out of it, can it be tricky to remember what made them so appealing in the first place. So, yes, if you have a cat or dog who sheds, it’s worth picking a vacuum that has features specifically designed to clean up after them.
A stick option might well be the way to go. As they’re lighter than others, it’s easier to pull them out when there’s an impromptu mess to be cleared up. And, many are helpfully stored in a wall-mounted docking station so they’re close at hand when needed.
You might think that super-powered suction is exactly what’s required to deal with pet hair, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. It’s worth keeping an eye out for special attachments with rubber bristles that help loosen the fibers from the couch or carpet so they can be sucked up, and also for clever non-tangle tech that prevents those fibers from becoming entangled in the brush roller. These features are also helpful if any of your human residents have long hair too.
Best vacuum for pet hair: BISSELL ICONpet Cordless with Tangle Free Brushroll
Searching for the best vacuum for pet hair? At just 7 pounds, this lightweight cordless model packs in a lot, with Bissell’s smart tangle-free tech ensuring that hair doesn’t clog up the roller, and a motorized turbo brush that helps dislodge pet hair. LED lights help to highlight any areas that you’ve missed and the dirt tank emptying system is designed to be clean and fuss-free.
Do you prefer a corded or cordless vacuum cleaner?
If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of the cord not being long enough to reach the area that you want to vacuum, or getting yourself tied in a knot of cable as you double back on yourself, or finding that a trailing lead has knocked a valuable ornament to the floor, nobody would blame you for thinking that cordless is the dream—and the way to go. But wait a minute! There are advantages and disadvantages to both. With a corded vac, yes, you have the potential issues referenced above, but you also have a consistent supply of unlimited power coming to your machine which means you can vacuum for as long as you want. And while you might not want to vacuum for ages, if you’ve got a large house, and you’re doing a top-to-toe clean, you might not have a choice.
However, if you go cordless, your vacuuming time is going to be restricted by how long the rechargeable battery in your device can last. On the whole, manufacturers tend to be quite optimistic about this and the stated “up to X minutes run time” are usually a best-case scenario, but if you want to use a boost or turbo function, or even use some of the extra tools, you might find that amount of time falls off. The problem is that for more time, you normally need bigger batteries, which means more weight. If you still want a cordless but have a big house, look for one with a removable battery as it means you can buy a spare and switch over halfway, doubling your run time.
Best corded upright vacuum: Shark ZU561 Navigator Lift-Away Speed Self Cleaning Brushroll Lightweight Upright Vacuum
Perfect for pet owners, or anyone who wants a deep and dust-free clean. This upright vacuum has a Lift-Away mode with a hose and attachments for easy cleaning of furniture and stairs, and comes with Anti-Allergen Complete Seal Technology and a HEPA filter to keep over 99.9% of dust and allergens inside the vacuum cleaner.
What about bagged or bagless?
Until British inventor James Dyson got fed up with his vacuum cleaner bag clogging up and decided to make a bagless version, pretty much all vacuum cleaners used bags. But now, increasingly, you’ll find plenty of bagless ones around.
Bagged vacuums collect all the dust and debris that your vacuum sucks up inside the bag. One of the drawbacks of these models is that performance can falter a bit as the bag gets fuller. These days, the bags usually have valves on them to prevent dust escaping, and when the bag is full, it’s relatively easy and mess-free to dispose of the entire bag and its dusty contents.
But, of course, if you’re constantly replacing bags, that represents an extra expense, and isn’t great for the environment.
Bagless vacuums collect all the dust and dirt in an internal tank or bin, and the idea is that you empty this straight into the trash. New technologies mean that it’s become simpler to do this without enveloping yourself into a cloud of dust, but generally speaking, if you suffer from allergies, it’s recommended to use a bagged vacuum cleaner.
Best bagged vacuum cleaner: Kenmore Intuition Bagged Upright Vacuum Cleaner
A lift-up mode makes it easy to glide over staircases, and the wand detaches to get to hard-to-reach corners and ceilings. A bag-fill indicator lets you know when the bag needs to be replaced, and a pet-friendly accessory sucks up hair and fur allergens. Oh, and it includes six HEPA bags—which can allegedly last you up to a year.
Best vacuum cleaner brands to know
The American vacuum cleaner market boasts homegrown success stories as well as relatively young startup brands. And, with robot vacuums a new frontier, expect to see stiff competition from these big names. Here are the ones that you might want to keep an eye on…
Until a British man named James Dyson, vacuum cleaners came with bags. But in the late 1970s, he became exasperated with the fact that the bags in his vacuum cleaners kept blocking up and set to creating a bagless version. It took more than 5,000 versions to get one that he was happy with—but that launched the Dyson vacuum, which would eventually become an international design icon. The company now uses similar technology to make a host of household gadgets, from air purifiers and fans to hair care tools.
With its impressive hold on the vacuum cleaner market, you’d never guess that Shark was once a European sewing machine manufacturer. While their cleaners were relatively successful, until 2014, they were still playing second fiddle to Dyson. But after a year of serious investment in television marketing, they leapfrogged the number one brand—and doubled their revenue to more than $1.6 billion. The company is part of SharkNinja—which you’ll probably know as the brand behind a number of well-loved kitchen appliances.
When an American couple who owned a crockery store invented the sweeping machine to help clear up fragments of broken plates and bowls, they never could have imagined that it would lead to a company still selling floor cleaners more than 100 years later. But in 1876, the Bissells found their carpet sweepers were in such high demand, that was where they focused their business. They became an international success story, with Queen Victoria insisting her staff use them in the royal palaces. By the mid-1950s, they began manufacturing a carpet cleaner, and in the 1990s, launched their first vacuum cleaner. Still family-run and privately-owned, CEO Mark Bissell is the fifth generation of Bissells to head it up.
Best budget vacuum cleaner: What You Get for Around $200
The introduction of robot vacuum cleaners has certainly pushed up the price of devices in this category, but while robots and Dysons might be out of your budget, you can still get an effective and versatile vacuum cleaner.
To get the most bang for your buck—or suction power for your cents—choose a corded model that doesn’t compromise on extras. This Shark Navigator is a great option because while it can’t be used as a handheld in the same way that many stick vacuums can, it has a Lift-Away mode and a number of tools which mean you get similar versatility and cleaning options. It also features a self-cleaning brush roll and a totally sealed HEPA filter for protection against allergens.
The bottom line on the best vacuum cleaner
There’s no doubt that when it comes to innovation in the world of vacuum cleaners, things have already come a long way. We can expect to see more in this space over the next few years as more brands expand into robot models, and AI tech makes robots even smarter. But this top end of the market isn’t the be-all, end-all. There are efficient devices at all price points, and clever features designed to cater specifically to those with asthma, those with pets, and those for whom the weight of the device is as important as the price. Ultimately, you need the best vacuum cleaner to serve the needs of your family and home, and with the choices that are out there, you’re bound to find one that does.