Every nice-sized home can use three vacuums: an upright for deep cleaning carpets; a canister for the use of attachments for upholstered furniture and draperies; and a wet-dry vac for cleaning up bulky stuff like broken glass or really wet messes.
Vacuums have improved over the years, and the number of choices can be overwhelming. By studying a consumer-friendly, objective reference-source like Consumer Reports, you can pick the most efficient and best priced within each category.
The staubsauger (the german term for vacuum cleaner is more prevalent among experts) is considered to be the most important tool when it comes to house cleaning with no room for dirt, stains and termites.
Upright Vacs: If you have lots of carpeting, you must own an upright vacuum. Canisters simply can’t compete in cleaning ability on high-piled or dense carpets. Uprights are usually less expensive than canisters, and they make a smaller footprint for storage. You should realize that you are pushing and pulling the whole vac, not just the head, like on a canister. The sheer bulk makes them difficult to use on stairs.
Costs range from about $100 to $500; top rated run $150 to $400.
Canisters: The long hose is connected to a base unit so you only need to push the head and hose. Canisters are better for bare floors and usually have more tools for cleaning upholstery and drapes. The smaller head fits better under more furniture. Canisters are often heavier, bulkier, and cost more, on the average.
Costs range from $150 to $700; top rated range from $350 to $500.
Wet/Dry Vacuums: These are great for shops and garages when you’re trying to pick up broken glass, plaster, liquids, wood chips, etc. These machines are usually quite noisy, but are good for the big messes. Some require using hearing protection. Many models are priced in the $30 to $150 range. The Sears Craftsman models seem to do a consistently good job in all sizes, for units costing around $80 to $100. The Ridgid vacs, sold at Home Depot, are also worth looking at.
For remodeling projects or as a standby for those big messes, it’s worth having a wet/dry vac on hand, but let’s compare the uprights and canisters for everyday home use.
Vacuums vs. pet hair:
The efficiency of vacuums that can handle pet hair are generally ranked in the same order as name vacuums tested for regular housecleaning. Static electricity and the fine nature of pet hair can create a more difficult cleaning problem. About 2/3 of American households have pets so these vacs are worth considering.
Bagless: Some people like bagless vacs. Of course, you can save money on filter bags, but emptying bagless vacuums can create allergy problems. Pet hairs cling to the vacs. Some vacs also have dirt sensors, but they don’t correlate with actual cleaning ability; they simply tell you when the vacuum is not picking up any more dirt.
Water tanks: Some vacuums with water tanks trap the dust better and do well in emissions tests. But they don’t clean better than many cheaper models.
Of course, you want to test out a vacuum before you buy. Got to a store that sells several different brands and allows “test drives.” You can get a feel for the weight and maneuverability; you can see the difference in cleaning ability on the same kind of sample carpet; and you can hear if the vacuum sounds annoyingly loud to you.
A knowledgeable salesman who sells several brands can offer valuable suggestions when he knows the kind of housecleaning you do and the price range you’re considering. If you live near a beach and vacuum up lots of sand, some vacuums and their specific filter system may work better for you.
Get an overall feel for the vacuum. Some features make the job easier. Some vacuums allow a controlled airflow for cleaning things like draperies; the ones with power heads let you turn them off for hardwood floors; and you can adjust the vacuum height for the carpet pile. Some vacuums may have a handle- or foot-controlled on/off switch which is easier to use than vacs with the switches on the body.
Uprights weigh around 10 to 20 pounds; canisters average around 20 to 24 pounds. Again, test one before buying.
Many canisters have retractable cords. This is a nice feature because you can retract the extra length as you work; you aren’t tripping over several feet of straggling cords. A few uprights offer this feature. Almost all vacuums have a full bag indicator to tell you when the filter bag needs replaced.
Note on filter bags: If you’ve cleaned very fine dust or powder, it will line the pores of the bag and prevent good vacuum pickup. Don’t try to empty and re-use such bags. Also, if the bag smells wet, the vacuum could be blowing mold into the room from its exhaust. Replace the filter.
Buy bulk packs of filters, which cost less per bag, to keep on hand so you are ready for a change. Rather than vacuum one more time with the same bag, you’re more willing to replace it if you have a pack on hand. If you’re going to do the work, you want the vacuum to be cleaning at its peak efficiency.
For uprights, CR highly recommends the Sears Kenmore, Hoover, Eureka, and Electrolux in its top 8 picks. In fact, they rate a $50 Bissell as acceptable and two Hoovers for $60 and $100, ranking 8 and 18, respectively.
Eureka uprights have a lower rate of repair than the others do; Sears are middling for repair histories; Hoover is a bit higher.
For canisters, CR highly recommends the sears Kenmore, Electrolux, Bosch and Oreck. The latter two cost more than the “average” given range of $350 to $500: the Bosches run about $500 to $800; the Oreck retails for about $900.
Eureka canisters have a higher rate of repair than the others do; Hoovers and Sears run a bit lower.
Sixty-five vacs were rated by Consumers Union, and Consumer Reports gave its results in March 2007. They rate vacuums for cleaning carpets and bare floors, noise levels, dust emissions, handling, and their ability to clean pet hair. They also list retail prices for all 65 models.