Choosing the Best Vacuum Cleaner

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 the right place to find your dream vacuum machine. We tested more than 170 models—motoring across 16 miles of carpet and flooring—all in the quest to help you select the right vacuum.

How We Test Vacuums
To determine how well a vacuum cleans, we conduct a different set of tests on each type based on what and how it was designed to clean. For example, you wouldn’t expect a stick, handheld, or robotic vacuum to have the same cleaning power as a full-sized canister or upright, but they all have their pluses and minuses.

To find out how well a vacuum picks up dirt, how much debris it retains, how easy it is to maneuver, and how noisy it is, Consumer Reports puts vacuum cleaners through a battery of tests. We embed talc, sand, and pet hair into carpet before vacuuming. We use the same recipe of litter on bare floors and observe whether the vacuum picks it up or scatters it about. And we maneuver the vacuum around, just like you would, to make sure it’s easy to handle.

Vacuums that perform well but don’t hold up over time aren’t winners, so we’ve made some changes to how we calculate a product’s Overall Score. To make it easier for you to choose a great vacuum that will last, we now incorporate predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings from our exclusive member survey with performance results from our lab tests to produce one comprehensive Overall Score. The change in scoring elevates some vacuums in our ratings while driving others down—for example, CR can no longer recommend stick vacuums made by Dyson because of their poor reliability ratings.

You’ll see the new Overall Score in our ratings for upright, canister, and stick vacuums, along with individual ratings for reliability, satisfaction, and each of the lab tests. We don’t yet have enough data to calculate reliability and satisfaction scores for robotic vacuums, and we don’t collect data on handheld vacuums because they’re relatively inexpensive. That means the Overall Scores for robovacs and handhelds are based solely on their performance in our lab tests—the same way it used to be done for all vacuums.

Shopping by Type

Start by determining the best vacuum for the type of cleaning you do. If you have wall-to-wall carpet or lots of rugs, uprights—especially those with a bag—are the best choice. But if you have lots of stairs, canisters can be easier to maneuver, and they tend to do well on floors with hard surfaces, from hardwood to tile. Stick vacs and handheld models are great for lighter tasks, such as spilled cereal, that need quick attention. A robovac may appeal if you want to set it and forget it—though you will need to remember to empty the dust bin periodically.

We don’t test central vacuum systems, but they may be an option if you’re doing an extensive remodel or are willing to commit to installing suction tubes behind the walls of every room in the house. They’re certainly powerful.

For the best vacuums in all categories at a price that’s right for you, see our vacuum cleaner ratings. Or read on to learn more about each of the types.

An upright vacuum.

Upright Vacuums

Pros: Uprights tend to cost less than canister vacuums and cut a wider cleaning swath. They’re generally better at deep-cleaning carpets—particularly the bagged models. Most are relatively easy to store because they stand up on their own.

Cons: Pushing and pulling a machine that might weigh upwards of 20 pounds. If that’s a concern, you can sort our ratings by lightweight models (select “More Filters” then check “Lightweight”), though you’ll notice that the best performers tend to be heavier. Uprights also tend to be noisier than canisters.

Upright Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
A canister vacuum.

Canister Vacuums

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

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

Canister Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
A stick vacuum.

Stick Vacuums

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 the need to bend over to clean a dirty floor.

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

Stick Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
A handheld vacuum.

Handheld Vacuums

Pros: These miniature 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.

Handheld vacuums Ratings
A robotic vacuum.

Robotic Vacuums

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.

Cons: No robotic vacuum can match the deep cleaning you’ll get from the best uprights and canisters. These vacuums are not the ideal choice if you have shag carpeting or area rugs.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaner Ratings
A central vacuum.

Central Vacuums

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 don’t need to be emptied very often.

Cons: Central vacuums are pricey and require professional installation. Their 30-foot hoses can be cumbersome to wield, and they hog storage space. And there’s no in-unit place to store cleaning tools while you work.

Note: CR does not currently test central vacuum cleaners.

Interactive Video Buying Guide

Watch our interactive video below. You can skip to different chapters on types, features, robotic vacuums, and stick vacuums.

What to Consider While Shopping

Modern vacuums come in a range of designs, sleek shapes, and cool colors. 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 typically test 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 vs. 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 the bin of a bagless model can be problematic 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 whether the store will match it.

Keep an Ear out for Noise
No vacuum cleaner in our ratings is so loud that 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. 

Vacuum Brands

Bissell vacuums are available at a variety of mass merchants, including Target and Walmart. Upright models tend to be moderately priced, typically ranging from about $60 to $250. Bissell also makes hand and stick vacuums, canisters, steam mops, and deep carpet cleaners, and it recently entered the robotic vacuum market.
Dirt Devil floor-care products are focused on affordability and convenience. Part of TTI Floor Care, the Dirt Devil brand is available at a variety of mass merchants, including Target and Walmart. Upright models typically cost from $40 to $200. Some of the brand's upright vacuums are among the lightest models sold. Dirt Devil also makes canister vacuums, and hand and stick models.
Colorful styling, innovative features, and well-known national advertising featuring its namesake owner and designer helped Dyson become a major player in the U.S. Ranging in price from about $300 to $700, Dyson vacuums increased the average price paid for uprights. Canisters have joined that lineup, as have hand and stick vacuums. The brand is available nationwide through major mass merchants such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.
Eureka sells a wide array of models marketed to address different needs, including pesky pet hair. Uprights typically cost between $50 and $200. You'll find this national brand in a variety of mass merchants, including Target and Walmart. Eureka also makes hand vacuums and canisters.
Hoover introduced its first vacuum in 1908 and established itself as one of the most recognizable consumer brands in America. Part of TTI Floor Care, along with Dirt Devil and Oreck, Hoover sells a variety of uprights at mass-market retailers, with models costing from $50 to $300. It also makes hand and stick vacuums, canister models (about $80 to $300), bare-floor cleaners, and deep carpet cleaners.
Kenmore’s first vacuum, called the Kenmore Revolving Brush Cleaner, debuted in 1932. This midlevel, mass-market brand sells floor-care appliances priced from $150 to $500. Once exclusive to Sears, Kenmore uprights are also available in Kmart stores. Kenmore uprights typically range in price from about $200 to $400. Kenmore is the best-selling canister brand, with models costing between $300 and $500.
This German appliance manufacturer is family-owned and -run, and 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 Amazon.com and Bed Bath & Beyond. Miele focuses on high-end upright and canister models, with prices typically ranging from about $300 to $1,000.
iRobot was created by MIT roboticists in 1990 and manufactures the Roomba brand of robotic vacuum cleaners—the first of which iRobot debuted in 2002.
The well-known electronics and technology brand sells robotic vacuum cleaners priced between $500 and $1,000.
Once known for being the “infomercial” brand, Shark has leveraged its promotional advantage to gain placement in national retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and Walmart, becoming one of the top-selling brands. Upright vacuum cleaners are Shark's focus, with models priced from $150 to $300. Shark also has robotics, uprights, stick vacuums, and steam mops in its line.
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