What makes the best vacuum cleaner?
Whether you’re jumping into your first vacuum purchase or looking to upgrade to a shiny new machine, you’ll want to have the best knowledge possible on hand. This buying guide will explain which type of vacuum would suit you most, how much you can expect to pay for one, and which features are worth looking out for.
Introduction: what should I know?
While there are many types of vacuum cleaners available, some of them may simply not be suitable for your situation. The factors most likely to influence your purchasing decision are the size of your home and the type of flooring you have. If you have allergies or pets who shed, you will want a powerful Upright or Barrel vacuum. Decisions about the type of filter you choose, and whether you opt for a model with a bag or a bin mostly come down to personal preference.
Here are the basics on vacuums, more detailed information can be found after the table:
|Type||Main Features||Best For||Average Prices|
|Barrel||Interchangeable heads for any surface. Easy to get under furniture and into crevices. Bulkiness is their main drawback.||3+ bedrooms, any carpet type, pets, multi-storey homes||$350-$500|
|Upright||Most powerful vacuum type - best for a thorough clean of any carpet or rug. Their rigid form allows mobility in spite of their weight - although stairs can pose a problem.||3+ bedrooms, any carpet type, pets, tough cleaning jobs||$400-$500|
|Stick||Lightweight, cordless, and easy to store! However, limited power means they’re best for low-pile carpets or hard floors only.||1-2 bedrooms, low-pile carpet, spot cleaning, secondary vacuum, limited storage space||$200-$350|
|Handheld||Handy to store in your kitchen or garage for small, unexpected spills, or getting dirt out of your car.||Spot cleaning, car cleaning, secondary vacuum||$150-$200|
|Robot||Automated, can extend the time between more thorough vacuums. Struggles with thick carpet.||Use in conjunction with regular vacuuming, hard flooring, surface debris||$700+|
Barrel vacuums are the most popular type on the market, and with our reviewers. Their versatility and flexibility make them an excellent choice for large households.
A basic Barrel or Canister vacuum can cost around $200, with better performing models typically going for between $350 and $500. A high-end machine can cost from $800 up to $1200.
- A long, flexible hose, and a variety of attachments make these vacuums ideal for getting into nooks & crannies, and underneath furniture.
- These units are easier to lift than upright vacuums; making them a great option for households with lots of stairs.
- Barrel vacuums typically have the largest capacities, which means less trips to unload bags or bins.
- The flexible connection between the hose and main unit can make them hard to maneuver. However, some vacuums showcase wheel and body designs intended to minimise these issues (such as the Dyson DC54).
- Reviewers have reported that the bendable hose makes barrel vacuums more prone with blockage than other vacuums.
- Our users also stated that performance with multi-floor heads can be lackluster, especially when compared to the power of an Upright vacuum on carpets.
Power & Turbo Heads
Power and Turbo heads are the two types of heads that are typically available with Barrel vacuums. While both are designed to give your carpet a deep clean, the key difference is that a Power head has its own motor, making it stronger than the Turbo head which relies on the airflow of the vacuum to spin the brush.
Upright vacuums offer an all-in-one design that is easy to maneuver and control on floors. If you have multiple living areas and bedrooms with carpet, and you want to ensure you’re giving them a comprehensive clean, then an Upright vacuum is the type you should be looking at.
Upright vacuums typically start at around $200, with better brand-name models costing $400-$500. A top-of-the-line Upright vacuum can retail for between $700 and $900.
- Better suction performance than any other vacuums, making them the best vacuum for an absolute deep carpet clean.
- Upright vacuums have wide cleaning heads reducing the amount of passes needed to cover the floor - a real timesaver.
- Many upright vacuums have a foot lever that can be pressed to easily transition the head between low or high-pile carpet settings, or onto hard floors.
- The rigid build means this vacuum can be operated while standing - suitable for those with back problems or for elderly users with limited mobility.
- While they are easier to steer, upright vacuums can be cumbersome and heavy to lift. This makes it hard to use in more restricted spaces, especially staircases.
- Upright vacuums can actually be too powerful! Many reviewers have reported that too much suction power on some models make them hard to push on high-pile carpets.
- The attachments included with upright vacuums generally aren’t as good as those of barrel vacuums. Reviewers have criticised the and the inefficient attachment storage placement.
A form factor gaining popularity, stick vacuums can be a compact option for apartments, or as a secondary vacuum in larger households. Many current stick vacuums easily convert into a handheld unit, making them ideal for cleaning curtains or shelves.
Entry level Stick vacuums can start from $180, although many models are available for around $300, with very elite Sticks costing up to $900.
- Internal, rechargeable batteries make stick vacuums extremely portable. Their charging station doubles as a dock and some can be wall-mounted.
- They are perfect for anyone concerned about lugging a heavy machine around the house.
- Their bins and filters are easy to access and clean.
- Manufacturers are putting a lot of research & development into this category, so you can only expect these machines to keep improving over the next few years.
- The suction of stick vacuums will decrease as the battery depletes, and even on maximum power they are considered to be too weak for high-pile carpets.
- Most batteries only last around 20-30 minutes on a full charge, which can take up to 4 hours to reach.
- They usually have less comprehensive filters than Upright or Barrel vacuums.
- They come supplied with few (if any) extra accessories or alternate cleaning heads.
Many Stick vacuums, such as the popular Dyson V6 or Electrolux Ergorapido, are able to be converted to a Handheld type. Handheld vacuums share many of the attributes of Sticks, and are great for storing in the cupboard for unexpected spills, or for cleaning your car interior without the need for an extension cord. While very cheap Handheld vacuums can be found for under $100, most will cost $150 or $200, with the market maxing out at $400.
The joy and convenience of having a robot clean your home while you’re out can now be a reality! While you won’t quite be living like the Jetsons, robot vacuums are quickly escaping their image as a mere novelty, now becoming a legitimate cleaning accessory for your house.
Although a very basic Robot vacuum can be had for as low as $200, most models will cost between $700 and $1000, or even more.
- Convenience is their main selling point - they can be scheduled to run automatically without the user being present.
- Newer models are equipped with an array of sensors to detect dirt and hair, as well as hazards such as stairs, or cables they might get stuck on.
- This category is becoming a playground for innovation amongst manufacturers, and the diversity and capabilities of these products improves every year.
- Even the best robot vacuum cannot fully replace the need for regular cleaning with an Upright or Barrel vacuum. They can, however, extend the amount of time between more thorough cleans by keeping surface mess in check.
- Robot vacuums aren’t well suited to cleaning medium or high pile carpet - and shag rugs are out of the question! Hard floors work best with robot vacuums.
- They have much smaller canisters than full-size vacuums and should be emptied after each run they make - especially if your household has pets.
Now that you’ve got all the information you need to decide on a vacuum, we can take a look at some of the features and accessories that are available with your purchase. These include:
Adjustable Head Height
If you have carpets or rugs of different heights, as well as areas of hard flooring, you’ll want a height-adjustable head to cater for all your surfaces.
Be aware that some vacuums may have a warranty that only covers the motor, while others may have differing warranty periods between the motor and other parts of the machine.
Incredibly handy, they are clip-on heads designed to reach into crevices, or clean softer surfaces like couches.
Some vacuums offer soft rubber bumpers or wheels to limit scuffing walls and furniture.
A good Barrel vacuum should allow you to change the length of the wand to suit individual users, or just to give you a bit of extra reach.
Retractable Power Cord
A standard feature in most Barrel vacuums, this feature makes storing your unit a breeze. Be aware that the majority of Upright vacuums do not have a retractable cord.
Full Bag Indicator
An essential feature in a Bagged Upright or Barrel model, since suction decreases as the bag fills up.
If your brush head gets tangled up with string or cables, this feature can help get your machine running smoothly again without having to break out the scissors.
Small details like the placement of buttons, the shape of the handle, and the weight of the machine can be the difference between a good machine and a great one.
The more contained a unit can become for storage, the better, especially Barrel vacuums, where a clip for the wand or hose can stop them from falling all over inside your cupboard.
Being able to increase or reduce suction can allow you to clean loose curtains, or apply more power to a particularly dirty patch.
Bagged or bagless?
Choosing whether to go with a bagged unit or a bagless unit can be a tricky decision - especially with a lot of marketing hype for the latter. These days, with newer, efficient models on the market, the decision is by and large down to personal preference.
Bagged vacuums usually require proprietary bags, which can be difficult to find if you can’t buy them directly from the manufacturer (most supermarkets no longer stock vacuum bags). The benefit of finding them is that a bagged vacuum will typically have a higher capacity than that of a bin. The bags are also designed to be part of the filtration system, and are easy to remove without mess - which make them a good choice for users sensitive to allergens.
However, bagged vacuums will have a significantly higher running cost in comparison to bagless vacuums, as bags can be an expensive consumable. Additionally, as the bag fills up, bagged vacuums will lose suction, and reduce the effectiveness of Turbo heads.
Currently the more popular of the two types, bagless vacuums are appealing due to their clean design. Reviewers have commented that the transparent bins on bagless vacuums are incredibly handy for finding small objects accidentally sucked up by the unit, such as coins or rings. The lack of consumable vacuum bags mean that it’s more convenient - no need to worry about running out of bags; and operating costs are much lower, too.
Bagless vacuums do have their drawbacks, though. Maintenance is more tedious with bagless vacuums, as the filter will need to be cleaned on a more frequent basis. Unfilling the bin can also be a mess, as a lack of a sealed bag means that the process can release more dust and allergens back into the air than bagged vacuums (although unfilling outside mostly mitigates this).
For a filter to meet the HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) standard, it is required to filter out 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns or larger. For comparison, a standard vacuum micro filter can remove around 96% of these particles. Vacuums with HEPA filters usually cost more upfront, and the filter will need to be replaced or, if possible, properly washed at least every 12 months. It should be noted that a denser, more comprehensive filter will require a more powerful motor to generate the desired amount of suction.
HEPA filters are usually recommended for any persons with asthma or low allergen tolerance, as they can filter out triggering particles like pollen. However, a HEPA filter should not be treated as a “silver bullet” solution to dust and allergen control. Despite having a HEPA filter, if a vacuum cleaner is inadequately sealed, not all air will be drawn through the filter, which may result in unprocessed air leaking from the machine.
There is also a chance for collected dust to be released back into the air when emptying your vacuum’s bin or bag, although this can be avoided by disposing of waste outdoors. Last, but not least, the regularity and thoroughness of your cleaning schedule also plays a big role in allergen control, and it is important to clean curtains and furniture as well as the floors.
Researching a vacuum cleaner goes beyond deciding on a type or feature set. Before making your purchase, take a moment to browse our vacuum cleaner reviews and read genuine opinions from other Australians on what they love (or hate) about their own vacuums.
Most reviews discuss key features such as suction power, maneuverability, and value; with many also discussing finer details such as build quality, accessible buttons, ease of use, and more - all of which can contribute to making your own purchasing decision.