Vacuums are one of those devices we simply cannot imagine our lives without. When you move out of your parents’ place, it is one of the first purchases you make, and when the vacuum you have quits working, you are in a hurry to replace it. Despite how much we rely on these machines, most of us don’t know a lot about them, which can be problematic when it comes to purchasing a new vacuum. To help you better understand this household tool and make you more confident in your next purchase, we have put together this definitive guide to vacuum cleaners.
A Brief History of the Vacuum Cleaner
While they are a constant for us, vacuum cleaners have not been in existence all that long. The first prototype of the vacuum was invented in the mid-1800s; this was referred to as a carpet sweeper and was really just a brush head whose brushes rotated as you pushed it along. This machine had no suction, but it was an appealing alternative to taking carpets outside and beating the dirt out of them every time they needed to be cleaned. This type of vacuum is still in use in many restaurants and other commercial spaces for light cleaning throughout the day.
In 1868, a vacuum with suction was invented, but it required the user to both push and turn a drank, which made it impossible for most people to manage. Finally, in 1876, Melville Reuben Bissell invented the first successful mechanical vacuum. It is this original model that all modern vacuum cleaners have sought to improve upon.
Is There One Perfect Vacuum?
Given the century and a half that has passed since the carpet sweeper was invented, you might think that there would be one perfect vacuum that everyone could purchase and be happy with. That isn’t the case. The vacuum that is best for you is dependent upon a wide variety of factors, from the weight you can handle to the types of floors in your home. The good news is that there are so many different types of vacuum cleaners with various features, the right one for you is out there. The bad news is that it can feel overwhelming to pick the right one. However, we are confident that the information below will help guide you in your choice.
Various Vacuum Cleaner Types
The first thing you need to know when purchasing a vacuum is what type of vacuum you are interested in. At the moment, there are six common type of vacuum cleaners on the market. Let’s take a look at what they are, their pros, and their cons.
Handheld vacuums are small vacuums that you can easily carry in your hand. They are designed with portability in mind, allowing you to vacuum everything from your stairs to your car. Due to their size, they are not meant to pick up larger messes and should be used for spot cleaning unless you want to empty the canister frequently. Most handheld vacuums are cordless and bagless for convenience.
- Easy to carry and store
- Can be used anywhere
- Allow you to clean small messes without a larger vacuum
- Cannot hold a lot of dirt
- You will need another vacuum as well
Canister vacuums are vacuums that have three key parts: a canister that sits low to the ground, a hose that connects to a wand, and then the brush and other attachments that are placed on the end of the wand. The canister is where the motor and filters are located, as well as the dust bin or bags for collecting the dirt.
Canister vacuums are known for being easy to maneuver over multiple surfaces and how easy they are to carry up and down stairs. Because they are all hose and wand, they are also easy to get underneath furniture and have a very long reach. Also, the design allows manufacturers to put in larger motors, which means they tend to have very powerful suction. However, since you essentially drag canister vacuums along, they can be difficult to move over plush carpeting.
- Easy to carry up and down stairs
- Long reach
- Powerful suction
- Wheels can struggle in plush carpeting
- Can be awkward to store as the hose and wand do not sit upright
With upright vacuums, the bags, motor, filters, and suction head are all in a single unit which you operate by pushing it back and forth in front of you. Most models will also have a hose on the side which you can place attachments on for more versatile cleaning. In the United States, this style of vacuum has long been the most common type sold in stores, and as such, it is easy to find a wide variety of upright vacuums no matter where you shop.
Because you must maneuver the entire unit when cleaning, upright vacuums can be more difficult to move around. Also, their ability to clean under furniture is dependent upon the recline of the design. However, when it comes to digging dirt out of low-pile and medium-pile carpets, they tend to be superior due to their motorized brush heads.
- The unit sits upright for easy storage
- Great at digging dirt out of most carpets
- Generally feature a wider cleaning path
- · When operating them, you must push and pull the full weight of the machine, which can be hard on bad backs
- They are hard to carry up and down stairs
Stick vacuums are essentially upright vacuums that have been simplified. They are significantly smaller than traditional upright vacuums and also tend to have fewer features to facilitate their slim profile. Additionally, since they require smaller motors, their suction is generally less powerful.
Stick vacuums are great for those who have bad backs, as they tend to weigh between 5 and 10 pounds total. They are generally cheaper than upright models, making them a good choice for those just starting out, as well as anyone who happens to be on a budget. Finally, they are incredibly easy to store, with many models coming with a wall mount to help free up floor space in your closet.
- Small and light
- Easy to maneuver
- Suction is not as powerful
- Dust bins tend to be small which means emptying them more often
Have you ever wished that your vacuum would just take care of the task for you? With a robot vacuum, that is exactly what you get. These little machines glide around your floors using suction and brushes to pull up dirt and debris; some models can even mop and use UV lights to sterilize. They are designed to be used on a single floor and have sensors that prevent them from falling down stairs and other drops.
Robot vacuums require very little work on your part. Most models are designed to return to their docking station when their battery gets low and will charge themselves, then get back to work once their charge is complete. In most cases, they are not very good at cleaning corners, which means you will need to tackle those yourself from time to time, but at least you will not need to clean all of your floors on a regular basis. If your home is large, you may need more than one to get the job done.
- The bulk of your cleaning is taken care of for you
- You do not need to worry about charging them
- You almost always have a clean home
- You need to set them up before you start using them
- Their dust bin must be frequently emptied
Centralized vacuums are vacuum systems that are built into the home. The central power unit is what makes the whole thing work and should be placed in an out-of-the-way location just as your furnace and hot water heater are; the dust bin should be in the same spot. Inlets will be placed inside of your walls at desired locations, and these inlets connect to the power hoses that pull the dirt and debris into the dust bin. You connect your accessories to the inlets and vacuum.
Some models will also have opening in the wall where you can use a broom to sweep dirt into them. Then you flip a switch and the dirt is sucked away. The dirt bin should be cleaned an average of once every three months, though this will vary by model and household. These units are pricy, but not more than top-of-the-line upright and canister vacuums. However, when things go wrong, you must find a repair person who specializes in them, and the repairs themselves can be costly.
- No machine to lug around
- You rarely change the dust bin
- No dust or allergens get back into the air
- Units are expensive to purchase and fix
- You must alter your home to accommodate it
How Your Floors Dictate Your Vacuum
So, now you know all about the different types of vacuums, and chances are you have a type or types you would like to own. Once you have that much determined, you need to find a model that works for your floors. Unfortunately, there are very few vacuums that can work on all floor types, and most that are marketed as such are not equally effective at cleaning all of them. Below are the specifics you should look for in a vacuum depending on your flooring.
Hardwood floors are beautiful, and generally a very large investment in your home. As such, you want a vacuum that will not damage them while cleaning them. Most vacuums clean by using stiff brushes that turn rapidly. While this is excellent on low-pile and medium-pile carpeting, it will scratch hardwood floors and dull their shine. Look for vacuums with soft brushes or that are suction only. Also, seek out rubber wheels rather than plastic wheels to prevent damage.
If you have tile floors, your concerns are the same as with hardwood. While tile floors are quite durable, they can be scratched by stiff brushes and plastic wheels. Tiles that are glazed will generally not have visible scratches, but their shine will dull over time as it is nicked away. Unfinished tiles, however, will show their damage quickly. Once again, look for soft brushes or suction only models with rubber wheels. And if you would like, look for vacuums with wet/dry function so you can vacuum and mop at the same time.
Laminate floors, once again, are much like hardwood. In fact, they are designed to look just like hardwood floors, but at a fraction of the cost. However, they are not as durable as hardwood. This means that the concerns present with hardwood are even greater. Again, seek out soft brushes or suction-only models with rubber wheels.
With linoleum floors, scratching is also a concern, but more than that, you must be worried about the vacuum catching on the corners of the tiles and causing them to peel away. Because of this, lightweight vacuums are ideal as they will not press down and cause catching. If possible, look for a vacuum with wet/dry function and a soft cover over the head.
Low-Pile and Medium-Pile Carpeting
If you have low-pile or medium-pile carpeting, you are in luck: most vacuums will work for you. Low-pile and medium-pile carpeting tends to feature tightly wound fibers that will not pull apart or fuzz with use of brushes or powerful suction. Because of this, your main concern should be powerful suction that easily pulls dirt and debris out of the carpet fibers.
High-pile carpeting features looser carpet fibers that have a tendency to fuzz and fray when brushes roll over them. As such, you will want a suction-only vacuum; even soft bristles can cause trouble. Another concern with high-pile carpeting is maneuverability. Small wheels tend to get stuck in plush carpets, so you will want larger wheels on your vacuum if you have this type of carpeting in your home.
Different Homes Need Different Vacuums
While flooring type is the biggest thing to consider, it isn’t all. Next, you should think about the features of your home. For example, if you have a larger home, a cordless vacuum won’t be ideal, and if you want a robot vacuum, you will need more than one. If you have more than one level in your home, you will need a vacuum that can sit on the stairs without tumbling as you work and that you can easily carry up and down. If you have lots of rooms, which means lots of corners, you will want a vacuum that offers edge-to-edge cleaning. There are many variables at play and you should consider them carefully.
Lifestyle Choices to Consider
In addition to the features of your home, you also need to consider the people and pets inside of it. If you smoke in your home or cook using powerful spices, you will want quality filtration to help remove those smells from your home. Pet hair can be difficult to clean and a vacuum specifically designed for this is best. Even having long hair can mean seeking out a vacuum specifically designed to handle it.
General Features to Look For
As you make your choice, you will need to look at all of the features each vacuum offers and decide how important they are to you. You may find that some of these features do not matter to you at all, while others are deal breakers. We are going to look at the most important features to consider.
Bagged vs Bagless
Bagless vacuums have become quite popular in recent years because you can easily see when they are full and they eliminate the cost and hassle of changing bags. However, not everyone is a fan. Because you dump them out to empty them, the dirt and allergens you cleaned up can get back into the air—and back onto your floors. Some models have special designs to prevent this, but not all. Ultimately, the right choice is a matter of personal preference.
If your rooms are large or have very few outlets, cord length will matter to you. Shorter cords mean more unplugging and replugging the vacuum as you work. On the flip side, longer cords mean you are more likely to get tangled up it in or wrap it around furniture, which can be problematic as well. Once again, it comes down to what works best for you.
If you would rather not have a cord at all, you might want to look into cordless options. These vacuums operate using battery power. Most cordless models can operate at full suction for about 20 minutes; this means you won’t be able to do any major cleaning with them. However, if you vacuum each day and in between as needed, cordless models work well.
It is unusual to find a vacuum that does not have some type of a filtration system present. However, not all are created equal. HEPA and multi-step filtration systems offer the best filtration, while single-step basic filtration offers the worst. What you need depends on where you are located, your health, and your lifestyle. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and opt for more filtration rather than less.
Some vacuums are designed not to use accessories, and for some users, this is fine. But for others, accessories are the key to a thorough cleaning. Which accessories should you look for? That is up to you. Common accessories are crevice tools, upholstery brushes, and wand extensions.
Brush vs Suction
Brushes spin and work their bristles against the floor to pull dirt and debris up and out, allowing the suction to carry them into the dust bin. However, as noted above, they are not idea for all types of flooring. Because of this, there are also suction-only models and that that allow you to toggle the bush on and off. The correct choice for you will depend on your flooring, with combination models being best if you have multiple types of flooring in your home.
Wheel Type and Size
Most vacuums have plastic wheels, which can scratch hard floors. For these types of floors, rubber is best. You also must consider the size of the wheels, as small wheels can become stuck in high-pile carpeting. Other considerations are how the wheels move and if they aid in the swivel of the machine.
If you have physical limitations or just want to make vacuuming as easy as possible, maneuverability is a major concern. Upright vacuums tend to be the hardest to maneuver as you must move the entire machine back and forth, though innovations like the Dyson ball make it easier. Because of this, you must look at any features that aid maneuverability before you decide.
The weight of the machine can be a big concern, especially if you need to carry it up and down the stairs. With canister vacuums, this is generally less of a concern since you are not pushing the whole machine back and forth as you work, but you should still look at the weight when making your purchase.
The cleaning path is determined by the width of the brush head. If you have large expanses of open space to clean, a larger cleaning path lets you get it done in less time. However, if you have a lot of furniture and other objects to maneuver around, a larger cleaning path can make that more difficult.
For handheld, canister, robot, and centralized vacuums, this is not a concern, but for upright and stick models, it is. The recline of the machine determines how easily you can get underneath furniture to get a thorough clean. Some machines do not recline much at all while others nearly lay flat.
If you have floors that must be mopped as well as vacuumed, you might be interested in one that has a wet/dry function. These vacuums allow you to complete two jobs at once, cutting your cleaning time in half. But be careful about which floors you use it on as wetness can damage certain floor types.
Finally, in some households, noise can be a concern. Children and pets are often disturbed by loud vacuums, and those with sensory issues can find them unpleasant. Canister vacuums tend to be quieter than upright models as they have room for sound insulation, but there are upright models designed to run quietly
How often should I empty the dust bin or bag on my vacuum?
This will vary by model of vacuum and by household. If you have a dust bin model, you should clean it when it appears to be full, checking it after every cleaning. With bags, you should follow the instructions that came with your vacuum. If you have a centralized vacuum, you will need to empty the bin about once every three months.
Are expensive vacuums better than cheap vacuums?
We all know the saying: You get what you pay for. But that isn’t always true with vacuums. There are excellent budget models on the market that perform as well as more expensive models. The major difference between budget and luxury vacuums is how long they last, as the materials used in luxury models are more durable while budget vacuums are mostly plastic.
Do I need HEPA filtration?
That all depends. If you have animals in your home, tend to get lots of dust, or have allergy sufferers in the home, HEPA filtration is pretty important. If none of the above applies to you, you may find it doesn’t matter all that much.
How often should I change the belt?
There is a chance your vacuum won’t even have a belt as many newer models have done away with this. However, if your vacuum does have one, you only need to replace it if it breaks or you start to smell it, which is a sign that it is about to break. Some vacuums have lifetime belts so you won’t need to worry about it.
How often should I change my filter?
Your filter should be changed according to the user manual. Most can last six months, but some are just three and others as much as twelve. Also, your vacuum might have a reusable filter, which means you clean it instead of changing it.
How frequently should I expect to purchase a new vacuum?
This will depend on the vacuum you purchase. Some vacuums only last a few years, while others will last decades. Luxury vacuum brands tend to last the longest, so if you want one vacuum to last you 10-20 years, you should consider investing in a luxury vacuum.
Do attachments really matter?
The brush head on your vacuum cannot do it all. That said, you may be happy with using brooms and dusters to get dirt out of corners, ceilings, and drapes. If you are comfortable with this, attachments and accessories are not important.
What do I do if my vacuum stops working?
The first thing to do is contact the manufacturer to see if they will fix it for free if you are still covered by warrantees and guarantees. If you are not, look up guides online to see if you are comfortable attempting a fix on your own. If not, look for vacuum cleaner repair in your area. Keep in mind that most problems are simple fixes that you should be able to complete on your own with the right tools.
My pet/child is scared of the vacuum. What should I do?
If possible, purchase a low-noise vacuum so your child or pet is not disturbed by the sound of the machine. Canister vacuums tend to be the quietest. Another option is to only vacuum in rooms your child or pet is not in, which may require you to close the door for a bit to keep them inside. However, most pets and children will become comfortable with the vacuum over time.
Is a cordless vacuum a good purchase?
Cordless vacuums can generally run for about twenty minutes per charge without a reduction in suctions power. For many individuals, this is enough to take care of at least one room if they clean regularly. However, in homes with children, large rooms, many people, and pets, it may not be enough time to get the job done. Ultimately, it depends on your home and lifestyle.
I have allergies; is a bagless vacuum a good choice for me?
When you empty a bagless vacuum, you can expect particles to come out into the air, which means you will be breathing them in and likely getting them on your clothing and even in your hair. It might not be enough to be visible, but if you have allergies, it could be enough to make you uncomfortable.
Where should I purchase a vacuum?
If you want to try your vacuum out in advance, you should look at vacuum cleaner stores near you. However, as long as you consult reviews before you buy, purchasing online is perfectly fine. Amazon offers a wide variety of vacuum cleaners with free returns, as well as the most extensive collection of user reviews to help guide you in your choices.
Purchasing the right vacuum for your home can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be; just follow these simple steps:
- Determine the type of vacuum you want.
- Consider the features your flooring needs.
- Pick the other features that are important to you.
- Seek out a vacuum that meets your requirements.
It is that easy. Now that you have come to the end of this guide, you have the knowledge you need to make the right purchase for you. Good luck and happy shopping!
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