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The Ultimate Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Types

Uprights

upright-vacuums

Upright

Upright vacuum cleaners are by far the most popular of the different types. While they may not be the best machine for every use (cleaning out your car for instance), with a good extension hose and the right tools, they can be the most versatile. Before major manufacturers started including these handy tools, vacuuming places like stairs were a nightmare, but now it’s much easier.

Many people own uprights and love them, as they can work great on every floor type from hardwoods to deep pile carpets. However, beware of the weight of the model you choose. While it may not seem important, a heavy upright vacuum can really tax your shoulders and back if you have a large house. Self-propelled models help with this but don’t solve the problem entirely. Luckily, many newer models come in a lightweight version, virtually eliminating that problem.

Canister

Canister

Canister

Canister vacs are a great alternative to their upright sisters. Instead of pushing around the entire machine, the motorized portion and dust collection is done on a separate unit that rolls around on wheels, and you just push and pull the vacuum extension pole and hose. This is a great alternative if you have any sort of back issues. However, many of these models tend to tip over on carpeted surfaces, so you may find you need to bend over more often to set it upright again.

Robotic

Robotic

Robotic

Robotic vacuums are by far the most convenient and hands-off of all the options. They rely on technology with a “set it and forget it” philosophy. The hardest part of using a robotic model is the initial setup, as you have to let the unit know where it should clean and when. After that, you need to keep the dirt collection bin free and change the filters. Other than that, they are mostly maintenance free. However, since they do rely heavily on technology, when something goes wrong, it can be a real pain to repair (as anyone who has ever had problems with their computer can tell you).

Stick

Stick / Broom

Stick / Broom

Stick vacs are a great option for quick cleanups, mostly on bare floors like hardwood, vinyl, tile, granite or marble. Since they are extremely lightweight, they tend to not be able to dig down into carpet to really get out the mess, so they’re not great for that use. However, if you have a home with bare floors, a good stick vacuum might be the best option for you. They come in a variety of models including battery operated cordless types, which are very convenient.

Handheld

Handheld

Handheld

Having a good handheld model has practically become essential for any household. Not only are they very handy for quick pickups, they’re also great for cleaning up upholstery (think dog and cat hair) and cleaning hard to reach places like those on your car or boat seats and floors. Many are also rechargeable, so you can clean without the hassle of a cord getting in the way.

Central

Central

Central

Central vacuum systems are very cool, but most houses are not equipped with them. Essentially, a central system is installed as a semi-permanent fixture in your home and operates via tubing installed in the walls. The power unit and dirt collection container will typically be installed in an out of the way place like a basement or garage. Then, you simply carry the extension hose and cleaner head with you and attach it to the ports throughout your home. Of course, you will need to run downstairs (or wherever the dustbin is located) to empty the debris on a regular basis.

Multi Purpose/Convertible

Convertible

Convertible

This type is becoming more popular, as it is an amalgam of the other types of cleaners. Some vacuums are designed as full uprights but also have a removable canister, for instance. Others are designed as upright systems but have a removable handheld vacuum incorporated into them. This can be very handy and cost saving as well, as you only need to purchase one system instead of several.

 

Features

Tools

The variety of tools available for vacuums on the market today is truly staggering. Below are just a few you may find available for your model.

Pick up attachments: These are exactly as they sound, larger attachments meant for picking up certain types of debris or that in hard to reach places. They may include an additional tube or hose, sometimes curved to get into tight places, different types of floor nozzles in different sizes, and some even come as a kit designed to detail your car or clean up your computer system.

Crevice Tools: Crevice tools are essentially flattened tubes designed to get into tight spaces. Some of them are short and work great for places like window sills and baseboards, and some are very long and flattened and are ideal for cleaning underneath or beside appliances.

Dust brushes: A variety of brush attachments are available for most modern vacuums. These work great for dusting any surface (instead of pushing it around with a traditional duster). They are also very handy for places that have just a bit of ground in dirt like your upholstered furniture.

Floor tools: Many vacuums have additional floor attachments available. For instance, you can get an attachment specifically made for hardwood floors that won’t scratch them up. Various carpet heads are also available for everything from indoor / outdoor carpeting to deep pile shag and everything in between.

Upholstery tools: These are meant for exactly that – cleaning any upholstered surface. They come in a variety of designs from flat heads to those with stiff bristle brushes, and some are even specifically designed to clean items like draperies.

Pet tools: This is an entire category all on its own and can include motorized brushes that won’t get tangled with cat and dog hair or even brushes with rubber bristles that work great for scraping stuck on pet hair from furniture.

Bags

Many current vacuum cleaners on the market are bagless, but many still require bags to function, and there are merits to both types. For one, bagged vacuums are a much better option if you or someone in your home suffers from allergies, as there is much less chance the sneeze-inducing particles will end up back in your air supply. Instead, they are thrown away. Bagged models are also much more hygienic in general, as you don’t need to touch the mess to get rid of it. However, if you buy a bagged vac, you’ll need to keep buying bags.

Bagless versions on the other hand are cheaper to operate and require less hassle. They are also much better for the environment, as you just empty the dirt to another location instead of putting it in a bag and then doing so. Another benefit is that you can always see how much dirt and dust is in the machine, so there’s no guessing and you know when it needs to be emptied. One downside to a bagless model is that the filters do tend to get dirty faster, so you’ll likely need to wash or replace them more often.

Brush Rolls

While you probably don’t want a motorized brush roll to clean hardwood floors as they tend to fling debris around, it’s essential if you have carpet in your home. A good brush roll agitates the carpet fibers to get out any buried or stuck in dirt. Brushes are made from different types of materials, which is important to know depending on the type of carpet you have, as you want to make sure the bristles won’t damage the carpet pile.

Height

If you’re investing in an upright, you may pay attention to how well it works but may not have thought about the height or general measurements of the model. Most vacuums are made for people of “average” height, but this is definitely something you’ll want to consider if you’re particularly short or tall. Hunching over while vacuuming your home is sure to be uncomfortable as is holding your arms up too high for such an extended period of time.

Filters

Filters come in a variety of different types and can be disposable or washable. Different filters are designed to sift out different types of particles as well. For the average user, any vacuum filter will be fine, but if you have allergies or asthma, pay attention to the type of filter used in your vacuum, as you’ll want one specifically designed to trap small allergens, pollen, dust and mold.

As for throw-away or wash, that’s a personal preference. Like bags, some people prefer to just toss out the messy filter and replace it with a new one. Others don’t mind washing and drying it prior to putting it back in the machine. Many filters nowadays can even be put into the dishwasher, making this option even more attractive.

Edges

Did you know there are vacuums with feature specifically designed to clean right up to the edge of your floor? If you’ve ever vacuumed and been left with an inch of dirt next to your baseboards, you’ll really appreciate this feature. If your machine doesn’t get up close to the edge, you can still use a tool or attachment to get to the area, but it would be nice if you don’t have to do so.

Headlights

This one is a bit obvious, but it’s amazing how many of today’s machines don’t have them. While headlights may seem unnecessary, they can come in very handy. Even if you’re vacuuming in broad daylight, there are likely to be dim corners where you can’t really see what’s in there, and having a good headlight or headlights on your vacuum may be just the key you need to get your home extra clean.

Cord

What is so special about a cord? Not much really, but there are some things to look for even in this department. While all cords are essentially the same, their features are not. For one, how long is it? No one wants to constantly be plugging and unplugging the vacuum as they clean. Also, some new vacs have a retractable cord, and some need to be manually wound up. Having a retractable cord where you push a button and it gets sucked up into a space inside the machine is very convenient.

Self-Propelled

Some models have a self-propelled feature, some do not and some don’t need one at all. However, if you have a particularly heavy vacuum cleaner, it’s practically essential to have this feature. Otherwise, you feel like you’re fighting the machine every step of the way. If you’re looking at one with this benefit, look to see if it’s always on as well. Some machines only propel themselves on carpet, leaving you heavily pushing and pulling on bare floors and putting undue stress on your body.

Brands

There are as many brands in this industry as any other, but some definitely stand out as best sellers and leaders in the industry.

Bissell

Known for their lower-priced vacuum models, Bissell Inc. (also known as Bissell Homecare) is headquartered in Walker, Michigan and holds a 20% market share in the industry. Bissell introduced their first carpet sweeper in 1876 and has since soared, making all varieties of vacuuming machines from the most basic to those that handle tough pet hair and even shampoo carpets.

Dirt Devil

Started in 1905, Dirt Devil is a long-standing provider of vacuums, with their first cyclonic system introduced in 1955. Most known for their handheld units, they’ve also ventured into the realm of stick and broom-type vacs.

Dyson

Selling machines in over 70 countries, the patented Dyson Ball has certainly made an impact. James Dyson invented the first wheelbarrow with the ball in 1974, but the first vacuum didn’t come onto the market until 1983. Since then, many improvements have been made, and Dyson has introduced their product into the realm of fans and fan / heater combo units.

Electrolux

The Electrolux company is one of the most long-standing in the industry, getting their start with vacuum cleaners in 1912. They are located in Stockholm, Sweden, and they actually sell their units under a variety of different brand names.

Eureka

Founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1909, Eureka produces a wide variety of small appliances for the home. Today, Eureka vacuums are produced by AB Electrolux, their parent company, and they produce uprights, handheld, stick and steam mops.

Hoover

The Hoover Company has been around since the early 20th century and is currently owned by Bain Capital. Over the years, they have produced dryers, washing machines and floor care products.

Kirby

Most known for their home demonstrations, the Kirby Company is based in Cleveland, Ohio and has dealers in 50 different countries. Jim Kirby designed their first model after World War I, but his name was not used until the 1930’s. Since then, Kirby vacuums have become some of the most elite and are well known for their sturdy durability.

iRobot/Roomba

Long considered the leader in robotic vacuum cleaners, the Roomba company got its start in 2002. They have since produced several generations of their popular cleaners with a variety of impressive features. Their units know when to stop so they don’t fall down stairs, can detect objects so they don’t bump into them, and they can be programmed to avoid any area of the home where you don’t want them to venture.

Miele

Some of the more pricier models on the market come from the Miele line. Based in Gutersloh, Germany, this company founded in 1899 is still family run and owned. They started with a trub washing machine, butter churn and cream separator and started in the vacuum cleaner market in 1927.

Neato

The Neato Robotics company is based in Newark, California and began selling robotic vacuums in 2010. While they are a fairly new company to the market, they have certainly made an impact due to their innovative technology. Unlike other robotic vacs, those from Neato are known for travelling in a straight pattern instead of randomly (or seemingly randomly) moving through a room. Some of the “neato” features include the ability of the unit to return to its charging station when the battery gets low, sensors that make it not fall down stairs and the ability to continue cleaning in the exact spot where it quit if the battery ran out.

Oreck

Another long standing brand, the Oreck Corporation has been manufacturing vacuums since 1963 and later started manufacturing air purifiers as well. They actually began selling by mail, and their machines are manufactured in China and assembled in the United States.

Shark

Shark vacuums are a brand from a company known as SharkNinja Operating LLC. The company originated in Europe, then moved to Canada and eventually ended up in Newton, Massachusetts. They now produce a wide variety of small household appliances and cleaning solutions for the home.