Vacuum Cleaner Explained: How to Choose the Best Machine for You

A vacuum cleaner is one of the most versatile tools at your disposal in the cleaning game. It can be used for pet hair removal and removing cobwebs. It’s the best choice for pickup of any type of dry goods. And it’s an excellent means of trapping and locking down dust. But how do you know what kind of vacuum cleaner is best?

Types of Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum cleaners come in literally hundreds of different shapes and sizes. Types include uprights, canisters, central vacuums, handheld, stick vacuums, robotic, and electric floor sweepers. Varieties of these are available in models that are either bagless, in which the captured dirt is stored in a collection chamber, or bagged, which uses a paper or cloth bag to contain debris.

Upright Vacuum Cleaners

Upright vacuum cleaners are self-contained, best suited for cleaning large areas of carpeting, and not always ideal on bare floors. Most uprights these days have onboard attachments for cleaning furniture, stairs, etc. Uprights tend to be the heaviest type of vacuum cleaner, loudest, and least versatile.

Canister Vacuum Cleaners

Canister vacuums are more versatile than uprights. They have a main unit on wheels that you pull around by a hose that attaches to the various cleaning tools. Canisters are great for areas with a mix of bare floors and carpets or area rugs, and also handle carpeted stairs better than uprights. If you have pets that leave hair on furniture, a canister may be your best bet. Canisters tend to be quieter and more lightweight than uprights.

Central Vacuums

Central vacuums have a stationary central unit located somewhere in the home, often in the basement, which connects to all the rooms via tubes in the walls. The user plugs a hose into receptacles (inlets) located throughout the home and changes attachments as needed. With a central vacuum, there’s nothing to move around other than the hose, but the downside is that the hose is usually kind of long and can be cumbersome to move around. The user has to be careful to make sure the hose doesn’t rub against walls or furniture, which can cause damage. Central vacuum units are one of the best options for anyone with dust allergies because the dirt is channeled away to an area that’s remote from your living space.

Robot Vacuum Cleaners

Robot vacuum cleaners are cute little gizmos that do the work for you. The unit parks on a dock somewhere in your living space, and the user only needs to program the machine as to when to do its job and then empty the dust bin periodically. Sensors help the unit navigate so it doesn’t run into everything in its path. It can be operated remotely, it can recharge itself, and it learns. Cons: You will pay for the convenience; models with great reviews aren’t cheap. Also, the collection chambers are small, so they need to be emptied frequently.

Small Vacuums

Stick vacuums, floor sweepers, and hand-held vacuums are smaller, lightweight versions of upright or canister vacuums. Some of the newest models have been designed for use throughout the house on carpet, rugs, and floors. Some stick vacuums convert into handheld vacuums. These vacuums are either corded or rechargeable and are handy to have for quick jobs, floors, stairs, and furniture, and are easier to use than larger, heavier machines.

Bagged Versus Bagless

Most of the stick vacuums and smaller machines are usually bagless, as are robotic vacuums. Other types vary by make and model as to the availability of bagged versus bagless as an option.

There are three primary disadvantages to using bagless vacuums, in my experience. One: they have filters which need to be kept clean or the unit loses suction. Two: emptying the collection chamber is messy because dust tends to fly around rather than just falling neatly into the trash, and if you happen to set the chamber down somewhere on your way back to re-inserting it into the vacuum it’ll leave a ring of dust that you have to then clean up. Disadvantage number three: the user has to reach into the collection chamber with their hand to get all the debris out, especially any kind of pet hair.

The obvious advantage to bagless vacuum cleaners is that you never need to buy bags, which is better on the wallet and better for Mother Earth. So hopefully in time their design will be improved upon.

What Type Do You Need?

So what type of vacuum cleaner is best for you?

An upright vacuum cleaner would be fine if you have mostly carpeted floors. Upright vacuum cleaners tend to be hit-or-miss on bare floors; some models pick up dirt well while others blow dirt around more than they pick it up. If you have back problems, a traditional upright might be too heavy for you to use comfortably.

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For Pets

If you have pets, a mix of carpets and bare floors, or lots of stairs, a canister vacuum would probably be your best bet.

Bare Floors

For mainly bare floors with only area rugs or small areas of carpeting, you might be able to get by with a good stick vacuum that has a rotating brush for carpets. This wouldn’t be a good choice if you have a lot of dirt, because the collection chamber on these units tends to be small.

Dust Removal

Central vacuum systems are probably about the best vacuum for removing dust from the air. Central vacuums are pricey and have to be installed, which involves running tubes from the main unit to the inlets in various rooms in your home. If you’re having a new home built, you might consider installing a central vacuum system.

Be sure the vacuum cleaner you choose can get into all the areas where dust settles, including under beds and behind furniture. Many uprights will not lie flat enough and are not versatile enough to do this. You’d be amazed how much dust can accumulate under furniture if you never clean there.

Dust Allergies and Vacuum Cleaners

Another consideration when it comes to vacuum cleaners is whether you or anyone in your home has dust allergies. If so, a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters and/or that uses cloth bags might be your best option.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent vacuum. Somewhere between $200 and $300 will get you a good machine that should last quite a few years. You can definitely spend more than that and get a machine with more features that would be nice to have, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

I recommend researching product reviews before buying a vacuum cleaner because there are hundreds of models available, and, in my experience, some are really, really bad. Most are fine. Some are not worth their high price tag. And a few are excellent products that will undoubtedly outlive us all.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

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