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Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Vacuum Cleaner

With so many different vacuum cleaners and other floor-care machines, it can be difficult to choose exactly what's right for your floor. Our vacuum cleaner buying guide will help you decide what's best for your floor-care needs.


Upright Vacuums Versus Canister Vacuums

Vacuums & Floor Care

Uprights and canisters have long been the staples of floor cleaning. How do you decide which one is best for your home?

Think about the surfaces you'll be cleaning. Uprights are generally best suited for carpets, while canisters are more suitable for hard floors. Also, the weight of the vacuum should factor into your decision. The more attachments you have, the heavier the vacuum is to pull or push.

The following chart will help you narrow down your choices.

Upright Vacuum

Upright Vacuum
  • Cleaning-path width ranges from 12 to 15 inches wide (based on model)
  • Swivel caster system for better maneuverability
  • Furniture and wall bumper guard
  • Carpet height adjustment
  • Headlight
  • Self-propelled
  • Standard attachments on most models include a hose, dusting brush, crevice tool and upholstery tool

Cannister Vacuum

Canister Vacuum
  • Cleaning-path width ranges from 12 to 15 inches wide (based on model)
  • Instant carpet-to-bare-floor cleaning
  • Power brush nozzles are usually standard, but some models are suction only for hard-surface floors
  • Standard attachments include a wand, bare-floor brush, dusting brush, crevice and upholstery tools

Additional Features:

  • Bagless (also referred to as a hard bag)
  • Bare-floor cleaning (ability to turn off the brush)
  • HEPA (high efficiency particulate air)-sealed system filter
  • Adjustable suction to clean lampshades and curtains
  • Retractable cord
  • Longer electrical cord (more than 20 feet is desirable)
  • Longer hose (more than 5 feet)
  • Dirt sensor accessory, which reduces the suction strength if the floor isn't very dirty, or increases the suction if there's a great deal of dirt
  • Edge cleaner for hard-to-reach corners

Additional Features

  • Bagless (also referred to as hard bag)
  • HEPA-sealed system filter
  • Edge cleaner for hard-to-reach corners
  • Long electrical cord (more than 20 feet is desirable)
  • Long hose (more than 5 feet)

HEPA filters are good for allergy sufferers or those with air quality concerns. There are two kinds of HEPA filters:

  • True HEPA filters have completely sealed airflow systems that reduce the amount of dirt recycled by the vacuum. True HEPA filters remove 99.97% of 0.3-micron-diameter particles (or larger) from the air that passes through it.
  • HEPA-type filters aren't actual HEPA filters. They allow a greater percentage of allergens to be recycled.
When choosing a vacuum, don't use the amount of amperage as a deciding factor. Amperage is the amount of electricity the motor uses, not the suction power.
If your floor-care product requires bags, keep the style number of the bag in an easy-to-remember place. You'll thank yourself when it's time to buy refills.


Broom Vacuums

Broom Vacuums

A broom vacuum is good for small apartments with hard-surface floors or for people who have difficulty maneuvering heavier, full-sized vacuums.

Features of a broom vacuum include:

  • Lightweight and easy to store
  • Quiet operation
  • Bagless (dust cup)
  • Quick pickups on bare floors, carpets, rugs and stairs
  • Corded and cordless rechargeable models


Hand-Held Vacuums

Hand-Held Vacuums

Hand-held vacuums are convenient for picking up small messes without dragging out the full-size vacuum.

Features of a handheld-vacuum include:

  • Lightweight
  • Corded and cordless rechargeable models
  • Wall-mountable
  • Bagless (dust cup)

Attachments available on some models:

  • Crevice tool with extension wand
  • Extension wand
  • Furniture / upholstery brush
  • Lockable on switch
  • Agitator brush for spills and stains


Vacuum Options


Hard-Surface Floor Steam Cleaners

Hard-surface steam cleaners can be used on any hard surfaces. No chemicals are needed.

  • Has a 25-inch cleaning radius
  • Sanitizes and cleans floors with 220°F steam
  • Uses plain tap water and no chemicals
  • Replaces mops, buckets and cleaners

Deep-Cleaning Vacuums

Steam vacuums can be used on hard-surface floors and carpets, and are good for cleaning spills, stains and other accidents.

  • Rotating brushes (agitates dirt out of carpet and scrubs hard-surface floors)
  • Headlights (work in poorly lit rooms and corners)
  • Automatic tool conversion (switch from carpet to hard surface floors)
  • Hot water and a cleaning solution cleans carpet
  • Switch from floor cleaning to tool use (stairs and upholstery)
  • One-hand tank removal
  • No faucet hookup
  • Nozzle for cleaning soiled spots
  • Sizes range from compact to large carpet / bare-floor cleaner

Wet / Dry Vacuums

A wet/dry vacuum is no longer just for the workshop. Over time, wet / dry vacuum technology has improved, decreasing the loud screaming noise commonly associated with it.

Wet / dry vacuums are available in a variety of sizes and horsepower (HP) ranging from 6 to 22 gallons and 1.5 to 10.5 HP. The capacity of the vacuum should match your needs:

  • Wall-mount vacuums with 1.5 HP and a one-gallon tank are available for quick and easy cleanup jobs. Also, these models hang up for out-of-the-way storage.
  • A six-gallon vacuum accommodates small jobs and is easier to maneuver and store than a larger model. However, smaller wet / dry vacuums (less than 10 gallons) can be louder and more prone to tipping. The smaller the tank, the more often it has to be emptied.
  • A higher-capacity model (more than 10-gallon capacity and a 4- to 6-HP motor) is recommended for your workshop or garage to clean up large spills. The larger-capacity tank decreases the number of times it has to be emptied.

Look for the following options to determine which wet / dry vacuum is best for your needs:

  • Wall-mount vacuums with 1.5 HP and a one-gallon tank are available for quick and easy cleanup jobs. Also, these models hang up for out-of-the-way storage.
  • A six-gallon vacuum accommodates small jobs and is easier to maneuver and store than a larger model. However, smaller wet / dry vacuums (less than 10 gallons) can be louder and more prone to tipping. The smaller the tank, the more often it has to be emptied.
  • A higher-capacity model (more than 10-gallon capacity and a 4- to 6-HP motor) is recommended for your workshop or garage to clean up large spills. The larger-capacity tank decreases the number of times it has to be emptied.

Look for the following options to determine which wet / dry vacuum is best for your needs:

  • A pleated cartridge filter is rinseable and reusable. It provides more filtration area than a flat filter and doesn't have to be removed when switching from the dry-to-wet vacuum function.
  • An automatic shut-off mechanism is available on most high-quality vacuums. The mechanism automatically shuts off the motor when the tank is full of water.
  • Wide-set wheels help prevent the vacuum from tipping over.
  • Some larger wet / dry vacuums (usually 16 gallons or larger with at least a 6.25-HP motor) have the ability to convert to a leaf blower.
  • Some models have a built-in pump attachment. The attachment allows water to be pumped through a garden hose attached to the vacuum.
  • A drain valve or spout makes emptying the vacuum easier. Otherwise, remove the lid and tip the tank to the side for emptying. Depending on how full and heavy the tank is, you could accidentally spill the liquid on the floor. Smaller vacuums usually don't have a drain or spout option.
  • Wide hoses and floor nozzles are a plus. The wider the hose and nozzle, the less likely the vacuum is to clog.

If the vacuum you choose doesn't come with the following vacuum replacement accessories, you can choose to add them to most models:

  • Crevice Tool: Gets in tight corners and around the edge of the floor
  • Extension Wand: Makes the hose longer for hard-to-reach areas
  • Hose Couplings: Join the extension wand to the hose
  • Combination Wet / Dry Nozzle: Alleviates the need to switch nozzles before switching functions
  • Gulper Nozzle: Great for the wet vacuum function
  • Round Brush: Used for scrubbing
  • Cleaning Kit: Includes all items needed to clean upholstery and other areas

Not Sure How Much to Buy?