A corded and cordless stick vacuum.

Cordless stick vacuums have come a long way since Consumer Reports began testing them more than two decades ago. Yet they still have a long way to go before they’re as reliable as their corded cousins.

That's according to new data from CR’s exclusive member survey. Our findings show that by the time someone has owned a stick vacuum for five years, it’s twice as likely as a corded model to develop some sort of problem.

"The biggest problem consumers reported about their battery-powered vacuums was the batteries themselves,” says Simon Slater, CR’s associate director of survey research.

In fact, based on data from 17,625 CR members who bought a stick vacuum between 2010 and 2020, the reliability profile of corded vs. cordless models is so different that we essentially have to treat them as two different products.

There’s also the fact that the market has shifted to a point where cordless models account for two-thirds of the stick vacs in our latest sample. Because of these factors, we now calculate predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings separately for each set of data. And that has a big impact on our ratings.

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“As a category, cordless stick vacuums are not reliable enough, and we don’t recommend any models at this time,” Slater says.

Many of them perform impressively in our lab tests for cleaning carpet and bare floors, pet hair, noise, emissions, and more. But over time, starting at about the third year, various battery problems become prevalent, the biggest being diminishing battery life, which means it doesn't last as long between charges.

Of the 51 cordless stick vacuums in our ratings, 40 are ineligible for a “CR Recommended” designation based on subpar predicted reliability. The remaining 11 vacs earn a middling rating of Good for predicted reliability, and their performance in our lab tests doesn’t rise to a level that warrants recommendation.

By comparison, of the 19 corded stick vacuums in our ratings, eight earn a spot on CR’s list of top picks. All corded models rate either Very Good or Excellent for predicted reliability, our top ratings.

The Reality of Rechargeable Batteries

To be fair, vacuum manufacturers are asking a lot of lithium-ion batteries. They have to provide enough energy for the stick vac to deliver the same suction as one that draws power continuously from an outlet—and last long enough so that you don’t run out of juice when you’re in the middle of a chore.

Newer models come with two interchangeable batteries. The Tineco Pure One S11 Tango EX, Dyson V11 Outsize, and LG CordZero A9 are among those that land near the top of our ratings.

Many stick vacuum manufacturers sell replacement batteries, which range from about $75 to $150. So for a not-insignificant portion of the purchase price, you can get a new battery if yours dies, which may extend the useful life of your appliance. It's surgery for the machine's Achilles' heel—the battery.

“There is often a trade-off with batteries of power versus run time,” says Esther Takeuchi, a professor of materials science and chemical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who is also also associated with the Brookhaven National Laboratory..

It’s a familiar quandary for Kevin Pohlman, vice president of engineering at TTI Floor Care North America, which makes Hoover, Dirt Devil, and Oreck vacuums.

“You can achieve longer run times by increasing battery capacity, which must be balanced with consumer requirements for weight," he says. "Or by reducing energy consumption of the cleaner, which is directly related to cleaning performance."

In the lab we’ve seen big improvements all-around. “When we first tested cordless vacuums, the best ran for 10 to 20 minutes,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees CR’s home improvement testing program. “Now we're not only seeing far more power, but the best have run times of 45 minutes or more.”

That might explain why they’re growing in popularity, even gaining on upright vacuums, the most popular type. Stick vacs now account for 25 percent of the vacuum market, says CR market analyst Kelly Moomey—and three out of four at retail are cordless models.

While there are far more to choose from, they all rely on the same power source. Think about your smartphone, which may take longer to charge or require a charge more frequently as it ages.  “All batteries do wear out over time,” Takeuchi says.

CR’s Findings on Cordless Stick Vacs

Each year we survey tens of thousands of CR members about the products they own to calculate ratings for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.

Here are the specifics for cordless stick vacs:

  • Most work fine out of the box, though they have a greater chance of developing problems from the get-go than corded models. In the first year of ownership, the problem rate for cordless stick vacs is nearly double that of corded models: 11 percent vs. 6 percent.
  • By the fifth year, 45 percent of cordless stick vacs develop a problem. The problem rates for corded stick vacs also increase in that time frame but remain much lower, at 21 percent by the fifth year.
  • Diminishing battery life was the most common problem, and the likelihood increases significantly after the third year of ownership. One out of 5 cordless stick vac owners who had theirs for five years said battery life got worse over time.
  • Dead batteries are next in line. In the first year, 2 percent of the batteries in cordless vacuums die; by year five, that number increases to 15 percent.
  • Weak suction and the brushes not working properly were the other top problems our members reported.

"Battery issues among cordless stick vacs far eclipse problems that are common to other types of vacuums, like broken belts in uprights," says Slater.

There’s an obvious reason, though, why cordless stick vacuums are popular: convenience. Despite the problems they reported with their cordless vacuums, 74 percent of our members who currently own one plan to buy another cordless model.

And with advances in battery technology, the future for cordless stick vacuums looks bright, according to Takeuchi. “Three things are happening in battery development,” she says. “The amount of energy they can store has increased. They’re getting cheaper to produce. And they have more power.”

Only time will tell whether manufacturers are able to leverage those technological advances to improve the reliability of their products.