Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Vacuum

Tackle dirt efficiently with the right fit for your household

shark-vacuum

The Spruce

Love it or hate it, vacuuming is key to keeping a clean home. It’s no surprise that a quality vacuum cleaner should have a front and center spot in your cleaning closet. Vacuum cleaners make quick work of sucking up dirt and debris and can also remove allergens, pet hair, and more from your living spaces.

Whether you have hard surface floors or plush carpeting, a vacuum cleaner does more than just push dirt around—it sucks it up so that you can dispose of it for good! Using a motor to generate suction power and a cleaning head with a brush, debris is sucked up into the nozzle and travels to a bag or dust collection bin for later disposal. Some vacuums also have an onboard filtration system to trap tiny particles and keep them from being released into the air through the exhaust of the vacuum. After a few passes with your vacuum cleaner, you’ll have cleaner floors that are free of grit and look great!

Vacuum cleaners come in all shapes and sizes, with different uses and features. Upright vacuum cleaners are one of the most common types available, and you can find them in both bagless and bagged varieties. Canister vacuums offer better mobility and are also great for stairs, but often have smaller dust bags. Handheld and stick or cordless vacuums make handy tools for quick touch-ups. And if you’re looking for the easy way out, robotic vacuums can be programmed to clean your floors automatically.

The investment you make when buying a vacuum cleaner will depend on the features and quality you’re looking for in a vacuum. The most affordable vacuums can be purchased for under $50 but may have smaller dust bags and limited suction power and attachments. At the other end of the spectrum are sophisticated vacuums engineered to offer superior performance and last for years. You may pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 or more for a vacuum like this. 

What to Look for When Buying a Vacuum?

Price isn't always a consideration when making a new purchase. You'll want to think about a lot of other features before pulling the plug.

  • Bagged vs. Bagless: While bagged vacuum cleaners were the mainstay of the cleaning world for decades, many new vacuum cleaners are bagless. This means that you won’t need to buy and replace the bag inside your vacuum cleaner regularly.
    Instead, you’ll just need to empty the dust collection canister in your bagless vacuum cleaner, and occasionally wash it out. The downside to bagless vacuums is that you’ll have to empty a dusty, dirty bin over a trash can—and that can make allergy sufferers sniffle and sneeze.
    Bagged vacuum cleaners, on the other hand, collect everything into an easy-to-dispose-of bag that can simply be tossed in the trash. However, as the bag fills you may notice a reduction in suction. Plus, you’ll have the recurring cost of purchasing new vacuum bags—and sometimes they can be hard to track down for older, discontinued models of vacuum cleaners.
  • Weight: If you’ve ever pushed around a vacuum cleaner for an extended cleaning session or lugged it up and down a flight of stairs, you know that the weight of a vacuum matters! It can be a pain to push and pull a heavy vacuum cleaner. Fortunately, many vacuum cleaners are designed to weigh less and be more nimble than the unwieldy machines that first entered home cleaning closets decades ago.
    Upright vacuums tend to weigh the most—but they often have wide floorheads, more powerful motors, and larger dust bags to account for the added weight. Many upright vacuums weigh between 12 and 18 pounds, with some models weighing less or more.
    Canister vacuums vary widely in terms of weight. Some lightweight models barely tip the scale to 8 pounds, while others that offer performance and features to rival upright vacuums can weigh as much as 18 or 20 pounds.
    Keep in mind that even heavier canister vacuums may not seem as cumbersome since they don’t require you to push and pull the vacuum around the room as much. Equipped with a long nozzle hose, the canister can stay stationary while you vacuum in the immediate area around it before rolling it along to your next dirt-busting destination. However, it’s still important to pay attention to the weight of a canister vacuum, especially if you will need to carry it up and down stairs.
    Cordless and stick vacuum cleaners are generally the most lightweight vacuums available. Intended for lighter cleaning, these vacuums are meant to be easy to pick up for spot cleaning or light duty vacuuming. They typically weigh between 3 and 7 pounds.
  • Brush Roll: The presence—or absence—of a brush roll on a vacuum cleaner may determine what type of flooring it’s best suited for.
    Vacuums with no brush roll are good for hardwood floors or tile flooring, since the stiff fibers of the brush roll may scratch the finish on your flooring or send dirt in all directions. Alternatively, some vacuums with a brush roll offer the ability to turn the rotation of the brush off—making it safe for use on hardwood floors and more effective on any type of hard surface flooring.
    When it comes to plush carpeting, the brush roll gently agitates the carpet fibers to lift surface level dirt along with debris at deeper layers—including dust, dander, and pet hair that may have settled into the carpet. And while most brush rolls will have no problem accomplishing this task on flat weave or low-pile carpet, medium-to-high pile rugs may require an adjustable pile height setting to ensure that the fibers of the rug don’t get tangled in the brush roll or stifle the suction coming from the nozzle.
    The bottom line is that if you have multi-surface flooring in your home, including both hard surfaces and carpeting, a vacuum cleaner with an adjustable brush roll that can be turned on and off is your best bet. If you’re carpeting is quite plush, also look for a floorhead with the ability to adjust for pile height. And if you only have tile or hardwood floors, you can skip the brush roll altogether!
  • Filter: Many vacuums are equipped with a filtration system intended to trap fine particles of dust and dander that might otherwise be released with the exhaust of the vacuum cleaner.
    Some filters are washable, making them an affordable, easy-to-maintain choice. These are usually made of a sponge-like material that rinses easily and air dries quickly. Other filters are more paper-like in appearance and must be replaced on a schedule (usually every 6 months or so) to maintain effectiveness.
    The gold standard in vacuum filtration is a HEPA filter, which stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. These ultra-fine filters will trap the tiniest of particles—as small as 0.3 microns in the case of true HEPA filters. Allergy-sufferers will benefit the most from a HEPA filtration system, but it can be a major plus for anyone looking to reduce dust, dander, pollen, and other small particles. HEPA filters will usually need to be replaced on a schedule to maintain their filtration capabilities, but a few newer versions offer the advantage of being washable.

    What Is the Best Type of Vacuum for Me?

    Your dirt situation at home (pets, kids, etc.) will help you figure out what vacuum will work best for your lifestyle and needs.

    Upright

    shark-vacuum-product
    Spruce

    The workhorses of the vacuum family, upright vacuums are known for their strong suction and wide floor heads that can clean up to 15 inches or more with a single pass. Available in both bagless and bagged versions, the upright section of these vacuums holds the motor and dust collection system. For this reason, these vacuums tend to weigh more than some more streamlined models and the design requires you to push and pull the vacuum across the floor as you clean.

    The consensus is that upright vacuums do the best job at penetrating deep into carpet fibers to extract embedded dirt, dander, and debris. However, the upright design can make it harder to maneuver into low, tight spaces—like under couches or beds. Many vacuums come with attachments to solve this and other cleaning conundrums. Generally, these attachments can be stored onboard for easy access during cleaning.

    When it comes to storing your vacuum, the upright design is closet-ready. It takes up minimal floor space while leaving room for other cleaning supplies or coats, shoes, and more. When shopping for an upright vacuum, you can expect to pay as little as $50 for a lightweight, light-duty version or $500 or more for a more robust vacuum. Many quality options exist in the $100 to $300 price range. 

    Canister

    bissel-cannister-vacuum
    Courtesy of Amazon

    If you want a vacuum with a floor head that can reach to great heights or uncharted territory under your furniture, a canister vacuum may be a great choice. These vacuums feature a canister body that houses the motor and dust collection system (either a bag or dustbin) connected by a hose to a floor nozzle.

    The big advantage to a canister vacuum is the fact that the canister can sit stationary while you vacuum the room around it. When it’s time to move on, just bring the canister along—either by wheeling it (many canister vacuums are equipped with wheels) or picking it up by the handle. Canister vacuums are also very popular in homes with stairs. By setting the canister on a step and using the long hose to vacuum the stairs around the canister, it can be much easier to clean your staircase than trying to balance the task with a top-heavy upright vacuum.

    Storing a canister vacuum can be tricky—since the long hose plus the canister body will need space inside your closet. It seems counterintuitive that this more compact vacuum would need more storage space than an upright vacuum, but the lack of a consolidated footprint can cause a challenge in tight spaces.

    Canister vacuums are usually packing a full-size motor that keeps pace with those inside larger upright vacuums, but lighter-duty canisters do exist. The price tag for an entry-level canister vacuum is anywhere from $50 to $150, but more full-featured and high-powered canister vacuums cost between $500 and $1,200.

    Cordless

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    Courtesy of Amazon

    Ditch the cord and take your vacuum wherever the trail of crumbs leads you! Cordless stick vacuums are slimmed down upright vacuum cleaners that run on battery power. These vacuums are perfect for quick clean-ups in high traffic areas, but most lack the major suction power, dustbin capacity, or battery life to handle whole house duty.

    Of course, there are higher-end models with lithium-ion batteries that offer around 40 minutes of run time and turbo modes to up the suction power of this lightweight tool. Just keep in mind that more suction will drain the battery faster—so it’s often a trade-off between runtime and cleaning power.

    Even still, these lightweight vacuums make a great addition to your cleaning closet and many people keep one handy to tidy up quickly. Instead of busting out the big vacuum, unwinding the cord, plugging it in and then having to put it all away when the job is done, a cordless vacuum is ready whenever and wherever with minimal time to get it out or put it away.

    As is true of any type of vacuum cleaner, the more power and features you pack into a model, the higher the price creeps. For a basic cordless vacuum, you’ll spend about $100. Models with greater suction and lithium-ion batteries that offer expanded runtime will generally cost $175 or more. 

    Robotic

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    Courtesy of Amazon

    If there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to chase dust bunnies and vacuum up debris, then a robotic vacuum can automate this routine chore. These futuristic-looking vacuum cleaners are a little larger in diameter than your average dinner plate and are just a few inches tall.

    Robotic vacuums feature the onboard technology to automatically undock themselves, scurry around your home scooping up dust and dirt, then return to their charging station until the next scheduled run time. How advanced the technology is depends on the model of the robotic vacuum you choose.

    Things to consider when shopping for a robotic vacuum include what type of room mapping the vacuum is capable of, how large the dustbin is, whether the motor is powerful enough to tackle medium-to-high pile carpeting, and if it has the ability to maneuver around obstacles.

    Buying a robotic vacuum is a great way to keep your floors clean in between deep cleanings, but it isn’t likely to be able to replace a regular, more in-depth vacuuming session. The price range for a robotic vacuum varies greatly depending on how smart the unit is, but an entry-level model will cost you about $150 while versions from the leaders in robotic vacuum technology will cost you $300 to $700.

    Handheld

    black-decker-vacuum
    Courtesy of Walmart

    For small tasks, spot cleaning, and suction power to go, a handheld vacuum is a great solution. These small vacuum cleaners typically are battery-powered and have a dustbin that collects the cereal, dirt, and pet hair hiding in your couch cushions or car upholstery.

    The suction power is best suited for small tasks and the battery life means you won’t be able to use it for large cleaning projects. But just about all handheld vacuums offer plenty of power for cleaning your couch, detailing your car, or erasing a pile of dirt tracked in by muddy shoes. Many handheld vacuums also come with various attachments that increase their efficiency in tackling these and other small-scale cleaning projects. A handheld vacuum cleaner will cost between $25 and $100.

    Wet/Dry

    armor-all-vacuum
    Courtesy of Amazon 

    These vacuums are useful for cleaning up messes of all types in the garage, workshop, or commercial spaces. A shop vacuum is capable of sucking up wet or dry debris and can come in handy during home improvement projects or when sprucing up your garage.

    Many wet/dry vacuums are mounted on wheels for easy maneuverability, but this is not always the case. Typically the canister of these vacuums is made of tough, durable housing to withstand the rigors of shop life. If you’re shopping around for a wet/dry vacuum, you’re likely to see prices between $30 and $80, depending on the size and features of the model you’re considering.

    Leading Manufacturers

    Choosing a vacuum cleaner with the features and functionality you need is important, but it also makes sense to consider the reputation of any manufacturer you’re considering. 

    Shark: Vacuum cleaners by Shark are known for being lightweight, offering plenty of suction power, and having a variety of onboard features and tools. Some models feature lift-away canisters for versatile cleaning or anti-allergy seals to keep allergens from escaping. Shark vacuums offer a lot of bang for your buck and often land at the top of best-seller lists.

    Hoover: The early history of electric vacuum cleaners is tied to the name Hoover, and this company has been manufacturing these household cleaning tools since the early 1900s. With a wide product line-up and features like WindTunnel technology that delivers powerful suction, there is a Hoover vacuum to fit most budgets and cleaning needs.

    Bissell: Another early name in vacuum manufacturing, Bissell started with electric carpet sweepers and moved into suction-powered vacuums. Today, Bissell makes small handheld vacuums, stick and cordless vacuums, canister vacuums, and full-featured upright vacuums. They offer a wide range of prices and features and several models consistently pop up on lists of top-selling vacuums.

    Dyson: Best known for leading the way in root cyclonic suction and bagless vacuum cleaners, Dyson has made a name for itself with powerful cleaning ability and durable designs. However, many competitors are beginning to produce rivals that also feature bagless vacuums with comparable suction. This brand marks the entry into higher dollar vacuums, with most models priced above $200. To help you break down which one to buy, check our best Dyson vacuums story.

    Miele: German-made Miele vacuums are known for their impressive build quality and powerful suction. People buy a Miele based on its reputation and keep it for years because of its durability. These vacuums represent an investment, with many models costing between $400 and $1,000. While canister vacuums are their claim to fame, several upright vacuum cleaners are available also.

    Eureka: Offering a variety of vacuums in all shapes and sizes—from small handhelds to uprights, the common theme with Eureka vacuums is affordability. Most models come in under $100, and some of the company’s most budget-friendly vacuums are best-sellers for their category.

    iRobot: Responsible for making robotic vacuums a household reality instead of just a domestic daydream, iRobot rolled out the Roomba in the early 2000’s and the company now has dozens of models at a variety of price points. The field of robotic vacuums is now crowded with lots of competitors, but the technology and AI onboard the Roomba set it apart—and so does its high price tag. However, more basic models are available that offer the reliability and quality build of iRobot vacuums for just under $300.

    Woman vacuuming small shelves
    Maskot / Getty Images

    Accessories and Warranties

    Once you pick your perfect vacuum cleaner, make sure it’s equipped with the right accessories to complete your cleaning package. Many additional tools are available to make the most of your vacuum’s suction power and sometimes these are included with the purchase of your vacuum, but other times you may need to purchase them separately. Items such as crevice tools, extension wands, upholstery brushes, and more will come in handy when you are trying to deep clean your home.

    Some of the most popular cleaning accessories for vacuums are pet cleaning tools. These include nozzle attachments with grippy surfaces, fine-tooth combs, or stiff brushes to extract pet hair from your furniture upholstery, drapes, and more.

    One other thing to consider is whether the vacuum you purchase is backed by a manufacturer’s warranty. Many models are covered by a 1 to 5-year warranty, depending on the make and model. These warranties typically cover defects in materials and workmanship but exclude items subject to normal wear and tear—like filters, brushes, and more. Some companies are known for outstanding warranties and customer service, including Dyson and Miele. Keep in mind that with most warranty services, there is a freight charge to ship the vacuum that can cost $20 or more depending on the company.

    Ready to Make a Purchase? Here Are Some of Our Favorite Vacuums: