When it comes to keeping the home clean, an effective vacuum cleaner is the difference between a virtually effortless task and a cluttered home descending into an uninviting, living space.
Our Best Vacuum Cleaners guide touches on all the types of vacuums cleaners in the market today. These include bagged models, bagless machines, convenient cordless vacuums, corded ones, cylinder vacuums, and traditional uprights.
Vacuums have evolved over the years from upright bagged varieties that used to spew about as much dust as they collected, needed frequent emptying, and overall performed poorly to vacuums that are designed for specific tasks.
Below is our consumer guide to the best vacuum cleaner for the home.
Types of Vacuum Cleaner
There are nine different types of vacuum cleaner, including:
- Bagged vacuums
- Bagless vacuums
- Cordless vacuums
- Corded vacuums
- Cylinder vacuums
- Upright vacuums
- Hand-held vacuums
- Robot vacuums
- Lightweight vacuums
In several of the cases, a vacuum cleaner may overlap more than one category. There is also some degree of separation between types, with pet-related models and ones more suited to hardwood floors fitting into their own distinct category while perhaps also being corded or bagless. As such, consumers simply need to be aware that the following broad categories are for general guidance only.
Bagged vacuums are the old-fashioned type of vacuum cleaner. These are models where the bag is fitted inside the model where all the dirt and other debris picked-up during a home cleaning session is collected.
Once the bag is full, the vacuum needs to be disconnected from the power, the machine opened, the bag removed, disposed of in the trash, and a replacement bag fitted. Some models will have an alert system like a LED light that comes on or an infrequent audible sound to inform the cleaner when the bag is full. Also, some bags are self-sealing once removed, whereas others are open leaving the possibility of breathing in some dust from the bag. It is advisable to wear a face mask when removing the bags that aren’t self-sealing.
The upsides of bagged machines include a greater dust- and dirt-holding capability and not needing to meddle with vacuum filters.
The downsides of the bagged vacuum are that a replacement bag is always required, bags can split open during use if overfilled by mistake, dust may escape when removing the filled bag, the process of swapping out a bag takes time and the cost of buying replacement bags.
Bagless vacuums use a container that fills up during use. The container is often transparent which enables the cleaner to see how full-up the vacuum is during use and anticipate when they’ll need to empty it.
Quite often a bagless vacuum is also one with a cyclonic action that creates sufficient suction power to literally pull the dirt up from the carpet fibers. Anyone who has seen a real cyclone in nature will understand its ability to lift whole houses off the ground due to its suction force and a similar design technology is harnessed here.
The upsides of a bagless vacuum include no need to buy replacement bags and a similar suction capability as bagged models, as long as the internal filter isn’t clogged up.
The downsides of bagless vacuums are that their carrying capacity is often smaller than bagged vacuums and the filter needs cleaning on a semi-regular basis to avoid it becoming clogged up (some newer bagless models are being released without filters at all now). Cleaned filters need to be set aside for over a day to dry fully before re-fitting them to the vacuum. Anyone reactive to house dust, pollen, dander or pet hairs may find a bagged vacuum a better choice to avoid an allergy flare-up.
Cordless vacuums are a new type of cleaner that offers greater flexibility than a heavier corded variety. The convenience of not having a restrictive power cord one can trip over causing an accident is counterbalanced by the reduction in suction power.
A cordless vacuum tends to be lighter than a corded variety which makes it easier to carry up and down the stairs without resorting to using a more restrictive vacuum in the lightweight category. Where these machines excel is cleaning each step of the stairs where the corded unit typically needs to be dragged up/down the stairs as each couple of steps get cleaned.
Where one notices the difference with a corded vacuum is also in the pocket book. Cordless models are considerably more expensive than their corded cousins. Cheap models are available, but often they perform so poorly that they’re not recommended. Especially in the cordless category, it is best to stick to tried and true vacuum cleaner brands to avoid making a bad purchase.
The reduced suction is noticeable when trying to clean particularly stubborn carpet stains or areas of the home that haven’t been cleaned in quite a while. Getting beneath skirting boards or in the little nooks and crannies is often not possible without a separate tool to do so.
Battery life is also a significant factor here. It is not uncommon for the best suction models to only operate for 20 minutes before needing to be recharged. The reduced cleaning time either means one needs to be very efficient or clean one or two rooms at a time during separate time periods which is a real pain when wanting to complete the chore in one go.
Less powerful models run 30-40 minutes in many cases, but if one must go over the same spot several times due to the reduction in suction power, it’s questionable whether the longer running time is worth it.
Corded vacuums are heavier than their cordless cousins by a considerable margin. Buyers should be prepared for the additional weight and consider how many floors the machine will need to be carried up and down to clean a home completely. Single-level apartments are more suitable to a corded vacuum than multi-floor apartments or houses unless the weight of the vacuum is not an issue.
Anyone who prefers a bagged vacuum will usually need to choose a corded variety because cordless models tend to be bagless too.
Given the ability to plug directly into the electricity in the home, a corded vacuum can take full advantage of the available power and use it to provide excellent suction to clean floors better than cordless models. There is no trade-off necessary between battery life and suction power for homeowners when buying a cordless machine either.
Corded models also offer a considerable range of sub-types like ones suitable for picking up pet hairs or cleaning hardwood or tile floors without risking scratching them. The additional durability, multi-use, and power of a corded model are its main attractions. When offering these benefits, weight is added, going cordless, the ability to get into small locations and the ever present need for a power socket (and an energy strip in many cases to extend the distance the power cord reaches) are necessary.
Cylinder vacuums have been around for over two decades and continue to be improved upon to provide greater suction with less weight. Using nature as its inspiration, the cyclonic action is used to create improved suction power. Their size is smaller than upright vacuums, but they’re not always the easiest models to pull around the home while cleaning.
For anyone with a bad back, the lower profile of these models makes them harder to crouch over to pick them up.
The upright vacuum remains the most popular type of product in this category. Used on rugs and carpeting, many vacuums in this broad category cover multiple floor types including tiled and hardwood floors.
Better upright models model move across the floor quickly, and have a larger cleaning head that covers a wider area in a single sweep. Where they sometimes fall short is their ability to reach under furniture which necessitates pushing or lifting heavy furniture out of the way to clean in those spots. Some newer upright models make accessing under furniture easier than previous versions.
Hand-held vacuums are designed to be light and comfortable to hold with one hand. Rather than needing to use a long hose and attachment, the portable vacuum is ideal for getting into tight spaces, deep into the sides of the sofa, and elsewhere that a larger upright vacuum often performs poorly.
Most often, hand-held vacuums are cordless and rechargeable with a different battery life depending on the model. The hand-held vacuum is useful for places where a larger model simply would not fit, but for larger homes, it is certainly not a single-product-fits-all vacuum one should rely upon.
Robot vacuums are a relatively new range of products mostly produced by a limited number of manufacturers who are specifically innovating in this area.
These smaller, often circular, mini vacuums use many sensors and artificial intelligence to navigate safely around the home while cleaning. The sensors allow the machine to create a virtual internal map of the home, room by room, floor by floor. The virtual map is then used, along with live sensor data, the navigate around impediments like doors suddenly being opened unexpectedly. A limited amount of energy is used per cleaning cycle with the robotic vacuums pre-programmed to return to their charging station before they run out of juice.
Robotic vacuums often come with HEPA air filters fitted to avoid creating a dirty atmosphere as they clean. Programs are adjustable by the homeowner to change or limit cleaning cycles to certain days or times. Some vacuums are also good at picking up pet hair, whereas other models are not. Picking up dirt along the skirting board or down the sides or back of the sofa is not going to be something a robot cleaner is capable of, and owners need to carry the little unit up and down stairs for it to clean different floors.
Lightweight vacuums are a special category designed for senior citizens who still do their own cleaning or for women who find the weight of a vacuum to be challenging to carry up and down the stairs or push around the floors. Depending on the brand, some models are as light as 5 pounds and go up to under 8 lbs within this category.
Many times, lightweight models are also cordless ones, but not in every case. Their profile tends to be lower which lets them better slide under beds and standing furniture to avoid the cleaner having to bend or crouch down which may be physically too challenging for the person to do.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Vacuum Cleaner
Unlike in times past, selecting the right vacuum cleaner for your needs is not as simple as it used to be. With more choice and the development of a greater number of product categories as the technology has advanced over the years, has made the buying decision less clear.
There are several different factors to consider when looking to purchase a new vacuum cleaner for your home:
Size of the Home
One of the first considerations is how large your home is. A studio apartment doesn’t need the same kind of cleaning facility as a large estate. A hand-held vacuum and a steam mop might be sufficient for a studio apartment with only with hardwood and tiled floors. For larger homes, a more powerful vacuum is going to be needed, possibly with the optional extra of a hand-held vacuum for the hard to get to places.
Number of Floors
For anyone living in a multi-floor home, rather than a bungalow, then the weight of the vacuum is an essential consideration. If there is only one woman in the home, then will she be able to carry the vacuum up and down the stairs? Cordless vacuums are lighter than corded machines which makes this easier.
How Clean Do the Floors Need to Be?
This may sound like a silly question, but where the home needs to be spotless, then either a corded or full powered cordless vacuum are going to be the best choices. A product with a cyclonic action is also suggested. Lower powered vacuums simply won’t clean as well as corded or powerful models, and this is not something one can fix with an upgrade after purchase.
Pets in the Home?
Whether there are cats or dogs in the home, the battle is on to manage the hair shedding that is a daily occurrence. Look for corded vacuums that support picking up pet hair far better than ones that don’t offer this option.
HEPA air filters
The higher-end vacuums often come with HEPA air filters that clean the air while in use, rather than spewing dust out at the same speed that the vacuum is sucking dust and dirt inwards. The use of a HEPA filter ensures each room won’t feel dusty once it’s been cleaned.
Almost No Time to Clean?
When you’re busy all day and out all evening, but still want to come home to a pleasant environment, then a robot vacuum is an ideal solution. The robot cleaner won’t clean the sofa or getting into every tiny little space in the home, but it will take the brunt of the cleaning time out of the equation which is ideal for time-limited homeowners or those who squabble over who should clean the home this week.
Cleaning in Environments with No Power Outlets
Some locations simply don’t have power outlets. Or for homeowners who always want the ability to clean regardless whether there is a power cut or not, then a cordless vacuum is the solution. It usually won’t run much longer than 20 minutes on full power, but when you absolutely must clean the place up no matter the circumstances, this is the solution.
Age of the Homeowners
Call it pride of ownership or just keeping up appearances, but for homeowners who are getting on in years but who don’t wish to sell up and move to a more practical home environment, the ability to keep their home clean is more important than one would imagine.
To satisfy this end of the market, lighter vacuums that weigh as little as 5 pounds, are available. The lighter weight makes these models easier to push along the floor during cleaning without overexerting oneself and easier to carry up and down the stairs to other floors too.
Sensitive to Allergies and Dust
When one of more of the home occupants is sensitive to dust, pollen, or other irritants, then a bagged vacuum might be the best idea to restrict access to these pollutants while cleaning.
Hardwood, Tiles, Carpets or Rugs?
Depending on the home, the floors may be decked out with carpets, hardwood, or tiles in the bathroom or kitchen, and a rug or two thrown in for good measure.
One needs to consider these factors when selecting a vacuum because not every vacuum works on all floor types. Some clean carpets and rugs best, but shouldn’t be used on tiles where their hard bristles scratch the surface. Other vacuums are multi-surface models that handle tiles and hardwood particularly well, but carpets less so. There are even hybrid vacuum models that combine hardwood and tile cleaning, as well as vacuum facilities.
Choosing the right vacuum cleaner for your home is critical. Picking one with the right selection of features is equally important too.
Features of Vacuum Cleaners
Different types of vacuum cleaners come with their own range of features. Many of these features are unique to the type of vacuum.
With corded units and cordless units, the power capacity depends on what is required to run the vacuum continually. Larger models with greater suction power or cordless models with higher power options both require additional power to operate or recharge the vacuum, respectively.
Bin / Bag Capacity
Depending on whether the vacuum has a bag or a bin that it stores collected dust, dirt and other debris during the cleaning cycle, each model comes with a total liter capacity to fil up before it needs to be emptied. The greater the number of liters, the less often one must stop cleaning to empty the vacuum out or change bags.
With bagless models with bins, it is usually possible to see into the vacuum to determine how full it is. With bagged types, the cleaner relies on an indication from the vacuum machine when the bag is full and needs swapping out.
Motor technology continues to advance, and even smaller vacuums use 2-stage motor technology to deliver steady, reliable suction power every time. A low-quality motor is often the first thing to fail which is why choosing a respected vacuum brand is the best idea for faulty-free cleaning over several years.
The use of cyclonic separation technology is here. With some manufacturers, they employ several cyclonic systems in concert to deliver the absolute best suction power in a power-efficient manner.
Many cyclonic vacuums use filters which need to be cleaned once a month or replaced. Some brands are now introducing filter-less cyclonic models for hassle-free cleaning.
The more advanced the model, the greater number of suction levels which the owner can select from. The ability to alter the suction level is useful when cleaning more sensitive flooring or furniture that won’t respond well to a high degree of suction and could be damaged easily.
The ease with which a vacuum can be pulled along, steered and lifted to different levels is an essential feature. Certain cleaner heads just don’t cooperate with carpets, rugs, tiles or hardwood floors causing them to stick to the floor for an uneven cleaning performance.
Lighter vacuums tend to be easier to move around, but they deliver less suction and cleaning ability as a result.
Cleaning along the edge of tiles, hardwood or carpets isn’t something that every vacuum does well. Some lack primary attachments that can reach right into the corners and others need to use supplied crevice tools to access the sides, the edges or gaps in wooden flooring where dust and other items have fallen through. Without a good edge cleaning ability, the trusty dustpan, and brush, or a broom will be needed with every cleaning session.
Not every vacuum is effective at picking up cat and dog hair. Depending on the animal, the amount of daily shedding is sometimes out of control. We love our pets, but something needs to be done to keep the home cleaner, and a pet-specific vacuum is the solution here.
Hardwood, Tiles, and Carpets
Choosing a vacuum to suit the floor type(s) in your home is essential to be able to keep the house spotless.
Cleaning the Stairs
It might seem to be a small point, but a vacuum that’s ineffective when cleaning the stairs will guarantee that the dustpan and brush will need to be employed and who wants to be on their hands and knees using these tools?
The detachable hose length is an important feature for accessing each stair more quickly. A crevice tool is a good option from the accessories bag to get to every part of each stair. Also, consider the weight of the vacuum and the power cord length as it may be necessary to lift the vacuum partially up the stairs while simultaneously cleaning each step one at a time.
The total number of decibels when operating the vacuum is also relevant. For pet owners, no animal likes it when the vacuum is running, but people trying to sleep in late and the neighbors won’t appreciate a loud vacuum cleaner being used either late at night or during the early hours of the morning when nothing else is stirring.
The accessories that come with many models include a wand, suction tube, a crevice tool to get into the nooks and crannies, an upholstery tool to clean the sofa and chairs without damaging the fabric or stitching, and various fit-able heads for the suction tube.
Most models usually include some form of safety cut-out feature which turns off the vacuum when a jam is detected. The feature is more important with children in the home.
For corded models, the length of the cord is a factor for homeowners who don’t wish to use a power strip to extend across the room and into the hallway. Some models offer an 8-meter cord, whereas others are longer. The cord is also usually retractable using an automatic collection facility; otherwise, a manual winding facility is used.
Best Vacuum Cleaner Brands
There are quite a few brands that compete in the vacuum cleaner space. While there is some degree of overlap, more specialist types like robotic vacuums and hand-held vacuums tend to have a smaller, infrequently seen collection of brands.
Dyson was the originator in cyclonic vacuum cleaners and continues to use innovation as a mark of their value to consumers. When looking for the latest features from a cyclonic vacuum, it’s hard not to recommend their products though there are less expensive options available too.
Miele tends to make the higher-end products that provide top-notch cleaning for a premium price. For homeowners with deeper pockets, their products are certainly worth a look.
Bosch makes many types of vacuums, including lightweight models that lead the market. The company has been in business for decades and is active in a broad range of product categories.
Hoover is a name synonymous with vacuum cleaners. Indeed, for many, vacuums used just to be called “Hoovers” because the brand was so dominant in the marketplace. The company has a modern range of corded, cordless and other types of vacuum cleaners mostly designed for larger homes.
iRobot with their original Roomba model is a leader in the robot cleaning space. They have also recently branched out into mop cleaning and floor scrubbing robotic cleaners too.
Bissell is active across many vacuum types including uprights, canister models for hardwood floors, and carpet cleaning models too.