What the best canister vacuum has
- Multiple filtration levels. Canister vacuums with more than one level of filtration basically have multiple opportunities to remove more particles from the exhaust, trapping more tiny particles and improving overall air quality.
- Wide cleaning path. Cleaning paths typically range from 10 to 15 inches. The wider the cleaning path, the fewer passes you'll have to 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. A retractable power cord is also a nice feature, but a cord wrap, at the minimum, should be included.
- 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. Bagged models, the only type recommended in this edition of the report, usually have a capacity of 1 gallon or more. Bagless canister vacuums typically have a dirt capacity of about half a gallon, sometimes more.
- Useful 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? Most canister vacuums work great for bare floors, while 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 either has a powered on/off brushroll or one that has a dedicated powered attachment for carpet.
Is pet hair an issue? Look for canister vacuums that offer special attachments designed to ease pet-hair cleanup, such as a powered 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. Alternatively, if you need to haul the vacuum up the stairs, look for one that's lighter and well-balanced.
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.
Value expectations: 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 (bagless canister vacs tend to do very poorly in testing, so we don't recommend them). 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.