Updated April 2015

What the best vacuum cleaner has

  • An allergen filter. Even non-allergy-sufferers benefit from cleaner air, and allergen filters remove particles and dust smaller in size than other filters are capable of capturing.
  • Washable, reusable filters. Most filters are replaceable and will eventually wear out, but, in between replacements, it should be easy to rinse or wash them to maintain efficiency.
  • A long power cord. Upright vacuum cleaners with short power cords means users must frequently relocate the plug, which can be inconvenient. Most upright vacuum cleaners have cords at least 25 feet long, while some models boast long, 39-foot cords.
  • A long hose. Even a vacuum with otherwise good accessories can be hard to use if it has a too-short hose. A short hose can also make it easy for a vacuum to tip over when it's fully extended.
  • Extension wands. Extension wands are useful for cleaning baseboards without stooping, dusting ceiling fans, and removing ceiling/wall cobwebs.
  • High power motor. A vacuum's suction power is often directly related to the strength of its motor. Most upright vacuum cleaners have high-power motors that are rated at 10 amps. The most powerful vacuums feature 12-amp motors, but some vacuums are rated much lower -- as little as 5.5 amps.
  • Low weight. An upright vacuum cleaner that weighs nearly 30 pounds can be tough to move about, especially when cleaning stairs. Upright vacuum cleaners vary widely in weight, with some weighing as little as 11.5 pounds, while others weigh 22 pounds or more.
  • For robot vacuums, good battery life. Robotic vacuums with rechargeable batteries should have at least enough juice to make it once around the area you need cleaned. They should also charge quickly enough that you can use them every day if you need to.
  • Easy emptying. Bagless, bagged and robotic vacuums should all be easy to empty, and you should be able to do so without the bagged or contained debris flying everywhere.

Know before you go

Are there allergy sufferers in your home? HEPA filtration removes the most allergens from the air and can remove smaller particles than other types of filters. Bagged models with sealed filtration systems and sealing dust bags are also useful for allergy sufferers, preventing the escape of any captured dust and debris back into the air.

Do you have stairs? If you'll be cleaning stairs regularly, look for a vacuum cleaner that's lightweight or converts to a canister vacuum, so you're not lugging a 22-pound machine up the stairs with you. Also, some vacuum cleaners have special tools designed to make stair-cleaning easier.

Will you be cleaning pet hair? Pet hair is one of the vacuum industry's biggest challenges. A few vacuum cleaners have attachments designed specifically to clean up after your furry friends, such as a rubberized upholstery tool with knobs that grab pet hair from fabric.

What types of surfaces will you be vacuuming? Not all vacuum cleaners are created equal when it comes to carpet-cleaning performance, and some have more issues with bare floors than carpets. You want a vacuum with a brushroll shut-off option if you have both carpet and hard floors, for instance, and a manual pile-height adjustment is useful for precise control if you have different carpet heights throughout your home. Also, remember, robotic vacuums are just for touch-ups, they won't perform as well as a full-size, upright vacuum when it comes to deep cleaning carpets.

Are you nimble and flexible? Some manual pile-height adjustments and other controls require bending over and some hand dexterity to operate. If you suffer from arthritis or mobility issues, look for an upright vacuum cleaner with easy-to-use controls conveniently located on the handle for easy access. Robotic vacuums are even better, just push a button and let it go.

Buying tactics and strategies

  • Look for special deals. Upright vacuum cleaners can be quite expensive, and even some of the highest-priced models don't come standard with a HEPA filter. Some retailers, however, offer special deals including a free HEPA filter with your purchase. If you're considering one of these models, shop around to find the best package deal.
  • Look for last year's model. Vacuum cleaner manufacturers frequently change the name of their vacuum cleaners, but, other than a few minor tweaks -- often cosmetic -- it's still the same vacuum as the last "upgrade." You may be able to find last year's model at a steep discount.
  • Pay attention to model numbers. Many manufacturers sell similar vacuums under different, but similar, model numbers. The difference is often in the attachment package, or might not be much more than a unique model number made to sell only at a specific retailer -- a tactic designed to discourage comparison shopping. It can take some looking around to figure out which model numbers are sold where and include what attachments, but it's worth your time to get the most bang for your buck.
  • Negotiate add-ons. Just because an upright vacuum cleaner doesn't come with the attachments you were looking for doesn't mean you can't get them. Negotiate with the retailer and show comparative deals from other stores. Ask them to match the deal by including a few more accessories with your purchase.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Whether you opt for a bagged or bagless upright vacuum cleaner, there might be filters or dust bags to purchase. If you vacuum daily, this ongoing expense can add up. There are a few generic vacuum cleaner bag manufacturers offering bags to fit many available models for a lower price. Be careful, however, because these cheaper bags may be made from cheaper materials. If your standard bags have filtration capabilities, opting for generics means you're giving up some of that cleaner air. Buying in bulk online is another option that results in a lower per-bag cost.

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 Bagless Vacuums: Many people love bagless vacuums for their convenience and ease of use. These are the top bagless vacuums for any size home or budget.

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.

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.

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