Which type of vacuum cleaner to buy used to be a no-brainer. Uprights were clearly better for carpets, while canisters were the obvious choice for bare floors. That distinction has blurred somewhat as more upright models clean floors without scattering dust and more canisters do a very good job with carpeting. Central vacuum systems, an increasingly popular third option, add a measure of convenience, along with higher prices.You'll also see a growing number of features such as dirt sensors and bagless dirt bins, but some of those features may contribute more to price than to function, while other, more essential features may be missing from the least-expensive models. And while cordless and even robotic vacuums have joined your list of choices, neither have been top performers so far.
Uprights. These tend to be the least expensive. Their one-piece design also makes them easier to store than canister vacs. A top-of-the-line upright might have a wider cleaning path, be self-propelled, and have a HEPA filter, dirt sensor, and full-bag indicator.
Price range for most: $75 to $300.
Canister vacuums. These tend to do well on bare floors because they allow you to turn off the brush or use a specialized tool to avoid scattering dirt. Most are quieter than uprights, and their long, flexible hose tends to make them better at cleaning on stairs and in hard-to-reach areas. The added clutter of the loose hose and wand makes canisters somewhat harder to store, however. While canister vacs still tend to cost the most, you'll find a growing number of lower-priced models.
Price range for most: $150 to $500.
Central vac systems. They clean like a canister vac without your having to push, pull, or carry the motor and body around. They're also relatively quiet, and require less-frequent emptying. But they're the most expensive option, and generally require professional installation. The 35-foot hose can be cumbersome, and there's no place to carry tools while you work.
Price range: $500 to $1,250 for the unit including tools, plus $300 to $750 to install.
Stick vacs and hand vacs. Whether corded or cordless, these miniature vacuums typically lack the power of a full-sized vacuum cleaner. But they can be handy for small, quick jobs.
Price range: $20 to $75.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Carpets and floors are still the most common vacuuming targets. You'll find uprights and canisters that do a fine job on both for as little as $80. But paying less often gets you fewer features. Here's what to think about at the store:
Match the vacuum to your cleaning. You'll probably prefer a high-scoring upright if your home includes lots of carpeting. Upright vacuums also cost and weigh less than canisters and are easier to store overall, though they tend to be noisier and less stable on stairs. On the other hand, canister vacs are still better overall if you spend lots of time cleaning drapes and upholstery.
You may want to consider a central vacuum system if you're willing to pay for its quietness and convenience.
Consider airflow and noise. If you often clean with tools, check our Ratings for models that scored well in our through-the-hose airflow tests. Those that did maintained more airflow as their bags or bins filled with dust, reducing the need for changing or emptying.
Noise can be more than just an annoyance with some vacuums. Models that scored a poor in our noise tests produced the 85 decibels or more at which we recommend wearing hearing protection when using any device.
Look for the right features. Vacuums with bags still hold more and create less dust overall when emptying. A brush on/off switch lets you turn off the brush on bare floors and delicate rugs. When using tools, the switch helps avoid scattered dust and reduce the risk of damage or injury from the spinning brush. Models with manual pile-height adjustment can improve carpet cleaning by letting you raise or lower the powerhead for gentler or more-aggressive action.
Don't be dazzled by tools. Most users should be satisfied with the three onboard tools sold with most vacs. They include a narrow tool for crevices and baseboards, a small brush for upholstery, and a round brush for dusting.
Try before buying. A vacuum's weight can be especially critical if your arms aren't strong or your home has more than one level. While top-scoring uprights weigh 20 pounds or more, several strong performers weigh far less. Canister models typically weigh more than uprights, though you're moving only the hose and powerhead when cleaning. If you're considering an upright vacuum, also consider a self-propelled model if low arm strength makes pushing and pulling a problem.
Protect your lungs. If you're sensitive to dust, choose a vacuum that did well in our emissions tests. Less spewed dust also means a cleaner floor. Also consider avoiding bagless models if dust is an issue. If you choose a bagless vac, wear a dust mask when emptying the bin.
(Excerpts from Consumer Reports)
( Indoor Air Quality, Asthma,
Asbestos, Air Cleaners)