What the best canister vacuum has

  • Multiple filtration levels. Canister vacuums with more than one level of filtration basically take two opportunities to remove more particles from the exhaust, trapping more tiny particles and improving overall air quality. HEPA filtration is best of all, capturing particles as small as .3 microns.
  • Wide cleaning path. Cleaning paths typically range from 10 to 15 inches. The wider the cleaning path, the fewer passes you'll make when cleaning the same floor area.
  • Long power cord. A longer power cord -- ideally more than 20 feet long -- means you won't need to move to different wall outlets as frequently when cleaning a larger area.
  • Long hose. Most attachments go on the end of the hose, so an upholstery tool attached to the end of a longer hose can reach more areas without moving the canister itself.
  • Large dirt capacity. The higher the capacity the less often you'll need to change vacuum bags or empty dirt bins. Bagless canister vacuums typically have a dirt capacity of about half a gallon, sometimes more. Bagged models usually have a capacity of 1 gallon or more.
  • Attachments. Canister vacuums come with a wide range of attachments, including crevice tools, upholstery tools, dusting brushes, floor tools and specialty pet-hair removal tools. Not all will be necessary for your needs, but if you're cleaning the tops of blinds, dusting brushes will come in handy.
  • Lightweight design. Canister vacuums vary widely in weight, ranging between about 9 pounds and 24 pounds. Lighter canisters are easier to maneuver and more convenient for cleaning stairs.

Know before you go

What type of flooring do you have? Uprights are generally better performers on carpeting. But if you're set on getting a canister vacuum to clean your wall-to-wall carpeting or a lot of area rugs, choose a model that works well for this type of flooring. Most canister vacuums work great for bare floors.

Is pet hair an issue? Look for canister vacuums that offer special attachments designed to ease pet-hair cleanup, such as a pet-hair brush or an attachment with rubber fingers that helps grab pet hair from soft surfaces. Crevice tools are useful for reaching corners and crevices where hair tends to build up, and standard upholstery brushes can help remove pet hair from furniture.

Does anyone in your home suffer from allergies? A canister vacuum with HEPA allergen filtration is best for allergy sufferers. HEPA filtration traps particles down to 0.3 microns in size, keeping them from exiting via the vacuum's exhaust. That will leave behind less dust, debris and pet dander that can aggravate allergy symptoms.

What's the layout of your home? Maneuverability is less of a concern if you have an open floor plan, so you could safely purchase a heavier or less maneuverable vacuum without a problem. But if you have a lot of tight spaces and hallways, maneuverability is key. Single-wheel canister vacuums like the Dyson models turn on a dime and can easily navigate nooks and crannies.

When will you use your canister vacuum? Canister vacuums are much quieter than their predecessors, but noise can still be an issue. Some models are so quiet that they don't interfere with typical conversation, and some won't even disturb sleeping family members.

Do you want bagged or bagless? Choosing between a bagged and bagless canister vacuum is really about personal preference. Bagged models have the ongoing cost of replacement bags, while bagless vacuums tend to have smaller dirt capacities and must be emptied more frequently, a process that can be messy.

The dollars and cents of it

Most canister vacuums have washable filters, so the only cost of ownership to consider is the cost of replacement bags if you choose a bagged model. Most replacement bags cost between $1 and $2 each. There are also generic vacuum cleaner bags available for a lower cost, but some canister vacuums depend on the collection bags for filtration, so choose wisely. Because some bags fit different models, it's also possible to add an additional layer of filtration to a less expensive canister vac by opting for odor-reducing bags or bags with HEPA media that will work with your model.

Buying tactics and strategies

  • Choose a bundle. If you're purchasing a canister vacuum cleaner online, look for a bundle option that comes with extra attachments or with a few packs of replacement bags (if you're choosing a bagged canister vacuum).
  • Look for closeouts. Some highly reviewed canister vacuums are now discontinued but still available at retail stores. If considering a closeout, ask how that status impacts the warranty before you buy. Also, make sure that the "closeout" price is actually a bargain -- it's not unusual for older models to sell for more, even at closeout, than the newest version. See our discussion of the new Dyson Ball Multi Floor (Est. $300) on the Dyson Canister Vacuums page for an example of that.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Canister Vacuums: Whether you need a whole-house canister vacuum, a vacuum for pet hair, or one dedicated to hard floors, these are the top canister vacuum cleaners.

Best Canister Vacuums: These canister vacuums excel at various tasks, including carpet, hard floors and in sucking up pet hair. We found a top canister vacuum for any home or budget.

Dyson Canister Vacuums: Dyson revamped and renamed their entire line of vacuum cleaners in 2015. We explain the new line, the older models and suggest which ones are worth the cost.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to find the best canister vacuum cleaners. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.

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