The right vacuum for carpets, pets, and bare floors

Got a lot of carpet? Try an upright. For stairs, a canister is best.

Published: February 02, 2015 03:00 PM

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No vacuum excels at all types of cleaning— your home’s layout and even décor dictate the type you might need. That will become clear as you get ready for a thorough spring cleaning. Do you have lots of carpet or just bare floors? Drapes or shutters? And it will be especially apparent if you have pets that are leaving little reminders of their winter coats everywhere you look.

Take carpets. They’re a vacuum’s toughest job and rank highest on many people’s priority lists. Dirt tends to collect and hide in the carpet, and our feet can grind it in. The better bagged uprights, with beefy motors and wide brush rolls, clean the most deeply. But you want them to be maneuverable as well. In our tests, no bagged vacuum that was superb at deep-cleaning carpets was especially easy to handle, but five of the top bagged-upright models we recommend weigh less than 20 pounds. One of the lower-cost picks in our Ratings worth a look: the $150 Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Pet UH30310. It gets superb marks for pet-hair pickup and has a manual adjustment for carpet height. At 17 pounds, it’s also light enough to maneuver easily.  

If you have few carpets and lots of tile, bare wood, or vinyl flooring, you can get a bagless upright—say, the $260 Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501—and enjoy easy handling in a lighter-weight vacuum. Other full-sized vacuums might do almost as well for carpets while excelling at bare floors, a relatively easy task.

A heavy vacuum can be a true liability if you have stairs. The better canisters, led by the bagged Miele S 8590 Marin, $1,000, are heavier than most uprights—but you’re mostly moving just the hose and power head, not the entire machine.

In addition to our vacuum cleaner Ratings, our brand-repair history lists the percentage of upright and canister vacuums that failed or had a problem that was unresolved. Sometimes you need just a light cleaning before guests show up. For that, see our recommended handheld and stick vacuums. None of them can handle carpet deep cleaning, but they do a decent job.  

Which vacuum for which task

  Price range Best for Drawbacks Care tips
Upright $50-$800 On average, these are the lowest-cost way to deep-clean carpets. Bagged models in particular can deep-clean carpets and rugs, and all offer a wide cleaning swath. Pulling, pushing, and carrying them can be hard, especially on stairs. For maximum airflow with both full-sized types, replace the bag or empty the bin before it’s completely filled.
Canister $600-$3,000 They’re superior for cleaning curtains, upholstery, and spots beneath furniture. Canisters are also easier on stairs because you move just the hose and powerhead. The top canisters are pricier than comparable uprights. When retracting the cord, routinely letting it snap can weaken the plug. Slow down the motion during the last few feet.
Stick $30-$200 Quickly picking up dry surface litter anytime you don’t want to or cannot bend. Most don’t pick up as well as hand vacuums, their dirt bin is usually small, and most are noisy. Frequently clean or replace filters, and clean out dirt cup to prevent bacterial growth when using both hand and stick vacs.
Hand $35-$60 Light, quick surface cleaning on carpets and bare floors, especially in tight spots that you can’t reach with a stick vac. Some can handle pet hair on upholstery. Like stick vacuums, they don’t have much power compared with a full-sized vacuum. With cordless hand and stick vacs, charge the battery according to the owner’s manual for maximum product life.

Recommended vacuums

Kenmore 31140

Upright vacuum

Canister vacuum

Stick vacuum

Hand vacuum

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)


Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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