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A vacuum on carpeting under furniture.

Best Stick Vacuums for Busy Households

These standouts from Consumer Reports' tests will please even the fussiest neatniks

There’s a reason stick vacuums are one the fastest-growing products in floor care. The lightweight appliances are a convenient alternative to full-sized vacuums, especially when it comes to the routine cleaning required in homes with pets, kids, and other mess-makers.

What’s more, the cleaning power of our top-performing stick vacuums continues to improve, and many are competitively priced, making them a great gift item for a loved one or for yourself.

As impressed as we are with today’s stick vacuums, they’re still not ready to be the only vacuum in most homes, despite claims by manufacturers (“A faster and easier way to vacuum your entire home,” Bissell says. “Powerful suction on carpets and floors with incredible power and versatility,” Shark says.) That’s because the deep carpet cleaning you get from a standout upright vacuum is so much better.

"A good stick vacuum can clean under furniture and is more flexible than your typical upright vacuum," says Frank Rizzi, a CR test engineer. "But don't expect to get the same type of cleaning with this smaller vacuum." As a supplemental cleaner, the stick vacs below should do the job.

How We Test Stick Vacuums
Stick vacuums aren't like your regular upright vacuums; they don't have the deep carpet cleaning capabilities that most uprights have. CR does a carpet-surface cleaning test in which engineers evaluate how well stick vacuums pick up sand, rice, and cereal within a certain  time frame.

Our bare-floor cleaning test is similar; we use the same types of litter to determine how well each model cleans. We use a tiled and grouted test area to increase the difficulty of the cleanups.

We also conduct an emissions test to see whether a vacuum is letting out that dust you just sucked up when you turn it off, and we evaluate noise at ear level during operation.

Here are standout stick vacuums from CR's tests.

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Best of the Best
Dyson V8 Absolute

Dyson V8 Absolute

Let’s acknowledge right out of the gate that $600 is a lot to spend on any vacuum, let alone a stick vacuum. But if price isn't a concern, you can't do better than this battery-powered Dyson, which soared to the top of our ratings after scoring an Excellent in each of our tough performance tests. It’s also exceptionally quiet and loaded with features, including a soft roller cleaner head that’s gentle on hardwood floors, and a quick-release dust bin. The Dyson V8’s average run time of 21 minutes is the longest among all lightweight stick vacuums on our top picks list.

    Maximum Value
    Bissell Air Ram 1984

    Bissell Air Ram 1984

    The Dyson V8’s stiffest competition comes from the Bissell Air Ram 1984, $200. Only a few overall points separate the two models, which is all the more impressive given that the Bissell sells for about a third of the price. It’s a heftier machine, weighing just under 8 pounds, compared with the 5.6-pound Dyson. It also doesn’t convert into a detachable hand vacuum the way many other stick vacuums do. But it’s tough to beat the Bissell’s combination of value and performance.

      Corded Champ
      Shark Rocket Complete with DuoClean HV380

      Shark Rocket Complete with...

      This $240 Shark is tops among corded stick vacuums, a category that trades limitless run time for the convenience of cordless maneuverability. Our testers were extremely impressed with the latest from Shark’s Rocket series, starting with the dual-brush roll, with a bristle brush and soft brush, that helped the vacuum excel in our carpet, bare-floor, and pet-hair tests. It’s also loaded with convenient features, including a large dirt chamber that can be emptied with just one step, and a quick-release foot pedal that converts the vacuum from floor to vertical cleaning for curtains or cobwebs.

        Biggest Bargain
        Dirt Devil Accucharge BD20035RED

        Dirt Devil Accucharge BD20035RED

        If you’re on a budget, this battery-powered Dirt Devil, $70, is the way to go. It’s not in the same league as the Dyson and Shark, but it still delivers solid cleaning performance, especially across bare floors. We’re picturing an apartment dweller in a pet-free building, perhaps, or that rare college student who is fastidious about his or her dorm-room floors. The Dirt Devil scores superbly for noise, so in both of those scenarios the neighbors will appreciate your choice.

          Still a Dyson
          Dyson V6 Cord-Free

          Dyson V6 Cord-Free

          Though still pricey for the stick-vacuum category, the last-generation Dyson V6, $300, offers superb cleaning on carpets and bare floors for about half as much as the Dyson V8. The V6 is quite a bit noisier than the V8 given the absence of motor enhancements, like streamlined airways that reduce turbulence around the control board. And it’s lacking a few add-ons, such as the soft roller cleaner head and mini motorized tool. But this is still a stick vacuum from the brand leader for performance in the lightweight category.

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            Haniya Rae

            I​’m interested in the intersection between design and technology​—whether for ​drywall or robotic vacuums—and how the resulting combination affects consumers. I’ve written about consumer advocacy issues for publications like The Atlantic, PC Magazine, and Popular Science, and now I’m happy to be tackling the topic for CR. For updates, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@haniyarae).