The best vacuum cleaners to buy in 2021, explained

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The ever-expanding world of vacuum cleaners can be a minefield. With sticks and cylinders, handhelds and uprights, and not to mention the rise of the robot models, the range of vacuum cleaners available on the market right now is seemingly endless. But finding one that’s suitable for all your cleaning needs – whether you’re dealing with carpets, hard floors, stairs, pet hair, or all of these – shouldn’t have to be stressful.

We made it our mission to take away all the hard work from you, having tried, tested and reviewed no less than 92 models to find the best vacuum cleaners. We’ve weighed them up to find the best your money can buy.

We covered key areas including performance when cleaning a range of different floor surfaces, ease of use, design and instructions. This handy guide will help you find the right vacuum for your space.

Types of vacuum cleaner explained

It can be difficult to know which type of vacuum cleaner would best suit your needs. So, we’ve detailed the pros and cons of each category:


Upright vacuum cleaners tend to be the best option for larger, carpeted households. This is because they usually feature a turbo brush in the floor head, which makes them particularly effective at picking up hair and residue from carpets. The wide floor head also means they can cover a greater area more quickly and effectively than other vacuums.

These models are more stable and easier to manoeuvre than cylinders as you’re pushing them forward rather than dragging them behind you. There’s also no need to bend when using an upright, which makes them a good option for those with back issues.

This design can be awkward to use on stairs and can also be too bulky to reach under furniture, and the weight of some can also take its toll after prolonged use. They’re typically neat to store though, and can usually hold the tools on the body so you have them to hand as you clean.


Cylinder vacuums are typically lighter and more portable than an upright as the main body sits on the floor and is pulled behind you as you vacuum. They can be bagged or bagless, depending on your preference, and often come with a good selection of tools. They’ve been around for many years thanks to their lightweight and convenient design, making them ideal for those who struggle with heavier vacuums.

They tend to be better for reaching under and around furniture and make cleaning a flight of stairs simpler with a long, flexible hose. Care needs to be taken when pulling it around the home though, as it can knock into walls and furniture. Some designs can also be a bit bulky and more awkward to store than other types of vacuums, especially as they come with a long hose.


Stick vacuums are now becoming increasingly more popular thanks to their cordless design and them getting more powerful, almost rivalling corded models. In fact, while they were originally designed for quick spills, they’re now being used to clean an entire household.

At the core, their design offers convenience, typically featuring a lightweight “stick” body and a smaller canister to be regularly emptied. They also tend to come with attachments such as a crevice tool, upholstery tool and in some instances even a motorised pet brush for pet hair. Although, as they are cordless, they are dependant on battery life, so be prepared to have it on charge when not in use.

They’re compact to store (some can be mounted on the wall) and more lightweight than upright and cylinder vacuums, which generally makes them more comfortable to use.


While a robot vacuum won’t replace your standard vacuum, it will drastically reduce how often you need to get your other one out, giving you more time for yourself. These little machines work by using sensors to avoid bumping off furniture and map where they’ve been around the room, ensuring no area is left neglected.

Robot vacuums have come a long way in recent years. They now offer greater pick-up power, have larger dust canisters, and are more high-tech than ever. Most models are wifi compatible, meaning you can set your vacuum to clean even if you’re not at home. With many models, you can now set no-go areas or block off rooms you don’t want to be cleaned, too.


A handheld vacuum cleaner is ideal for cleaning quick spills as well as tight and awkward spaces such as car interiors and staircases. Being cordless, they’re convenient to grab and go, but they do depend on battery life and tend to have a smaller dust capacity than upright and cylinder vacuums, so it’s important to check these specs before you buy.

As a general rule, look for at least 20 minutes of battery life (this will give you ample time to get around a car) and a dust capacity of at least 0.3 litres if you don’t want to empty it often. It’s also worth noting that many cordless upright vacuums can also function as handhelds, so you may already have one in the home.

But if you’re looking to invest in a new handheld, as well as battery life and dust capacity, you should also consider the weight. It may feel light at first, but it can feel heavy and tiresome after a short while. The weight should be around 1-1.5kg on average.

The included tools can also vary. Some, such as a crevice tool and a pet tool, may be essential for your cleaning. Think about what you’ll be using this vacuum for and whether any accessories will help you.

Key features to look out for

Sensory technology
Some of the best vacuum cleaners are able to sense the floor type and adjusts its power accordingly. This saves on energy usage and means the vacuum will automatically use the optimum power

Battery life
This is an essential specification to check if you’re opting for a cordless stick or handheld vacuum. Some will last less than 10 minutes on full power, meaning you need to rush to finish in time or wait for it to recharge. Look for at least 30 minutes of advertised battery life in a stick vacuum, and 20 minutes in a handheld.

Charging time
Keep an eye on the charging time as well if you’re going cordless. They’re not so convenient to use if you’re constantly waiting for them to charge. Most stick vacuums take around 4 hours to fully charge, but if you’re worried about what to do in an emergency, you can always invest in a stick vacuum or handheld that comes with additional batteries.

Generally the bigger the capacity, the less often you will need to empty it. Vacuum capacities are measured in litres, whether bagged or bagless. If you’re in the market for an upright or cylinder and don’t want to be taking constant trips to the bin, look for no less than two litres. For cordless models, which are slightly smaller, half a litre is best as a minimum. Lastly for handhelds, 0.3 litres will last you for a few quick spills before you need to empty.

Some stick vacuums also feature headlights on the floor head, so you have a better visual under furniture and in dark spaces.

Smart technology
Connect these to your phone to monitor its usage, battery life and even more unorthodox statistics such as how many calories you burn in use.

Battery level indicator
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking but can be a very useful feature to have on a cordless appliance. The Dyson V11 is particularly impressive because it counts down your remaining battery time in minutes and seconds.

Slit to cut hair
If you’ve got long hair and you plan to buy a stick vacuum, make sure it’s one you can easily remove hair from. Long hair tends to wrap around the brush in the floor head and needs to be cut free. However, some models now feature a small slit along the bar that you can run a pair of scissors through. It’s a very convenient feature.

Be wary of the weight of your vacuum, pushing anything over 3kg can feel heavy after prolonged use. If you struggle with this go for a cordless design where the weight is centred around the floor head rather than the handle, which makes it easier on the arms.

Variable suction
This is useful if you need more power for deep pile carpets. It’s also good to have if you’re conscious of energy usage.

Retractable cord
Using this feature, you can rewind the cord into the vacuum as the press of a button. Brilliant if you’re fed up with winding the cord to tidy it away yourself.

Rotating brush
If the floor head is missing a rotating brush, it will likely drag along the floors as you vacuum as there’s nothing to raise it. This will particularly make it harder to run it over long pile carpet. A rotating brush is also brilliant for collecting hairs and residue from carpets.

Bagged or bagless?

Some vacuums contain bags that collect all of the dust and debris. Once full, they need to be replaced, and many vacuums have an indicator to tell you when the bag is full. One benefit of these is that you needn’t touch the dust and dirt to remove it from the canister.

You may need to with a bagless model as some dirt can become trapped. Bagless models also tend to be messier as the dust can spill when you empty them. Those that suffer from asthma may find bagged a more sensible option. However, you will need to keep some empty bags in the cupboard.

Vacuum cleaner accessories

From crevice tools to dusting brushes, today’s vacs come with a generous collection of vacuum cleaner attachments designed to make light work of common household cleaning tasks. But you’d be forgiven for finding such an assortment of extra tools and accessories a little mystifying. See below for an explanation of each tool, so you know if you’ll really need it:

Extension wand
Designed to go where other attachments simply can’t, the extension wand provides the extra reach you need to banish cobwebs from high ceilings and inaccessible corners, retrieve food particles from behind appliances, and clean right to the corners and edges of stairs.

Dusting brush
With long, soft bristles, the dusting brush is a whizz at whisking away dust from window sills, lampshades, blinds, skirting boards and other awkward surfaces. It’s also ideal for more delicate cleaning tasks, such as dusting furniture, the top of books or easily scratched objects.

Crevice tool
As its name suggests, the crevice tool is designed to get into tight gaps that other attachments would struggle with. With its long, slender shape, it’s ideal for cleaning right into corners, along the edge of the flooring, around radiators and even between sofa cushions.

Upholstery tool
The upholstery attachment is wide with a small, flat head. Many also have a built-in fabric strip to help lift dust, dirt and hairs from fabric surfaces including sofas, mattresses, cushions and chairs.

Floor heads/brushes
Models will all come with a standard floor head, and may have interchangeable options. If you have deep-pile carpet or a pet, for example, we recommend looking for a rotating brush. Some also have rubber parts to help gather up stubborn pet hairs. Reach for this compact attachment to deep-clean upholstery, mattresses, thick carpets and rugs.


All vacuums contain filters that stop the dust you vacuum up from re-entering the atmosphere. Some even contain more than one filter for added retention. To keep working, these filters need to be washed regularly or replaced, although some are self-cleaning. It’s important that you keep up with this maintenance so that the dust is contained, and your vacuum keeps working at full efficiency. HEPA filters are also worth looking out for as they offer a particularly high quality of air filtration and are better for allergy sufferers.

How to care for your vacuum cleaner

Without maintenance, a vacuum cleaner is only good for moving around dust and dirt. It’s one of the most hard-working pieces of kit in the house, so don’t forget to give it some regular TLC to keep it in top condition.

The most common cause of loss of suction is blockages. This makes the machine slow to pick up and quick to overheat. To keep this to a minimum, in bagged models never reuse the bag as this is often part of the filter system. If this gets clogged with dust it will reduce the efficiency of the machine. Always replace the bag when the indicator light comes on. With a bagless machine, empty the canister after each use.

To unblock a vacuum cleaner, always switch it off and unplug it. As well as teasing out any blockages in the tube, undo the hose and check the entrance to the machine/top of the bag for further debris.

GHI tip: If the blockage is immovable, soak the tube in warm, soapy water.

Many vacuums have at least one washable filter. Check where your vacuum’s filters are located, then remove and tap against a hard surface to remove any clumps of dust – do this outside or you’ll end up surrounded by a dust cloud.

If it is washable, run the filter under lukewarm water and allow it to air dry thoroughly – for at least 24 hours – before returning it to your machine. Additional filters in your machine may not be washable, so make sure you check the instruction manual. If they’re not washable, just tap them against a surface to remove any clumps, then return it to your machine.

Make sure the brush on the head is free from hairs and threads. If it becomes jammed, cut (don’t pull) any threads that prevent it from rotating. Be careful to avoid cutting the bristles.

Smelly vacuums are usually the result of not emptying your machine regularly enough or possibly sucking up something. Find out which of these it is, then give the outside a wipe over with an anti-bacterial wipe or warm, soapy water and a cloth to keep it smelling and looking fresh.

For bagless vacuums, wash the canister in soapy water after emptying it and leave it to completely air dry before putting the machine together again.

How we test vacuum cleaners

We test each vacuum cleaner on three different floor types: laminate, floorboards and carpet. Firstly, we assess general pick-up using a formulation of dust that we create ourselves. We lay down a set amount and then, after a set number of sweeps, we weigh out exactly how much each vacuum has collected.

We also call in plenty of pet hair from the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to find out how well each vacuum copes. This is ground into the carpet before vacuuming to create the worst-case scenario. We also test performance when picking up small residue, such as crumbs, particularly when testing as a handheld.

On top of this, we run an interior car cleaning test to see how well each vacuum gets in between the crevices. We try it out on a set of stairs, too, to monitor how easily it manoeuvres.

We also get each robot vacuum to clean a whole room; we time it to see how long it takes and look closely at how well it reaches into crevices, cleans edges, and manoeuvres around furniture.

The design, ease of use and instructions of every model are assessed, and we consider if it has any innovative features.


Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

There are a lot of styles, functions and high-tech features available in today’s wide variety of vacuum cleaners. So which one is right for you?