Bagless vacuums are becoming increasingly popular as their technology improves. The big advantage is that they eliminate the hassle of buying and replacing bags, which is better both for the environment and your wallet. Today's bagless vacuums have improved filtration systems to trap allergens and dust, keeping those tiny particles from flying around the room or resettling on the room's furnishings. They're also easier and neater to empty than they used to be. However, if you prefer the additional filtration of a bagging vacuum, see our discussion of the best bagged vacuums elsewhere in this report. Don't like to vacuum? See our recommendations for robotic vacuums and sit back and let them do the dirty work.
Dyson has long been our top pick in the bagless vacuum category, but it's been supplanted by the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501 (Est. $240). Shark has been continually refining its product line, and the Rotator NV501 gets top ratings from both experts and owners, scoring just as well as or better than Dyson models in professional testing.
The NV501 is also highly versatile, doubling as a canister vacuum using the Shark's "Lift-Away" process to simply detach it from the main vacuum unit, which makes it a breeze to clean in tough spots like stairs and under beds. The NV501 has an 11.5-inch cleaning path, a bit narrow compared to some upright vacuum cleaners, and some say they wish it were wider; however, its extreme maneuverability and good array of included accessories make that a non-issue, most say. In fact, many owners note that it fits into spaces where larger, bulkier vacuums don't, like between and behind furnishings. Quite a few also comment that it's so easy to push that it doesn't feel like a chore to take those extra passes that its narrow width makes necessary. It weighs just under 16 pounds, which is considered lightweight compared to many other full-sized, upright vacuums.
As for accessories, the NV501 has a nice selection, although we saw some comments that, for the price, the reviewer thought more should be included. Out of the box, the Shark Rotator includes an 11-inch crevice too, a dusting brush and a power brush for cleaning upholstery, and that particular attachment gets great review for picking up pet hair from furniture. The power head is equipped with LED headlights, but most say they're too dim to provide much illumination. If you need more accessories, other Shark vacuums in the Rotator NV500 series line have different packages, such as the Shark NV552 (Est. $300), which includes a bonus tool kit for additional floor care options, and the Shark NV502 (Est. $260), which includes a car detail kit.
Allergy sufferers and pet owners are the biggest fans of the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away series of vacuums. In addition to the power brush that whisks pet hair off furniture, it features a sealed, HEPA filter to trap allergens. Owners say they see very few emissions from this vacuum -- and it earns an Excellent in professional tests in that category -- something they say helps keep their air cleaner. Many say they see a noticeable improvement in deeper cleaning of carpets than previous vacuums they have owned.
If you primarily have bare floors in your home, you may want to take a look at the Dyson Ball Multi Floor (Est. $420), formerly known as the Dyson DC65. Its self-adjusting cleanerhead makes it a breeze to transition from hardwood floors, to area rugs, to carpet and back again, say owners. That makes it easy to use on area rugs without pulling their corners up into the vacuum. It also gets great reviews for picking up everything from the finest dust motes and pet hairs, to chunky challenges like pet food and litter without scattering it across the floor. Some owners say that its ball technology takes some getting used to as it feels skitterish on hard floors, but once they get used to it they praise the easy navigation.
The Dyson Multi Floor may be a better choice than the Shark for larger homes than the Shark NV501 because it has a 13.5-inch cleaning path. It also includes a combination crevice and stair tool, but has nothing near the overall versatility of the Shark Rotator.
Of course, the big downside to the Dyson is that it's pricey. Even the Shark, although it's around half the price, may be a stretch for some wallets. The good news is that the Hoover WindTunnel T-Series (Est. $100) beats both the Shark and the Dyson in professional tests -- it's the only bagless vacuum awarded a score of Excellent for pet hair and tool airflow. It also earns an Excellent rating for emissions, making it a great choice for allergy sufferers as well.
The Hoover WindTunnel gets raves from owners for its performance on pet hair, but many note that it works better on carpet than on hardwood floors -- and professional testing bears that out. This is probably due to the fact that it lacks a brushroll shutoff, which can result in debris being spewed around the floor as it hits the roller. However, The WindTunnel includes a crevice tool, powered hand tool, extension wand and combination upholstery tool/dusting brush -- a very good number of versatile attachments compared to even high-end bagless upright vacuum cleaners
Unlike the 30-foot cords on the Shark and Dyson, the WindTunnel has a shorter 27-foot cord that is retractable, but some owners say the retraction function stops functioning after just a few uses. The dirt cup is reported to be on the small side, owners say, and pet fur tends to accumulate and get stuck in the bottom of the cup, requiring manual cleaning or using your fingers to remove the packed-in fur.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Vacuums: Whether you prefer bagless, bagged or robotic, there is a vacuum that will fit your cleaning style and budget. These are the top vacuum cleaners for a variety of cleaning tasks.
Best Bagged Vacuums: Vacuum cleaners with replaceable bags are still the most popular type of vacuum. These bagging vacuum cleaners recommended by experts and users.
Best Robotic Vacuum Cleaners: Is there anything better than a vacuum that you don't have to push around? If you say "of course not," check out our top picks for robotic vacuum cleaners -- and even a robotic floor mop.
Buying Guide: There are thousands of options when it comes to vacuum cleaners. Our buying guide will help direct you in choosing the vacuum you need for your cleaning tasks.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to determine the best vacuum cleaners. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.