Sleek shapes and trendy colors such as sienna, taupe, and goldenrod have turned some of the latest vacuums into fashion statements. Our tough tests of more than 120 models show that when it comes to cleaning, beauty can be more than skin-deep. Our tests over more than 16 miles of carpet and floors also show that some pricey vacuums deliver less than their price tag suggests. And some of the lightest models are also light on performance or features.
How to choose
Start by matching the type to your cleaning. Uprights, especially with a bag, do best overall on carpets. Canisters are easier to maneuver, particularly on stairs. Here's what else to consider before you buy:
Check the features. A brush on/off switch will help protect the finish of bare floors and avoids scattering debris. A motorized brush cleans carpets better than one powered only by suction. Also helpful: manual carpet pile-height adjustment, which you can match more precisely to carpets than with automatic adjustment, and suction control for cleaning draperies and other delicate fabrics with tools.
Consider bagless carefully. Bagless vacuums save on the cost of bags but require more filters that need periodic cleaning or—for HEPA filters—replacing. And the dust and mess of emptying their bins can be a concern if you have asthma or allergies, though even bags must be handled gently.
Try it out. Even if you'll order online, go to a store first. Push, pull, turn, and lift the models you're considering. Check out the controls and features. If an online price is low, see if the store will match it.
Know about the noise. The noisiest vacuums we tested still don't produce 85 decibels, 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 as a group tend to be quieter.
Watch for sales. Discounts of 20 to 30 percent off the price of even Dyson vacuums are increasingly available, especially during the holiday season. But for mass-market brands such as Bissell, Eureka, and Hoover, you don't have to wait till Black Friday. Watch store circulars for frequent sales of these and other brands throughout the year. Better yet, sign up on manufacturer or retailer email lists to receive coupons and notification of upcoming sales and other promotions—at least till you've made your purchase.