Best Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide: What to Look for When Buying a Vacuum Cleaner
Although high-quality 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: September 17, 2022.
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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, air filtration, 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 do 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 units with $500 units, although at first glance, they can be very similar – until you start to use them.
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.
Controls of the new vacuum cleaner should be easy to use and reach, especially when there is a need to often change the suction strength and floor type.
Dirt cups should be easy to empty directly into the trashcan, without ever touching the vacuumed dirt.
If there is a brushroll, a self-cleaning brushroll is highly recommended.
Many advanced vacuums are digital units with a set of sensors all across the unit, measuring various parameters and signaling to the user when it is time to, for example, clean or replace the air filter, battery, brushroll, and similar.
The 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 with self-cleaning technology.
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 - for example, Dyson V11 Outsize feature maximum suction strength of 220 Air Watts and Dyson V15 Detect feature maximum suction of 230 Air Watts.
Vacuum 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 vacuumed dirt left in the dirt bin or dirt bag 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.
Convertible 2-in-1 cordless stick vacuums often have dirt cups in the 0.3-0.7 liters range, but they are also very easy to empty - such vacuums are intended for quick cleanups and cleaning in emergencies, although there are some models that are suitable even as a main vacuum cleaner in homes and apartments.
While 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.
Wet or Dry Vacuum
Dry vacuum cleaners are optimized for cleaning dry dirt, while wet vacuums can clean moist and wet dirt and sometimes even water or other liquids directly.
Large canister/drum wet vacuums are excellent workshop/construction sites vacuums - they are designed 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.
There 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.
The following table lists various classifications of EPA/HEPA/ULPA filters according to the EN 1822 standard:
|Filter Group||Filter Class||Filtration Efficiency||Penetration|
|Efficiency Particulate Air (EPA) Filters||E10||85 %||15 %|
|E11||95 %||5 %|
|E12||99.5 %||0.5 %|
|High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filters||H13||99.95 %||0.05 %|
|H14||99.995 %||0.005 %|
|Ultra-Low Penetration Air (ULPA) Filters||U15||99.9995 %||0.0005 %|
|U16||99.99995 %||0.00005 %|
|U17||99.999995 %||0.000005 %|
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 filters, 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 filters 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.
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.
The vacuum 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 - a 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.
- 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 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 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.
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.
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 a 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.).
Vacuum Cleaner Types
Most popular vacuum cleaner types include upright vacuums, canister vacuums, stick vacuums, cordless vacuums, robotic vacuums, and similar.
Each type has its own pros and cons with some models being designed as convertible units, having features of two or more vacuum types.
Upright vacuums are one of the most popular vacuum models, especially models with additional cleaning hoses, which allows them to clean both floors and elevated surfaces.
Upright vacuums are mostly corded, bagless units intended to be used as the main vacuum cleaners in both homes and apartments.
Canister vacuums feature canister (hence the name) with wheels, suction motor, air filters, and dirt cup/dirt bag, and often the foot controls of the vacuum.
The canister is attached to the flexible cleaning hose, which is attached to the cleaning wand with the main cleaner head.
Since the user carries only a cleaning hose/wand, canister vacuums are somewhat easier to use, although most uprights are designed to have most of the weight resting on the transport wheels.
Canister or upright vacuum cleaner is often just a matter of personal preferences.
Cordless Stick Vacuums
Cordless stick vacuums are lightweight vacuum cleaners being powered by the onboard battery. Many cordless stick vacuums are designed as 2-in-1 units and may easily be converted into handheld units and back.
Although initially designed as second vacuum cleaners in larger homes and apartments, thanks to the improvements in technology, more and more cordless stick vacuums are designed even as the main vacuum cleaners.
Corded Stick Vacuums
Corded stick vacuums are very similar to cordless stick vacuums, except that they are powered using long power cords and often feature stronger suction motors.
While the autonomy of the cordless units is limited by the energy stored at the onboard battery, the autonomy of corded stick vacuums is limited only by the length of their power cords.
Handheld vacuums are mostly cordless units intended for quick cleanups and cleaning in emergencies.
Handheld vacuums are small, compact, and lightweight units that can be easily used even by elderly people and even children - children under supervision by adults.
In order to make them more versatile, handheld vacuums often feature additional cleaning tools, including Crevice Tool, Dusting Brush, Turbo Pet Tool, Upholstery Tool, etc.
Robotic vacuums are autonomous vacuum cleaners intended for vacuuming large floor areas.
Robotic vacuums differ greatly in suction power, air filtration level, autonomy, sensors, the intelligence of the onboard computer, and similar, but so do their prices differ.
Good robot vacuum cleaner, especially with the self-cleaning brushroll and automatic dirt disposal can really be helpful in cleaning home and making it more pleasant to live in, but it can't vacuum elevated surfaces.
Some robotic cleaning systems combine robot vacuums and robot mops in one unit.
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Mops are used for cleaning of the bare floors using mop pads.
Also, mops can be steam mops (combine hot steam and mop pads), spray mops (combine cleaning solution and mop pads), vacuum mops (combine vacuum cleaning and mop pads), and similar.
Price of the Good, Residential Vacuum Cleaner?
The price of the vacuums varies significantly – some people are satisfied with $50 units, while some people require $1000 units.
Personally, uprights/canister/stick vacuum cleaners in the $200 - $400 range satisfy the requirements of most buyers. As technology advances, units in the $100 - $200 range are getting better and better – especially when more expensive units are found on sale :)
The performances and features of robot vacuums vary significantly, just as their price.
A good upright vacuum cleaner with a stretch hose and telescopic wand can be used for cleaning surfaces from the floor to the ceiling and is a much more popular unit than the canister vacuum, at least in the United States.
With good warranty conditions for residential use, it is a smart investment since it is going to be used for many years to come.
And 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!
Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the most common questions when buying vacuum cleaners.
How to choose a vacuum cleaner for the home?
Everyone should choose the vacuums according to their personal needs, preferences, and requirements - type, model, suction strength, dirt disposal system, air filtration, etc.
Cheap vacuums can be good, but don't compare them with 5-10 times more expensive units.
What should I look for when buying a vacuum cleaner?
Check the price, suction, type, weight, cleaning tools and attachments, air filtration, maintenance, and similar.
What is the best brand of vacuum cleaner to buy?
Large brands are "large" because they manufacture good vacuums at acceptable prices.
However, smaller brands in order to compete with such brands must offer even better units at acceptable prices as well.
Read our reviews and recommendations just like the reviews of people at online shops and choose according to your own needs and preferences.
How much suction power should a vacuum have?
On average, anything above 100 Air Watts combined with proper cleaning tools is - good. This also depends on the cleaning path width, since it is not the same to have 100 Air Watts across a 5-inch cleaning path or across a 10-inch cleaning path.
What is the best vacuum cleaner on the market?
This is very hard to answer - for example, a new generation of Dyson cordless vacuums is as strong as corded units or even stronger. Newer Shark stick vacuums feature various DuoClean main cleaner heads that are excellent on both carpeted areas and bare floors. Newer Tineco stick vacuums are digital vacuums that are also WiFi-enabled units, etc.
On the other hand, Bissel, Hoover, and similar brands offer excellent vacuums at much more acceptable prices.
If You prefer canister vacuums and don't mind paying some extra more, check the Miele canister vacuums, etc.
What's the average lifespan of a vacuum?
It all depends on the quality and in the end price - some models fall apart after a year or two, while some units are operating well after 5-7 years.
Cordless units with detachable batteries often feature different warranty conditions for the vacuum cleaner and for the batteries - such models often come with a 5-year warranty for the unit and a 2-3 year warranty for the batteries.
Few Final Words
When looking for a new vacuum cleaner, check the price, type, wattage, suction strength, dirt disposal system, air filtration, the list of additional cleaning tools, and a few more details that are important to You.
If unsure, then consider:
- cordless convertible stick vacuum for small to medium homes and apartments and for quick cleanups. Note that the cheaper units are not as good as more expensive units in terms of suction, available cleaning tools, air filtration, and warranty terms.
- corded upright vacuum cleaner as the main vacuum cleaner. Prices differ of course, but there are surprisingly good and versatile units offered at affordable prices. If You prefer a canister vacuum for the main vacuum cleaner, Miele offers great but expensive models, while other brands offer models at cheaper prices.
- handheld cordless vacuums for quick cleanups.
- robot vacuums for floors without many obstacles.
In short, when looking for a new vacuum cleaner, go for the model according to your own needs and preferences.