Buying Guide

Picture of someone vacuuming carpet in their home.
Vacuum Buying Guide

Cleaner Living—Shopping for Vacuums

Visible vacuum lines on a carpet make a clean house feel cleaner. What if you could have them all the time, plus gleaming, dust-free floors?

Whether you are passionate about pile, a fanatic for flooring, or perhaps a little bit of both, you’ve come to right place to find your dream vacuum machine. We tested more than 120 models—motoring across 16 miles of carpet and flooring—all in the quest to help you select the right vacuum.


Shopping by Type

Start by determining the best vacuum for the type of cleaning you do. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, or just lots of rugs, uprights, especially with a bag, do best overall. But if you have lots of stairs—or hardwood, laminate, or tile floors—canisters can be easier to maneuver. Stick and hand-held vacuums are great for lighter tasks that need quick attention; a robotic device is an option for the set-it-and-go crowd. And central vacuums could be an option if you're ready for that installation commitment. (But we don't test that type.) For the best vacuums in all categories at a price that's right for you, go to our Vacuum Cleaner Ratings.

Picture of an upright vacuum.

Upright Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: Uprights tend to cost less than canister vacuums and offer a wider cleaning swath. They are generally better at deep-cleaning carpets—particularly the bagged models. Most are easy to store.

Pushing and pulling the weight of the machine. Some top performers weigh 20 pounds or more, although lighter models can still do the job. Uprights tend to be noisier than canisters.

Upright Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
Picture of a canister vacuum.

Canister Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: Canisters are better than uprights for cleaning bare floors, stairs, drapes, and upholstery, and under furniture – and some are as good as uprights at cleaning carpets. Most are quieter, and the separate power head makes them seem lighter as well.

Overall, these vacuums are bulkier than their upright brethren. The hose and wand make a canister harder to squeeze into a closet.

Canister Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
Picture of a stick vacuum.

Stick Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: Like uprights, they have tall bodies and handles, and a powerhead. Many are battery-powered. They're lightweight and convenient when you need to quickly clean up a mess. They also eliminate having to bend over to clean a dirty floor.

Cons: Most don't perform as well on carpet as full-size vacuums. They are mainly suited for picking up surface litter and aren't a replacement for a conventional vacuum. The capacity of their dirt bin is typically small. Most are fairly noisy.

Stick Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
Picture of a hand-held vacuum.

Hand-Held Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: These miniature electric models come corded or cordless. They're handy for light, quick surface cleaning on short-pile carpets and bare floors; some can handle pet hair on upholstery. They're also useful for cleaning up your car's interior.

Cons: They lack the power and capacity of full-sized upright or canister models.

Hand-Held Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
Picture of a robotic vacuum.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: Robotic vacuums do the grunge work while you relax. In uncluttered rooms, a robotic can touch up between regular, manual vacuuming sessions. The better models can find their way out of tight spots and around extension cords. A few of the newest models can even be controlled by an app on your smartphone.

No robotic vacuum can match the deep cleaning you'll get from the best uprights and canisters. Not the ideal choice if you have shag carpeting or area rugs.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
Picture of a central vacuum.

Central Vacuum Cleaners

Pros: They're easier to use than a canister. With no vacuum body to pull along, you carry only the hose and powerhead. Central vacuums tend to be relatively quiet, and their dirt chambers need to be emptied infrequently.

Central vacuums are pricey and can require professional installation. Their 30-foot hoses can be cumbersome and take up storage space. And there's no in-unit place to store cleaning tools while you work.

We don't currently test central vacuum cleaners.


What to Consider While Shopping

Modern vacuums come in a range of designs, sleek shapes, and cool colors. But what matters most is how well they clean. Remember that one type of vacuum might have features that appeal to you, but it should also fit your cleaning needs.

Pet owners, take note: Upright and canister vacuum cleaners that excel at regular jobs tested best in show for picking up pet hair.

•  Check features. A vacuum cleaner with a motorized brush cleans carpets better than one powered only by suction. A switch that can deactivate the brush will help protect the finish of bare floors and avoid scattering debris. Consider models with a manual carpet pile-height adjustment control, along with suction control for cleaning draperies and other delicate fabrics.

•  Bagged or bagless. Bagless vacuum cleaners save on the cost of purchasing bags but they also require more filters that need periodic cleaning or—for HEPA filters—replacing. The dust and mess of emptying their bins can be a concern if you have asthma or allergies.

•  Try it out. Even if you order online, go to a store first. Push, pull, turn, and lift the vacuum cleaners you're considering. Check out the controls and features. If an online price is low, see if the store will match it.

•  Keep an ear out for noise. No vacuum cleaner reached the level at which we recommend hearing protection, but any vacuum will seem louder in a room with a lot of echo, such as a tiled bathroom. Canister vacuums tend to be quieter.

•  Watch for sales. Discounts of 20 to 30 percent off are increasingly available, especially during the holiday season. For mass-market brands, you don't have to wait until Black Friday. Check store circulars or sign up on manufacturer or retailer email lists to receive coupons and news of upcoming promotions.


Feature Fundamentals

Some vacuum cleaner features improve performance or take some of the drudgery out of cleaning. But don't be dazzled by gadgets. Here are the more useful vacuum features to consider. 

Bissell vacuums are available at a variety of discount stores and mass merchants, including Kmart, Target, and Walmart. Upright models tend to be moderately priced, typically ranging from about $40 to $270. Bissell also makes hand and stick vacuums, canisters, and bare-floor cleaners, among other products, and carpet-care products under the Woolite brand. Bissell canisters cost about $50 to $230. But upright vacuums are this company's focus, with many more models available.
Dirt Devil floor-care products focus on affordability and convenience. Part of TTI Floor Care, the Dirt Devil brand is available at a variety of discount stores and mass merchants, including Kmart, Target, and Walmart. Upright models typically range from $40 to $250. Some of the brand's upright vacuums are among the lightest models sold. Dirt Devil also makes canister vacuums, hand and stick models, and central vacuums. Canister models typically range from $80 to $150. But uprights are clearly its focus, with many more models available.
Colorful styling, innovative features, and splashy advertising featuring its namesake owner and designer helped Dyson become a major player in the U.S. Ranging in price from about $300 to $600, Dyson vacuums have helped increase the average price paid for uprights. Canisters have joined that lineup, as have hand and stick vacs. The brand is available nationwide through major mass merchants such as Best Buy, Sears, and Target.
Eureka sells a wide array of models marketed to address different needs, including pesky pet hair. Uprights typically range from $50 to $200. You'll find this national brand in a variety of discount stores and mass merchants, including Kmart, Target, and Walmart. Eureka also makes hand and stick vacuums, canisters, and central vacuums. Canister models typically range from about $60 to $260 and are available through a more-targeted selection of retailers, such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Lowe's.
Hoover introduced its first vacuum in 1907 and established itself as one of the most recognizable brands in America. More recently, Hoover was bought by TTI Floor Care, the owners of Dirt Devil. Hoover sells a variety of uprights at mass-market retailers, with models ranging from as little as $50 to $300. It also makes hand and stick vacuums, canister models (about $80 to $300), central vacuums, bare-floor cleaners, and an outdoor sweeper, though the company is best known for its uprights.
Once exclusive to Sears, Kenmore uprights are also available in Kmart stores. Kenmore uprights typically range in price from about $80 to $300. Kenmore is the best-selling canister brand, with a wide array of models ranging from as little as $50 to $600 or so. It also offers canister hard-surface cleaners and a carpet shampooer.
This German appliance manufacturer is family-owned and run, and it has been making vacuum cleaners since the late 1920s. In the U.S., Miele vacuums are primarily sold through small, independent vacuum retailers, though the brand's retail distribution now includes and Bed Bath & Beyond. Miele focuses on high-end upright and canister models, with prices typically ranging from about $300 to $1,000.
Established in Japan almost a century ago, Panasonic has been making home appliances since the 1920s. Focusing on electronics and appliances, including vacuums, Panasonic makes uprights and canisters priced from about $150 to $500. They're sold at small, independent vacuum dealers and national chain stores such as Sears and Walmart.
Founded in the 1970s, this German company began selling commercial vacuums in the U. S. in 1979 before entering the consumer market. Its high-end vacuums are available through the company's national distributor network of independent vacuum retailers and online. Sebo uprights and canisters typically range from about $400 to $1,000.
Kirby, LG, Oreck, and Shark