Stick Vacuum Buying Guide


What the best stick vacuum has

  • Good suction power. Even a light, inexpensive stick vacuum should have enough suction power to make it convenient for picking up a variety of messes, from pet hair and dust bunnies to chunkier bits of debris. The best will even pick up crumbs on carpets.
  • An on/off brushroll option. This makes the stick vacuum more versatile for a variety of floor types. The ability to turn off the brushroll when cleaning hard floors keeps debris from flying around, whereas turning the brushroll on will better clean area rugs and carpets.
  • Good performance on edges. A stick vacuum loses some of its convenience if it doesn't remove debris from corners and edges. This also negates the necessity of having to switch out to crevice tools for complete cleaning.
  • Hand-vac conversion. Many stick vacs convert to a hand vacuums by simply removing the handle or the powered cleaning head, making it useful for both below- and above-the-floor cleaning jobs.
  • A long cord. Corded vacuums are limited in the space they can reach before you have to search for another wall outlet; longer cords equate to a wider reach area -- 20 feet will work for larger rooms.
  • Sufficient runtime. Rechargeable cordless vacuums usually have a runtime of about 20 to 30 minutes, though that can drop as the battery ages -- especially if the vacuum uses NiCd batteries. Some cordless models have replaceable batteries that extend a stick vac's useful life or that you can swap out for more run time for bigger tasks.
  • The right nozzle size. A wide nozzle means you'll make fewer passes to clean the same square footage, but a narrower nozzle is easier to maneuver through tight spaces, such as around dining furniture.
  • An easy to empty canister. All stick vacuums are bagless, using canisters to collect debris, but some are easier and less messy to empty than others.

Know before you go

Corded or cordless? Cordless vacuums eliminate the hassle of relocating and navigating around a power cord during use, but they have a limited run time. Corded vacuums tether you to a wall socket, but have unlimited cleaning time and get better reviews for long term durability.

How large is your cleaning area? If you want a stick vacuum as your main cleaning tool a corded stick vacuum may be your best choice as you can clean an entire home without the power running out. Alternatively, if a cordless stick vacuum has a replaceable battery, you can purchase a backup battery to continue cleaning after you've drained the first one. If you just want a stick vac for small, quick-to-clean messes, you can get by with a pretty basic model of either type.

Where will you store your stick vac? If you have limited storage options, consider a model with a fold-down handle for easy storage. Another consideration in choosing a cordless model -- does your storage area have an electrical outlet for charging the battery?

What type of flooring do you have? Stick vacuums are, generally, best on hard floors or low-pile carpeting. There are a few models that perform well on carpets because they have a roll brush that combs through carpet fibers for dirt and debris, but these tend to be pricier -- cheaper vacuums often have that feature but it usually doesn't perform as advertised.

Do you need to clean something other than floors? If you like to use a lightweight vacuum for cleaning nooks and crannies, baseboards, or other tight spaces, crevice tools and wand attachments can prove useful.

Buyer's Tip: It's important to understand the limitations of a stick vacuum

One theme we saw repeatedly when perusing stick vacuum reviews were low ratings from people who were disappointed that the vacuum would not clean their carpets very well. While some stick vacuums will dig in to clean medium-pile carpet and plush area rugs, no stick vacuum will deep clean shag or deep-pile carpeting -- not even a $300-plus model.

If this is the type of carpet you have in your home, stick to stick vacuums just for touchups or for your hard floors. For deep cleaning opt for an upright vacuum cleaner or canister vacuum cleaner, both of which we cover in separate reports. If you keep your expectations realistic -- that is, buying a cheap stick vacuum to help control dust and lighter messes on hard floors, a better stick vacuum for low-pile carpet and area rugs -- you're much more likely to be happy with your purchase.