What We Like
Good suction and vacuum performance
What We Don't Like
Arrived in a mess
Hose is basically useless
When it comes to vacuums, we usually assume that more expensive means better engineering and better performance. If you don’t want to drop a house payment on a vacuum, though, does that mean you have to be happy with a push broom and a prayer against dirt? Bissell doesn’t think so. The company’s PowerForce Helix Bagless Upright Vacuum is very affordable and promises to be low-maintenance and functional. We just had to try it out for ourselves.
Packaging and Setup Process: We have some gripes
While we honestly think the PowerForce Helix is a decent machine, it arrived in a mess. We ordered from Walmart, but the shipping label says it came directly from Bissell (as a third-party supplier). The box arrived unsealed (just folded closed), and the contents had obviously been removed at some point and then carelessly repacked.
The packing materials and bags the vacuum was supposed to arrive in were crammed in the box around the vacuum parts. Though the vacuum itself didn’t look used (we checked the filter, dirt tank, and brushes), we were missing the pack with the two screws that we needed to assemble the handle, as well as the lower hook that the power cord is supposed to wrap around. If there was supposed to be any literature or warranty information in the box, that was missing, too. This was probably a return—and not a good one. Whoever repacked the vacuum had thrown in a bag with enough random nuts, bolts, screws, and Alan wrenches to build an Ikea bed, but none of these was the size we needed to actually assemble the vacuum. Um, thanks?
While we honestly think the PowerForce Helix is a decent machine, it arrived in a mess.
We understand that returns happen for lots of reasons, but why didn’t anybody check the return before sending it back out to a new customer? Why didn’t they bother to tape the box shut? We’re mystified. Incidentally, if anybody out there just bought an Ikea bed and only found two little screws included in the package, contact us. We have your hardware and Allen wrenches.
If we’d actually had all the parts that should’ve come with the PowerForce Helix, we would’ve slid the upright handle into position, screwed it into place with the included screws, attached the hose, popped the lower cord wrap hook into place on the back of the vacuum, and she would’ve been ready to go. At least we think that’s all you’d have to do. Along with the two screws and the lower cord hook, the user guide was missing. If you find yourself in the same position (we hope not), at least know that there are installation and maintenance videos for this model on Bissel’s website. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us much help with our power cord, which just swings around on its one hook.
Design: Feels like a toy
With its cheerful swimming pool blue hue and shockingly lightweight, you’d think the PowerForce Helix was a toy if it wasn’t sized for adult humans. Every molded plastic button, handle, filter, and hose feels like the inexpensive play version of itself. Considering you still get most of the adjustable function of much more expensive vacuums, the designers seem to have gone for function over a guarantee of life-time durability. As long as you aren’t hurling your vacuum down the stairs or rolling over it with your Prius, though, the lightweight construction shouldn’t be a problem. We liked how easily maneuverable it was and think the weight is an asset if you have multiple floors to vacuum.
We liked how easily maneuverable it was and think the weight is an asset if you have multiple floors to vacuum.
The transparent dirt canister sits at the front, and when it’s in action, you can see the debris flying around in a helix pattern—hence the “Helix” model name. We think this is intended to keep the dirt and hair moving around in the canister so it doesn’t clog up the hose connection or the filter. The canister comes off the upright easily by pressing a button at its apex and can be emptied by a trap door at its base. Theoretically, we should’ve been able to hold the canister over a trashcan and just let the dirt drop out, but the hair and carpet fluff we’d sucked up defied gravity and stayed put inside the helix, so we had to scoop it out by hand. Yuck.
The washable filter is basically just a sponge nestled in the top of the dirt tank. We removed it and rinsed it after a couple uses, let it dry overnight, then replaced it. The hose detaches from the canister so you can use it with the included crevice tool, dusting brush, or extension wand. The hose is very stiff and only 5 feet long, which is really too short to be useful for much more than vacuuming under the couch cushions. The “extension” tool didn’t help either—it was only about the length of a forearm. Needless to say, that’s not making it up to the ceiling fan blades.
Cleaning Performance: Works like a more expensive machine
Bissell doesn’t make any special claims to the performance of the PowerForce Helix against pet hair, short of a small graphic on the shipping box that says, “pet inspired.” We don’t know what that means exactly, but we do know that this vacuum versus a shag rug in a house with three cats and a guinea pig was a fair fight. The machine might feel like a toy, but it’s a toy with powerful suction that you can see. The vortex of cat hair that spun up into the machine after only a couple minutes of use was both gratifying as a reviewer and horrifying as the occupant of an apparently filthy house.
The hose is very stiff and only 5 feet long, which is really too short to be useful for much more than vacuuming under the couch cushions.
We vacuumed a variety of rugs: a medium-density synthetic shag, a chunky jute loop, a flatweave, a flokati shag, and a lower-pile machine-loomed rug. You can adjust the height of the floor unit to the carpet height with a manual dial on the base, which was a pain to bend over and do when moving between a lot of different surfaces. We liked that there were five settings, though, from bare floor to high carpet. Even on the high carpet setting, the vacuum was difficult to push across the shag rug, which was probably partially due to the light plastic wheels not navigating the rug well. We still think we could’ve used an additional height option for high-pile.
The PowerForce Helix versus a dark velvet couch covered in white cat fur was sort of a success story. We used the included “dusting brush,” which seems to be a catchall attachment for upholstery, blinds, and dusting. It worked okay on the fur—better than a lint brush, anyway—but the hose is so short and stiff, it led to some awkward maneuvering, and the vacuum tipped over more than once.
Size/Portability: Lightweight and easy to maneuver
Out of the box, we were perplexed by how light the PowerForce Helix was: 12 pounds. After heaving some other vacuums around the house for review, though, we started to see the light on the more featherweight designs. The Hoover Windtunnel 3, for instance, weighs over 18 pounds. That’s 6 pounds heavier than the PowerForce! It might feel like a toy, but the low weight and maneuverability ensures it won’t break your foot if it falls over on it.
Price: A pretty good deal
As a budget pick, the $50-to-$60 PowerForce Helix is actually a pretty great little machine. True, the hose/attachment game is weak, true it does not seem like it’s built to last a lifetime, and also true, ours did not come in perfect condition. If you’re looking for an inexpensive upright that works on anything from wood floors up to shag, though, then we can confirm that this one will do the trick.
Bissell PowerForce Helix vs. Dirt Devil Endura Reach Compact Upright Vacuum Cleaner
If you’re looking for an inexpensive vacuum with a hose attachment that can actually extend your reach farther than your forearm, the Endura Reach from Dirt Devil may be more your speed. Comparably priced, the Endura includes an extension wand that adds another 10 feet of reach.
- Product Name PowerForce Helix Bagless Upright Vacuum
- Product Brand Bissell
- MPN 2191
- Price $49.94
- Weight 12 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 9.5 x 14.25 x 32 in.
- Color Black/Baha Blue
- Cord Length 23 ft.
- Power Rating 8 amps
- Hose Length 5 ft., stretched
- Cleaning Path Width 13 in.
- Dirt Cup Capacity 1 L
- Warranty 2 years, limited
- What’s Included Crevice tool, dusting brush, extension wand