The Best Vacuum Cleaners
How We Found the Best Vacuum Cleaner
2 experts interviewed
19 vacuums tested
4 top picks
The Best Vacuum Cleaners
Vacuuming. It’s on all of our to-do lists. In fact, you’ll spend an average of 30 minutes to an hour each week vacuuming for the rest of your life, according to Craig Amick, director of commercial development at Electrolux Small Appliances.
Finding the best vacuum cleaners came down to just two things: which ones sucked up the most, and which ones were easiest to haul around. We got our hands on 19 flagship vacuums ranging from $80 to $600, dumped a bunch of junk on the floor, and compared the results.
How We Chose the Best Vacuum Cleaners
The best type for most people
Vacuums come in all shapes and sizes — canister, stick, robotic, hand-held, upright — and comparing all of them would be like comparing an SUV with a coupe with a scooter to find the best car. Stick vacuums work great for small spaces and above-the-floor cleaning, while canister vacuums are good for hard-to-reach spots and furniture. For those with too many to-dos, robot vacuums do the job for you.
To narrow the field for this review, we looked at the most popular: uprights. Compared to other models that are designed for specific purposes, upright vacuums are great at quickly removing dust and dirt from large areas of carpet, while also working well on hardwoods and area rugs. They are the most things to most people.
Flagship models at the right price point
Our two benchmarks were under $250 and $250-$600. We nixed any model over $600. Why? Mostly because performance doesn’t improve all that much over that price point — you’re paying for accessories more that cleaning capability. While some people may be really interested in those accessories, they’re mostly a matter of preference.
Within each of the price points, we then dug deeper to see which models stood out. Some vacuums, like the Oreck, have an avid fan base. If a model was hands-down the most talked about, it made our testing list; if a brand didn’t have such a following, we defaulted to its highest-priced model within our two pricing categories — we wanted to put each brand’s top vacuums to the test.
On medium-pile carpet, then on hardwood, we measured how many passes each vacuum took to thoroughly suck up the mess we made. To test each model’s ability with large particles, we evenly spread sand and Cheerios, then we sprinkled cinnamon and talcum powder to test fine-grain mayhem. The best vacuums sucked everything up in two passes — one forward, one back. The worst could never quite get the floor clean.
Riccar, which regularly garners ecstatic comments, had the least cleaning power of all 19 vacuums we tested. It took so many tries to pick up any sand and Cheerios, we took it apart to make sure we’d assembled it correctly. (We had.)
The Kenmore Elite, by comparison, had great cleaning power, which at first we thought was the result of its “dirt sensor” — it sounded fancy, but turns out it’s just another way to raise or lower the brush depending on carpet height. Gimmicky marketing, but overall a great vacuum.
We also put each model through an obstacle course: multiple tables and chairs that mimicked the layout of a small room. We required each vacuum to make at least two sharp, 90-degree turns in both directions, and to squeeze through the narrow slots between furniture. If it cornered like it was on rails and wasn’t too heavy to turn on a dime before bumping into something, we were impressed.
One of the key features for increased maneuverability is some form of swiveling joint between the body and the cleaning head; some vacuums do this better than others. Looks were deceiving with the Miele Dynamic U1 Twist: It seemed much bulkier than some of the more slender swivelers, but its patented SwivelNeck was something to behold — it handled each corner like a dream.
The Shark Professional Rotator, on the other hand, looked sleek, but lacked control. (It also came with dangling accessories — so many that there is a special rolling caddy! — that dropped tools all over.)
Top 4 Best Vacuum Cleaners
Why We Chose It
Everything you want, with no cord
Our unanimous top pick was Hoover’s Air Cordless for its excellent cleaning power and maneuverability. We were stunned that our only cordless model went straight to the top of the list. Most agree that cordless models aren’t quite there yet in terms of power (Sir James Dyson bought a battery company in 2015, but even he said not to expect battery-operated Dysons “for a few years”), yet this little Hoover defies the trend. It’s everything you want in an upright, and there’s no cord to trip you up.
Two settings, plus a boost
It offers only two settings: carpet or no carpet, plus a “boost” button for more cleaning power, though both settings worked well without boosting. On carpeted floor, the Air Cordless Lift picked up both large and small particles, and never needed more than two passes. On hardwoods, it took another pass or two, but still sucked up every Cheerio and plowed through every pile of sand we put in its path. Then we turned on the boost and bingo: hardwood performance was just as good as carpet.
Converts to canister
The Air Cordless Lift converts to a small canister vacuum with an easily detachable lift-away wand and canister. The parts fit in so seamlessly, we didn’t even notice them at first. It wasn’t much of a noisemaker, either: Coming in at 81.1 decibels, it was on the quieter side of the models we tested (the Orecks, by comparison, were LOUD, rocketing into the high 80s). And, at only 12 pounds, it was among the lightest.
Points to Consider
Odd handling on carpet
It maneuvered around our test furniture without a single collision in a way that can only be described as “zippy.” But this pep did cause some weird handling in large expanses of carpet — it kept trying to maneuver even when we wanted it to keep pointing straight ahead. If you need it to run circles around Grandma’s curio cabinet or your 12-piece dining set, this vacuum’s maneuverability has you covered. But wide-open rooms might be frustrating — if that sounds like your home, we recommend the Oreck Commercial XL, our best carpet pick, or the Samsung VU7000 MotionSync, our pick for hardwood.
While the power of these batteries was rock solid, they can't vacuum all day. Consumer Reports says that each battery (it comes with two, so one charges while the other is in use) lasts only 25 minutes, though the company claims 50 minutes per battery.
Why We Chose It
Massive cleaning power
For a carpet-heavy home, the Oreck is a winner. It has massive cleaning power no matter how big or small the mess. Other than the Hoover, it's the only vacuum we evaluated with edge-cleaning bristles, which are supposed to help pick up debris close to the wall. But we're not convinced these little whiskers do too much — the fact that two of our top picks have them is just a coincidence. (When we tested them out by sprinkling talcum along the perimeter of the room, the bristle-free Bissell performed just as well.)
Design-wise, it’s pretty commercial, like something you would see in a hotel, and definitely minimalist — we’re talking zero attachments. It has only one setting: on. And its back wheels are located on the underside of the vacuum, rather than on the rear edge, so you can’t tip it back to transport it from one room to the next. Picking it up and just carrying it is your best option — at a featherweight nine pounds, this isn’t a big deal (especially compared to the heaviest vacuum we tested, the Kenmore Progressive, which weighs a burly 23 pounds), but it also isn’t the most convenient. That said, if you’re a sucker for simplicity, the Oreck is zero-fuss and truly powerful.
If you are arthritic or have limited use of your hands, vacuuming can be a struggle. The Oreck Commercial, however, features a “Helping Hand” handle, which has received an Ease-of-Use Commendation from the Arthritis Foundation. The on/off switch is conveniently located in the handgrip, and works with a light touch.
Points to Consider
All that vacuuming power comes with the sound to back it up: It roars at well past 85 decibels, the loudest of any vacuum we tested. When compared to another popular vacuum, the Miele Dynamic U1 Twist, the Oreck pushed our sound-level meter far higher.
No bare floor option
On hardwoods, the Oreck cleaned well enough, sucking everything in its path in two passes, and many longtime users say they use it with good results. But neither of the Oreck models we tested has a bare-floor option, which means its brushroll is always rolling; over time, that wear and tear can be damaging to your floors and finishes.
Why We Chose It
Second to none on bare floors
When it came to pure hardwood floor performance, the Samsung VU7000 Motion Sync wowed us more than any other vacuum, including our top pick, the Hoover Air Cordless Lift. In just one easy motion, it sucked up everything we put in its path. At 18 pounds, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t glide along either carpet or hardwoods; moving it from room to room isn’t an effortless task. For multi-surface use, we prefer the Hoover, but if you have mostly bare floors, this model’s cleaning power blew away the competition.
Great for allergies
One of the MotionSync’s shiniest features is its advanced anti-allergy and hygienic filtration system (HEPA filter), which captures airborne allergens while removing dust and dirt. “If you or someone in your household suffers from allergies, a HEPA filter is ideal,” says Dr. Felix Rivera-Mariani, an aerobiology consultant and adjunct professor of biology and immunology. This type of filter collects and — most importantly — retains more than 99 percent of respiratory irritants. It’s the most complete and effective type of allergen filter on the market, and this model is our only top pick to offer it.
Points to Consider
Low-slung carpet setting
On carpet, the MotionSync did a good enough job with finer debris, like sand and flour, but its low-slung carpet setting pushed chunkier items around in front of it. If you have a toddler whose favorite activity is flinging cheerios to the ground, this model might not be your best bet.
Small, hard-to-manage canister
Like the Hoover Air Cordless Lift, the Samsung VU7000 MotionSync features a small canister with detachable wand for off-the-floor cleaning. Unlike the Hoover, this one was more difficult to use: The button stuck, and we really had to yank pretty hard to get the wand out. If we hadn’t read how to do it in the manual, we would have thought we were going to break it. We had a similar response to reclining the vacuum too. We had to stomp down on the cleaning head and wrench the handle back. Was this stiffness because our model was brand new? Maybe — but still not great.
Why We Chose It
“One Pass Technology” is one of Bissell’s flagship technologies, and it’s designed to do just what it sounds like: Eat up everything on its initial pass. We don’t know whether Bissell considers “one pass” as just the forward motion, or forward and then backward, but we can tell you how it really works. On the forward pass, it suctions about half of all debris we strewed before it while throwing the rest out behind it. On the backward pass, it picks up everything it tossed, and your floor is 100 percent clean. Is that “One & A Half Pass Technology”? We’re not sure, but bottom line: This best-selling model is a best-seller for a reason. It cleaned way better than we thought it would, and it's really cheap.
Bagless dirt chamber
The 2-liter bagless dirt chamber holds a good amount of debris, and is easy to empty. It has a washable foam tank filter, which saves you the added cost of having to buy replacements. (The Hoover and Samsung have washable filters too).
Points to Consider
The Bissell won’t win any awards in the design department — it’s a basic and bulky 15 pounds of purple and black plastic. It lacks a molded handle with a grippy texture, so it’s not particularly ergonomic or comfortable; if you get distracted, the handle could slip right out of your hand.
Online reviews of the Bissell focused on the hose that allows you to use the machine with the attachments: Most complained that it’s too short and rather stiff. All the suction in the world won’t help you if you can’t reach into crevices and behind the couch. Of course, you can lift the not-inconsiderable 15 pound vacuum up and hold it while you’re working on the cobwebs in the guest room closet, but that gets awkward and can leave you unbalanced and huffing for breath.
A Few Runners-Up to Consider
This popular vacuum has great maneuverability on carpet, and only a little less so on bare floor. It’s on the heavier side (around 18 pounds), but quite the cleaner, devouring all of the Cheerio piles we placed before it. One benefit of a Dyson is that the company’s machines feature whole-machine HEPA filtration, so although it’s more costly than any of our winners at $259.99, it could be worth it if you suffer from allergies or have asthma.
The design isn’t for everyone — lots of industrial-looking molding and all its moving parts seem like possible breakage points — but if you like it, you love it, and lots of people do. Plus, we can’t argue with the name: It’s the coolest of the lot.
We tested two Kenmore models (one in each price category), and you definitely pay for what you get. The vastly superior Elite cleans both carpets and hardwoods in just a few fast passes (unlike the Progressive, which didn’t even come close). It’s the standard big-and-bulky type, and some of its settings are confusing — remember that fancy-sounding dirt sensor?
Overall, the Elite is a solid performer with a HEPA filtration certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (like the Samsung VU7000 Motion Sync) and easy-to-use features. (The Progressive’s selectors, in comparison, were so sticky it took two of us together to switch the setting from carpet to bare floor.)
How to Find the Right Vacuum Cleaner for You
Determine the best type of machine for you
We’ve focused on uprights in this review. They’re the most popular style of vacuum in the U.S. and the best suited for general use. If you’re not sold, here are a few thoughts to ponder as you consider what type of vacuum you might need:
- Uprights: full-sized machines with the most suction for your money. Easier to store than canisters, and generally weighing between 10 and 18 pounds. Cost ranges from $50 up to $1,000. Usually, but not always, come with accessories for cleaning in tight spaces.
- Canisters: Similar to uprights in terms of cost and abilities, but harder to fit into the hall closet. That said, they are easier to use on stairs (if the hose is adequately long) and are generally a bit lighter. Usually come with a range of accessories for cleaning in small spaces.
- Stick: This hybrid looks like a light-duty upright, and that’s what it is. Very easy to use and store. Usually battery-operated and fairly inexpensive at $25-$500. If you’re setting up home in a very cramped urban apartment, a stick could be ideal.
- Robot: Not just a novelty item anymore, and available for as low as $100. Usually under 10 pounds, easily stored, and battery powered. They don’t have the power of a full-sized vacuum, though, and are best used to supplement regular vacuuming.
- Handheld: mini-vacs that range from $20-$250. Five pounds or less. Easy to handle and store like a dream. Excellent for small spaces, and great for cleaning your car or boat. Won’t have the power of a full-sized machine, but a good one is perfect for places that don’t allow for a full-sized machine.
Decide on bagged or bagless
Both designs have been proven to clean well, so one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s a matter of preference. Bagless vacuums offer less waste (and save you money since you aren’t buying replacements), but some say you have to empty them more than bagged vacuums. Folks with severe allergies will want to go for a bagged model though: The bags seal, trapping dust and allergens.
Pay special attention to allergies
The best thing to do if you have asthma or allergies is to live without carpet — carpets are notorious for capturing dust, pollen, and other irritating particles. If that’s not a possibility, regular vacuuming becomes even more important.
Second, while everything we found pointed to bagged vacuums as being the better option for allergies, Dr. Rivera-Mariani warns that standard bags easily get tiny tears that allow leakage. If you have a model with bags, replacements with electrostatic properties (these are available for most major vacuums) help keep pesky particles contained. (The electrostatic causes the dust particles to stick together, so they’re less likely to escape.)
Consider a HEPA filter
And last, Dr. Rivera-Mariani strongly recommends a sealed HEPA filter. There are less stringent forms of filtration, like the basic sort all vacuums have (including our Hoover top pick), which absorb dust, but don't capture pollen or pet dander. These are generally fine for most people, but if you're sensitive to irritants, HEPA is the way to go. Dr. Rivera-Mariana goes as far to recommend HEPA filtration even if you have no respiratory issues. Allergies can build up over time, and symptoms may show up suddenly in previously non-allergic individuals.
Vacuum Cleaner FAQ
How much do I need to pay to get a good vacuum cleaner?
One thing that was shocking in our search (but not shocking to anyone who’s ever shopped for a vacuum): the price range on these things. You can find a vacuum for $50 or for $1,000, even though basic performance and quality don’t vary much between mid-range and top-tier models. With the latter, you’re paying more for a lot of bells and whistles — from floor tools that light up to automatic suction control.
With budget models, it’s a total mixed bag. Some truly suck (in the bad way) and others work better than their four-figure counterparts. Case in point: While you sacrifice some oomph and get lower-quality plastic construction, the Bissell CleanView 9595A ($89) outperformed much more expensive models like the SEBO 9807AM Felix 1 ($600) in both cleaning power and ease of use in our hands-on testing. All our top picks came in at the lower end, price-wise, and we stand by them for quality performance at a reasonable cost.
How often should I vacuum?
According to The Carpet and Rug Institute, most households should vacuum once a week, though if you have high foot traffic or pets, up that to a few times per week. Regular vacuuming ensures that you aren’t breathing in all of the accumulated dust and debris that gets kicked up as you move through your home.
Is it worth it to fix a broken vacuum?
Craig Amick from Electrolux told us that retailers across all brands report tons of vacuum returns, mostly due to broken or ailing parts. Don’t return it: Your vacuum is absolutely worth repairing, and most fixes are easy and inexpensive.
While you can still locate the owner’s manual (we know it'll end up getting tossed), figure out the basic stuff: where the belt goes, how to remove the filter, and where a clog could happen. These are the most common vacuum issues, and Amick estimates that first-timers can do simple repairs and replacements in under half an hour. When in doubt: Turn to YouTube for some helpful DIY tutorials or call the customer service phone number usually located on the back or underside of your vacuum.
What do I need to know for vacuum maintenance?
Vacuum maintenance is pretty easy. The most important part is regular filter changes — dirty or clogged filters can result in a reduction of cleaning power. If you have washable filters, make sure to rinse them out two to three times a year. For replacement filters, we got mixed feedback — some say to replace every three months, while Amick suggested every six for typical consumer households. It’s a good thing replacement filters are so easy to come by. They’re readily available on every manufacturer’s website, stores like Target, or the ever-prolific Amazon.
The Best Vacuum Cleaners: Summed Up
More Household Product Reviews
Keeping the air and surfaces in your home clean and germ-free is one way to create a positive living experience for everyone. Check out some of our other household product reviews to find out all you need to know to keep your homestead sparkling: