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Best Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide: What to Look for When Buying a Vacuum Cleaner

Although high-quality upright vacuum cleaners are characterized by a long operational life, every now and then new models are produced with even better characteristics than models before. Newer models promise better suction, better dirt removal, better air filtration, easier operation, etc.

Often people ask themselves what to look for in the new vacuums, what to avoid, or should they keep their older vacuum as long as it functions properly?

Updated: January 22, 2021.

dyson animal 2 and animal 2 total clean 1

Vacuum Cleaner Features vs. Buyer’s Requirements

When buying a new vacuum cleaner, it is highly recommended to any potential buyer to write down the requirements of the new vacuum cleaner, and of course, a budget. There are many models of various vacuums from different manufacturers on the market, with very similar specifications, like motor power, weight, warranty conditions, cord length, number and types of attachments, and similar.

If it is possible to test the vacuum cleaner personally or even rent it for few days, do it – it can save you a lot of time, money, and nerves in the long run. Since something like that is not always possible, one should check reviews and recommendations of other people who bought and tested such vacuums or have at least gathered experiences, reviews, and technical data from several sites.

That is why we always try to leave a link for more reviews and recommendations – after all, if we like a vacuum cleaner for some reason, you may dislike that vacuum for exactly the same reason we like it in the first place.

Before buying a new vacuum, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Where do you live in - a house or an apartment?
  • Do you need a vacuum cleaner for residential or commercial use?
  • Floor types - are there low-pile, medium-pile, high-pile carpets, area rugs, tiles, hardwood, or a combination of a few of them?
  • Bagged or bagless a vacuum cleaner?
  • Do you have pets, how many, what type of fur they have?
  • Any allergies or respiratory issues in the family?

You should consider all of these questions before buying a new unit, especially if you go for more expensive vacuums since those units can cost a lot of money.

When comparing performances, it makes no sense to compare $50 unit with $500 unit, although at first glance, they can be very similar – until you start to use them.

When comparing similar vacuums, be sure to check these features:

Ease of Use, Handling, and Maintenance

The vacuum cleaner should be easy and intuitive to use. Nonetheless, when you get a new vacuum cleaner, it is highly recommended to read the manual first and familiarize yourself with the new unit, how to use it, and perhaps even more important, how to maintain it.

Suction Power

dyson ball animal 2 total clean tableThe cleaning performances of the vacuum greatly depend on the suction power, which is given in Air Watts. It is related to the power of the main motor (given in Amps or Watts), but the high power rating of the main motor does NOT warrant good suction or good cleaning.

If you have, for example, thick carpets and hairy pets, a strong suction motor is important, but almost useless without a good motorized pet hair brushroll.

Most full-size corded vacuum cleaners feature suction power of 100-200 Air Watts, although there are more and more cordless units that feature that suction power, thanks to highly-efficient brushless motors and lightweight, but powerful lithium-ion batteries.

On the other hand, certain full-size vacuum cleaners exceed 300 Air Watts when set to maximum power.

Dirt Bag or Dirt Bin Capacity

Regardless if the unit is bagged or bagless, a small dirt bag or a small dirt bin means often emptying and hence slower overall cleaning. On the other hand, a large amount of dirt can lead to the build-up of unpleasant smells.

A dirt bin capacity of at least one liter is desired for most full-size vacuums, allowing the user to vacuum large areas without interruptions, while an easy-to-empty system helps the user to empty the dirt bin after each use.

miele fjm type vacuum bag mWhile some people prefer bagged vacuums, other people prefer bagless units. Both types have their pros and cons and it is often up to the user to choose which one to buy.

Personally, bagless vacuums feature low maintenance costs, while bagged units may be messy when emptying the dirt bag, unless it is a disposable bag with the collar that automatically closes and traps the dirt inside.

For short - reusable vacuum bags can save some money, but they also can make a large mess. Just my 2c.

Wet or Dry Vacuum

Dry vacuum cleaners are optimized for cleaning of dry dirt, while wet vacuums can clean moist and wet dirt and sometimes even water or other liquid directly

Large canister wet vacuums are excellent shop vacuums - water filters allow them to vacuum both dry and wet dirt as well as smaller spills of water.

Most households have dry vacuums and they do their job well. If such vacuums accidentally vacuum wet dirt, they must be stopped, cleaned, and thoroughly dried before the next use – if something like that happens, check the manual, just to be sure.

Air Filtration

hepa filterThere are several HEPA filter (High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter) groups (EU HEPA standards), but generally, the HEPA filter removes at least 99.97% of particles 0.3 micrometers in size.

Such level of air filtration is very important for people with asthma, allergies, and other similar health issues. Personally, if you choose a vacuum that costs $200+, it must be a HEPA model.

Note that better filtration increases air pressure drop within the vacuum itself – more expensive vacuums have minimized energy losses due to the HEPA air filtration, while cheaper units, although claiming that they are HEPA vacuums with strong motors, often lack information about their Air Watts and have weaker suction.

The level of air filtration leads to filter maintenance – some units come with several mechanical air filters, some combine air filtration of the vacuum bag with air filters, others combine cyclonic action with mechanical air filter, etc.

Simple foam air filters are washable and reusable, while true HEPA filters, especially when combined with activated charcoal, are often disposable filters.

Washable HEPA filters can be reused after being washed, but after some time, they must be replaced, too.

Note: always thoroughly air-dry your air filter before reassembling them back into your vacuum cleaner - using the vacuum cleaners with a wet air filter or no air filters at all, can damage or even destroy the vacuum cleaner, rendering its warranty void.

Pressure drop inside the vacuum can be automatically detected with sensors, or the unit relies on the user to notice the suction loss and to clean or replace the filters - of course, units with filter sensors are preferred ones, although such system increases vacuum's complexity and in the end, the price.

Noise Levels

The vacuum cleaner with the noise of a jet fighter at take-off is not the best solution for a home vacuum, regardless of its other qualities.

Note: Noise levels are given in decibels (dB – logarithmic scale).

Personally, anything noisier than 80 dB (or even 75 dB) should be avoided. Vacuum cleaners with noise levels below 60 dB are great and can be used even when others are sleeping, but most of the vacuums have noise levels between 65 and 75 dB. Reducing suction strength often reduces noise level, too.

Cleaning Reach

The vacuum’s cleaning each or operating radius is the distance between the power outlet and the furthest area which can be cleaned with the vacuum cleaner.

Upright vacuum cleaner reach is usually the length of its power cord, while the maximum reach of an upright vacuum cleaner with the flexible cleaning hose is the length of the power cord, combined with the length of the hose.

Obviously, cordless vacuum cleaners don't depend on the mains power and have ‘infinite’ reach, but it comes with shortcomings on their own - limited amount of energy stored at the onboard batteries.

However, thanks to the advancements in technology, the best cordless units feature a runtime of up to 30-60 minutes, allowing them to clean large areas on a single battery charge - and no, such units that are comparable to corded units in the terms of suction and other performances are not cheap.

Cleaning Tools and Accessories

Additional cleaning tools help in cleaning various surfaces and dirt like upholstery, sofas, crevices, ceiling fans, mattresses, dust, pet, and human hair, and similar. Such cleaning tools often come with the vacuum cleaner but can be bought separately.

Perhaps the most common cleaning tools are:

- Crevice Tool is a long and narrow cleaning tool that is designed for cleaning crevices (hence the name), gaps, edges, corners, and similar hard-to-reach areas.

duster crevice tool- Dusting Brush is used for picking up fine particles of dust and other dirt. As the brush bristles glide over the cleaned area, they agitate the surface dirt which is then vacuumed by a strong suction. Very often Dusting Brush and Crevice Tool are combined in a convenient 2-in-1 cleaning tool.

- Motorized Pet Tool features a small brushroll usually powered by a small air turbine. As the brushroll spin, it pulls out deeply embedded dirt, pet and human hair, lint, fibers, and other dirt from the cleaned surfaces, which is then vacuumed by a strong suction. Motorized Pet Tool is not a maintenance-free tool, but it is one of the favorite cleaning tools of many pet owners.

- Upholstery Tool is used for vacuuming upholstery (hence the name), stairs, pet beds, and other surfaces that require thorough cleaning, but that are perhaps too sensitive to be vacuumed using Motorized Pet Tool.

Of course, there are other tools as well, but these are the most common ones. If required, new cleaning tools and accessories may be ordered from online shops or can be found in local stores.

Weight of the Vacuum Cleaner

It is not the same to vacuum a home with a vacuum cleaner that weighs 5 or 15 pounds. Most upright and canister vacuums have most of their weight resting on the ground, but nonetheless, the larger the weight, the more force is required to push or pull the vacuum while cleaning.

However, this also depends on the design of the wheels and the cleaning head – some vacuums have motorized cleaning heads that pull the vacuum when the user pushes it and vice versa, significantly reducing the required force during cleaning.

Also, the weight of the vacuum is important when the vacuum is carried around, especially if there are stairs at home.

Vacuumed Area

The size of the area to be cleaned and cleaning frequency dictate the required vacuum cleaner quality and durability.

For cleaning small apartments, a good cordless stick vacuum cleaner powered with a modern lithium-ion battery is perhaps all that one requires. And if that stick vacuum is an all-in-one unit, combining handheld and stick vacuum cleaner in one unit, then definitely one doesn’t need another, larger unit.

However, cleaning large(r) homes and apartments require big and sturdy, mains powered units with motorized cleaning head, with on/off brushroll switch, adjustable cleaning head height, additional stretch hose with telescopic wand, and set of accessories including various dusting brushes, crevice tools, pet turbine tool and similar. Headlights are great aid when cleaning in low light conditions (under furniture, for example) and in spotting dust, hair, and other dirt and objects that should be vacuumed or not vacuumed (toys, socks, etc.).

Price of the Good, Residential Vacuum Cleaner?

Price of the vacuums vary significantly – some people are satisfied with $50 units, while some people require $500 units.

Personally, units in the $200 - $300 range satisfy requirements of at least 95% of buyers. As technology advances, units in the $100 - $200 range are getting better and better – especially when more expensive units are found on sale :)

A good upright vacuum cleaner with a stretch hose and telescopic wand can be used for cleaning surfaces from the floor to the ceiling.

With good warranty conditions for residential use, it is smart investment since it is going to be used for many years to come.

black decker bdh2000pl mAnd if you need a small, handheld, emergency vacuum (pets, kids etc.), there are cheap and reliable cordless units on the market and such units can be used safely even by children - under the supervision of adults!

Such units complement larger upright vacuum cleaner and even prolong its operating life.

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