Best Vacuums for Cleaning Carpet

These uprights and canisters clean up in CR's tests

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vaccuum testing
Alex Nasrallah, a test technician, puts an upright vacuum through the carpet cleaning test.

Carpets are good at hiding dirt, and that’s exactly what makes them so hard to clean. Not every vacuum is up to the job.

“The ability to clean carpet is the main difference between full-sized uprights and canisters and smaller vacuums, like stick and robotics,” says Frank Rizzi, who conducts Consumer Reports’ vacuum tests. “Larger vacuums have stronger suction and brush rolls, which can better remove debris from carpet.”

Typically, upright vacuums are better at cleaning carpet than canisters, because the full weight of the vacuum sits over the power head on uprights, making it easier to push down into the pile and get at the dirt. But even with that advantage, only two of the upright vacuums in our tests earn an Excellent rating for carpet cleaning. And no canister aces our carpet cleaning test; in fact, some do pretty poorly.

Our carpet cleaning tests are based on an industry-standard test that gauges how well vacuums lift 10 grams of surface talc and 90 grams of embedded sand from a medium-pile carpet. The best leave little debris behind. We also assess how well vacuums pick up pet hair and whether they spew dirt back out into the room through their emissions, among other tests.

Below are eight top-performing uprights and canisters for cleaning carpet, listed alphabetically by type.

For more information on these and other types of vacuums, read our vacuum buying guide and check our vacuum cleaner ratings.

CR’s take: The 17-pound Dyson Ball Animal 2 earns a Very Good rating for carpet cleaning and aces our bare-floor and pet-hair tests, too—a good thing, considering its name. Emissions are clean, so this vacuum won’t spew debris back into the room (although emptying the bin can stir up some dust). It comes with attachments that help you get into tight spaces. In our brand reliability survey, Dyson uprights receive Good scores for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. These indicate whether a vacuum will experience problems in the first five years of use, and the probability that an owner will recommend the vacuum to others. Dyson vacuums can be pricey, but we’ve seen this model on sale during major holidays.

CR’s take: The Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly 31150 earns a Very Good rating for cleaning carpet and is equally adept at removing pet hair. And it aces our bare-floor test. Emissions are clean, meaning everything it sucks up stays in the vacuum. It’s a bit on the noisy side compared with some of the other uprights, though. It’s also heavier than most, weighing 21 pounds. A light indicates when the bag should be replaced to keep the vacuum in peak performance. In our survey, Kenmore uprights receive Good ratings for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.

CR’s take: Kirby vacuums are sold only by independent Kirby distributors via in-home demonstrations. The Kirby Avalir 2 is one of the most expensive uprights that CR tests. But you do get impressive carpet cleaning capabilities; this model earns an Excellent rating in that test. It also aces our bare-floor and pet-hair cleaning tests, and does it all without spewing debris back into the air. But it has two shortcomings: It weighs a hefty 23 pounds, contributing to its Fair rating for handling (the lowest of all the uprights), and it's one of the noisiest uprights we've tested. Kirby uprights earn a Good rating for predicted reliability and a Poor rating for owner satisfaction in our survey.

CR’s take: The bagged Miele Dynamic U1 Cat & Dog is a great choice if you have carpeting and pets that shed—it aces both those tests, earning an Excellent rating on carpet. In fact, there’s not much this vacuum can’t do. It's also top-notch at cleaning bare floors, and no matter the surface, it doesn’t spew debris back into the room. A bonus: It’s quieter than most uprights. With a generous 40-foot cord, you’ll have a lot of running room, too. But our testers found the 22-pound vacuum a bit harder to handle than some other models. Miele uprights earn a top mark for owner satisfaction in our survey, but only Good for predicted reliability.

CR's take: The Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly UltraPlush 81714 is a solid choice for cleaning carpet, earning a Very Good rating on that test. And it’s indeed pet-friendly, in the sense that it does a great job removing pet hair. It’s a champ at cleaning bare floors, too. This Kenmore makes the grade in our emissions test, but in terms of noise, there are quieter choices. Airflow through the hose is strong, a plus if you often use attachments. Kenmore canisters earn Good ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction in our member survey.

CR’s take: The Kenmore 200 Series 81214 rates Very Good at cleaning carpet and earns top marks for cleaning bare floors and removing pet hair. It gets only an average score for emissions, though, so if you have allergies, consider a vacuum that scores higher on that test. Suction through the hose is impressive, making this a good choice if you often use attachments. But like the Kenmore canister above, it’s a bit noisy.

CR’s take: Our top canister vacuum, the Miele Complete C3 Marin, earns high marks in almost every test we throw its way, including a Very Good rating for carpet cleaning. It’s a champ on bare floors and great at removing embedded pet hair, and its emissions are free of debris. It’s the most expensive canister in our tests, but its consistent high performance has made it one of our top canisters for several years in a row.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.