|Vacuum cleaners have been great, time-saving devices for housecleaning for over 100 years. We couldn't do without them, but it certainly is hard to pick the right one.
When you are investing in a vacuum cleaner, there are several points to consider that may help you decide: Upright or Canister?, What Is To Be Vacuumed, Other Considerations, Vacuum Bags (or not), Filtration, Power, and Features.
Should I Buy An Upright Or A Canister?
This choice is partly one of personal preference: do you prefer to push your vacuum or pull it? But the type of floor you have, and other chores you expect your vacuum to perform can also have a bearing on the vacuum cleaner you choose.
Upright Vacuums. Since all the parts are contained in the housing that you push around, uprights can be difficult for some people to use. Miele SwivelNeck uprights are much easier to use and more agile than most other upright brands.
There are also self-propelled upright models that are easier to push, but this makes them heavier, so choose one that is not self-propelled if you frequently need to carry the vacuum up and down steps.
Other distinguishing upright characteristics include:
- Most uprights have a revolving brush roll where the vacuum meets the floor that provides agitation to stir up dirt so it can be drawn into the machine, making uprights very efficient on carpet.
- Higher end uprights typically have two motors — one to make the brush roll revolve, and one to provide suction.
Two-motor uprights generally come with a switch to turn off the brush roll motor when vacuuming smooth floors and delicate carpets or when using the attachments.
- Added attachments that can be used with either a detachable or integrated hose (depending on the model) make the upright more versatile than just cleaning carpets and floors. Many uprights also offer on-board storage for attachments.
Canister Vacuums. Canisters tend to be lighter than uprights because the motor, fan, bag, and filters roll along behind you. One drawback for some people is that the canister can get caught up on things since your focus will be on what you are vacuuming in front of you.
Canisters can have one or more types of floor tools, which come as standard or as optional accessories:
- The first type is for hard surface floors. It is straight suction with no agitation or rotating brush roller.
- The second type is often called a turbo nozzle, and works well on hard surface floors or low pile carpet. It rotates by airflow created when air is pulled in by the vacuum's motor.
- The third type, usually called a power nozzle or powerhead, has a powered floor tool with its own separate motor that allows the brush to revolve more vigorously, and supplies the friction needed for medium to deep pile carpet.
Often you get more than one floor tool, plus several attachments that make a canister able to perform a wide range of cleaning jobs.
What Am I Going To Vacuum?
To help decide which vacuum is right for you, consider the surfaces in your home. Do you have wall-to-wall carpet throughout your home? Is it low pile or deep pile? Do you have stairs? Will you want to vacuum any smooth surface floors such as hardwoods, vinyl, or tile? Do you want to vacuum drapes, blinds, under low furniture, upholstered furniture, or other surfaces?
- For a mix of wall-to-wall carpet and hard surface floors an upright with a brush roll that can be turned off or a canister with both a straight suction and power nozzle are good choices.
- For hard surfaces only, a canister with a straight suction or turbo nozzle would be a good choice.
- For stairs, both the upright and the canister come with tools for the job, but keep the weight of either type of vacuum in mind if you will be carrying the vacuum up and down the steps.
- For under furniture, the floor tool on a canister has better reach under furniture although some uprights have a lie-flat capability that also works well.
- For pets, look for a vacuum with a special attachment for pet hair.
- For drapes, blinds, upholstered furniture and other surfaces, check the tools on either an upright or canister to make sure you have what you need for what you want to do.
Most carpets are made with very durable synthetic fibers that can withstand aggressive, brush-roll vacuuming. However, the type of carpet fiber needs to be considered because a vacuum cleaner with a strong-bristled, powerful brush roll could actually damage some carpet.
If you have wool or other delicate carpet or area/Oriental rugs, they must be treated more gently. Check the manufacturer's specifications or cleaning instructions for the best advice on vacuuming. Click here for a list of manufacturers who are members of the Carpet and Rug Institute.
Another consideration is the amount of traffic and dirt your carpet has to handle. For instance, if you have children and pets, your carpet may develop traffic patterns that make it appear old before its time. Think about an upright vacuum with a powerful brush roll or a canister vacuum with a motorized power tool.
What About Vacuum Bags?
Vacuum bags are part of the filtration system of your bagged upright or canister vacuum. The air passes through the bag and deposits the big, heavy particles in the bag. The higher the level of filtration the bag has, the smaller the particle captured and the more dirt that remains in the bag.
Changing the bag before it is completely full makes your vacuum work better and last longer. With a bagged vacuum, you do not have as close contact with the dirt, especially if you have a self-closing bag, which is recommended for those with allergies or asthma. Some vacuums have an indicator light to let you know when the bag is getting full.
With upright vacuums you have the choice of a bagless models. The two main advantages of bagless upright are that you can see when the bin needs to be emptied, and you do not have to purchase bags. However, if you have allergies or asthma, it is best to ask someone else to empty the bin or wear a mask.
Is Filtration Important To Allergy & Asthma Sufferers?
Yes. If you or someone in your family has allergies or asthma, you should definitely look for a sealed vacuum cleaner, HEPA filtration, and bags with good filtration. A sealed canister vacuum or sealed upright vacuum means that all the openings in the housing are sealed with gaskets to prevent leakage of air that contains dirt, dust, and allergen particles.
A vacuum with HEPA filtration forces air through a HEPA filter that captures 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns in size. With a sealed vacuum with HEPA filtration, your vacuum cleaner is actually making the air cleaner as you vacuum because the expelled air is so clean.
How Can I Compare The Power?
Unfortunately, you will need to be a rocket scientist for this part. There are many factors that can be used to compare the power of vacuum cleaners — watts, amps, volts, water lift (or sealed suction), horsepower, air watts, and airflow. Already it is confusing, but to make it worse, different manufacturers give different information and there are other elements that affect the factors.
One vacuum may give you amps and another may give you watts and so forth. Watts are equal to amps X 110 (standard volts), so that may help a little for comparison purposes, but lower watts or amps doesn't necessarily mean less power.
Airflow can be a good tool for comparison, but again it is affected by the type of bag and filters in the vacuum. Suction can be affected by hose quality and nozzle design. So you really just have to look at everything and do a general comparison trying to get as close to apples to apples as you possibly can.
What Features Do I Really Need?
Some features are important to the life of the vacuum cleaner and its basic cleaning ability:
- Warranty. The length of warranty and how to obtain service are good comparison points when choosing a vacuum cleaner. And the more expensive the vacuum, the longer and more comprehensive the warranty should be.
- Height Adjustment. For upright vacuums, the ability to adjust the brush roll to several heights is important for moving from carpeted to uncarpeted areas. Being able to make the right height adjustment for your carpet will affect the life of the machine and the life of the carpet.
- Suction Control. If you are using the vacuum for chores such as cleaning drapes, you will want to be able to decrease suction. Some vacuums have several settings.
Other features are primarily a matter of convenience, what is important to you, and what you are willing to pay for.
- Extra Tools. If you plan to use your vacuum for more than just floors, see what extra tools come with the vacuum. The most common extra tools are an upholstery brush, crevice tool, and additional floor tool. If you want your tools at your fingertips, look for an onboard tool caddy or storage compartment.
- Easy-to-use Controls and On/Off Switch. See where the controls and switch are located and if this seems convenient to you.
- Telescopic Wand. This comes in handy for reaching high places and can greatly extend the cleaning radius of the vacuum.
- Retractable Cord. This obviously makes no difference to the cleaning job your canister vacuum does, but it could be a very important convenience factor for you.
- Easy Maneuverability. You will have your own standard of what is acceptable for maneuverability, but the vacuum you choose needs to meet your standards or it will remain in the closet. Before purchasing a vacuum, think about the main ways you will be using it and see if the vacuum you are considering will do that job for you.
- Weight. Again, the weight of the machine is important in certain circumstances. If you have steps in your home that you will be carrying the vacuum up and down, weight is definitely something to check. You might decide to give up some bells and whistles such as a self-propelled machine in order to keep the weight lower.
- Bag Change Indicator. You might like a reminder to tell you when to change the vacuum bag, or you may prefer to simply check it from time to time.
As you do your comparison shopping, you may find other features that you can't do without or that you are not willing to pay extra for. Comparing vacuums according to your needs and wants and by price will help you get the most vacuum cleaner for the money.
For allergy and asthma sufferers, the most important factor to consider in purchasing a vacuum cleaner is the filtration — look for a sealed HEPA system. Hopefully, the other factors discussed above will give you some helpful comparison points to make an informed choice.