Canister vacuums are bare-floor champions
Canister vacuums are not quite as common in most households as upright vacuums, which we cover in their own report, 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. They also get great reviews for handling pet hair, and most of the vacuums we evaluated for this report specifically target themselves for pet hair pickup.
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), or that automatically adjusts to whatever it's vacuuming. Of course, that convenience usually adds to the cost.
Speaking of cost, there is less correlation between cost and performance among canister vacuums than ever before, even though the price range is quite wide. The mid-priced canister vacuums in this report do nearly as well in professional tests as the most expensive canister vacuums (and they outperform some of the priciest ones). The main tradeoff seems to be in ease of use and maneuverability, not power. Unless those two attributes are of utmost importance to you, or if you have the cash to splurge on an expensive vacuum, you don't need to spend more than $300 to $400. If you only need to vacuum bare floors, it is possible to find a decent, basic model for less than $100. Of course, you need to budget for replacing bags and, on some models, occasional filter replacements as well. The good news is that canister vacuums tend to have larger bags than uprights, so need replacing less often. Also, some experts say that a bagged, canister vacuum with a HEPA filter is a better choice for allergy sufferers than any other type of vacuum because there are fewer emissions.
There are some bagless canister vacuums, but they tend to get very poor reviews and the only one we found with an expert recommendation was recently discontinued. As a result, we do not recommend any bagless canister vacs in this edition of our report.
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.
One thing canister vacuums tend to get lower ratings for is carpets, so if you have a lot of carpet, or deep-pile carpet, or if your storage space won't accommodate a canister vacuum, we recommend either an upright or a stick vacuum; the latter have even improved in technology to the point that some get better ratings in carpet vacuuming tests than canister vacuums. Meanwhile, handheld vacuums are 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.
Finding The Best Canister Vacuum Cleaners
There are fewer tests of canister vacuums than we have found in the past. Many of those models that we formerly recommended have been discontinued, and fewer seem to be taking their place. Still, ConsumerReports.org still includes both bagged and bagless vacuum cleaners in its ongoing testing. Reviewed.com also offers extensive tests of canister vacuum cleaners; although not a lot of models are included, the tests themselves are extremely comprehensive. In both cases, though, some of the recommended or ranked vacuum cleaners earn their ratings based upon tests of similar models. TheSweethome.com also includes canister vacuums in its vacuum cleaner testing, and always names one as a runner up to their upright pick.
In addition to the expert roundups, testing and opinions, we evaluated thousands of user reviews across retail sites to see how the canister 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 initial impressions. The result of our research is our top recommendations for the best canister vacuums for any home, lifestyle, or need.