Saturday , October 24th 2020

Choosing A Vacuum

Let’s face it; vacuuming is an endless chore. New dust and dirt starts collecting as soon as you finish a section. And it takes a lot of time. I like having clean floors, but pushing a vacuum isn’t my favorite thing to do.  A bit of research when choosing a vacuum can make your task easier.

The right vacuum can make the task easier. It’ll never be fun, but I’ll settle for making it the easiest that it can be. There are hundreds of models available, all shouting their virtues. This one swivels, that one is industrial strength, and the one on TV lifts a bowling ball. Which one is right for you?

Some types are better in different situations. Let’s look at the main styles:

Vacuums fall into four general styles:

  • Canister Vacuum Cleaners
  • Upright Vacuum Cleaners
  • Stick Vacuum Cleaners
  • Handheld Vacuum Cleaners
typical canister vacuum cleaner

A typical canister vacuum with carpet attachment

Canister Vacuum Cleaners

The canister is, as the name says, a large can mounted on wheels. The canister holds the motor and bag, and a hose can fit an assortment of attachments. There are specialized attachments for furniture, bare floors, carpets (usually motorized), crevices, dusting, and more. The benefit of a canister is that the bulk of its weight is in the canister that doesn’t need pushing and pulling as much as the hose and attachments. Their main disadvantage is their size and weight.

upright vacuum

Upright vacuums are all-in-one units

Upright Vacuum Cleaners

The first early vacuums were mostly uprights, but they gave way to canisters early on. Then uprights returned to popularity when pile carpets gained popularity. Today, uprights are most popular throughout North America.

Upright vacuums have a head that runs over the floor, and the motor and bag attached to a stick frame with a handle at the top.

Uprights are generally best for carpets, although some models do very well on bare floors too. As with canisters, some have many types of attachments and add-ons to extend their functionality.

stick vacuum

Stick vacuums, like this popular Dyson model, are easy to use

Stick Vacuum Cleaners

Years ago, stick vacuums were called electric brooms. They were lightweight, perfect for quick pickups on bare floors, barely adequate for thin rugs, and just about useless for plush carpets.

That has changed some as new motors, and smaller motors have allowed more power packed into a smaller unit. They look like skinny uprights. Sticks are still generally lightweight and lite suction although there are some premium models available that can rival an upright.

handheld vacuum

Handheld vacuums are great for small pick ups, not so great for large areas.


Handheld Vacuum Cleaners

As their name implies, handheld vacuum cleaners are designed to hold in your hand. They’re ideal for quick pick-ups, stairs, and in a car or camper, but not adequate for large areas or carpets.

Shopping Points

Vacuum manufacturers throw around all sorts of technical sounding terms. Some are important, some not so much so. Here’s what to look for:

Suction Power

Suction is a primary part of what makes a vacuum work, but it’s not the entire answer. Go to a home show, and there’s a good chance that one of the premium vacuum cleaner companies will have a display of their unit lifting a bowling ball. It’s an impressive display, but how often do you think you’ll be picking up a bowling ball.

Most of the better canister and upright vacuums have adequate suction, and in fact, the suction needs restricting on many types of carpet. Just as important as suction for carpets is the suction spread, whether it cleans all the way to the edges and the beater brush system. The best carpet cleaning vacuums gently “beat” the carpet with rotating bars and brushes, which loosens the dirt and lets the suction pick it up.


How much electricity (watts) a vacuum motor uses used to be a general indicator of its power, but not so much anymore. There are a lot of other variables. A powerful motor hooked up to an undersized fan and bag system will be no better, and probably heavier and noisier, than a properly sized motor attached to an efficient vacuum system. Think of a VW Bug with a V-8 engine!

Bagless or With Bags

It’s your choice on this. Bags are an extra cost, but they hold a lot, and it’s much easier to change a bag than to empty a bin. And bagless vacuums are sometimes messy.

HEPA Filters

This is a great invention. A HEPA filter is usually a secondary filter, after the main bag or bin, that filters out most of the leftover really fine particles of dust. Less dust will go back into the air, which means less dusting and easier breathing.

Cord Length and Storage

This is self-explanatory. A longer cord means less stopping to find a new plug. Better vacuums will have easy storage for the cord, usually on the handle for uprights and sticks, or with a retractor (self-roll-up) for canisters.

Weight and Maneuverability

The trade-off for power is often weight and maneuverability. Consider the layout of your home and your physical abilities. Do you need to lug your vac up and down stairs?

Fortunately, technology has allowed some of the newer vacuums to feature both light weight for easy use and high power in the same unit.

Dustbin or Bag Capacity

More capacity = empty less often. And it depends on what you’re picking up. Got a youngster that spills Cheerios or a pet that scatters food, get a vacuum with a bin that can handle it. Bags usually have a much larger capacity.


Most warranties cover defects in manufacturing and the longer, the better.


There are numerous attachments made for cleaning different surfaces. Make sure that you’re getting what you need.


I left this one for last, and the choice is up to you. There are good vacuums available at a wide range of prices. Find a unit that meets your needs first, then look at what added $ brings.

Choosing A Vacuum

Now comes the final part, choosing a vacuum that fit’s your needs.  Here are my choice parameters:

  • If you have carpets, you’ll need a powerhead.  Suction, even powerful suction, can’t pull dirt through carpet pile. Uprights have powerheads built in, many canisters have powerhead attachments, and some sticks have a powerhead.
  • Bags are an additional cost but not much.  Bagless models need frequent cleaning, and it’s not always as easy as opening and dumping the bin.  Sticky or wet items like Cheerios that splashed out of the bowl, bugs, or kitty litter require thorough cleaning and wiping.
  • Choose the lightest model that will do the job, especially if you have stairs (unless you’re a weightlifter).
  • Listen to it run.  Some are very noisy.
  • Get a model with a HEPA filter.  It will save hours of dusting.
  • Choosing a vacuum has long-term implications.  Don’t skimp on a few bucks.  Get a good one.