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Buying Guide: What is the Best Vacuum Cleaner to Buy?

A quality vacuum cleaner should be versatile enough to clean a variety of surfaces and durable enough to perform well for many years.

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With so many different choices and price points, how do you know which vacuum cleaner to buy? Whether canister or upright, bagged or bagless, the best models have features that work together to maximize airflow and agitation. We'll help you narrow your search with great advice from an expert who has 40 years of vacuum savvy.

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Bags vs. Bagless

Bags vs. Bagless

If allergies are a concern, buy a bagged vacuum cleaner or a top-of-the-line bagless. Bagged vacuums require less maintenance and tend to be cleaner to run because the bags themselves act as a very efficient filter (especially high-quality synthetic anti-allergen, or ‘True HEPA’ bags). They are also cleaner to empty because there’s no contact with loose dust.

Cheap bagless vacuums leak, clog and require unclogging and maintenance more often. And bagless filters tend to clog quicker, so performance diminishes over time. Although you don’t have to buy bags, they still use filters (buy a model with True HEPA filters), which need to be periodically cleaned or replaced. And replacement filters tend to be significantly more expensive than bags.

The best cost $400 to $600

At this price point, the vacuum will have a tightly sealed system outfitted with rubber gaskets to keep dirty air from leaking back into your house. It will also include a long warranty (often five to seven years if you buy it from an authorized dealer). Most will also have features like wheels that pivot 360 degrees, a long cord, washable filters, HEPA filters and cloth bags.

Spending more than $400 to $600 will buy convenience features but won’t improve a machine’s cleaning ability. If you spend less, you’ll probably end up with more repair bills and a shorter life span.

Upright vs. canister-Which is best?

Mostly carpeting?

Choose a bagged, upright model for the best performance on carpet. The best uprights are heavier than canisters (they average about 17 lbs. and canisters about 10 lbs.). Even if you plan to buy an upright online, go to a store first to push, pull and lift it to make sure you can maneuver it comfortably.

Mostly bare floors, drapes and upholstery?

Canister vacuums work well for these items, and they’re also easier to handle on stairs. Most canisters are quieter and lighter than uprights because you’re mostly moving the hose and power head (a rotating brush), not the entire machine. While canisters tend to be more flexible than an upright, they’re bulky, and the hose and wand can make them harder to store.

Choose a vacuum style geared toward your primary cleaning task.

Avoid flat rubber drive belts

Avoid flat rubber drive belts

The drive belt connects the brush roller to a spinning motor shaft. A geared belt has interlocking teeth on the roller and motor shaft, and a serpentine belt has grooves in its surface. Unlike flat rubber belts, geared and serpentine belts last five to 10 years and won’t lose tension, so the roller is always spinning at maximum rpm.

Look for a chevron roller bristle pattern

Look for a chevron roller bristle pattern

The brush roller pulls debris from between the carpet fibers so that it can get sucked up by the suction head. Adjustable rollers can be raised or shut off on bare floors to protect the finish and avoid scattering debris. Check the roller’s bristle pattern. A chevron bristle pattern (shown here) pushes debris toward the suction head better than any other roller bristle configuration.