The Best Cheap Vacuum

If “clean enough” is good enough, the vacuum to get is the $160 Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 (also at Best Buy). This bagless upright vacuum is a capable cleaner on carpets, bare floors, furniture, stairs, and ceilings alike, and should run well for a few years without too much maintenance. While this Shark won’t clean as deeply or last as long as a high-end vacuum, you get about 85% of the performance for 40% of the price.

Last Updated: March 5, 2014
The $160 Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is our new pick for the best cheap vacuum, taking over from the Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ.
Expand Previous Updates
January 28, 2014: More reviews of the Shark vacuums are rolling in and it's looking like it will be our next pick. Switching this to Wait status in the mean time.

Building on the extensive research in our high-end home vacuum guide, which involved interviews with a half-dozen vacuum experts, we spent an additional 12 hours researching cheap vacuums. We trawled manufacturer lineups and scoured reviews at Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, CNET, Reviewed.com, and other small vacuum sites, as well as various user reviews. All told, we found more than 100 models to consider and whittled it down from there.

Why a “cheap” vacuum?

The absolute best vacuums will suck up most particles from most surfaces, don’t need much regular upkeep, and will last for years and years. They also cost $450.

The best vacuums for those of us on a budget should do a decent job picking up pet hair and other obvious debris, and should last for a few years.
If that’s more than you’re willing or able to spend, that’s okay. The best vacuums for those of us on a budget should do a decent job picking up pet hair and other obvious debris and should last for a few years. It’s just important to keep in mind that they won’t pick up the tiniest bits of dust and allergens from carpets or filter all of those particles out of the air as efficiently as they move through the system. And to run at their full potential, they’ll need regular upkeep.

If those trade-offs aren’t an issue for you, the right cheap vac can be an excellent deal.

How we picked

We learned a hell of a lot about how vacuums worked when we updated our high-end home vacuum pick a couple of months ago. We interviewed vacuum salesmen, vacuum repair experts, air quality experts, editors of websites that test and review vacuums, and a vacuum engineer. We also tested a handful of top models, which gave us a feel for the best that the category has to offer.

Armed with that knowledge, it seemed like a good time to re-examine the world of cheap vacuums.

Our previous pick was the Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ because it earned excellent cleaning scores at Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, and Reviewed.com. It’s a powerful vacuum for cheap, and it effectively cleans most things on bare floors and carpets alike. But it’s a hefty vacuum with clunky handling and the belt breaks easily. So we looked for alternatives.

We set our pricing criteria at a maximum of $250, but really wanted to find a vacuum for less than $200. According to this Energy Star report, most people shy away from spending more than that on a vacuum. (That could be because people expect to buy a new vacuum every four years, also according to the report.)

As we dug around for contenders, we realized that there are literally hundreds of models of cheap vacuums available. We documented every current model on sale in the U.S. based on the lineups on each manufacturer’s website.

Out of that huge pool, a dozen or so models popped up as the favorites at top review sources: Good Housekeeping, CNET, Reviewed.com, and especially Consumer Reports. We cross-checked those vacuums against Amazon.com user reviews and bestseller lists.

We narrowed down further based on seemingly minor specs and small components that can make a huge difference, as we discovered in our research for the high-end vacuum guide. A good example is a geared or grooved belt. It adds almost nothing to the cost of the vacuum, but makes it much more reliable. A handful of cheap vacuums make those smart compromises, and a few models even found room to add some useful extra features.

From left to right: Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870MZ, Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352, Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away NV500.

From left to right: Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ, Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352, Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away NV501.

We settled on testing three vacuums. First, the Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ, paying it respect as our standing pick and quite possibly the most powerful cheap vacuum on the market at least in terms of sheer suction. Second and third were the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 and Shark Rotator Lift-Away Pro NV501.

We’d had our eyes on the NV501 for a while, but it was brand new when we last updated this guide so there were hardly any expert or user reviews to stand on. Positive feedback has poured in since then. The NV352 was dismissed in our previous guide, but it’s a very similar vacuum to the NV501 in many ways, and based on what we learned in the research for our high-end vacuum guide, it deserved a second chance.

Our pick

The Shark Navigator cleans well and doesn’t cost a lot. It works 85% as well as a high-end vacuum for 40% the price, which is what we like in a cheap vacuum.
*This price has changed. Shop wisely.
The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 bagless upright is the best cheap vacuum right now because it avoids most problems that plague other cheap vacuums. It’s nothing fancy, but the engineers made some smart design choices from the bottom up that help make it an effective, reliable, generally pleasant-to-use cleaner.

Of course, all the good design in the world can’t save a weak vacuum, so it’s good that the NV352 performs exceptionally well for its price.

…we found that the NV352 did a great job picking up larger particles in corners and against walls on both floors and carpets.
Consumer Reports gave it a “very good” rating for carpet cleaning, and “excellent” ratings for floor cleaning and emissions. For pet hair, it earned just a “fair” mark, though in CNET’s testing, its sister model picked up 100 percent of pet hair on all surfaces.

In our own side-suction tests (in which we made the vacuums pick up particles from corners and up against walls—something other outlets don’t seem to test for), we found that the NV352 did a great job picking up larger particles in corners and against walls on both floors and carpets. It actually performed better than some high-end vacuums that we’d previously tested, including the Dyson DC41 and Sebo Felix, both of which left plenty of stragglers on the bare-floor test.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs for the design choices that make it such an effective cleaner, let’s start from the bottom: The Shark uses a geared belt to drive its brush roller. Most cheap vacuums use stretchy rubber belts, which lose tension over a few weeks or months. A loose belt can’t drive the brush roller fast enough to agitate the dirt out of a carpet and will need to be replaced—usually a couple times per year. But a geared belt, like the one found in the NV352, will usually last the life of the vacuum without losing tension. Less maintenance, less money to spend on replacement parts, and more consistent cleaning.

Then there’s the clean emissions system. Shark did an admirable job sealing the NV352. It doesn’t have any HEPA filters, but we know from our previous research that HEPA often amounts to nothing more than an acronym for marketing purposes.

It does have three good filters, plus gaskets at every transfer point, and their combined efforts do a lot to prevent allergens from sneaking through the exhaust and back into the air. Nothing in this price range is totally air-tight, but this very thorough air purifier reviewer found a similar Shark to be sealed pretty well, releasing less than 2,000 particles sized 0.5 microns or larger per cubic foot (0.5 microns is about the size of a single grain of talcum powder).

The reviewer also found that the Shark didn’t elevate airborne levels of those particles in a closed room—a sign that it does a very good job of sucking up the particles that it agitates out of a carpet. As we covered in our high-end vac guide, there’s some disagreement about what constitutes a “good” vacuum for asthma and allergy sufferers, and we don’t feel that we have enough data yet to make a decision with that specific angle in mind. We encourage you to read the debate in the “air quality” section of our home vacuum guide for more information.

The NV352 has two pre-motor filters, as shown here, and one post-motor exhaust filter, located behind the grate.

The NV352 has two pre-motor filters, as shown here, and one post-motor exhaust filter, located behind the grate.

While bags do make for a superior vacuum overall, they aren’t a prerequisite in a cheap vacuum. If a vacuum’s filters are tight and transfer points have gaskets, then a bagged vacuum will almost always have cleaner emissions than a bagless vacuum. But it’s uncommon to see perfectly sealed systems in cheaper models, whether they’re bagged or bagless. Since there’s no real emissions benefit, the convenience and cost savings of a bagless vacuum win out on the “budget” end of the spectrum.

The NV352 is also much easier to steer than most cheap vacuums. More than a third of Amazon reviewers praised its maneuverability and easy-to-lift body. The swiveling joint on the cleaning head makes for smooth handling, and at just under 14 pounds, it’s quite light for a full-size vacuum.

The motor/dust-cup assembly can separate from the NV352, essentially converting the vacuum from an upright into a canister vac. The cleaning head can also be completely removed, which is super helpful for cleaning stairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen there’s the lift-away feature, which as far as we’re aware is unique in this price range to Shark vacs. With one button press, the cleaning head pops off and the main body can be carried around like a (large, corded) portable vacuum with an extension hose. With the turbo brush attached (included with the vacuum, another generous feature), it’s an excellent way to clean stairs—a few pounds lighter without the cleaning head and easier to rest on each step. It just makes sense and doesn’t really seem that hard to design. The hose can also re-attach to the cleaning head without the dust cup attached, which basically turns the whole setup into a canister vacuum of sorts—it’s really great for getting under furniture.

Reliability is usually a weak point with affordable vacuums, but we didn’t dig up any widespread, unexpected issues. On Amazon, where reliability problems usually crop up, 84 percent of user reviews are four or five stars, which is about as good as it gets in the category (even if there’s some five-star spamming going on). Here again, a smart design pays dividends, setting the NV352 apart from other cheap vacs.

You can’t Frankenstein a vacuum together from parts meant for different Shark series models, but it’s easy to swap broken components in and out.
Unlike most cheap vacuums, which are notoriously difficult to fix, Shark Navigators employ pseudo-modular design. You can’t Frankenstein a vacuum together from parts meant for different Shark series models, but it’s easy to swap broken components in and out. The body comes apart in more places than most vacuums do—dirt cup, cleaning head, handle, hose—so one crack in a tube doesn’t meant the whole machine is doomed. In fact, we cold-called customer service with multiple imaginary warranty-covered issues and they offered the replacement part for free each time.

Disassembled Shark vacuum

The NV352, disassembled at each of its joints.

This design makes it easy to find and clear clogs, as well as to replace broken components on the cheap.

Like any bagless vacuum, debris will build up in the system and form clogs over time—that’s unavoidable—but it’s also easy to clear, once again because the NV352 has so many hose connections, trap doors, and other openings. No tools required. For what it’s worth, we couldn’t jam the Shark with our clogging mixture, and the brush roller was smart enough to shut itself off when it picked up our test sock.

Accessories

The NV352 in particular comes with an ample set of accessories, more than a lot of other vacuums. There’s a mini turbo brush, helpful for cleaning stairs and furniture. It also comes with an additional floor tool, which is basically a cleaning head with no brush roller—it’s very uncommon to see that at this price point, though it works really well for getting under furniture when the dust cup is detached from the vacuum.

Also included are a long crevice tool, a short crevice tool, and a utility brush tool for cleaning window sills, ceilings, or anything else where the open-ended hose wouldn’t quite work. Other configurations of the NV35x series come with different tool bundles, but they all include the most important ones—the mini turbo brush, one crevice tool, and the utility brush tool.

Topping it all off, experts, reviewers, and owners alike are fans of the NV352. Justin Haver, vice-president of GoVacuum.com and 17-year veteran of the vacuum industry, told us that he’s pleasantly surprised by how well Shark vacs perform and hold up—at least for the price. It earned “recommended” status from Consumer Reports, with an overall score of 63 points (the best bagless upright earns a 70). While CNET hasn’t reviewed the NV352, they awarded the NV500 an “excellent” score; the NV35x and NV50x series are very similar, so it’s fair to consider the review. The NV352 also has strong Amazon user reviews, earning 4.4 out of five stars with 672 reviews.

Flaws, but not dealbreakers

There’s only so much you can do to make a cheap vacuum better before it’s not so cheap anymore. Sacrifices need to be made. Measured against other sub-$200 vacuums, though, the NV352 has the least-bad combination of shortcomings.

Like most cheaper vacuums, the NV352 doesn’t have an adjustable height setting—it’s “tuned” to work best on floors and short carpets.
Like most cheaper vacuums, the NV352 doesn’t have an adjustable height setting—it’s “tuned” to work best on floors and short carpets. Consumer Reports’ tests indicated that it also does well on medium-pile carpets, but cleaning high-pile rugs will be hit-or-miss. But you wouldn’t want adjustable height at this price point: Anything involving that many moving parts needs to be made of quality materials, which don’t come cheap.

This vacuum also suffers from the “snowplow effect” as one YouTube reviewer called it. Big particles like food chunks don’t always fit under the cleaning head and instead just get pushed around. The workaround is to just use the hose. Unless you regularly suck up Froot Loops, it’s only a minor issue. Even with this design flaw, the NV352 still works well on most surfaces.

The NV352 has no adjustable power setting, which can make it difficult to push across thick or tightly knit rugs. We ran into some resistance on a soft, medium-length rug. However, there’s a release valve on the hose—twist it open, and it reduces airflow through the system, accomplishing the same thing as turning down the power. It’s a clever, elegant solution and helped the NV352 glide over the tough spots more easily.

Even with the workaround, though, user reviews mention the difficulty that the NV352 has on deep-pile rugs. If you’ve got shag carpet, this may not be the vacuum for you, but you’re going to have trouble finding a cheap vacuum for that purpose, period.

Another common complaint among owners is that the hose is short and very stiff compared to most uprights. We disagree—you can do a lot worse than this. The $400 Miele Capri, for example, has a tight, stubby hose. The NV352 does tip over when you tug it too hard, but that’s the tradeoff for a light body with easy steering.

It’s also worth noting that the intake system uses just one cyclone. It doesn’t hurt the cleaning performance, but the belief is that one cyclone pulls less dirt out of the air stream than multiple cyclones would, so more dust ends up in the filters. Some bagless vacs have dozens of cyclones and use the quantity as a selling point, though it’s not uncommon to see just one or two. To compensate, Shark equips the NV352 with a good set of washable filters, including one super-thick foam filter. The care instructions suggest cleanings once every three months, which is less often than other brands.

All cheap vacuums will malfunction eventually, usually within a few years. But aside from a handful of vitriolic user reviews (par for the course), we can’t find any evidence that the NV352 is worse than other sub-$200 vacs. If anything, it seems to hold up better, and most replacement parts are easy to install and free under warranty. We’d venture to guess that this machine will last three to five years if cared for properly. Your mileage may vary, especially if you have long-haired pets.

Some Amazon reviewers complained that their NV352 started to lose suction after a year or so due to cracks in the hose, but it doesn’t seem to be a huge issue—less than 10 percent of Amazon reviews are one or two-star reamings. In a Reddit AMA from 2013, a vacuum repairman called out the Shark brand as repair-prone, though it’s the only place we’ve heard that criticism. It’s a hugely popular brand, so we’re assuming he sees a higher volume in his shop.

We’ve also read complaints that customer service, while courteous, doesn’t always do much to resolve quality issues, even while the vacuum is under warranty…
We’ve also read complaints that customer service, while courteous, doesn’t always do much to resolve quality issues, even while the vacuum is under warranty (a five-year period from the purchase date). Other user reviews said that Shark made it easy to get a new vacuum, just for the cost of return shipping.

We called Shark’s hotline a few times under an alias to get a feel for the service. Each of the three representatives we spoke with were pleasant and happy to help. We pretended that we had a crack in the hose, and in all three cases, the reps told us that they’d ship a replacement handle/hose unit for free because the vacuum was under warranty. Pretty easy.

The angriest complaints we read about Shark customer service (at least within the past two years) always involved the owner having to pay to ship the entire vacuum both ways for service. (Parts and labor were covered by warranty.) It seems to happen in cases where there’s a serious problem with the motor—something that can’t just be replaced with a screwdriver. A few complaints indicated that Shark required two-way shipping payments even for brand-new vacuums with manufacturing defects. You shouldn’t have to pay $60 for their goof. Our advice is to buy from a third party with a hassle-free return policy, like Best Buy or Amazon.

Shark brush roller

There’s no easy way to remove the brush roller, so clearing tangles can be difficult. And if the roller’s bearings wear out, you’ll probably need to replace the whole cleaning head.

One last note on replacements: The brush roller can’t pop out of the cleaning head, at least not very easily. This makes it a bit harder to clear tangles—a razor blade is a good way to do it. If the brush roller does wear out, you’ll need to buy an entire new cleaning head, which is $60. It’s the one aspect of this machine that feels like price gouging. But it shouldn’t be a problem if you’re diligent about cleaning tangles.

A big part of the Shark’s success formula is that it doesn’t try to half-ass anything it can’t do right. If the above things sound like features you can’t live without, you’ll have to pony up the extra money to get something like our pick for best overall vacuum.

A canister, if you prefer that

Also Great
The Kenmore Progressive is a canister-style vacuum if you prefer that and works especially well on thick carpet. But build-quality problems kept it from greatness.
If you prefer canister-style vacuums or bagged vacuums or you have lots of thick carpet, the Kenmore Progressive 21514 is another worthwhile vacuum that (usually) costs less than $200. That said, you should really think twice before doing so since you can virtually use the Shark as a canister—albeit without wheels—in Lift-Away mode.

It’s a perennial favorite at Consumer Reports, consistently sitting near the top of their canister vacuum rankings with a score of 68 (tops in the category is 72). That’s mainly because the powered cleaning head has a five-step manual height adjustment, so it works well on just about any kind of carpet. Reviewed.com gave it high marks as well. For our high-end vacuum guide, we tested the step-up 21714, and many of our conclusions apply to the 21514 as well.

There are a handful of reasons why it’s not our top pick. For starters, the build-quality problems are well documented.
There are a handful of reasons why it’s not our top pick. For starters, the build-quality problems are well documented. Many owners have cited a shoddy electrical connection between the vacuum and the cleaning head—it craps out after a couple years, so there’s no juice to power the brush roller. Parts of the plastic body also have a tendency to fall off, and the tools don’t always fit snugly onto the hose.

Also, and this is really just a cultural bias, people in the U.S. don’t like canisters as much as they like uprights. It has a lot to do with the history of flooring types in this country and the way that vacuums used to be designed. Today, there’s no inherent advantage to either design and the choice is really down to personal preference. But tradition counts for a lot (uprights outsell canisters 10 to one in America), so we favored uprights.

That said, it’s an excellent vacuum for the money, so if you’re one of the special snowflakes who prefer a canister vacuum, the Kenmore 21514 offers the best bang for the buck, warts and all.

How we tested

We ran the vacuums through a series of steering, handling, maintenance, and light performance tests—very similar to the tests we ran for our overall best vacuum guide. There’s already great data out there about obvious performance scores, so we tried to fill the gaps left by other testing outlets.

The most telling test was trying to clog and repair each vacuum. We used a mix of sawdust, cat hair, paper shreds, CD shards, and a sock.
The most telling test was trying to clog and repair each vacuum. We used a mix of sawdust, cat hair, paper shreds, CD shards, and a sock. Regardless of whether they clogged (the Shark models didn’t), we poked around into the trap doors and openings to find the weak points where clogs might form.

We also ran each vacuum around a maneuverability course to get a feel for steering and handling.

The only performance test we ran was for side-suction—picking up particles from corners and against walls. We sprinkled some lentils on both bare floor and carpeting and observed how the vacuums scooped them up.

Why not a step down?

Stepping up to a serious home vacuum is an excellent idea. It’ll clean just about anything, and you probably won’t have to buy a new one for more than a decade.

But the middle ground between these affordable vacs and those great high-end vacs—we’re talking about anything between $200 and $350—is a no man’s land. Most of the time, they’re just cheap vacuums with lots of extra features. They don’t last any longer than the Shark would, and it’s harder to stomach a short lifespan as the price increases.

If you’re comfortable with a factory-reconditioned vacuum, the Dyson DC28 is an exception worth making here. It used to be Dyson’s top-end $650 upright. But now that it’s two generations out, the refurbs are selling for about $290, which is a great deal. It’s more powerful than the Shark, comes with better tools, and has an excellent service record.

Step down too far and you start to see all sorts of issues. Iffy reliability is the main one. Many vacuums in this range will struggle to clean carpets effectively, and some even have a hard time on bare floors. They aren’t made to last for more than a few years and in that time, you’ll need to do constant maintenance. With few exceptions, they aren’t worth the money.

The competition

Shark makes a handful of other NV35x series vacuums, and they’re all safe to buy. Pick the one with the lowest price tag.

The NV350 and NV351 are the exact same vacuums as the NV352, but they’re sold at different retailers and come with different tools—nothing that most users will miss. We picked the NV352 because it’s the model most commonly sold online, but there’s no other inherent advantage. Then there’s the NV356E, which has a larger dust bin. We’ve seen it priced as low as $150, but it’s usually up around $200. We didn’t find the NV352’s dust bin to be a limiting factor, but the NV356E is a safe bet if you want the extra capacity—especially if its price drops again.

As for the Shark NV500 (and NV501 and NV502—same vacuum, different retailers), it’s supposedly a step-up model, but we couldn’t find a compelling reason to spend the extra cash, even after testing them head to head. The dust bin is a bit bigger and the cleaning head is wider, but that’s not worth an extra $50. It also comes with a rolling base for the lift-away unit—it’s supposed to make it feel like a canister vacuum instead of an upright—but, uh, the main cleaning head is also a rolling base. It’s a pointless add-on. Sweethome editor Michael Zhao owns an NV500 and says “the rolling base is in a closet in our basement. We never touch it.” There you go. But, if the price of an NV50x vac drops to match one of the NV35x models, go ahead and grab it.

Showed promise, but not good enough

Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870MZ – This used to be our pick for cheap vacuums. It’s a powerful cleaner on a variety of surfaces and has great ratings from a few outlets. But it has a middling Amazon user rating, with owners complaining about the hefty weight and the belt wearing out. It has a HEPA filter, but as we’ve learned, that’s just an acronym. We found it incredibly difficult to steer and generally unpleasant to use.

Eureka Mighty Mite 36xxx – This $45 canister vac is a top-seller at Amazon, with respectable user reviews. But it’s only meant for bare floors—no carpet cleaning. If you want something super cheap and don’t have any rugs, then it’s a low-risk option. But for most folks, it’s not a whole-house workhouse.

Panasonic UL81X – Once our top contender, this bagless upright got good reviews from Reviewed.com and Consumer Reports, citing its cleaning performance and value proposition. But user reviews made clear that it’s hard to maneuver and can be frustrating to maintain. The short warranty was the final nail in its coffin.

We also did a sweep of the low-end models from the upscale brands—Riccar, Simplicity, Miele, Sebo, Dyson—but no uprights or canisters fit our price constraints.

As for everything else…

Aside from the models already listed, we looked at about 150 individual vacuums.
Aside from the models already listed, we looked at about 150 individual vacuums.1 Some of those we dismissed very quickly based on poor (or non-existent) reviews. Others we considered more seriously. But in the interest of saving space, we’ll just say that we couldn’t find anything that challenged our favorite Shark models.

Hoover, Kenmore, Oreck, and Panasonic all make some decent vacuums, but nothing top-tier in the cheap vac category. LG had some good models, but isn’t very active in the U.S. vacuum market anymore. Aside from a few models of minor note, like a couple that we covered, Eureka, Bissell, and Dirt Devil all make exclusively low-end vacuums, nothing to get excited over.

Conclusion

If you’re floored by how badly your vacuum sucks, get the Shark NV352. It’s a charm to use, cleans well on most services, and should provide a few years of reliable service without any added costs.

Footnotes:

1. Dismissals

Bissell HealthyHome 16N5F – Mediocre Amazon.com user rating. Heavy. Anti-microbial feature seems like a fake thing.

Bissell PowerClean 16N59 – Older model, availability is limited now. Heavy. Durability issues.

Bissell Powerglide Pet Lift-Off 276xx – Not great on carpet, no height adjustment.

Bissell 89q9 – Poor carpet performance, hard to maneuver.

Bissell AeroSwift 1009 – Basically a stick vacuum—light, but weak suction. Doesn’t clean well.

Bissell Cleanview Helix Series – Middling user reviews. Can’t switch off brush roller.

Bissell Cleanview One-Pass Series – Filtering issues. Iffy cyclone means filters clog even faster than normal. Brush might not turn off? Unclear about height adjustment.

Bissell Heavy Duty 50C9 – WalMart exclusive. Maintenance issues.

Bissell Momentum Series – Maintenance issues.

Bissell OptiClean 30C7T – Target exclusive. Cheap belt, so maintenance issues.

Bissell Powerforce Series – Five seemingly unrelated models, except that they are all cheap, exclusive to WalMart. A few bagless with different cyclones/tools, one bagged, one stick. Nothing to see here.

Bissell PowerGroom Series – Loud, heavy. WalMart exclusives.

Bissell Prolite 17G5 – Not widely available. Middling user reviews.

Bissell PurePro 59G9 – Not widely available, not much info.

Bissell Rewind PowerHelix Series – Cord rewinder causes maintenance issues.

Bissell Smartclean 58F83 – Can’t turn off brush roller.

Bissell Total Floors 52C2 / 61C5x – Some owners find Febreeze filter smell overwhelming. Plastic construction. Heavy. Hard to assemble.

Bissell Trilogy 81M9 – Durability issues.

Bissell Velocity 3863 – Middling reviews. Expensive for what it offers.

Dirt Devil – We looked at all 11 current models from this brand, only one of which costs more than $100. Vacs like this just aren’t built to last long, with iffy filtering systems and cheap parts. Most of these models aren’t even equipped with brush rollers to clean carpets.

Electrolux Ergospace Green EL4101A – Turbo brush roller, which jams easily if you use on carpet. Gotta switch tools for different surfaces. Tiny dust cup.

Electrolux T8 EL4071A – Turbo brush roller, which jams easily if you use on carpet. Gotta switch tools for different surfaces. Tiny dust cup.

Eureka Suctionseal AS1104xx – Mediocre Amazon user rating. Roller seems to be a common point of failure.

Eureka AirExcel 990A – Floors only, no brush roller.

Eureka AirExcel NLS 5403A – Poor user ratings, limited availability.

Eureka Airspeed AS100xA – Brush doesn’t shut off. Regular maintenance can be frustrating. Quirky operation. Hard to maneuver. Low Amazon rating.

Eureka Airspeed AS105xxx – There are at least five near-identical 105xxx models, all are cheaply made.

Eureka Airspeed ONE AS20xxx – Middling ratings. No brushroll off switch. Weak motor.

Eureka Airspeed ULTRA AS40xxx – No brushroll off switch. Weak motor. Not much to differentiate from AS20xx ONE series. Not widely available.

Eureka Airspeed Zuum AS5xxxx – Not widely available, barely better than other Airspeed models, which is not saying much.

Eureka Clean Living 3281 BZ – No online availability, big box in-store only. Wimpy eight amp motor.

Eureka Comfort Clean 4236 AZ – No online availability, big box in-store only. Wimpy eight amp motor.

Eureka CompleteClean 955A – Middling user ratings.

Eureka Endeavor NLS 5400A – Wal-Mart in-store exclusive. Wimpy eight amp motor.

Eureka Envirovac 3041 BZ – Available online only at Sam’s Club. Otherwise just big-box in-store. Wimpy eight amp motor.

Eureka LightSpeed 475xx – Cheap, small motor. Won’t clean carpet well.

Eureka Maxima 47xxx – Most user reviews are one-star specials.

Other sub-$100 Eureka models – We found nine others, most of which are available only at one big-box retailer, not much information available about any of them, nothing on the spec sheets stands out as being worth a look.

Hoover Air UH72400 – A solid cheap vacuum in most regards. But CR calls it out for being fairly noisy, and not great on carpet.

Hoover 30010COM – No brush shut off = poor floor performance. Comes with a canister vacuum to make up for it, but that’s inconvenient. More expensive than other cheap vacuums.

Hoover Platinum UH70015 – Reliability issues. Appears to be discontinued, no longer listed on Hoover’s website.

Hoover UH30300 – Fail points related to mechanical operations (roller brush). Poor suction.

Hoover Windtunnel 2 High Capacity UH70800 – Decent performance for the price ($70), but it’s made very cheaply.

Hoover Windtunnel Air SH40070 – A bagless canister, the most unloved of all vacuum types. Tiny dust bin.

Hoover UH70400 – Poor long carpet performance, tons of parts to maintain (canister, filters and roller).

Hoover T Series Windtunnel Rewind UH70120 – Tons of maintenance.

Hoover T Series Windtunnel Pet Rewind UH70210 – Poor carpet performance, reports of overheating and reliability issues.

Hoover Air Pro UH72450 – Fairly noisy, not great on carpets per CR.

Hoover T Series Windtunnel UH30310 – Poor suction performance masked by strong brush action. The “pet” designation adds $30 to the price.

Hoover Windtunnel MAX Multi-Cyclonic UH70600 – Poor long carpet performance, tons of work to maintain. Belt problems.

Hoover Windtunnel MAX UH30600 – Reports of clogging problems. Relatively expensive compared to user ratings.

Hoover T Series Windtunnel UH70105 – Lots of maintenance.

Hoover Tempo WidePath U5140900 – Short warranty, bagged which is inconvenient.

Hoover U6485900 – Reliability issues. Self-propulsion system makes it heavy, turns to dead weight when that motor dies.

Hoover Windtunnel 2 High Capacity Pet UH70811 – Costs more because of the mini brush, more expensive than rewinding model.

Hoover Windtunnel 2 Rewind Pet UH70830 – $40 more than cheapest Windtunnel 2, with only rewinding cord (which gets jammed) and plastic mini brush to show for it.

Hoover Windtunnel 2 Rewind UH70820 – Low ratings on Hoover website. Limited availability.

Hoover Windtunnel 3 Pro UH70905 – Not many reviews yet, but not off to a promising start.

Hoover Windtunnel MAX Pet Plus Multi-Cyclonic UH70605 – Same problems as 70600 but add a cheap mini brush for $40.

Hoover Windtunnel Supreme U5472900 – Not widely available.

Kenmore 29319 – Great cleaning performance, but cheap construction and reliability issues.

Kenmore Intuition 31200 – CR loves it, and it uses a direct-drive system for the roller so there are no belts to snap or stretch. But it handles like a brick, is a bit too expensive for the category, and falters on CR’s pet hair test.

Kenmore Intuition 31100 – Pricier model, shorter warranty, and inconsistent floor performance.

Kenmore Intuition 31040 – Poor pet hair performance, expensive, and hard to maneuver.

Kenmore Progressive 31069 (Red) – Similar to Kenmore 21514 in most ways, but less durable, and not rated quite as well at CR.

Other sub-$100 Kenmore vacs – We looked at six others, none look built to last, nor do they look like they’re designed to work well on carpet.

LG LuV200R – Novel design, EOL’d.

Oreck Commercial 2100RHS – Not great on bare floors. No longer listed on Oreck’s site, possibly discontinued.

Oreck Classic Heritage U3840HHS – Not widely available.

Panasonic Jet Force MC-UL42x – Brush roller doesn’t turn off, so not good on floors.

Panasonic MC-UG223 – Cheap bagged vacuum, but not great with pet hair.

Panasonic Jetspin UL915 – Poor long carpet performance, tough to maintain. Heavy. Not a great score from Consumer Reports.

Riccar RSL1A – Great, but too expensive ($280)

Simplicity Jill – Limited availability. Doesn’t come with power nozzle, so not great on carpet.

Shark Navigator NV100 – Beloved by users on Amazon and Overstock; unfortunately scored a 43 by CR for bad carpet performance.

Shark NV402 – Not a lift-away model, so loses the advantages that NV35x and NV5xx have.

Shark NV22L – Poor long carpet performance, reports of high fail rate.

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Sources

  1. Vacuum cleaner buying guide, Consumer Reports
  2. Vacuum Cleaner Reviews, Good Housekeeping
  3. Vacuums, Reviewed.com
  • eaadams

    NICE! Thank you. Now I can go buy a new vac.

    • Jason Inofuentes

      Glad to help.

  • MrHaroHaro

    If you’re vacuuming needs aren’t that much and you’re really cheap, I’ve had a pretty good experience with the Dirt Devil Dynamite bagless vacuum. At the link below it’s $54.00, but you can occasionally find it for as low as $30. Bought one about 4 years ago when I was living with my bro and that thing is still going strong.

    http://www.amazon.com/Devil-Dynamite-Bagless-Upright-On-Board/dp/B000F8EUFI/ref=sr_1_5?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1371690662&sr=1-5&keywords=Dirt+Devil

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I own the same one and it’s great. I got it for $34.99 and the only thing I can complain about in 2 years with it is it gets clogged with christmas tree pine needles once a year and I don’t like cleaning the filter – but those are crybabby things normal people won’t have issue with.

    • Jason Inofuentes

      Truth be told, i made do for a long time with a similar DD model. They’re surprisingly durable and effective, but so feature limited that it’s hard to recommend to anyone that has more varied vacuum needs.

  • Ben Janusch

    Having owned 2 previous model Eureka Boss Smart-Vacs over the previous 6 years I can say they do a really good job for the price. The part that breaks for me every time is the hose. I’d be willing to pay more for a better hose that doesn’t crack or tear.

    • Jason Inofuentes

      I’m glad to hear you’ve had a good experience with them. When you’ve had hose failures, were they repairable? Like could you put some duct tape on it or replace the hose itself without too much cost? That’s the kind of data that helps us prepare for the next update.

      • Ben Janusch

        On both the tear was right where the hose met the plastic connector for attachments. It was a difficult location to duct tape effectively. I still have the 2nd one and use it for carpet only and have gone to a Kenmore canister for everything else.

        • Jason Inofuentes

          That fits with the trends we’d seen. A tough fix but glad it’s still serving you.

  • http://www.reviewemporium.tumblr.com Blake Brown

    We have a mid-sized carpeted apartment and a cat that sheds a decent amount. The biggest issue is the cat litter she tracks everywhere. How good is this vacuum for that type of situation?

  • Ben W

    Gotta say – we’re really happy with the Shark Navigator. We have an older model, purchased from Costco for somewhere in the $100-$200 range a year or two ago based on a relative’s recommendation, and it does a fantastic job in our large apartment with two dogs. I’m sure a Dyson is better, but I don’t see us replacing the Shark anytime soon.

  • Mr T

    I got this and am having a terrible time with broken belts. I checked the Amazon reviews and noted this is a common occurrence. Did I get a lemon? I would like to use this vac if I can return for another that might work better.

  • John123John

    How about a recommendation for Hardwood Floors (specifically)?

  • BethanyAnne

    The Hoover UH30310 is only $60 on Amazon right now. Looks like it scored a 65 at Consumer Reports, with the only real hit being for noise. For 3 20s I can handle that.

  • Russel Callen

    Any chance of splitting your reviews into “best upright” and “best canister” vac? An upright vac is a horrible option for my household as they are all too focused on carpeting, which is great for many households…but not anyone that finds carpet to be gross.

    Would love to see a “best canister vac” including comparisons of Miele, Simplicity, Electrolux, Dyson, and the rest of the range. Sadly, I unless you are well along the research I fear you won’t be able to get it done before I am forced to buy a new one.

    • Russel Callen

      Interesting, you do in fact have a review that isn’t the “best cheap” vac…it just don’t show in your index for “Cleaning’. I only found it from clicking your reference to the Dyson above.

  • photodan

    Hey Jason, great review! Will the update be posted soon? My vacuum died recently and my place is getting awfully dirty!

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Hi Dan. Tony here. I can’t speculate on when the research will be done for this guides update, I can point you in the direction of our updated all-around home vacuum guide located here:

      http://thesweethome.com/reviews/best-home-vacuum-cleaner/

      Hope that helps for now!

      • dsf

        Why you block me from the wirecutter?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          You weren’t blocked from The Wirecutter. Your comment ‘discussions’ were coming from 1 IP address, which meant you were the one making multiple accounts and comments talking to yourself, using distasteful language and in internet terms, “trolling”. Your comment account is fine, but I don’t think it will be after this.

  • KassandraDiller

    I have need a Vaccum for use in different works.
    http://carbulossnetherland.net/

  • MrGeraldo

    On this most recent update, moving from Eureka Boss to the Shark, I find it surprising how easily dismissed the old best pick was (Eureka). I think you all are doing a great job, but does that not seem like perhaps the previous pick was a subpar choice? Some additional addressing of this issue would be nice.

    • http://liamfmccabe.com Liam McCabe

      Good question, thanks for asking. The Eureka has some of the best raw performance ratings for its price—Consumer Reports, Reviewed.com, and Good Housekeeping all rate it near the top of their picks. The motor and brush are powerful, and can clean pretty much any flooring surface, including thick rugs. Definitely not perfect though—too heavy for some people, bags are inconvenient, belt stretches. It’s still better than a huge majority of cheap vacuums because of cleaning prowess.

      But we kept coming across positive reviews for the Shark brand (the NV500 was a “something to look for, needs more reviews” secondary pick in the previous guide). The research we did for the high-end vac pick called our attention to details like belt type/quality that can really impact performance over time (something other major outlets don’t usually account for). And when we tested the vacuums side-by-side it was pretty obvious that for whatever slight cleaning disadvantage the Shark has compared to the Eureka, the easy steering, versatility, convenience of baglessness, etc makes up for it.

      So the old pick was a good one, the new pick is a better one. Hope this helps, thanks again.

  • Robert Jensen

    I used to work at and then manage a place for 27 years where we sold all the major brands of vacuum cleaners and hands down, the best were any of the Hoover Windtunnel models both for cleaning ability and longevity. I’ve bought and used them myself since they first hit the market (in the 70′s?). So, in about 40 or so years I’ve owned 3 of them, the last one bought two years ago. I’d say that speaks well for their longevity. I don’t know how much the first one cost, it was a hand me down from my folks, but the two I did buy myself were around $185.

    Can’t recommend anything else but the WindTunnels, believe me, I’ve had to deal with so many customers returning them or seeing them a few years later to buy a new one because their old one wore out and wasn’t economical to put any more money into repairing them.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I don’t fully understand your final paragraph. Are you saying the WindTunnels are good? Or bad?