Roseanne Barr once said, “I’m not going to vacuum until Sears makes one I can ride on.” While riding vacuum cleaners at home may still be a thing of the future, buying one can be surprisingly overwhelming. With so many factors to consider, it’s easy to get lost in the terminology: upright, canister, self-propelled, HEPA filter, suction, amps—it’s enough to make you want to install hardwood everywhere. The good news is that by answering a few simple questions about how you intend to use your vacuum, you’re well on your way to knowing which one to purchase. Let Pronto’s Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide help you narrow your options and be confident in your selection.
Upright vacuums are best for carpets and large rooms. For homes with mostly hardwood, staircases and/or high-soil areas or if you need to clean upholstery and other fabrics, choose a canister vacuum. For small spaces or jobs or occasional use, consider a broom or handheld vacuum.
High Amps and a powerful motor are only the beginning of suction. Look for a vacuum model that passes the dirt directly from the brush agitator to the bag, bypassing the blower fan. A well designed brush agitator and powerful blower fan combined with a powerful motor will complete the equation for a optimal suction (and effective cleaning).
Bagged or bagless uprights seem to be a matter of preference. Bagless have lower maintenance costs (no bags to replace), but unlike changing bags, emptying dustbins releases particles back into the air. True HEPA filters are more expensive but more effective than HEPA-like filters, but neither will be highly effective if the overall vacuum design is poor. Retractable cords prevent you from running over the cord which can damage the agitator brush.
Canister vacuums offer more options than uprights that may include extension wands, corner tools, fabric and/or wide, flat attachments. Think about what you’d like your vacuum to do and choose your options accordingly.
Consider how frequently the belts, filters, and bags need to be replaced, how much they cost, and whether you are able to change them yourself. Take a good look at the warranty to understand what repairs are covered, for how long and where they’re done.
The HEPA filter is probably the single-most misunderstood and over-hyped selling point in vacuum cleaner lingo. True HEPA filters must pass an emissions test that measures their ability to trap at least 99.97% of particles of .3 microns. .3 microns measures the size of the particle (very small) and a HEPA filter must trap 99.97% or above to qualify as a true HEPA filter. Many vacuums advertise “HEPA type” or “HEPA like” filters, which may capture between 85 and 90 percent of particles, but are not made to true HEPA standards. HEPA filters are useful for families that suffer from severe allergies or asthma, but many non-HEPA (or HEPA-like) systems will function perfectly well for the average household.
A self-propelled vacuum contains a transmission and drive system, which makes it far easier to push on carpet. However, the weight of the transmission and drive system may drastically increase the overall weight of the vacuum, making it difficult to use on stairs or to transport.
This option means that you can adjust the vacuum’s physical height in relation to the floor. Therefore, if you have one room with a short carpet, and another room with a tall, thick, carpet, you can manually adjust the vacuum’s height in each room to ensure more thorough cleaning.
This term refers to the width of the cleaning area of the vacuum. Standard cleaning path width is typically between 12 and 15 inches.
“Amps” is the abbreviation for ‘amperes,’ which represents the measurement of the electrical current used by the vacuum motor. The power of the vacuum motor is only one aspect of total suction power, so this measurement means very little in determining the efficiency and performance of a vacuum cleaner.
This term refers to the rotating brush found on the underside of an upright vacuum. This brush spins when the machine is in use, loosening dirt from the carpet so that the air-flow can pick it up. Some vacuum models have a brush on/off option, which allows the brush to be turned off when cleaning bare or hardwood floors and when attachments are in use.
Which vacuum style should you buy? Your answer to this question will depend on you taking a good look at your home, its layout and your lifestyle and any allergies or respiratory conditions you or a member of your household may have.
Upright vacuum cleaners are just that: cleaning units that stand upright, unlike canister vacuums where the unit remains low to the ground, leaving the vacuum hose and attachments to do the dirty work. The advantages of upright vacuums are many. For starters, they traditionally perform better on carpets than canisters, and they tend to be less expensive. Uprights are easier to store and, if you have large rooms, you’ll love their self-propelling capabilities. The downside is uprights are heavier than other vacuums, so if you have large number of rooms or need to haul the vacuum up and down stairs, look at some of the newer lightweight or slim upright vacuum cleaners available today.
If you have more hardwood than carpet, lots of stairs, or drapes that attract dust like moths to a flame, you’ll want to consider purchasing a canister vacuum cleaner. Canister vacuum cleaners are the best choice for bare floors and staircases and most often come with powerful attachments for upholstery and fabrics. They make it easier to clean corners, under furniture, and other hard-to-reach spots, but canister models require more storage space than upright vacuum cleaners. What you lose in storage space, however, you gain in convenience. The vacuum’s body stays on the floor while you maneuver the hose (with or without attachments) to get the cleaning done. Altogether, canister vacuums are lighter and easier to manage than uprights vacuum cleaners.
For people who live in small spaces or who would rather not manage the size of an upright or move the canister around, you might also consider a broom vacuum, which are similar to full-sized uprights but suited for lighter duty. They’re also great for quick pickups and some models come cordless for the ultimate in convenience.Lastly, if you’re looking for something that can handle spills and messes quickly and easily and don’t want to take out your regular vacuum cleaner, a handheld vacuum is a good option. They’re lightweight, usually cordless and are rechargeable. Some higher end handheld vacuum cleaners may come with attachments to get messes in corners or crevices but for deep cleaning, stick with a full-sized upright or canister vacuum cleaner.
One of the most common complaints about vacuum cleaners is loss of suction power over time. Dyson bases its advertising on a claim that they make the only vacuums that don’t ever lose suction. Whether it’s Dyson or another brand that you’re looking at, you’ll probably see the manufacturer touting the vacuum cleaner’s high number of amps or a ‘powerful motor’, however, the size of the motor is only half the story when it comes to measuring suction power. The amount of dust and dirt that the vacuum will pick up depends on the filter’s efficiency, the quality of the brush, the power behind the blower fan, and whether dust is filtered directly from the brush agitator or attachment into the bag (or cup) or has to pass through the blower fan first. Look for models that pass the dirt from the brush agitator into the bag (or cup). If the dirt passes through the blower fan first, dust will build up on the fan and/or hard objects may even break the fan reducing effective suction of the vacuum.
If you’ve decided that an upright vacuum cleaner is what you want, there are important design features to consider. Primarily, whether you’ll go for a bag or go bagless. Bagless vacuums are becoming more and more popular, but many bagless models release far more dust during the emptying process than traditional ‘bag’ vacuums. If you don’t have easy outdoor access to empty your bagless vacuum, you should stay away from bagless model. It is better to take the whole vacuum outside, then dislodge the collection mechanism outdoors so dust does not escape back into your home.
In a bag vacuum, relatively little dust is released back into the air when you change the bag. Bags also tend to hold more dirt than bagless vacuums which cuts down on maintenance. With bagless vacuum cleaners, you remove the dirt storage bin and empty it in the garbage. Unless you empty the dirt bin outdoors or are extremely careful to contain the dirt bin entirely within the receptacle during emptying, some of the dust you just vacuumed will be released back into the air.
Another upright vacuum cleaner design feature you don’t want to overlook is pile height or carpet selection. Being able to manually select the Pile Height means you can set your vacuum to match the height of your carpet. This is a very useful option if you are using the vacuum in a house with different types of carpet; you can select the corresponding carpet height for more thorough cleaning. In fact, some of the more powerful models have so much suction you can actually ruin a rug by vacuuming up the pile itself.
Next, no matter which vacuum type you purchase, you’ll want to consider the vacuum cleaner’s filtration system. Many vacuums feature High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA systems which are touted for their allergen-reducing abilities. True HEPA filters have passed rigorous tests confirming they’re able to trap a minimum of 99.97 percent of particles of .3 microns (a serial number on the filter confirms their status of True). Vacuum cleaners with HEPA-like filters cost less than True HEPA filters, but capture only 85 percent of particles. If you or another family member has severe allergies or respiratory issues, you might want to invest in a vacuum with True Hepa Filter technology and if it’s not a matter of health, then it simply comes down to preference.
To get the most from your vacuum cleaner, look for tools and attachments that support the way you clean your house. Some vacuum cleaners offer extension wands to reach into corners, remove cobwebs from high ceilings and travel up staircases. Others come with a variety of specialty attachments like corner tools, which can be attached to an extension wand or used independently; fabric tools, useful for cleaning upholstery or curtains, especially in conjunction with a suction-control function, which reduces airflow and prevents damage fragile fabrics; and wide, flat attachments, for cleaning debris on higher surfaces like desks and workstations where upright vacuum bases won’t reach.
As with any home appliance purchase, you’ll want to consider the long-term costs of maintenance as well as your ability to perform necessary maintenance tasks. The best (or most expensive) vacuum in the world won’t do you any good if the filter isn’t changed or the belt needs replacing. Points you want to evaluate include:
How often belts, filters and bags need cleaning or replacement
Cost and availability of replacement parts
How difficult it is to replace the belts, filters, and bags; and, of course
The warranty terms (what repairs are covered, for how long, and how are repairs managed)