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The Which? guide to buying the best vacuum cleaner

If you’re after a new vacuum cleaner you might be surprised by just how much choice you have available. It’s important to get a vacuum that is suited to both you and your home, whether you’re a pet owner, have large carpeted areas, need to clean lots of stairs or suffer from allergies.

To help you pick your perfect vac, and to show you some quick, handy checks you can do in the shop, here’s the Which? guide to buying a vacuum cleaner. and you can also find out more if you watch the video above.

First choice: do I need a cylinder or an upright?

Upright vacuums

Upright vacuums are often heavier, can hold more dust and typically have a smaller reach than cylinders, so you might end up swapping plug sockets more often. Uprights also have a motorised brush bar, or electrobrush, in the floor head (the bit that makes contact with the floor that the dust is sucked up through) which works well to pick up hair - important for pet owners.

Pros

  • Good at picking up pet hair
  • Easier to store than cylinders (as there’s no tube to wrap round the vac)
  • Can cover large areas of floor quickly
  • Can often hold more dust than cylinders

Cons

  • Can be noisy
  • Heavier than cylinder vacs
  • More difficult to use on stairs

Cylinder vacuums

Cylinder vacuums are lighter and more compact than uprights – but you might be surprised to find out they typically have larger motors, making them less energy efficient. The design and weight of cylinders often makes them better suited to cleaning the stairs, getting into hard-to-reach places, and better at picking up the dust right next to the skirting board, reducing the need to use the small attachments.

Cylinder vacs are sometimes supplied with full size turbo brushes (different to mini turbo tools, see below) to help clean carpets and pick up pet hair, which can add to the price. But Which? tests show these turbo brushes are not always as effective as the standard floor head. Our tests always reveal which is better, so always check our review to find out if it’s worth paying extra for turbo brushes.

Pros

  • Lighter and more compact than upright vacuum cleaners
  • Better for tackling stairs, upholstery, under furniture and hard-to-reach areas
  • Usually quieter

Cons

  • The hose section can be difficult to store tidily
  • Generally not as good at picking up pet hair
  • Can be more difficult to control and manoeuvre
  • Tend to have larger motors than uprights, making them less efficient

Second choice: bagged or bagless

Once you’ve got an idea about upright and cylinder models, the next decision is to figure out if you want to go bagless or not.

Bagless vacs

Bagless vacs trap everything inside a canister that you then empty into a bin when it gets full. The problem is that tipping loose dust into a bin be a messy job, which can be particularly irritating for those with acute dust allergies. Bagless vacs also tend to have smaller capacities – the average upright will hold over 4L of dust while a bagless will hold around 2.5L.

Bagged vacs

Bagged vacs are the more traditional option and are a little more hygienic. All the dust is trapped inside a bag which you then throw away. Some vacuums, like those made by Miele, have self-sealing bags, so no dust should escape when it’s time to remove the bag from the vac. However, the cost of replacing bags can be formidable, especially if they’re official manufacturer bags.

Closer look:

Once you’ve got a better idea about the types of vacuum available, it’ll be worth having a look at the tools that come with them. Some vacs have some fairly unique nozzles and attachments but here are some of the most common and what they’re used for:

Furniture brushes

have soft brushes and can be used to dust/clean any delicate furniture without scratching it. You can also use a furniture brush to clean keyboards.

Crevice tools

are used for vacuuming in tight spaces and in corners.

Upholstery nozzles

have a strip of velvety material to help remove dust and fluff from upholstery.

Combination tools

can combine two or all three of the above nozzles.

Mini turbo tools

are a bit more specialised, and are often supplied with vacs marketed towards pet owners (like Miele’s ‘Cat & Dog’ vacuums or Dyson’s ‘Animal’ vacs). Mini turbo tools have a small rotating brush which is powered by the air drawn into the vac - they are used to remove hair from places you can't use the main floor head, like sofas or on upholstery.

Some vacs allow you to store tools on the vac, which is convenient, while others do not. If you don’t fancy a walk to the cupboard every time you want to change an attachment, look for a vac that allows you to keep the main tools on board.

What can I do in the shop?

If you're in the shop, here are a few quick checks you can do to find out if the vacuum you're considering is suitable to you.

Turn it on

This will give you a real impression of how noisy it is and how easy the vac is to use and manoeuvre. If you find the vac sticks to the floor and you cannot adjust the floor head or suction to help this, it’s best to choose another vac.

Pick it up

Vacs can weigh anywhere between 5 and 11kg. So if you're going to be lugging a vac up and down the stairs, make sure you don't buy a model you’ll struggle to lift.

Lay it flat

If you're going to be vacuuming under furniture, try to lay the vac flat. Some models can’t get all the way down.

Check the bag/canister and filters

Find out how easy it is to replace the bag or empty the canister if it's a bagless vac. Then make sure you can get to the filters and remove them easily - they will need washing or replacing to keep your vacuum in working order.

How about going cordless?

Cordless vacuums

Cordless vacuums are also known as stick vacuum cleaners and are becoming more popular. Cordless models run off a battery that will give you between 20 and 60 minutes of cleaning time depending on the model. When you’re done, the vacuum will need to be put back on charge.

The advantage of cordless vacuums is that they’re often much lighter than normal vacs and there’s no cord getting in your way when you’re cleaning. But they don’t have the attachments to help you get into corners or deal with surfaces other than the floor, like upholstery. You may not want to replace your normal vacuum with a cordless model, but having one on hand could be convenient for quick, on the spot cleaning.