Buying a vacuum seems like a straightforward purchase, but there’s a lot to consider when investing in the household appliance. There are different floor types, your level of dust tolerance, and the vacuum’s configuration and filtration system, for starters.
To offer some shopping guidance, Good Housekeeping Institute’s Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Director Carolyn Forte outlines the most important questions to ask yourself before buying your next vacuum—and discusses why our cleaning lab recommends GH Seal star Miele for this household essential.
What configuration is best for your space?
Vacuums generally come in five different configurations—upright, canister, stick, robotic, and handheld—and each type has its pros and cons.
- Upright: This is your standard vacuum style. Forte recommends an upright if you have wall-to-wall carpeting. “They can be heavy, but they do the best job for deep-cleaning carpet,” she says, noting that it’s easier to store than a canister. Today’s models come with a hose and numerous tool attachments for cleaning crevices, upholstery, and other specialty areas.
- Canister: These vacuums have a canister with a hose and wand. They are bulkier than upright, but better for hard floors, stairs, and reaching under furniture. “Personally, I like a canister,” says Forte, adding that this type is best if you have a combination of bare floors and carpeting. Yes, upright vacuums have hoses and attachments, too, but I find that the canister is easier to maneuver.” They’re also great, she says, if you use your vacuum to clean areas other than floors, like door moldings, tops of bookcases, or the drapes.
- Robot: A set-it-and-forget style, robot vacuums are ideal for those who hate to vacuum. “You can be out of the house, or doing something else while it runs,” says Forte. They are great for maintenance cleaning, but be aware that they aren’t well-suited for deep cleaning.
“If you have a lot of deep carpets, a robot isn’t really going to help you out,” she says. “It’s better for bare floors and picking up surface debris.” Both of Miele’s options can be controlled by an app, and the higher end model is even equipped with a live image feed, so you can watch your robot work its magic from wherever—if that’s your thing.
- Stick: For “in-between cleanings,” like sweeping up the kitchen floor after dinner, Forte recommends lightweight stick vacuums, sometimes called pole vacuums. But she notes that newer models, like Miele’s forthcoming model, are far superior at cleaning than older stick vacs. “People really like the idea of pushing something light around, [and] technology, battery life, and motor performance has all gotten better on these,” she says. “They’re almost mimicking the performance of an upright.”
- Handheld: These mini models are great for quick surface cleans, to zip up pet hair, or to clean up the car. Miele’s new stick vacuum includes a handheld function, too.
Bagged or bagless?
According to Forte, whether you want a vacuum with or without a bag is the number one consideration you have to make when buying a new machine.
Bagless models are convenient because you don’t have to buy bags, but you do have to regularly empty the canister and perform maintenance on them. “If the cup gets filled up or the filters aren’t clean, you’re not going to get good performance,” she says. “While people like the idea of seeing how much dirt they’re picking up, they are a bit of a maintenance issue.”
A bagged model, on the other hand, is “a much cleaner system because you’re not interacting with the dirt,” says Forte. She unequivocally recommends a bagged model if you or someone in your family has allergies.
Is the vacuum sealed?
Believe it or not, not all vacuums are sealed at their various connection points. Dust can escape from crevices and openings around the body of the vacuum, be it a bag or canister. The bottom line, says Forte, is to keep that dust in the vacuum. “You don’t want it blowing back out onto the furniture and floors and in the air,” she says. “If you’re going to vacuum, you might as well do it right the first time.”
In Good Housekeeping’s tests, Miele vacuums are consistently ranked the best at picking up all of the dirt and debris and keeping it in the vacuum. “They keep the dirt inside the vacuum, which is where it belongs,” says Forte.
Does the vacuum have a HEPA filter?
Forte recommends buying a vacuum that uses a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which most Miele models do. “HEPA filters trap the tiniest, most microscopic particles,” says Forte. “It’s the best filtration system you can have on a vacuum, and ensures that your home is the cleanest it can be.”
Do you have pets?
“Pet hair is the most stubborn thing,” says Forte. “It gets stuck on everything.” Many vacuums come with special attachments with rubber bristles that remove pet hair by breaking the bonds of static that make it stick to upholstery and drapes.
How much maintenance does the model require?
Every vacuum requires some basic maintenance. As mentioned above, bagless models typically require slightly more tinkering than bagged models because you have to clean the cup in addition to emptying it, whereas you can just throw a bag in the trash.
“If you don’t empty the cup after every couple of uses or clean the filter or change the bag, you’re going to compromise the suction,” says Forte. “That’s how air passes through, and stuff gets picked up.” You also want to make sure the brush roll is clean and free of hair; if it’s tangled and clogged, it’s not going to work.
Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how often the filter should be cleaned or changed; for HEPA filters, that’s typically every six months to a year.
How much are you willing to pay?
If you’re going to buy one vacuum for your entire house, Forte recommends buying the most expensive vacuum you can afford. With cheaper models, after a few years, the plastic can break, the parts don’t fit together well, and the dust spews back out. “In vacuums, you get what you pay for,” she says.
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