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? Whether you’re a pet owner, an allergy sufferer, or you just need the right vacuum for your home, check out our guide to help make sense of the options.
Vacuum Cleaner Basics
To choose the right vacuum cleaner, start by looking at the basic components of your home. First, consider the size of your home. Bigger homes may require a larger, more powerful upright vacuum for complete cleaning. Next, think about stairs. If you have a multilevel home, consider a stick vacuum — it will be easier to move from floor to floor. Then, think about floor surface. Homes with a variety of floor surfaces need a vacuum that can adapt to different floor types. Don’t forget about your pets: vacuums designed to deal with pet hair and dander can make cleaning a lot easier.
Buying a new vacuum cleaner is not something you do every day, so it’s worth investing in a quality product that will clean your home well and will last a long time.
Things to Consider
After you’ve looked at the three basic components of your home — size, stairs and floor surface, think about your lifestyle and personal needs next to help determine which vacuum is best for you. Here’s a quick list of considerations to get you started:
You probably don’t have time to vacuum every day. But if you do, a lightweight stick vacuum might be enough to maintain a clean home. However, if you vacuum less frequently, you might consider a larger upright or canister vacuum with a more powerful motor to ensure thorough cleaning. Or, if you would like to vacuum every day but don’t have the time, check out a programmable robotic vacuum that will take care of business while you’re away.
If seasonal allergies or sensitivity to dust and mites are problems, there are options that can help. You will want to choose a vacuum cleaner that is HEPA certified. Be sure to change or clean the filter at least every six months, and perhaps even more often, if your allergies are severe. And, to save money, consider a vacuum with a washable filter.
If you dislike loud noises, or live in an apartment complex where excessive noise will disturb neighbors, there are vacuums available that will run quiet but still have the power to clean. The best way to compare noise levels is to check the product specifications or ask a salesperson for the decibel level (dB). A vacuum with a decibel level in the 60-65 dB range will be extremely quiet, while a vacuum with a decibel level in the 70s will compare to a kitchen garbage disposal.
Weight is another important consideration when choosing a vacuum cleaner. Some full-size upright models can weigh more than 20 pounds while lightweight stick models are often less than 10 pounds. If you have a multilevel home and need to haul the vacuum up and down stairs, you can find powerful upright vacuums that are lighter in weight, but they’ll often have fewer attachments and features.
There are vacuums specifically designed to help with pet hair and messes. First, make sure the vacuum you choose has at least 12 amps of power. But power is not always enough when it comes to cleaning pet hair and dander. Look for specific pet hair attachments like special brush patterns and wider openings to reduce hair clogs.
Types of Vacuums
Hopefully you now have a better sense of what you may want your new vacuum cleaner to
accomplish. Check out the available types, their benefits and general usage.
Upright vacuums are the most popular type of vacuum and can be found in many homes and apartments today. They are usually the best vacuum type for removing dust and dirt from carpeting, and can clean large areas of carpet quickly. They are also good for area rugs and hard floors.
There are two types of upright vacuums: single-motor and dual-motor. On a single-motor upright vacuum, the brush and the vacuum are driven by one motor. With a dual-motor upright, the vacuum and the brush are driven by separate motors, giving you more power and suction to clean carpets better.
Upright vacuums come in different styles and sizes and many offer a variety of features:
- Brush on/off switch: Helps protect the finish of bare floors.
- Cleaner head height adjustment: Some upright models adjust this automatically as you move to different floor types, so you don’t have to bend down to change settings. Others let you control it manually, which is best for plush carpet; if the cleaner head sinks too deeply into the carpet, it can be difficult to maneuver the vacuum.
- Suction control: This feature is useful when using tools to clean draperies and upholstery.
Handheld & Stick Vacuums
The smallest and lightest options available, handheld and stick vacuums are often cordless, and are convenient for a variety of cleaning tasks around the house.
Great for cleaning closets, upholstery, vents, blinds or car interiors, handheld vacuums are made for above-the-floor cleaning. You can use them for cleaning up small spills, getting cobwebs out of corners or vacuuming dirt out of windowsills.
Best for high-traffic floors that need a daily once-over, stick vacuums have the same design as an upright, but are much lighter in weight and usually don’t come with attachments. If you have a multilevel home, you may also want a stick vacuum on the second floor to eliminate the need to carry a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
Some new stick vacuum models have been designed with handheld features, making it easy to clean stairs, ceiling fans and more.
Robot Vacuums and Mops
If the thought of housecleaning makes you cringe, a robot vacuum might be right for you. A robot vacuum is self-propelled and programmable, so you don’t have to do any of the work. You just set the schedule and it does the rest. It uses sensors to avoid obstacles and stairs and can easily clean underneath furniture.
Ideal for busy people, you can simply program the robot vacuum and then spend your time with family and friends. Robot vacuums are also good for homes with a lot of dust where a quick clean might be necessary every day. Self-propelled models may also be a good option for anyone unable to push an upright vacuum.
Program the robot to start and stop wherever you want it to go. Most will even travel from carpet to hard surfaces and back again.
There are also robot mops for hard floors and other automated devices that can clean your windows, swimming pool and gutters. These cleaners make life a little easier, allowing you to spend less time on your chores and more time with your family.
If you’re ready to retire your traditional mop and bucket, you might consider trying a steam mop. Steam mops offer a fast and effective way to clean hard floors. They work by heating water to a very high temperature so it turns into steam, and then the steam is released through the mop head.
Sometimes called hard floor cleaners, steam mops can gently remove ground-in dirt and stains more effectively than scrubbing with a traditional mop, because the steam does the hard work for you. The high temperature of the steam also kills bacteria, so it can help sanitize your floors as it cleans.
Many steam mops can be used on a variety of hard floor surfaces, including wood, linoleum and ceramic tile. Some come with extra attachments for steam cleaning countertops, grout and other surfaces above the floor. Before purchasing a steam mop, there are a few items you’ll want to consider:
- Mop head: Make sure the mop head is not too big or too small for what you want to clean. A smaller mop head won’t be able to cover as much surface area and will take longer to clean. A steam mop with a swivel head can help reach corners and maneuver into other tight spots.
- Reservoir capacity: A bigger reservoir will allow steam to flow for a longer period of time, so you won’t have to refill as often.
- Steam control: With this feature, you’ll be able to control the level of steam that’s produced. Different jobs will require different amounts of steam.
Even if you vacuum your carpets regularly, ground-in dirt, dust mites, pet dander and bacteria remain deep in your carpet’s fibers. Ground-in dirt is very abrasive and can shorten the life of a carpet. For a deep clean, a carpet cleaner might be the right choice for you. Carpet cleaners use moisture and heat to loosen dirt and stains a vacuum can’t suction. Many of these cleaners do more than just clean — they actually disinfect, killing germs as well as cleaning up ground-in dirt and grime.
Carpet cleaners come in a variety of different styles ranging from uprights to portable spot cleaners, to smaller handheld carpet cleaners capable of cleaning and disinfecting furniture, drapes or rugs.
When you’re choosing a carpet cleaner, think about the size of the area you need to clean and buy cleaning solutions at the same time. To clean all the rooms in a large home, you may need at least three bottles of solution.
Canister, or cylinder, vacuums have the motor and bag in a separate unit, which is usually mounted on wheels to help with maneuverability. The canister is connected to the vacuum head by a flexible hose.
Canister vacuums tend to be lighter than other vacuum designs, plus they have a highly maneuverable power head that can reach tight spots with ease. This style is perfect for vacuuming hard-to-reach spots and furniture. It is even good for cleaning cars and drapes.
Commercial & Garage Vacuums
Often called shop vacs, commercial and garage vacuums offer extra power for professional-sized messes. Clean up sawdust in the basement, dirt and water in the garage or any other mess, wet or dry.
To choose the right commercial or garage vacuum, think about how you will use it and where it will be stored. Capacities range from mini one-gallon models to greater than 10 gallons. Smaller models will be easier to store and move around, but they won’t be able to handle the biggest messes.
Features to Consider
Before choosing your vacuum, here are a few important features to look for:
Bag or Bagless
Both designs have been proven to clean very well. So, one option is not necessarily superior to the other. However, there are differences such as:
- Bagless designs offer more convenience by simply detaching the container unit and disposing of dirt and dust without pulling out a separate bag
- Bagless designs will also save you money on buying bags
- Bag designs can sometimes keep dust contained better since the bag itself seals the dust away
If you’re looking for convenience, a bagless design is probably for you. But if allergies are a concern, check out an option with a bag to prevent dust and allergens from escaping.
If you have hard floors or a combination of carpet and hard floors, look for a multifloor or multisurface vacuum that allows you to turn the brushroll on and off. That way you won’t scratch your hard floors.
You may wonder how to determine the power you need in a vacuum. Here is a quick guide to help:
- Amps is a measure of the power coming into the vacuum from your outlet. The maximum number of amps that can be drawn from a home outlet is 12, so in an upright or canister vacuum, look for a motor with a full 12 amps of draw.
- Wattage is what you get when you multiply amps and the voltage draw.
- Air watts is probably the best indicator of a vacuum’s power capability because it factors in resistance to suction — if a vacuum shows air watts, anything with more than 200 air watts is a good indication it will have the power you need for typical home cleaning.
HEPA filters remove particles like dust, dander and allergens from the air. These filters are a must-have for anyone who is sensitive to dust or pet hair, or allergic to pollen. Some models feature a filter that needs to be replaced regularly. A good rule of thumb is to replace your filter every six months. However, some models now feature reusable filters that allow you to remove, clean and replace the same filter as necessary — a great money-saving option.
Accessories and Attachments
Are you looking for a vacuum that does much more than just suck up dirt and dust on the floor? Do you want to clean drapes, sofas and chairs, dust shelves, and get into all the cracks and crevices in your home? To do all that, you need the right attachments. Some attachments to consider are:
- Crevice tool for cleaning corners and tight spaces
- Dusting brush used to gently dust shelves and tables
- Upholstery tool for vacuuming your furniture without damaging
- Turbo brush offers deep cleaning for longer carpets
- Cleaning solution
If you’ve ever wanted a powerful vacuum with the convenience of a cordless design, check out the latest designs available. More and more brands are coming out with models that offer the freedom of a cordless design, with the power of an upright.
Why buy a cordless
Cordless vacuums work with battery power, so there are no cords to get in the way of your cleaning path as you work, and there’s no need to plug them in, so you can easily move from room to room. They’re also usually much lighter than other vacuums, which makes them easier to use on stairs.
Available in the handheld, stick and upright categories, cordless vacuums are great for quickly cleaning up small messes, like cereal that gets knocked over in the kitchen or dirt that’s tracked in by kids and pets. Use them to clean crumbs out of crevices and hard-to-reach places. Cordless handhelds are useful for above-the-floor cleaning needs, such as windows, and upholstery. They’re portable enough to use on car interiors or wherever you need a quick clean-up.
Most cordless models are bagless, so dust and dirt collects in a dust bin or container that you empty into the trash. Some models have a clear dust bin so you can easily see when it’s full.
Power, in cordless vacuums, is measured in volts (V). Vacuums with higher voltage will deliver more suction power and clean better.
Before buying a cordless, consider the battery charge time and run time. Charge time is how long it takes the battery to charge, and run time is how long the charge will last.