Most and Least Reliable Vacuum Cleaners

CR members report on more than 104,000 upright, canister, and stick vacuum cleaners

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vacuum Illustration: iStock

Every year we ask our members about the vacuums they own. Are they reliable, and do they make them happy?

We get reams of information on the best—and worst—brands, and our members also give us more valuable insight into what breaks and which features are important to them when buying a new vacuum.

That information helps us decide which vacuums to test and which attributes to test, and also helps us keep abreast of changes in the marketplace.

One of those trends is that sales of cordless stick vacuums have soared past sales of corded stick vacuums, not only among CR members but also with consumers at large. Sixteen percent of CR’s members said they would get a cordless stick vac for their next vacuum compared with only 5 percent who said they would choose a corded stick model.

And that presents a trade-off. “Our survey ratings show that corded stick vacuums are more reliable, but cordless vacuums are generally more well-liked,” says Simon Slater, CR’s associate director of survey research.

More on Vacuums

For the second year in a row, we analyzed the reliability of and satisfaction with cordless stick vacuums separately from that of corded stick vacuums, and the results were eye-opening. While there are cordless stick vac brands in our ratings that earn a Good rating for reliability, none score high enough for reliability or do well enough in our lab performance tests to be recommended by Consumer Reports. Problems with battery-powered stick vacs are just too prevalent. Because of that, CR doesn’t recommend any cordless stick vacuums at this time.

And, of course, to complete the vacuum picture, we also asked our members about the reliability of and their satisfaction with upright and canister vacuums.

To calculate predicted reliability, we survey our members about the products they own and use that data to make projections about how new models from a given brand will hold up over time. We also ask members how likely they are to recommend their vacuum, with that question serving as the basis for our owner satisfaction rating.

Upright Vacuums

Upright vacuums make up almost half of the U.S. vacuum market, according to manufacturers, and they’re the best at deep cleaning carpet, according to our tests.

Our survey ratings cover 18 brands of upright vacuums. Only one of the upright brands in our survey, Soniclean, earns an Excellent rating for predicted reliability, although Kirby, Sebo, and Shark earn a Very Good rating. (We’ve tested Soniclean and Sebo uprights in the past, but there are no current models in our latest upright tests.)

There are more than a dozen Shark uprights in our ratings, and you’ll see the best clustered near the top; 10 make our recommended list.

Three upright brands—Sebo, Shark, and Miele—earn an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction, but Miele uprights earn only a middling Good rating for reliability. Still, that’s enough for Miele to keep its recommended eligibility. In fact, one Miele bagged model makes our top picks list.

All three of the upright brands that aren’t eligible for a recommendation—Black+Decker, Dirt Devil, and Eureka—earn a Fair rating for predicted reliability and a Poor rating for owner satisfaction.

Here’s a top-performing Shark upright with ratings of Very Good for reliability and Excellent for owner satisfaction. For more choices, see our full upright vacuum ratings.

Canister Vacuums

Canister vacuums are a good choice if you live in a multilevel home because they’re easier to maneuver on stairs, with the powerhead in one hand and the canister on the floor or the stairs. They’re also better at cleaning hardwood floors, according to our lab tests. But with their long hose connecting the powerhead and the canister, they can be bulky and a bit awkward to store.

Canisters have been losing market share in recent years and now account for only 2 percent of the vacuums consumers buy nationally, according to manufacturers. We continue to test them because brands like Miele and Kenmore are popular with our readers. In fact, 11 percent of the members in our survey who recently bought a vacuum reported buying a canister.

In our survey, canisters generally fare well for reliability. All 12 brands included in our survey ratings are eligible for a recommendation. Our performance ratings currently include five brands of canisters: Miele, Kenmore, Dyson, Rainbow, and Sirena.

Our member survey represents more brands than we currently test. Of the dozen, Miele stands out as the only brand to receive an Excellent rating for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. Of the two other brands that earn an Excellent for predicted reliability, Rainbow earns a Very good rating for satisfaction and Filter Queen earns a Fair. Kenmore and Dyson earn a middling rating of Good for both reliability and satisfaction. All of the Miele and Kenmore canisters in our ratings perform well enough to earn a recommendation. Rainbow also garners a recommendation but neither Dyson or Sirena make the cut because of subpar results on our performance tests.

Here’s a top pick from Miele, a brand that earns Excellent ratings for both reliability and owner satisfaction. For more choices, see our full canister vacuum ratings.

Stick Vacuums

Unlike with canisters, the market for stick vacuums is growing at a fast clip. They represent a 17 percent share of the market, according to manufacturers, and more than 40 percent of vacuums purchased since the beginning of 2019 are stick vacuums. Many of them perform well in our tests, although the tests aren’t as tough as those for full-sized vacuums. That’s because we don’t expect stick vacuums to accomplish the deep cleaning that full-sized uprights and canisters are designed to handle.

But a stick vac comes in handy for a small mess, like spilled cereal or broken glass. Consumers like them because they’re easy to maneuver and do a good job cleaning bare floors. In our vacuum performance tests, we find that their performance has been improving year after year. Read on to see how corded and cordless stick vacuums did in our reliability survey. (Some brands appear in both categories; for example, Shark makes both corded and cordless models.)

Corded Stick Vacuums
Three of the seven brands covered in our survey earn an Excellent rating for brand reliability: Shark, Miele, and Bissell. But owner satisfaction is a mixed bag. Shark gets an Excellent satisfaction rating, Miele gets a Very Good, and Bissell earns a middling rating of Good.

Of the remaining four brands, three rate Very Good for reliability, but their owner satisfaction ratings are a bit lackluster, ranging from Fair to Poor. That said, all brands in our survey are eligible for a recommendation if they perform well enough in our tests.

Here’s a top pick from Shark, a brand that earns Excellent ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. For more choices, see our full corded stick vacuums ratings.

Cordless Stick Vacuums
In contrast to corded stick vacs, none of the seven brands of cordless stick vacs covered in our survey ratings earn more than a Good for predicted reliability, and four brands earn a rating of Fair. Currently, no cordless stick vacuums make our recommended list, including those from Tineco, which are top-performers in our vacuum lab tests. We don’t have enough data from our members to rate Tineco for reliability or satisfaction.

Despite their iffy marks for reliability, two of these brands get high marks for owner satisfaction. Dyson and Shark earn an Excellent rating. We test both brands, so check out their performance ratings in our cordless stick vacuum ratings.

What, specifically, are the problems CR members found with their cordless vacuums? Two words: battery life. Many owners complained that the batteries were never good to begin with or that battery life diminished over time, especially after the second year of ownership. For more on our reliability survey findings on cordless vacuums, see “The Problem With Cordless Stick Vacs? The Battery.”

Here’s a look at the top-rated cordless stick vacuum from Consumer Reports’ lab tests. For more choices, see our full cordless stick vacuum ratings.

What Breaks

The most common problems members report with their vacuums are broken belts on uprights, dead or diminishing batteries on cordless models, weak or no suction, and brushes that don’t work properly or at all. Here are the top problems reported by our members:

  • Belts. A brand median of 15 percent of uprights had broken belts. Of those, the belts of Eureka, Hoover, Kirby, and Oreck break at a higher rate than is typical.
  • Batteries. Among cordless vacuum brands, a brand median of 10 percent had problems with diminished battery life; 6 percent had batteries that died.
  • Suction. A brand median of 7 percent of vacuums had a problem with weak or no suction. Members’ complaints were higher than average for Dirt Devil upright and stick vacuums (both their corded and cordless models), as well as Black & Decker, Eureka, and Bissell uprights and Hoover canisters.
  • Brushes. Faulty brushes were an issue with a brand median of 5 percent of vacuums, with Dyson canisters being more problematic than most others; about 12 percent had brush issues.

Our survey team reports that 91 percent of the vacuums purchased by our members since 2011 are still in use. Six percent were replaced because of reliability problems. When we asked members what type of vacuum they would buy next, almost half (48 percent) said they planned to buy the same type of vacuum that they currently own.

But members who currently own a corded stick vacuum said they’re less likely to replace it with another corded stick vac. Well under half (32 percent) are likely to do so. Thirteen percent of current corded stick vacuum owners want their next purchase to be a cordless stick vacuum. By contrast, despite the battery issues, just 3 percent of cordless stick vacuum owners want to buy a corded stick vacuum for their next purchase.

Reliability is by far the most important consideration for a next vacuum purchase, with 91 percent of our members citing that as Very Important. Next in importance was a HEPA or micro filter, with 43 percent of respondents saying it was Very Important and 42 percent saying it was Somewhat Important. Our members are also looking for bagless, lightweight models that come with useful attachments and have adjustable brush height and suction control. Only one in four mentioned price as Very Important. Least important was a vacuum’s appearance and whether or not it folds for storage.

While only 22 percent of our members cited brand loyalty as a Very Important consideration in their next vacuum purchase, three brands stood out as having faithful followings. Rainbow was the leader in this regard, with 35 percent of current owners saying that it was Very Important that their next vacuum be another Rainbow. Other brands that were meaningfully higher than most other brands on this attribute were Miele (30 percent) and Aerus (27 percent).

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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.