With so many choices in vacuum cleaners, how do you pick yours? You could buy the first one you try and hope for the best, or you can shop armed with the right questions to ask … and plenty of answers, too.
Consider the surfaces you’ll clean before choosing your model:
- Upright: While great for cleaning large carpet areas, these are not ideal for stairs.
- Canister: Though handy for hard floors and stairs, canisters are not always easy to drag along in open living areas.
- Backpack: These are highly versatile for a range of layouts and challenges, as long as you feel comfortable working with a small weight on your back.
- Stick/Broom: Easily stored models are lightweight and may best suit smaller living quarters.
- Handheld: Use for spot cleaning and dry spills.
- Bag or bagless: Bagless vacuums eliminate most filter costs and don't put paper bags in the landfill; bagged versions make for a clean-air, no-mess toss when it’s time to empty.
- Central: Powerful and quiet, these remove all dirt and dust to a holding tank outside the home for better indoor air, but piping and outlets need to be installed within walls.
- Airflow: It sounds like a gentle afternoon breeze, but on a vacuum it indicates how much air the vacuum can move. A higher score gives the machine a better chance of removing dirt from your floor or furniture. You’ll likely find it noted in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per second (LPS). Most commercial vacuum makers provide this info, but you may need to press home consumer vacuum companies to supply it.
- Lift: This indicates how well a vacuum pulls up dirt. Look for high airflow and “inches of lift” numbers. Most commercial vacuum makers provide this info, but you may need to press home consumer vacuum companies to supply it.
- Filtration: Minimizes particles out (think puffs of dust emitted from a running vacuum). You want filtration to halt dust and dirt moving through the system without obstructing the airflow that renders a vacuum cleaner effective.
- Design: Looks aren’t everything. Bad design can also affect airflow and lift as well as create gaps that throw dust into the air. If it looks great but doesn’t work well, don’t buy it.
- Don’t pay for more attachments than you need — consider a dusting brush, crevice tool, upholstery tool and any others you believe your home will truly benefit from.
- Ease-of-use is determined by design and weight (including the handle). Uprights, canisters and backpacks all incorporate these features differently. Try before you buy.
- Vacuum performance is affected by design, airflow and filtration — not necessarily by amps, which only tell you about electricity usage.
- Microfilters, not just HEPA, can work very well, so don’t get hooked on a name (or acronym).
- Vacuum bags differ. Denser multi-ply microfilter bags trap miniscule particles better than single-ply bags.
- A high-quality belt with "teeth" that fits over a sprocket won’t slip and will work more efficiently overall.
- Be discerning about demonstration tricks (like lifting bowling balls) that are meant to wow you in the showroom — but which may have little to do with the way a vacuum will function in your home. Repeat the fundamentals like a mantra: “Airflow, lift, filtration.”
- Don’t be shy. Ask the manufacturer what tests have been done regarding the vacuum you are interested in purchasing. Find out whether the maker or an unbiased party performed the tests.
If a vacuum’s features, user-friendliness and looks feel good to you, and its performance numbers add up, you’re set. Now, how much was that vacuum anyway?