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Stick vacuum cleaners
The stick vacuum cleaner, also known as a cordless upright, has a long handle and slim build. The stick was once the kind of near-novelty vac that would be kept in a cupboard and brought out occasionally to go over the car interior to less than stellar effect.
However, battery life and suction power have improved substantially and if you have a bijou living space and are willing to pay for a high-quality model, it could be the only vacuum cleaner you need. Additionally, some stick vacs transform into cordless handhelds, which are extremely useful to have around the house.
However, if you have a large home, or a household that creates the need for regular and lengthy vacuuming, a stick may not be for you.
On the plus side, it’s ultra-light and will come with a variety of attachments, making it ideal for all kinds of cleaning jobs. It’s also a very good choice for hardwood floors.
As a trade-off, particularly on the lower end of the price range, this type of vacuum cleaner is the least powerful of all the full-size vacuum types. It will need to be charged for a long period between uses, and will probably only give you 15 minutes of useful cleaning time.
Robot vacuum cleaners
The pitch is killer: while you’re out, your little robot buddy will vacuum the floor so you return home to pristine carpets and shiny floors. But is that the reality?
Robot vacs are a good option for tidy-ish people who want to keep their homes in tip-top condition, as well as for allergy sufferers. A robot vac can suck up dust and pollen while you’re away, saving you from reactions while vacuuming and contributing to overall higher air quality.
Robot vacuum cleaners have come down in price recently, but they are still a relatively hefty purchase for most people. The models we’ve reviewed on the site and recommend have ranged in price from about £100 to £950. However, there is a big difference in functionality between the cheaper and more expensive models.
A top of the range robot vac will develop maps of your home that allow you to designate ‘keep-out’ zones and plan a cleaning schedule. It’ll return to its dock to charge and empty its dust container. It will have decent suction and the ability to get in corners. It may well offer a mopping function. It will also be connected, so you can monitor it from an app or your Alexa.
The more basic models will pootle around, getting up a certain amount of dust and fluff. They may not be able to handle carpets. They will probably fail if they are confronted with a puddle. Further functionality depends on price.
If you choose to invest in a robot vacuum cleaner, bear in mind that you’ll still need a regular vac. A robot vac can’t handle stairs. And it’ll be of precious little use to you if you spill half a bag of rice on the kitchen floor.
Because of their limited dust-collection space, robot vacs work best when maintaining a relatively clean environment. If you are the sort of person who lives in Scandi-style minimalism and will remember to empty your vac every couple of days, this could be good buy. If your household is chaotic, maybe not.
Pet owners are also advised to give it a bit of thought. Yes, we’ve all seen videos of cats adorably riding Roombas. But the trade-off is that if your pet has an accident, your vacuum cleaner could surprise you on your return home with a wall-to-wall abstract poop painting. And while the better models offer floor-mopping options, none can yet cope with the worst that your pet can do.
Robot vacuum cleaners aren’t silent either. They tend to range from 55-70 decibels. As normal conversation is estimated to be 60+ decibels, you can imagine it’s going to be difficult to sit down and have a quiet chat while a robot vac is running in the same room. (For reference, 60dB is about as loud as an electric toothbrush and 70dB is the same as a washing machine.) So, after the novelty of showing it off to your friends, you’ll definitely want it to run while you’re out.
In summary, it’s no substitute for a proper vac but if it fits your lifestyle, it’s very nice to have.
Ah, the classic, old-school vac. The upright is still the most popular type of vacuum cleaner: it’s the most powerful, as well as the easiest to use. Upright vacuum cleaners are good choices for homes with large areas of carpet where this vac’s suction power comes into its own. Uprights are often lighter than similarly powerful canister cleaners and are a great option for people who have problems stooping or bending.
On the minus side, they are not very manoeuvrable and are heavier than stick vacuum cleaners. Although most can be used on bare floors, they work best on carpets: there is a risk of scratching hardwood or laminate and the brush roll can scatter crumbs across boards. Uprights also tend to have fewer interfaces for different surfaces.
If you have acres of carpet, this is the vacuum cleaner for you.
Canister or cylinder cleaners are often the most versatile vacs. They tend to come with the most attachments, including a crevice tool, a dusting brush, upholstery tool, mattress attachment and a power brush. Some even come with a pet groomer – although, given most pets’ scepticism of vacuum cleaners, that’s likely to be of limited use. A canister cleaner is a better bet than an upright if you have hardwood floors.
The disadvantage is that they’re a bit annoying to manoeuvre, with the canister dragging along behind you like a recalcitrant dog on a wet day. They are also cumbersome to lift up stairs once you get beyond the reach of the hose.
Nonetheless, if you have a reasonably-sized space to vacuum, a canister is probably the best all-rounder, especially if you don’t want to spend too much on your vac.
Cordless handheld vacuum cleaners
As with a robot vacuum cleaner, this is probably not going to be the only vacuum cleaner you own. They will only run for 20 minutes at best before needing a charge. At the lower end of the price range, you’ll only get 10 minutes’ cleaning time and many will suffer suction loss as the battery life fades.
It’s a vac to be used for a particular job, like giving the sofa a good going-over or clearing up a dry cereal spill. But they’re small, light, portable and easy to store. If you have young kids, pets or hobbies that regularly cause a mess, you might want to invest in one of these.
Bag or bagless?
Bagless vacuum cleaners have several points in their favour: you’ll save money on replacement bags, time on fitting them and you’ll avoid buying more things just to throw them away, which is an environmental plus.
However, if you or anyone in your household has dust allergies or sensitivities, a bagged vacuum cleaner may be the way to go, as bag disposal minimises dust exposure. Ensure that you also get a vac with a HEPA filter – which is a double filter that traps tiny particles.
Corded or cordless?
Cordless cleaners are lighter, so they have the advantage of manoeuvrability. It’s easy to nip out to the car, do the stairs, around windows or in corners. Cordless stick vacuums often transform into handheld vacs, which are useful for spot cleaning and spills.
However, cordless cleaners rely on their battery power for suction, so some vacs can start to lose suction as the battery runs down. They can only be used for a limited time (from 10-20 minutes) and will need to be recharged regularly – some for up to 16 hours. They also lose points for their low dust storage capacity (usually only 2-3 litres), which means they’ll need to be emptied and unclogged regularly.
Corded cleaners are generally better for larger homes, where battery life could be a concern. They are likely to keep up their suction over a longer time period. They’re also a good option for people who might not remember to keep their cleaner charged.
The question whether or not to go cordless depends on budget and space. If you have a smaller home, it may be a good call. If you have a smaller place and a larger budget, then definitely go for it. Our advice would be to look for one with a lithium ion battery. It will be more expensive but will help the device retain its suction power, saving you from future frustrating cleaning experiences.
Have a look at our round-up of the best deals on vacuum cleaners available now.