When you’re considering a new vacuum cleaner, the choices available can make the process really confusing. What should you choose? Upright? Cylinder? Cordless stick? How about a robot vacuum? Should you go for bagged or bagless? And what about filters? Vacuums for hard floors? Pet hair?
Add specs and hi-tech wizardry into the mix and you’ll probably be left scratching your head.
Vacuums aren’t cheap either – you don’t get to try before you buy – so use our guide below to decide what you actually need for your home, and our vacuum cleaner reviews to help you make that final decision.
Upright, cylinder, cordless or robot?
Upright vacuum cleaners
Upright vacuum cleaners tend to be more powerful than cylinder or cordless machines. They also clean more quickly because their larger floor heads cover a bigger surface area.
They’re ideal if you have a big house because they usually have a larger capacity than cylinder or cordless vacuums as well. The design also means you don’t have to bend down while cleaning, which is great if you have lower back pain and find vacuuming aggravates it.
Uprights are best if you mainly have carpets in your home as the heads use a rotating brush that 'combs' through the pile, lifting and removing dirt. That said, many cylinder and cordless models now come with a rotating brush head too.
On the downside, uprights can be heavy and less manoeuvrable than their cylinder and cordless counterparts, although many newer models have heads that move from side to side, allowing you to easily clean around furniture. Worth looking out for.
Historically, these upright vacuums made cleaning stairs a bit tricky – you’d have to balance yourself and a hoover midway up the stairs. Many new designs have longer hoses or lift-away sections to make this easier.
Another thing to bear in mind is storage. If you don’t have much space in your home, you'll need to think about where your vacuum is going to be stored when it’s not in use.
Cylinder vacuum cleaners
Cylinder vacuum cleaners take up less room and can be easier to manoeuvre than uprights.
Long telescopic wands and longer hoses mean you don’t need to bend down as much when you’re vacuuming. Cord-return systems also do away with winding up the cord.
It’s often easy to change heads and tools on a cylinder, meaning they can be versatile and suitable for a variety of floor types.
Cylinder vacuums tend to be less powerful than uprights though and do have smaller heads. But they are easier to store, so tend to be better for smaller homes.
Cordless vacuum cleaners
Cordless vacuums used to be viewed as an extra – a vacuum to back-up your cylinder or upright. But, as technology has advanced, so too have cordless models and they are now good enough to have as your only vacuum cleaner.
Cordless cleaners also make short work of vacuuming because they are light and easy to use. Newer models are powerful and their design means they’re versatile – you can get into nooks and crannies all around the house, cleaning skirting boards, stairs and even ceilings with ease.
Unfortunately, they have less capacity than most uprights or cylinder vacuum cleaners and do need to be emptied more frequently. It’s worth noting that you need to make sure you keep your vacuum charged – the last thing you want is to have a spillage and find your vacuum is out of juice.
You also need to think about how long you spend vacuuming at any given time and make sure the cordless model you choose has a big enough runtime to suit your needs.
Cordless models are suitable for all floor types and most have different heads for different surfaces or adjustable heads you can change easily as you vacuum.
Robot vacuum cleaners
New innovations and technology mean these clever little machines have come a long way since their original inception.
Often used in conjunction with an app, most are programable so you can set a schedule and let your vacuum cleaner do all the hard work for you.
Many are designed to get close to edges and will have options for extra edge and spot cleaning.
If you have a robot vacuum, it's not a problem to vacuum every day – after all, it doesn’t require any effort. This means that dust and dirt are kept under control, and you shouldn’t see the build-up that you might get if you vacuum less often but with a more powerful machine.
Robot vacuums do have very small dust collection bins though, and you can’t use them for upholstery, pet bedding or stairs. If you live in a house, you’re going to need another machine, perhaps a handheld vacuum cleaner, to tackle those things. But a robot vacuum can be really useful to keep your home clean on a day-to-day basis.
A lightweight robot vacuum cleaner could also potentially be a great choice if you have issues with mobility. There are no switches or buttons to operate and a robot vacuum even returns automatically to its base to recharge.
Bagged or bagless?
Bagless vacuum cleaners mean running costs are lower because you don’t need to buy replacement dust bags. It’s also easier to know when your vacuum needs emptying and it’s (oddly) quite satisfying to see if your vacuum is actually doing what it should.
Bagless vacuums also tick the environmentally-friendly box because there’s no bag to throw away. However, being green doesn’t always equal being clean as emptying the vacuum can be a messy business.
It may be a case of simply pulling a lever or pressing a button while holding the container over the bin, but more often than not there will be dust and dirt released into the air – not pleasant for anyone, but particularly unhelpful if you have allergies.
There’s also inevitably debris left in the container, which you have to remove somehow and usually involves a fair bit of poking around.
Some bagless vacuums have developed bins that are easier to empty produce less mess. These usually have a ‘slide’ mechanism that pushes the accumulated dirt out. So if dust is an issue for you, do make sure to look into how the bin is emptied.
Bagged vacuums are much less messy when emptying as you remove the bag, close the top (some are even self-sealing) and throw the bag away. While it’s often harder to know when the bag needs emptying, some bagged vacuum cleaners do have an indicator.
There are environmental factors to consider too and you’ll need to keep paying out for new bags. But if you have an allergy, bagged vacuums do offer a cleaner way to get rid of dirt and debris.
What else should I consider when buying a vacuum cleaner?
If you have pets, then it’s important to buy a model that’s effective on pet hair. Look out for those models that have specialised brushes and heads.
If you have allergies, then filters are going to be a priority. HEPA filters remove more dust and pollen than other filters and have to undergo rigorous testing.
If you have severe allergies, then you should definitely consider a bagged vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Really consider what you'll use your vacuum for and what tools you’ll need. Do you have lots of nooks, high ceilings, awkward corners? Do you want to be able to vacuum your blinds, your skirting boards, under your furniture? Will you use your vacuum for your car?
Some of the more common tools are:
- Crevice tool – for getting into tight spots. Use on skirting boards, around window sills, in between sofa cushions and between kitchen appliances
- Upholstery tool – usually has a wide edge and will often have a lint strip to attract fibres and dust. Use for sofa cushions, loose cushions and curtains
- Dusting brush – the soft bristles make this ideal for blinds, window sills, picture frames, curtain rails, lamp and light shades, and light fittings
- Motorised brush head – rotating bristles lift dirt, debris and hair from carpet fibres
- Turbo head – a more compact version of the motorised brush head and great to use on stairs, upholstery, pet bedding and in the car
- Mattress attachment – to remove dirt and allergens from mattresses and upholstery
How much storage space will you have to store the vacuum cleaner when not in use, and where can it be charged without getting in the way?
How much do vacuum cleaners cost?
Vacuum cleaners range in price from around £300 right up to £700 and beyond. But, as we found out in testing, the most expensive vacuum cleaner with the most fancy features won't necessarily be the best.
When contemplating price, consider exactly what you need a vacuum for and how much you’re willing to spend.
There are a whole host of high-performing vacuum cleaners out there to suit all budgets – and you won’t have to compromise on performance in order to bag a bargain.
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