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Which? guide to buying a vacuum cleaner


If you’re after a new vacuum cleaner, you might be surprised by just how much choice you have.

It’s important to get a vacuum cleaner that is suited to both you and your home, whether you’re a pet owner, have large carpeted areas, need to clean lots of stairs, or suffer from allergies.

This guide will take you through the choices available and explain why they matter. We’ll also show you some handy quick checks you can do in the shop. If you want more detailed advice, head to the Which? vacuum cleaner buying guide.

Once you’ve found a vac that suits you, you’ll also need to make sure it’s not one of the vacs we’ve seen that skips over dust and chokes on pet hair. That’s where our testing comes in. Before you buy, make sure you check out our full vacuum cleaner reviews.

Do I need an upright or a cylinder?

There are two main types of vacuum cleaner: uprights and cylinders.

Upright vacuums are often heavier, can hold more dust, and typically have a shorter reach than cylinders, so you might end up swapping plug sockets more often.

Uprights also have a motorised brush bar, or electrobrush, in the floor head (the bit that makes contact with the floor, through which the dust is sucked up). This works well to pick up hair, which is particularly important for pet owners.

Pros:

  • Tend to be good at picking up pet hair
  • Easier to store than cylinders (no tube to wrap around the vac)
  • Quick at covering large areas of floor
  • Often have larger capacities than cylinders

Cons:

  • Can be noisy
  • Heavier than cylinder vacs
  • More difficult to use on stairs

Cylinder vacuums are lighter and more compact than uprights, but you might be surprised to find that they typically have larger motors, making them less energy efficient than uprights.

The design and weight of cylinders typically make them better suited to cleaning the stairs, getting into hard-to-reach places, and at picking up dust right next to the skirting board, reducing the need to use the attachments.

Cylinder vacs are sometimes supplied with full-size turbo brushes (different to mini turbo brushes, see below) to help clean carpets and pick up pet hair, which can add to the price.

But Which? tests show that these turbo brushes are not always as effective as the standard floor head, so always check our reviews before paying more for this feature.

Pros:

  • Lighter and more compact than upright vacuum cleaners
  • Better for tackling stairs, upholstery, under furniture and hard-to-reach areas
  • Usually quieter
.

Cons:

  • The hose section can be difficult to store tidily
  • Generally not as good at picking up pet hair
  • Can be more difficult to control and manoeuvre
  • Tend to have larger motors than uprights, making them less efficient

Bagged or bagless?

Once you’ve got an idea about upright and cylinder models, the next decision is to figure out if you want to go bagless or not.

Bagless vacs trap everything inside a canister that you then empty into a bin when it’s full. The problem is that tipping loose dust into a bin is often a messy job, which can be particularly irritating for those with acute dust allergies.

Bagless vacs also tend to have smaller capacities – the average upright will hold more than four litres of dust, while a bagless will hold around two and a half.

Bagged vacs are the traditional option and are a little more hygienic. All the dust is trapped inside a bag, which you then throw away.

Some vacuums, like those made by Miele, have self-sealing bags, so no dust should escape when it’s time to remove the bag from the vac.

However, the cost of replacing bags can be formidable, especially if they’re manufacturer branded bags.

Find out more about bagged and bagless vacs.

Extra tools

Once you’ve got a better idea about the types of vacuum cleaner available, it will be worth having a look at the tools that come with them. Some vacs have unique nozzles and attachments, but here are some of the most common and what they’re used for:

Furniture brushes have soft bristles and can be used to dust/clean any delicate furniture without scratching it. You can also use a furniture tool to clean computer keyboards.

Crevice tools are used for vacuuming in tight spaces and in corners.

Upholstery nozzles have a strip of velvety material to help remove dust and fluff from upholstery.

Combination tools can combine two or all three of the above nozzles into one tool.

Mini turbo tools are a bit more specialised, and are often supplied with vacs marketed towards pet owners, such as Miele’s ‘Cat & Dog’ vacuums or Dyson’s ‘Animal’ vacs.

Mini turbo tools attach to the hose and have a small rotating brush bar, which is powered by the air drawn into the vac. They are used to remove hair from places you can't use the main floor head, such as sofas or on upholstery.

Some vacs allow you to store tools on the vac, which is convenient, while others do not. If you don’t fancy a walk to the cupboard every time you change the attachment, look for a vac that allows you to keep the main tools on board.

What can I try out in the shop?

Here are a few quick checks you can do while you’re in the shop to find out if the vacuum you're considering is suitable for you:

Turn it on - this will give you a real impression of how noisy it is and how easy the vac is to use and manoeuvre. If you find the vac sticks to the floor and you cannot adjust the floor head or suction to help this, choose another vac.

Pick it up - vacs can weigh anywhere between 5kg and 11kg. So if you're going to be lugging a vac up and down the stairs, make sure you don't buy a model you struggle to lift.

Lay it flat - if you're going to be vacuuming under furniture, try to lay the vac flat. Some models just won’t get all the way down.

Check the bag/canister and filters - find out how easy it is to replace the bag or empty the canister. Then make sure you can get to the filters and remove them easily - they will need washing or replacing to keep your vacuum in working order.

How about going cordless?

Cordless vacuums are also known as stick vacuum cleaners, and are becoming more popular in the UK.

They run off a battery that will give you between 20 and 60 minutes of cleaning time, depending on the model. When you’re done, the vacuum will need to be put back on charge.

The advantage of cordless vacuums is that they’re often much lighter than normal vacs and have no cord to get in the way when you’re cleaning.

But they don’t have the attachments to help you get into corners or deal with surfaces other than the floor, such as upholstery.

You may not want to replace your normal vacuum with a cordless model, but having one on hand could be convenient for quick, on-the-spot cleaning.

How much should I pay?

We have reviewed vacuum cleaners priced from £45 to over £500. Our extensive testing shows that it’s worth paying at least £100 to get a good vacuum cleaner, though the exceptional vacs that earn our Best Buy recommendations start at around the £200 mark.

But just because a model has a high price doesn’t mean you’re getting a good vacuum cleaner. We’ve discovered plenty of terrible vacs priced at £200 or over, so to avoid making an expensive mistake, make sure you read our vacuum cleaner reviews.