Canister vacuums are bare-floor champions
Canister vacuums are not quite as common in most households as upright vacuums, but they can be a great fit for people with certain cleaning needs. Canister vacs are a particularly good choice for those who have a combination of hardwood floors and rugs, as well as those who need to vacuum stairs or above-the-floor items such as upholstery or drapes. Unlike upright vacuums, which you push in front of you, a canister vacuum is a smaller, squatter unit with a long hose that you pull along behind you. They also tend to be lighter in general than upright vacuums, so even if you do need to carry it upstairs or from room to room, it should be easier than hauling an upright. The one downside to a canister vacuum is that, in most cases, you have to switch out the heads when going between bare floors and carpet; although some use a single sweeper head with a brushroll that you can turn on (for carpets) or off (for hard flooring).
Whether or not a canister vacuum is easier to store is a matter of opinion. They tend to have a bigger footprint, so one could take up too much floor space in your storage closet. On the other hand, because they're so much shorter, a canister vac won't impinge on your hanging items if the only place you have to store it is in a coat closet.
Of course, if you have a lot of carpet, or deep-pile carpet, or your storage space won't accommodate a canister vacuum, we recommend some excellent upright vacuums in a separate report. Stick vacuums and handheld vacuums are also useful to have around for quicker, spot-cleaning tasks, like sweeping up small, dry spills and messes without having to haul out the bigger upright, and we cover them in separate reports as well.
The biggest decision to make when buying a canister vacuum is choosing between bagged and bagless models. There are pros and cons to each type: Bagged canister vacuums require replacement bags that are generally very affordable, but you need to keep an eye on them and replace them when they're full. Some bags are reported as easier to change out than others. Bagless canister vacuums have dirt canisters that must be emptied, which can be a messy process. That said, manufacturers are getting better about improving their systems to minimize reintroducing dust into the air, and owners say that taking a bagless vacuum outside to empty it helps as well.
Some canister vacuums boast features that make them better for allergy sufferers. HEPA filtration, for instance, traps 99.97 percent of particles, down to 0.3 microns in size, preventing them from being introduced into the air (via a machine's exhaust) as an aftermath of vacuuming. Many allergy sufferers say that a vacuum with HEPA filtration reduces the chances that they'll have an unpleasant reaction after a day of cleaning.
Other features that are important to look for in a good canister vacuum are accessories that add to its versatility -- such as swiveling heads, extension wands, special wheels that tighten the canister's turning radius and long power cords. Reviewers also like pet hair attachments, like rubberized power heads, and motorized brushes for cleaning upholstery.
There's no clear correlation between cost and performance among canister vacuums, and prices vary widely. The most expensive vacuum in this report has just the basic set of accessories; one of the cheapest has a full range. If you only need to vacuum bare floors, it is possible to find a decent, basic model for less than $100, although machines in this price range might not perform well on deep-pile carpets, rugs or upholstery.
Finding the best canister vacuum cleaners
To choose the best canister vacuums for pet-hair removal and bare floors, as well as the best canister vacuums overall, we evaluated thousands of owner reviews across retail sites to see how the vacuum performs in real-world use. These owner reviews also provide a window into long-term durability, as many users come back months or even years later to update their original reviews. In addition, we examined the results of professional tests conducted by ConsumerReports.org, Reviewed.com and TheSweethome.com. The result of our research is our top recommendations for the best canister vacuums for any home, lifestyle, or need.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Canister Vacuums | Buying Guide | Our Sources