Vacuum Cleaner Types and Configurations
Today on the market, there are many vacuum cleaner types, depending on their intended use, their configurations, power sources, air filtration, etc.
The most common vacuum cleaner types are:
Air Cleaning System - Air Purifiers
Air cleaning systems are stationary units and they are used to filter air particles and to release clean air.
Good air cleaning systems are based on mechanical HEPA filters, often combined with activated charcoal filters, which are capable of removing even odors from the air.
Such units filter 99.97% of dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and other dirt particles as small as 0.3 micrometers.
Often, they use UV-C lamps to kill airborne bacteria and viruses and to decompose the rest of the particles and even odors.
People having issues with asthma and allergies should combine HEPA grade air cleaning systems with true HEPA vacuums, in order to avoid or at least lessen their health issues.
When considering air cleaning systems (air purifiers), one must consider the area and the volume of the cleaned room, air speed (often given in cubic feet per minute), noise levels, and similar.
Since they operate practically non-stop, some models can be programmed to operate at low speeds during the night.
For more on this topic, feel free to check our articles:
- Best Air Purifiers Under $100 For Smoke, Dust, Pets, Mold ...
- Ionic Air Purifiers vs Electrostatic Air Purifiers vs HEPA Air Purifiers
- How to Maintain HEPA Air Purifiers?
- Where To Place Air Purifier?
Backpack Vacuum Cleaners
Backpack vacuum cleaners are carried as backpacks, enabling the user to easily traverse on foot from room to room and to clean large areas quickly.
These vacuums can be carried on the shoulder, too, especially the smaller models.
Backpack and shoulder vacuums are carried via padded straps, making the use rather comfortable, even when used for a longer period of time.
The main features of backpack vacuums are good air filtration (often HEPA grade), longer cleaning hoses and telescopic wands, combined with numerous cleaning attachments, adjustable suction power, relatively low operating noise (some models even have 'silent' modes), large dirt bin capacity, etc.
A backpack vacuum cleaner can be powered via a power cord or can be cordless, while some models can be used in both modes.
Cordless backpacks are almost exclusively powered using lithium-ion batteries (strong, lightweight, tend to be expensive). Corded backpacks' autonomy depends on the length of the power cord, which is usually dimensioned according to the local need.
For more on this topic, check the Best Backpack Vacuum Cleaners article.
Bagless vs. Bagged Vacuum Cleaners
When the dirt is vacuumed, it is temporarily stored in the vacuum cleaner in the dust bag or dirt bin/container/cup.
Both systems have pros and cons of their own - disposable bags enables one to get rid of the dirt within seconds without making a mess, reusable bags are very cost-effective, but can be messy.
Bagless systems don't have any additional costs, but emptying them can be problematic and dirty.
Over time, systems improve - even disposable HEPA bags can be found at affordable prices, reusable bags can be used for a long time without the need to wash or replace them, and bagless systems are very easy to empty without making a mess.
For most people, the bagless or bagged unit is a matter of personal choice. If you like uprights with (or without) hoses, go bagless!
For more on this topic, check the Bagged or Bagless Vacuum Cleaner – Which One is Better article.
Canister Vacuum Cleaners
Canister vacuum cleaners are more popular in Europe than in the US.
In canister vacuums, the cleaning head is connected to the canister via an elastic hose and (usually) a telescopic wand. The canister contains a motor, dirt bin or dirt bag, filter(s), most of the controls, some models have an automatic cord wrap system or even have an onboard storage compartment for smaller attachments.
Advantages and disadvantages of canister vacuums are:
- cleaning head is much lighter than the whole upright vacuum and it is easier to use, especially by elderly people and kids.
- cleaning attachments are easier to change than in classic uprights,
- single unit can be used for cleaning both floors and elevated surfaces,
- longer stretch cleaning hose and telescopic wand lead to energy losses,
- as one cleans, the canister part is often pulled via a hose, bumping into the furniture, etc.
Many people wonder, which vacuum to buy, canister or upright? Well, this is highly individual, but our recommendation is - upright vacuum with the cleaning hose and telescopic wand.
Did You expect something else? :)
Car Vacuum Cleaner
Car vacuum cleaners come in various forms and sizes. They can be cordless units, powered via cable and 12V cigarette lighter adapter, or can be full-size, mains powered (110/220V) units.
Mains-powered units have cleaning hoses and various cleaning attachments, since classic uprights and stick vacuums can't clean car interiors efficiently - thus, they must be canister vacuums or uprights with hoses.
12V units operate using the energy stored in the car's battery. The maximum current is limited to 10 Amps (maximum current of cigarette lighter socket fuse), thus limiting the power of these vacuums to 100-120 W.
Cordless units operate using vacuum battery and their reach is not limited by cables or hoses. However, their operating time and suction depend on the battery capacity and vacuum motor.
For more on this topic, check How to choose the best car vacuum cleaner? article.
A carpet shampooer is a wet and dry vacuum cleaner, optimized for the wet cleaning of carpets and rugs.
Good carpet shampooer has two tanks: dirt liquid tank and cleaning solution tank.
As the unit cleans, a cleaning solution (often a mix of water and cleaning agent/detergent) is sprayed over the carpeted surface, then rotating brushes scrub the carpet and help clean stubborn dirt and stains and then almost all of the liquids, including the dirt, is vacuumed and stored in the dirt liquid tank.
Some carpet shampooers even include a warm air blower, to help dry the carpet.
After cleaning, carpets are slightly moist, and it takes some time to get fully dry. Drying time depends on the temperature and air flow in the cleaned areas.
Some carpet shampooers are optimized for cleaning spots and small messes on carpets, rugs, upholstery, stairs, and similar surfaces. Such units are rather small, have no wheels, they are very light and easily carried around - highly recommended for families with pets and kids, living in homes with plenty of carpets.
Carpet sweepers are not vacuums, by design. Carpet sweepers use rotating brushes or brushes to sweep the floors and pick the dirt and debris.
Carpet sweepers range from small handheld cleaning aids to larger, commercial units powered with small onboard batteries for improved cleaning.
Some carpet sweepers even utilize a small suction motor to help brushes remove the dirt off the floors - they operate as a combination of mechanical carpet sweepers and carpet vacuum cleaners.
Carpet Vacuum Cleaners
Carpet vacuum cleaners use the mechanical force of rotating brush to agitate dirt and debris, help separate the dirt from the carpet fibers, and then, using the air flow (vacuum suction) remove the dirt into the vacuum and store it in the vacuum temporarily.
Really dirt areas and stubborn carpet spots can be cleaned using dry carpet cleaning powders and sprays - cleaning powder is spread over the carpet and rubbed into the surface. After a short cleaning time (10-30 minutes), the carpet is vacuumed as usual.
To improve cleaning on various pile heights carpets, cleaning head height should be adjustable, either automatically or manually. Proper cleaning head height ensures optimum air flow and brushroll action and enables the vacuum cleaner to traverse the cleaned carpet as easily as possible.
To enable the cleaning of hard floors, vacuum cleaners optimized for carpets can turn off the rotating brushes and clean hard floors using suction only. This is very important when cleaning delicate wooden floors.
Some carpet vacuums include rotating brushes for sensitive floors, recommended even for delicate wooden floors and oriental rugs and carpets - nonetheless when cleaning such surfaces, read the instructions carefully and always test on a small area.
Central Vacuum Cleaners
Central vacuum systems consist of a central vacuum unit with a strong suction motor and large dirt container (with or without bag), wall sockets, long cleaning hose(s), and various cleaning attachments for cleaning different surfaces.
The cleaning hose can be up to, or even longer, than 30 feet (~9 m) and is plugged into the wall sockets where cleaning is required or directly into the unit, for cleaning areas nearby.
Commercial central vacuum systems can support the operation of several cleaning hoses at the same time and such units are planned even before the object is built.
Construction Site Vacuums
Construction site vacuums are strong and robust vacuum cleaners, with excellent air filtration.
Their purpose is not only cleaning the floors and other surfaces but often, cleaning the air from dust and other particles, protecting the people and equipment on the site.
Such vacuums often act as air blowers, using the same motor and cleaning hose, with different attachments.
Smaller site vacuums are often powered via both power tools' batteries and mains power.
In order to be used on a ladder, smaller site vacuums come with a shoulder strap or as a backpack vacuum cleaner.
For more on this topic, check Construction Site Vacuum Cleaner and Blower Combos article.
Cordless Vacuum Cleaners
Cordless vacuum cleaners operate using energy stored in onboard rechargeable batteries.
Such vacuum cleaners vary in size and shape, from small and cheap cordless units, good only for the most basic tasks, to the large, powerful, and rather pricey units, capable of being used as the main vacuums in homes and apartments.
When compared with corded units, cordless units operate without mains power being present, they can be used at the moment notice as excellent emergency vacuum cleaners, etc.
On the other hand, operating time and suction power are limited by the capacity and type of the used battery. To improve performances, many manufacturers use lightweight lithium-ion batteries, even in $50 (or even cheaper) cordless units.
A special type of units are combined units, which use mains power when available, or onboard battery when there is no mains power present. These units are often commercial, workshop, or construction site units.
For more about this topic, feel free to check our How to Replace Dead Batteries in a Cordless Vacuum Cleaner article.
Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaners
Cyclonic vacuum cleaners use the cyclonic air-dirt separation method, sometimes even stacked in several layers.
Small vortexes spin dirty air and thanks to centrifugal forces, separate even the smallest particles.
To aid filtration even more, cyclonic vacuums usually have one or two additional mechanical filters.
The first mechanical filter is usually positioned between cyclonic separation system and motor (regarding the air flow) and is called a pre-motor filter. Such filters come mostly in the form of foam filters and are usually washable.
The second mechanical filter, if present, is a post-motor filter, and it is often a HEPA grade filter. To improve air filtration even further, some manufacturers use activated charcoal-based filters.
Drum Vacuum Cleaners
Drum vacuum cleaners are built in the form of a drum, hence the name.
They are usually commercial, wet and dry, high capacity units, with long cleaning hoses and various cleaning attachments.
Air filtration is mostly mechanical and/or cyclonic, although there are models which use water filtration.
They are powered with long power cords, often reinforced, to withstand walking over and similar mechanical 'abuse'.
Dust extractors can be:
- powerful, construction site and workshop vacuum cleaners, with long cleaning hoses, and high-capacity, drum-shaped dirt canisters.
In order to protect people and equipment, these vacuums often have self-cleaning HEPA filters (HEPA filters are cleaned every 15 to 30 seconds!), high air volume flow and, if required, cleaning hoses with needed attachments can be mounted directly onto the machines creating dust, for example, directly on the orbital sander.
In order to decrease the noise levels on the sites and in the shops, manufacturers often try to lower the noise of these units, but cleaning performances are a priority.
Nonetheless, these units are not much louder than normal vacuum cleaners.
- workshop air purifiers are a special form of dust extractors, usually mounted on a permanent location, used to clean the air from small dust particles.
Such dust extractors are very quiet during operation, can be remotely controlled, have excellent air filtering and protect people and equipment from small dust particles and keep the workshop clean for a longer period of time.
Garden Leaf Vacuum Cleaners
Garden leaf vacuums are corded or cordless units, or they can be even powered via internal combustion motors and are used for vacuuming the leaves and similar garden debris.
Depending on the model, garden leaf vacuums often utilize air turbines with sharp blades, acting as both garden leaf vacuums and mulchers.
Also, some models can be used as 'classic' garden leaf blowers.
For more information about this topic, feel free to check our Garden Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers - Which one to Choose? article.
HEPA Vacuum Cleaner
HEPA vacuum cleaners are a special type of cleaners with enhanced air filtration capabilities.
To be a true HEPA vacuum cleaner, the whole unit must be designed as such. Some manufacturers advertise some of their models as having HEPA air filters or even 'HEPA-style' air filters.
Such units are NOT true HEPA vacuums.
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) air filters remove at least 99.97% of particles 0.3 micrometers in size. For example, the size of dirt particles are:
- sand 50.0-1000.0 micrometers,
- pet and human hair 30.0-200.0 micrometers,
- pollen 10.0-100.0 micrometers,
- bacteria 0.3-10.0 micrometers,
- dust mites 90.0-600.0 micrometers, etc.
Having a true HEPA vacuum cleaner is very important for people having issues with asthma and allergies.
Handheld Vacuum Cleaners
Handheld vacuum cleaners are small and lightweight vacuums carried and operated using one or both hands. During operation, the whole unit is held in the hands, thus the name.
Handhelds range from cheap NiMh powered emergency vacuums to larger and more powerful units powered via lithium-ion batteries, 12V car cigarette lighter adapter cables, or 110/220V mains power.
Main advantages of handheld units: they are small and lightweight, and can reach and clean surfaces which are often inaccessible to other vacuum types (except perhaps uprights with hoses and canister vacuums); also, due to their small size, they can be easily stored in the kitchen or any other area where they are used most often and can be used at the moment notice, especially cordless handhelds, stored on docking/charging stations.
Mattress Vacuum Cleaners
Mattress vacuums are a special type of vacuum cleaners optimized for cleaning mattresses.
In order to properly clean the mattress, upholstery, and similar surfaces from deeply embedded dirt and various bed bugs, mattress vacuums combine:
- UV light to dehydrate and sanitize the cleaned surface,
- vibrations to help loosen the dirt and bed bugs from mattress fibers,
- strong suction to actually clean the mattress,
- hot air to remove any residual moisture in the mattress and kill any bug or bacteria left in the mattress.
IMHO, mattress vacuums must have HEPA-grade air filtration.
Some manufacturers provide special mattress cleaning attachments for 'standard' vacuums - these attachments do their job well, but specialized mattress vacuums are a category of their own.
For more on this topic, check the How to Clean a Mattress - Mattress Vacuum Cleaner article.
Nasal aspirators are small nose vacuums used to clean the mucus from babies' and infants' noses.
They are small, often cordless, units, very quiet during operation.
Nasal aspirators also come in the form of small manual pumps and as cleaning attachments for 'standard' vacuum cleaners.
Personally, a small cordless unit rules them all, especially at 3 AM :)
Note: Nasal aspirators must be used as recommended by their manufacturers, especially regarding application and hygiene.
Pool Vacuum Cleaner
Pool vacuum cleaners are underwater units optimized for cleaning debris of various sizes from concrete and other pools.
Pool vacuum cleaners vary significantly in the form, type, and features - some of them are just a cleaning head on the long pole connected with an external water pump with a long water hose, while some models are robotic units, capable of autonomous operation (avoiding the obstacles, climbing the walls of the pool and similar).
Robotic Vacuum Cleaners
Robotic vacuum cleaners are autonomous vacuums, capable of doing cleaning and other tasks on their own.
They are powered using lithium-ion batteries and controlled via remote control units or via smartphones (Android, iPhone), tablets, laptops, etc.
Practically, all models on the market include features like obstacle avoidance, drop sensors, automatic return to the docking station and charging, autonomous navigation, and similar.
When buying such units, be sure to read the manual thoroughly - at first, they look complicated to use, but they are often rather easy to use and maintain.
For more about this topic, feel free to check the Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Hair article.
Steam Vacuum Cleaners and Mops
Steam mops and vacuums clean hard floors using the power of hot steam to sanitize the floors.
Steam mops have microfiber cleaning pads for capturing the dirt and debris, often combined with a scrubbing mechanism to enhance the cleaning of the pads.
To avoid changing cleaning pads often, it is recommended to vacuum heavily soiled floors first, and then to clean them using steam mops.
To avoid vacuuming the floors first, some steam mops act as small steam vacuum cleaners - they vacuum and clean using steam and cleaning pads at the same time.
Homes with large non-carpeted floors should consider full-size steam vacuum cleaners.
Steam mops have water heaters in the 1200 W and 1500 W range, thus requiring power cords.
Cordless steam mops can operate while being plugged in, when everything is powered via a power cord, water heaters included or in cordless mode, when the battery power is used to power water pumps, scrubbing mechanism if present and similar, but NOT water heaters.
Powering a 1500 W water heater even by lithium-ion battery would shorten operating time to a few minutes.
But, who knows, maybe we will see in a few years a fully operational cordless steam mop :)
For more on this topic, check How to Pick the Best Steam Mop and The Best Cordless Steam Mop - Features, Specifications and Recommendations article.
Stick Vacuum Cleaners
Stick vacuum cleaners are lightweight and slender upright vacuum cleaners.
Due to their shape and weight, they can reach and clean areas that are sometimes inaccessible to full-size upright vacuums, they are easier to carry around, especially up and down the stairs, etc.
Also, kids (under the supervision of adults) and elderly people can use them more easily.
Some stick vacuums combine handheld and stick vacuum cleaners in a single unit (so-called 2-in-1 units) and are very affordable units.
Cordless units are excellent emergency vacuums, while corded units can be used even as main vacuums in smaller homes and apartments.
Thanks to the powerful and lightweight lithium-ion batteries, cordless stick vacuums are more and more used than the main vacuums, although such units cost more than corded stick vacuums.
On the other hand, stick vacuums have smaller dirt bin capacities, somewhat weaker suction motors, narrower cleaning nozzles ...
Nonetheless, stick vacuums are a very popular type of vacuum cleaners, with performances often matching their 'big brothers' - upright vacuum cleaners.
Upright Vacuum Cleaners
Upright vacuums are one of the most popular types of vacuums, globally.
Unlike canisters, upright vacuums have the main cleaning head very close to the main motor, leading to higher energy efficiency and stronger suction.
Upright vacuums also have a higher mass for moving around during cleaning, but, thanks to the good steering and swivel mechanisms, good wheels, and often self-propelling onboard systems, uprights are not hard to move around during cleaning. Mostly :)
To improve cleaning hard-to-reach areas, upholstery, stairs, and all other surfaces from the floor to the ceiling, best uprights have additional cleaning hoses, combined with several cleaning tools like crevice cleaning tools, dusting brush, and similar.
Personally, if you need a good main vacuum cleaner, go for an upright vacuum cleaner with an additional cleaning hose - such units are rather versatile and fit the needs of most users.
Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaners
Wet-dry vacuum cleaners are capable of cleaning slightly moist or fully wet dirt or they can be used to vacuum liquids directly.
Large workshop wet-dry vacuums are mostly in the form of drum vacuums, can have water filters, have strong motors, and long cleaning hoses with large canisters (drums) for storing a larger amount of dirt.
Note that specialized car vacuum cleaners powered via a 12 V cigarette lighter adapter cable, are often designed to be wet-dry vacuum cleaners, but only when used under a certain angle. When a sucked liquid reaches a certain level, it must be emptied.
In any way, wet-dry vacuums should be cleaned after each use, in order to prevent the buildup of unpleasant smells and gases.
Window Vacuum Cleaners
Window vacuum cleaners are type of wet vacuums that are used for cleaning windows, tiles, shower doors, car windows, countertops and similar, flat surfaces.
Window vacuums are mostly small and compact handheld units, featuring squeegee (rubber blade), vacuum motor for creating suction, and dirt liquid tank. Depending on the model, they can also feature a detergent tank with spray, microfiber pad, and similar.
For more about this topic, check our Window Vacuum Cleaners - How to Choose One? article.