After spending 280 hours researching vacuums over the past three years, including time spent interviewing industry experts, sucking up lots of cat hair, and navigating furniture slaloms, we’ve learned above all else that different homes need different kinds of vacuums. In this guide, we have recommendations for top-performing, long-lasting vacuums to suit all sorts of living situations, but let’s start with the most common one: If you live in a typical single-family house in the US or Canada, the excellent Miele Dynamic U1 series is especially well-suited for your floor plan.
Miele re-named their lineup, but aside from a few cosmetic changes, these are the exact same vacuums as before. The S7 series of uprights is now known as the Dynamic U1 series, while the S2 series of canister vacs is now called the Classic C1 series. The model names are the same though, so the S7210 Twist is now the Dynamic U1 Twist; the S2121 Capri is the Classic C1 Capri, and so on. The suggested retail prices have not changed at all.
We've tried to update all the most important references to Miele models in this guide, but we're sorry in advanced if we missed any. Just remember, these vacuums have not changed!
The vacuums in the Miele Dynamic U1 series clean as well as any upright vacuum on the market and should last as long, if not longer, than all the others in their class. The series is supported by one of the longest warranties in the industry, and a wide-ranging service network reaches most parts of the country (just make sure to buy Miele vacuums only from authorized dealers).1 The Dynamic U1’s filtration is excellent, making it a top choice for households in which clean air is a necessity. Since it’s a bagged vacuum, maintenance is minimal, and if you need to clean a clog or tangle, you usually won’t need special tools. Side-suction ports make the Dynamic U1 very effective in corners, and its chevron-pattern brush roller guides debris toward the intake—many other high-end vacuums are missing those helpful features. It’s tough and burly, but the ride is lighter and smoother than many other full-size models. Those factors all add up to a real advantage over other vacuums, none of which have quite the same combination of features and price. And even though the base model in this series (the Twist) is a bigger investment than most people have ever made in a vacuum, we argue that long-term, it’s actually reasonably priced: You’ll pay less upfront for it than you would for other high-end vacs, and over the course of its lifetime you would easily spend as much or more buying and replacing multiple cheaper vacuums.
The Twist does weigh 22 pounds, which is something to consider if you have to carry it up and down stairs every time you use it. If that’s the case, you might be happier with our runner-up, the Sebo Felix, which is 6 pounds lighter. The Sebo also has the edge if you have shag carpet or scratch-prone tile, because its cleaning heads can be adjusted or swapped to better handle those surfaces.
Both of these picks are upright vacuums; your other, and less common, high-end option is a canister vac. A two-piece design separates the cleaning head from the rest of the vacuum, making a more nimble, equally capable machine that can be easier to carry in two parts up stairs (and is, incidentally, popular in Europe). For this type, we like the Miele Compact C2 and Complete C3 models, for many of the same reasons we recommend Miele’s uprights: an excellent build quality that should last ages, a nationwide support network for parts and repairs, and an incredible reputation—experts we interviewed all say these models are excellent, if not simply the best. There are about a dozen configurations of these vacuums, suited for different-size floor plans and certain floor types, but we have a few favorites.
If you’re not sure these will meet your needs—or if these pricier vacuums don’t fit your budget—check out Which Vacuum Should I Get?, our guide to help you figure out the right kind for your home.
The best reason to spend $400 or more on a high-end vacuum is because it’ll last a hell of a lot longer than a decent cheap vacuum, which costs about $150. You’ll have to buy at least two or three cheap vacuums in the same amount of time that you’ll own one high-end machine. So, in that sense, a great vacuum will usually pay for itself. Pricier vacs also need less maintenance and pick up more debris in fewer passes. On carpet, they pull up dust and dander that weaker vacuums can’t touch. They can even improve the air quality in your home.
Yep, it’s a big chunk of money, but most people who opt for a high-end vacuum are happy that they made the investment.
Our main pick in this guide is best for homes with lots of open, unobstructed floor space and at least some carpeting—a typical American single-family home, basically. But you can find a high-end vac to suit pretty much any size and style of home in the US. We cover those with our other picks in this guide.
Don’t think a high-end vacuum is right for you? That’s cool—there are plenty of good reasons to buy something cheaper instead. Read Which Vacuum Should I Buy? to find the model that’s best for fewer bucks.
I’ve covered vacuums for The Sweethome for two years, logging about 280 hours of vacuum research and testing in that time. That’s involved reading more than 1,000 reviews, mostly from vacuum owners but also from Consumer Reports, CNET, and other testing outlets.
I’ve also interviewed nearly a dozen experts, including repair technicians and shop owners, as well as engineers, air-quality specialists, and editors from the big testing houses. They include:
With all that knowledge, I’ve put together not only this guide, but also guides to cheap vacuums, cordless vacuums, robot vacuums, and handheld vacuums, as well as a guide to help you figure out which kind of vacuum makes the most sense for your home.
A few things have changed since the last time we overhauled this guide.
One is that we’ve expanded our coverage of other vacuum categories. Since we’ve found so many good products for less than half the price of our main pick, we had to reconsider why it’s worth buying a vacuum that costs as much as the models in this guide. We decided that longevity is the main reason to spend more on a vacuum. Yep, it costs a lot more up front, but will almost always pay for itself over time—and in that time, you’ll have something more reliable and effective than the cheaper models.
With more emphasis on longevity, and because a couple of new models were released in the last two years, we started our product search from scratch to avoid confirmation bias.
We also got in touch with additional experts to get fresh viewpoints on a few controversial topics, and to help answer new questions that we didn’t cover last time around.
After cataloguing nearly 110 high-end vacuums and considering everything we’ve learned over 280 hours of research and testing, we started dismissing the following models:
We focused on uprights for our main picks. Canister vacuums, which are split into two pieces and connected by a hose, are just as reliable, long-lasting, and effective as uprights. Some experts even argue that they’re strictly better (we don’t agree). But the overwhelming majority of people in the US and Canada prefer an upright design, and if you’re buying something that you expect to own for the next couple of decades, it’s gotta be something you’re comfortable using. For most of our readers, that’s an upright. All that said, we spent plenty of time researching canisters and have a whole section of recommendations.
Among the bagged uprights in our price range, editorial reviews from Consumer Reports, CNET, Reviewed.com, and Good Housekeeping influenced our evaluations, even if we don’t agree with all of their results or what we know about their methods. We’ve come to realize that any editorial review (including any of ours) is really just a single data point, and that we need to consider as many perspectives as possible in order to get close to an objective “best vacuum.” So we also considered user reviews as well as testimonials from service technicians, who helped us figure out what to look for in a reliable, long-lasting vacuum. Taken together, all that data paints a pretty good picture of how these machines work in the real world.
Based on that research, we came to highly value the following parts, specs, and features:
After the next round of cuts, we ended up homing in on three series of uprights: the Miele U1 Dynamic series, and specifically the base-model Twist, which has been our top pick in this guide for the past couple of years; the Sebo Felix series, and the Premium 1 in particular, which was a finalist in the previous version of this guide; and the Riccar Vibrance series, and in particular the Deluxe R20D, which is a new finalist this time around.
We have a set of ever-evolving in-house tests that measure cleaning performance, handling, and ease of maintenance.
Cleaning performance came first. We vacuumed baby powder, cat litter, and pet hair off both a wood floor and a medium-pile carpet, and lentils off of a wood floor. We judged performance visually (could we see any leftover debris?) and with bare feet (could we feel it underfoot?).
For the pet-hair testing, we did our best to work medium-length cat hair into a short, knit rug. If, after two passes with one vacuum, it looked like hair was left behind on a particular patch, we ran another vacuum over the patch and looked to see if the color changed—a sign that it had picked up some hair.
Side-suction was next. We threw a bunch of cat litter into a corner and tried sucking the mess up with each vacuum, first without the brush roller running, and then with the brush roller, if any debris was left behind.
We then ran each model through our timed slalom course to get a feel for steering and maneuverability. We drove both vacuums through a few rooms, around and under a bunch of furniture, and over a mix of bare floors, area rugs, and fixed carpet. The point was to gauge how well these vacuums handled in a real-world home with a moderately tight floor layout. Racing a vacuum through an obstacle course isn’t exactly how you would use one of these in your own home, but it clued us in on a few frustrations and flaws that might annoy owners.
Then we used each vac (when possible) for “above-floor” cleaning—using the hose and tools to vacuum upholstery, countertops, windowsills, curtains, stairs, and even the ceiling. Not all uprights have hoses, so we had to skip a few secondary models.
The stress test is our favorite test to run, because it gives us the best idea of how each vacuum stands up to the dumbest operator errors (we’ve all made them). Basically, we tried to clog and tangle each machine with tough debris like shredded copy paper, cat hair, sawdust, and socks—and if we succeeded, we then tried to figure out how to unclog them.
Finally, we tested for noise. We used a calibrated microphone and an iPhone app, and measured the volume from ear level.
It cleans as well as any vacuum we’ve tested on almost any surface, whether it’s carpet, bare floors, windowsills, or curtains. Miele claims that, if properly cared for, the Twist will last for 20 years and backs up the claim with a seven-year warranty and an extensive dealer and repair network. No other vacuum brand offers that kind of assurance. Its filtration is among the best in the industry, so it’s a top choice for households where clean air is a necessity. Since it’s a bagged vacuum, maintenance will take only a couple of minutes per year—and if you do need to do any unclogging or untangling, you usually won’t need any special tools. While it’s a big, burly machine, the ride is lighter and smoother than that of many other full-size models.
For most of you, the Twist will be the most expensive vacuum you’ve ever bought. But over time, it easily works out to be a better deal than any cheap vacuum. And it actually costs less up front (and likely over time) than most other high-end vacuums.
Every editorial outlet that’s tested the Dynamic U1 series ranks it at or near the top of their standings. At Consumer Reports, it’s tied for the third highest-scoring vacuum overall, and the second highest-scoring upright. At Reviewed.com, it holds the top spot overall. Good Housekeeping gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars. These kinds of reviews tell only part of the story—but it’s still a good sign that Dynamic U1 scores so well across the board.
Owners really like this thing, too. Totaling up all of the user reviews at Amazon and Google Shopping (which aggregates reviews from other retailers), the Dynamic U1 models earn an average score of 4.5, based on 324 user reviews. That’s an excellent rating for any product in any category, and the best we’ve seen among expensive vacuums.
There are three widely available versions of the Dynamic U1. The blue Twist is the base model and, we think, probably the best bet for most people interested in the series. It comes with a basic AirClean exhaust filter rather an active-charcoal or HEPA filter, and it does not come with a pet-hair tool or headlight on the cleaning head. Most people won’t need the upgraded filtration, and there are cheaper ways to get the pet-hair brush. Step up to the Jazz and you get an LED headlight (more useful than you might expect!) and a HEPA filter. If clean air is crucial to your quality of life because of asthma, allergies, or other respiratory conditions, then consider this upgrade. Downside: It’s the color of Kraft Mac & Cheese. The Cat & Dog comes with an active charcoal filter, which is said to eliminate pet odors (like that wet dog smell, but probably not cat pee), and the pet-hair tool we mentioned. Unless you’re willing to pay more for this model’s white finish, though, it’s actually more cost-effective to buy a Twist, a separate charcoal filter, and a generic pet-hair tool. From time to time, the Dynamic U1 Limited Edition becomes available, but we don’t think it’s a great step up from the Twist—the only extra feature is an extension wand—no big deal. At the top end, there’s the Dynamic U1 HomeCare model, which is available only through select brick-and-mortar retailers, comes with a ton of accessories, and costs hundreds more. Your call, but we think it’s overkill.
For some people, the Twist is the wrong vacuum: too bulky for many apartments, too heavy for some people to carry up stairs, too niche a brand to have an authorized repair center in every rural stretch, too big of an investment if you’re not sure you’ll get full use out of it. But in the proper home, it’ll keep your floors clean and your air fresh for a long time, and you might even look forward to using it.
Overall, the Dynamic U1 series cleans as well, if not better, than any household vacuums we’ve found. In Sweethome in-house tests, it has ranked as the best or one of the best performers among any high-end vac we’ve tested. Side suction, clog resistance, maneuvering, raw airflow, above-floor cleaning, and regular ol’ floor and carpet cleaning—it made all those tasks look easy. Consumer Reports gave the Cat & Dog model excellent marks for carpet, bare floor, and pet-hair cleaning, and a Very Good rating for tool airflow. Only a handful of other uprights can match those cleaning scores.
User reviews—even the not-so-positive ones—almost always mention that the Dynamic U1 is a powerful cleaner that manages to deep-clean carpets and pick up after pets, but has enough nuance to gently clean curtains and even dusty electronics at the proper intensity.
How does the Dynamic U1 clean so well? That’s the result of many smart design choices working together to create strong airflow2 and proper agitation, the two conditions that all of our experts said were the keys to effective cleaning performance.
The cleaning head, and its self-adjusting brush roller in particular, gives the Dynamic U1 its greatest performance advantage over other vacuums. The brush roller is on a spring-loaded mechanism that sets itself to the proper height based on the flooring beneath it. On short carpet, the roller stays at (or very close to) its closest setting. But longer carpet pushes up against the springs, which raises the roller, allowing it to spin freely so that its brushes can aggressively agitate the carpet fibers. That action knocks dust and other light, static-clingy debris free from the fibers, so that they can be sucked up into the vacuum via airflow. If the roller were to stay buried in the carpet, the resistance from the fibers would slow the roller’s rotation, reducing agitation and diminishing the vacuum’s cleaning capability. The cleaning head itself doesn’t actually rise or fall, but just stays very close to the ground at all times. According to Del Gaudio, the Miele product manager, this sustains the intensity of the airflow.
Plenty of other vacuums have cleaning heads with height adjustments, and the system in the Dynamic U1 isn’t perfect. But we think that the spring-loaded design in the Miele—the only one of its kind, as far as we’re aware—has a lot of practical advantages over the alternatives.
Manual systems are the most common and work very well, even on super-long carpets like shag. Haver calls them “the safe way to go,” because they’ll work on any kind of flooring. But that’s only as long as the driver knows how to use one properly, and remembers to adjust it correctly. With self-adjusting systems like those in the Dynamic U1 series, you don’t have to remember to do anything.
Other auto-adjusting systems are out there, but they have downsides. The Sebo X5, for example, uses a computerized system. It’s clever, but electronics (like the logic boards that control the adjustments) are almost always the first major part to crap out in modern appliances and are expensive to fix. Less can be more, especially in a product that’s supposed to last for decades.
On the other hand, Dyson’s latest uprights have a simple “floating” cleaning head, which is too simple to work well. The edges of the cleaning head sit on a rubber accordion flap that expands or squishes in response to the floor beneath it. Not much different than Miele’s system in theory, but Driscoll says that, in practice, it doesn’t “allow enough airflow or debris pickup.”(Rob Green of Dyson, for his part, says it allows “the right amount” of airflow.) The spring-loaded system in the Dynamic U1 is both elegant and effective.
Adjustable suction plays a part in allowing the cleaning head to work well on most surfaces. Since the Dynamic U1’s cleaning head sits at a fixed height very close to the ground, it can feel like it’s choking on medium-length carpets, even if the fibers are dense enough to push the roller upward. The workaround is that it has a variable-speed motor3 with four suction settings. It maxes out at 1,200 watts (pretty typical for any full-size vacuum) for bare floors and very short carpets, and slows down to accommodate low-pile carpets, deep-pile carpets, and even curtains or electronics (using the hose for those last two, of course).
Other subtle but clever details on the cleaning head give the Dynamic U1 an edge over other uprights. Side-suction ports help make it the most effective baseboard and corner cleaner we’ve ever come across. The chevron-pattern roller helps guide debris along the bristles toward the intake. Some other vacuums, even expensive models from Dyson and Riccar, have brush patterns that push some of the debris toward the edges of the roller, away from the intake—this makes no sense, and we can’t understand why the chevron pattern isn’t an industry standard. The Dynamic U1 even has a little rubber apron behind the roller to help herd debris that missed the intake on the first pass. Together, these little add-ons equal a real-world advantage for the Dynamic over other vacuums, none of which have quite the same combination of these seemingly minor features.
Another huge advantage is that the Dynamic U1 is a totally sealed system. Air that enters the machine leaves through only one exit—the exhaust filter—and all the debris is filtered out by a cloth bag and two filters before the air re-enters your home environment. The bags are self-sealing, so particles have no chance to escape when you change them out. All of the filters and openings are fitted with rubber gaskets to prevent debris from slipping around them. Plenty of other high-end bagged vacuums are in this top tier of filtration, but the Dynamic U1 is the most affordable upright among them.
Practically speaking, this means that if somebody in your household has asthma, allergies, or any other condition that’s affected by indoor air quality, the Dynamic U1 is the most affordable upright that’ll satisfy your environmental needs. This Amazon user reviewer wrote that her son would have allergy attacks whenever he visited her house, but after she started using the Miele, he could stay as long as he wanted without incident. Jeffrey May, the indoor air-quality consultant and former AAFA board member, told us that he personally owns a Miele.
The base-model Twist comes with a “standard” post-motor exhaust filter, which is totally fine for most people. But if asthma or allergies mean you need to make sure your indoor air quality is as good as it can be, a HEPA upgrade is available.4
With proper care, you can expect the Dynamic U1 to last for a couple of decades. Miele claims that it’s “tested for the equivalent of 20 years’ use,” which is the longest expected life span we’ve heard of for any kind of appliance. Driscoll, the Vacuum King of Reddit, even says that he’s seen Miele vacuums that are 30 years old.
That kind of longevity makes the Dynamic U1 an excellent deal. Not only is it a better cleaner than most vacuums, but it also saves you money in the long run because it’ll be in service for so long. Obviously we can’t gaze into our crystal ball and see if the Dynamic U1 will actually last for two decades. But several details lead us to believe that this will keep running as long as any upright you can buy these days.
Mainly, that’s because the Dynamic U1 is built from super-sturdy parts. The casing is made out of ABS plastic, which has a rubberlike anti-cracking quality. The hose is reinforced with metal wiring (sort of like a slinky), which helps prevent critical damage if you accidentally step on it. The base plate is metal, so it’s unlikely to break and expose the rest of the head to potential damage. Miele says that they test their motors to last for 1,000 hours (or roughly one hour per week for 20 years). Other vacuums have some of these qualities, but not many have them in this same combination, and definitely not at this price.
Miele also backs up the Dynamic U1 with a seven-year warranty. That’s tied with Sebo for the longest standard warranty in the industry. Miele also has the best dealer and repair network of any of the high-end vac makers. If your vac needs service, it’s pretty likely that your local vacuum shop is an authorized Miele dealer—that’s not always the case with smaller upscale brands.
This is important: You need to buy your Miele from an authorized dealer. Amazon is indeed an authorized dealer, but third-party marketplace sellers often are not. Make sure it’s sold by Amazon through Amazon, or an authorized dealer through Amazon. Or, if you’re nervous about buying from the wrong source online, buy it in person. Also bear in mind that the first year of the warranty is all-inclusive for the entire vacuum and all its accessories, but in years two through seven, coverage is limited to the body casing and motors—the expensive parts that really shouldn’t break anyway. If you split the hose or damage the base plate, you’ll have to cover the replacements yourself.
Another part of the reason the Dynamic U1 will hold up over time is that it uses bags. Yes, that’s a good thing. After Dyson’s brilliant marketing team convinced America that bagged vacuums are for suckers, most of the rest of the industry scrambled to get in on that sweet, sweet bagless action. Today, buying bags can feel like buying film for a camera—a costly relic of a bygone era. But if it’s longevity you’re after, a (good) bagged vacuum is the smart choice, according to all of the independent technicians we spoke with. A bagged system is much cleaner. As Spindler, owner of Mr. Sweeper Sew & Vac, put it, “Every time you change the bags, you’re starting fresh.” The bag traps almost all of the debris that enters the system. Bagless vacuums, on the other hand, can end up slowly clogging over time as debris builds up in hard-to-clean parts of the cyclonic separators.
Compared with some other big, tanklike uprights, the Dynamic U1 drives smoothly and turns easily. Yep, it’s a honking 22 pounds, which is about 5 pounds heavier than the typical full-size upright. But when it’s in use, it feels lighter than many of its competitors. Its weight is centered nicely, so it’s neither too heavy in your wrist nor too weighed down to push across the floor. The swiveling joint helps it take tight turns, so you won’t have to muscle it. The big, rubber rear wheels can drive up onto carpets smoothly and usually won’t bunch up the edges of area rugs (as long as the roller is off and the suction is at the right setting). With the brush roller turned on, the Dynamic U1 gently pulls itself across the floor, which makes it feel even lighter. It can also lie flat on its back without the cleaning head losing its seal with the ground—that makes it great for getting under furniture without using any attachments. It needs only 7 inches of clearance, which is actually less than any other high-end upright we’ve tested.
Even when you’re stretching the hose to the limit (about 12 feet), the Dynamic U1 will not tip over. The center of gravity is low to the ground to begin with, and the cleaning head also has free-spinning wheels that let it move in any direction when it’s in the upright, locked position—not just forward and backward. Most other vacuums we’ve tested tumble relatively easily if you yank the hose, so this is a nice touch. All told, the Dynamic U1 has about a 54-foot cleaning radius—a 39-foot cable, a 12-foot hose, and 3 feet of wiggle room for the vacuum itself.
Reliability is another strength of the Dynamic U1. Compared with other vacuums (especially bagless vacs), you won’t need to spend much time maintaining this thing. Having the bag is an asset for hands-off reliability. On average, Miele expects, you’ll use four bags and one set of filters per year. That’s about five minutes of work annually in our experience, or maybe 10 minutes if you count the time it takes to order a new set online. That’s pretty typical of high-end bagged vacuums, but much less time than bagless machines, which need to be emptied much more frequently, and have their filters washed and dried monthly for best results.
Like most high-end vacs (and even decent cheap ones), the Dynamic U1 has a no-stretch belt, another small but smart feature that makes the vacuum much more reliable over time. The belt connects a spinning motor shaft to the brush roller, which is what lets the vacuum agitate and clean carpet. A well-designed vacuum uses a geared belt, which has interlocking teeth on the roller and motor shaft (this is the kind the Dynamic U1 uses), or a serpentine belt, which has grooves in its surface. Neither kind loses tension (unlike a cheap rubber belt), so the roller always spins at maximum RPM, all else being equal, and that means it’s always cleaning at its top capacity. “They will eventually wear out, but you’re looking at probably 10 years instead of six months. Something else will probably go before the belt goes,” Spindler said.5
Any vacuum will clog or tangle eventually, especially if you have pets, but the Dynamic U1 isn’t particularly prone to either problem—we managed to clog it only with a shard of a broken CD, and you should know better than to try vacuuming something like that. If it does get jammed up with, say, long dog hairs, there’s a little door on the back that pops open and lets you fish out the clog. The brush roller is not easy to remove, so the easiest way to remove a tangle is to run a razor blade through the clean-out channel—just make sure to do this before it gets too tangled in the first place. If you have long-haired pets, it’s a good idea to check the roller monthly. Otherwise, check it every couple of months for any long human hairs or other stringy debris wrapped around the roller.
The Dynamic U1 is quiet. Many, many user reviewers say that it’s the quietest vacuum they’ve ever owned. At maximum suction, with the brush roller running on carpet, we measured it at 72 decibels from ear level. That’s a few dB quieter than any of the cheap vacuums that we’ve tested, and on par with other bagged uprights. So in terms of raw volume, it’s not dramatically quieter than most competitors. However, our frequency charts show that it runs at a lower pitch than most vacuums we’ve tested, which tends to be easier on your ears over the course of a 20-minute cleaning session. (It’s more of a “hum” than a “whine,” if that helps you imagine it.) Also, the motor is a slow-starter, meaning that it gradually revs up to maximum power over a few seconds, rather than turning on at full blast. It’s a subtle touch that makes the Dynamic U1 that much more pleasant to use.
At 22 pounds, the Dynamic U1 is a big, heavy vacuum, and that’s not necessarily a great fit for all homes or all owners. Not everyone will be able to lift it up a flight stairs. You’ll be fine if you’re in reasonably good shape, and one user reviewer notes that they have no problem carrying it up and down the stairs in a three-floor house. (Just make sure to use the carry handle, not the handle you use to push the vac.) But don’t force it. You might hurt yourself, and you might damage the cleaning head or joint-release pedal as they bonk against the stairs. There is the option of a lighter upright, or a canister.
Despite the adjustable suction and spring-loaded roller, the Dynamic U1 can struggle on carpets with long, loose fibers, like shag or cable, even if you turn down the suction to the minimum setting. We think the problem is that the carpet fibers aren’t dense enough to move the roller up from its lowest setting, so the shag ends up tangling around the roller. Even with the roller turned off, the carpet is long enough to stuff up the intake and block airflow. Most people don’t have any carpeting this long anymore, but if your house hasn’t been renovated since the disco era or you got caught up in the shag-carpet revival of 2011, our runner-up upright or a high-end canister might be a better choice, because they have cleaning heads that can better adapt to very long carpet.
Miele cheaped out on the joint-release pedal that takes the vac out of “park” mode. You’ll step on it every time you use the vacuum, but it’s made out of plastic when it could easily be made of more durable metal. If you step a little too hard, it can snap off. After the first year, the repair isn’t covered under the warranty, so you’ll have to pay for the replacement out of pocket. To be fair, several other high-end uprights have plastic release pedals, too, but they’re smaller and seem less likely to be stomped out.
The Twist and Jazz models don’t come with a handheld turbo brush. That’s the tool you need to clean pet hair off of upholstery, and makes it easier to clean stairs. (Plenty of other high-end bagged vacs don’t come with one, either.) The brush comes with the $650 Cat and Dog model, or you can pay $75 for the “authentic” tool on its own. But you really shouldn’t have to spend that much to get this attachment; there are vacuums that cost $75 total and come with this tool. Unless you’re getting the Cat & Dog model anyway, get a third-party generic brush instead of throwing your money away.
According to our test results, the Dynamic U1 is not particularly prone to clogs or tangles compared with other vacuums, and we stand by those findings. Driscoll, however, told us that Miele uprights have “real issues with clogging.” He attributes it to the ductwork inside the vacuum—that it’s narrower than the ducts in Riccar vacuums, for example, which makes it easier for a slightly oversized item to get stuck. Also, the base plate isn’t really meant to be removed at home. It’s held in by Torx screws (you may or may not have the right screwdriver head in your toolkit), and the vacuum does not include instructions about how to properly disassemble the head—Miele does not want you messing around down there. That might make it harder to clean pet-hair clogs, if they form down there.
That said, we haven’t found too many user reviewers complaining about clogs—some, yeah, but you’ll find those complaints about any vacuum. We asked Del Gaudio at Miele about it, and he said that, at least compared with their canisters, yes, the uprights do tend to clog more often. Wherever the ducts curve or turn, the path narrows, and that could be a choke point. But for what it’s worth, Del Gaudio said Miele has found in its research that when people are using upright vacuums (of any brand), they tend to try cleaning up more “interesting things,” as he put it, like pencils or Chapstick tubes. That could explain the clogs that show up in Driscoll’s shop.
Bottom line: We don’t think clogging will be an issue for most people who use the Dynamic U1. Pet hair will tangle on the brush roller over time, just like it will with pretty much any brush roller. If you have lots of long-haired dogs, clogs could form inside the cleaning head, so that’s something to watch out for if you share your home with lots of canine friends. And if you try to vacuum up items like hairpins, paper clips, and other longish debris, it might clog, just like almost any other vacuum would. (Get a shop vac if you’re going to be vacuuming up metal.) You may have spent $450 on a vacuum, but that doesn’t make it indestructible—use some common sense while cleaning.
You’ll have to buy replacement bags and filters for the Dynamic U1, and some people think that’s a bummer, especially in a post-Dyson world when you don’t have to buy bags if you don’t want to. High-end bagged vacuums work out to be a better deal, though, because they last much, much longer than bagless machines. We’ll cover this point in depth in our bagless vac section.
At the moment, the Twist has a surprisingly low user rating at Amazon following a streak of bad reviews. The overall score for the Dynamic U1 series as a whole is still quite high (4.5 stars out of 5 on average), and the Twist ratings at Google Shopping are still stellar. We don’t know what’s behind all the disappointing reviews at Amazon lately—it could’ve been a production run with more bad units than average—but we’re not too worried about it. As long as you buy from an authorized dealer and can get it to an authorized repair center in the unlikely case it has a defect, you’ll be fine.
The Sebo Felix is another excellent bagged, upright, high-end series of vacuums (also made in Germany, for what it’s worth). The brand is widely respected among sales and service experts, and has a small but vocal group of enthusiastic fans around the Internet.
The Felix is unique among high-end uprights because it has swappable cleaning heads. The version we like, the Premium 1, comes with one head for bare floors (no brush roller) and one powered, height-adjustable cleaning head for carpets. The Premium 2 version costs a bit more and has a wider power head, but is otherwise the same machine. (You don’t actually have to swap between the floor head and the power head if you don’t want to. The Premium models do a fine job cleaning any surface with just the power head attached. But you have an option if you need it.) Grab it if you think you want it, though some people find extra-wide heads cumbersome to use. The Kombi 4 does not come with a power head—the head with a brush roller driven by an electric motor, which is essential for deep-cleaning carpets—and that kind of defeats the point of an upright in our opinion. So even though it’s much cheaper than the Premium models, you can probably skip it.
We can think of a few scenarios in which you might consider the Premium 1 over the Twist, if you’re certain you want an upright vacuum.
If you think you’ll struggle with the weight of the Twist, know that the Premium 1 is 6 pounds (about 25 percent) lighter with the power head attached and much easier to carry up and down stairs. It’s perhaps the lightest full-size, high-end upright out there.
The Premium 1’s power head can be adjusted to handle extra-long carpet fibers that the Twist would choke on, which gives it a leg up if you have a room fully or mostly covered in shag carpet. Similarly, if you have delicate wood or stone tile floors, the Premium 1’s bare-floor head is even less likely to do any scratching compared with the Twist’s already-minute chance of doing that.
If you have many long-haired dogs and don’t think a bagless vacuum is a good choice, and are really, really worried about having to deal with brush roller tangles, you might like that the brush roller on the Premium 1 power head slides right out for extra-easy cleaning. The roller on the Twist, on the other hand, really isn’t meant to be removed at home. That said, the Twist doesn’t tangle all that easily, and isn’t all that hard to clean, even if it is stuck in place.
The Premium 1 does have several disadvantages compared with the Twist. Price is the main one. The Premium 1 is $600, while the Twist is $450. That’s quite a difference.
Sebo is also a much smaller company than Miele, and its repair network is narrower as well. There’s no guarantee that a Miele service center is near your city, but it’s definitely less likely that there’s a Sebo repairman nearby. If you can’t find one within comfortable driving distance, that should be a straight-up dealbreaker—when you’re already mad that your vacuum broke, do you really want to have to drive an hour to a repair shop?
Other downsides compared with the Twist: The hose is very short, and the body tips easily if you tug that short hose too hard. It’s really designed to be picked up and carried with the side handle whenever you use the hose. (You can remove the power head to cut weight in this scenario.) The main handle is just a stick, not a closed-grip handle like the Twist and most other full-size uprights. That’s a pet peeve for some people.
And then there just aren’t many user reviews of the Premium 1. Okay, maybe there’s a handful of effusive fanboys and fangirls, but not a broad sampling. Yeah, we know this is sort of a chicken-and-egg problem: They’re a small company, so they don’t get much exposure, so they stay a small company. But we’d love to be able to read more owner reports to get a feel for some more real-world shortcomings.
Still, the Premium 1 has a lot going for it. Like any great high-end upright, it’s an excellent cleaner. It performed very well in Sweethome testing, matching or almost matching the Twist in most cleaning-performance tests. The only place it stumbled was in side suction with the power head attached. It’s in the top tier at Consumer Reports, earning Recommended status overall, Excellent marks for bare floor and pet hair cleaning, and a Very Good mark for carpet cleaning.
In our tests, we could not get the Premium 1 to clog, no matter what we threw at it. And even if you do manage to clog it, it’s the easiest to clean of all the high-end uprights that we’ve seen. The power head has a trapdoor clean-out. The brush roller slides sideways out of the head for easy cleaning—the only vacuum we tested with that option. The cleaning heads can pop off, which makes it easy to fish out clogs at the intake point.
Handling is light and easy, the smoothest of any upright we’ve tested. Both heads have swivel joints for tighter steering, and the body can lay flat like the Twist’s—the Premium 1 needs juuuust a little more clearance to get under furniture, since the body is slightly thicker.
The warranty for the Felix series is valid for up to five years on non-wear parts, which is actually longer than Miele’s one-year of coverage on those parts. The motor is covered for seven years, which is the same coverage Miele offers for that part. (Sebo extended the coverage since we published the last version of this guide—it used to be capped at five years on both counts.) The downside? As we pointed out above, it may not be easy to find a Sebo dealer and repair shop in your neck of the woods.
Filtration on the Premium 1 is almost as tight as on the Twist. It uses cloth bags, a pre-motor filter (upgradeable to active charcoal for knocking out pet odors), and an S-class (hospital-grade) exhaust filter, which is actually the decorative cover around the outside of the machine. That’s all great, and we think it’s a reasonable choice for households with mild allergy concerns. However, there are no HEPA upgrades available (though as we know, HEPA is not some magic technology that guarantees pure air), and the bags are not self-sealing, so it’s probably not the absolute top choice if air quality is your top concern.
The cost of bags and filters is right on par with that of the Twist. Each bag costs less, but the capacity is smaller so you’ll need to change them more frequently. It’s basically a wash.
All told though, we think the Twist is a better deal than the Premium 1 for more people because it’s more affordable; just as reliable, effective, and long-lasting (if not more so); and backed by a better network.
The other bagged upright we called in for testing was the Riccar Vibrance Deluxe R20D. Driscoll, Reddit’s vacuum guy, is a huge fan of this brand, and this model hit more of our criteria than any of their other uprights, so we took a look.
We found some very real downsides to the R20D that prevent us from being able to recommend it to many people. Cleaning performance is solid, but a tier below the Miele, Sebo, and even Dyson full-size uprights we tested. It took more passes with the Riccar than any of those models to pick up cat litter off a textured, medium-pile plush rug. Side suction is basically non-existent, which isn’t the end of the world since it has a hose, but it’s strictly worse at baseboard cleaning than any of its competitors.
The cleaning problems probably boil down to the cleaning head. It has no height adjustments, just a “floor selector,” which is a fancy name for a brush roll toggle. The bezel (the non-functional space around the intake and brush roller channel) is massive and un-aerodynamic, so that debris has less of a chance to get pulled into the intake from the edges of the head.
Other important issues: It’s slightly heavier than the Miele Twist and will be even harder to haul up a flight of stairs. There’s no swiveling joint, so it’s harder to turn around in a tight space. In our noise tests, it hit the same volume as the Twist, but ran with a higher-pitched whine, especially with the brush spinning, so it could easily get more annoying over long periods. Its warranty is shorter than those of the Miele or Sebo or even Dyson’s for the price—just four years for the Deluxe R20D, and the service network is even narrower than Sebo’s.
As with Sebo, though, there are some very vocal fans of Riccar upright vacuums. If you’re looking for the old-school feel of an indestructible Electrolux or Kirby vacuum, Riccar might be right up your alley. They’re made in America, and by most accounts run like unstoppable tanks. That’s probably why technicians like Driscoll are such big fans—the machines are really hard to clog and uncomplicated to repair.
The R20D model is a good middle point in the Riccar lineup, and probably the model you should buy if you want a vac like this. The R20P upgrade adds a few features for durability, and the R20UP has a two-stage motor—though the maximum power stays the same—and a longer warranty. You can probably skip the step-down R20SC altogether because it’s missing too many features to really be a high-end vac. The folks that make Riccar also make Simplicity, Maytag, and Fuller Brush vacuums as well, so you might find models with identical specs, but a different name and body casing.
We also took a look at a few truly lightweight bagged uprights, including the Oreck Magnesium RS and the Simplicity Freedom S10S. Both weigh less than 10 pounds. They’re well-built machines, without many moving parts that can break. They’re essentially plastic frames with cloth bodies. We’re confident that they can be expected to last longer than cheap vacuums, though it’s hard to say how they’ll hold up against full-size high-end uprights.
But we’re not sure that these models (or super-lightweight uprights in general) make sense for most people. To save weight, they’re stripped of a lot of helpful cleaning features, like adjustable heads and hoses, and their cleaning ability suffers as a result. In our testing, it took about twice as many passes to get cat litter and baby powder out of a medium-length rug, compared with most of the high-end uprights we tested. The performance reminded us the most of our favorite cheap vacuum, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 bagless upright, which weighs just 12 pounds and costs only $160. Maybe the lightweight uprights last long enough to justify their price, maybe not—who knows. But they even give up a lot of functionality compared with the Shark, which handles better and has a hose and specialty attachments for that hose.
If you have nothing but short, tight carpets and bare floors in your home, then maybe a lightweight upright will work. We favor the Simplicity Freedom because it cleaned a little better and (usually) costs less than the Oreck Magnesium. But consider a cheap bagless upright, which could prove to be a better deal, or a good canister vacuum, which will last for ages and be just as easy to carry up the stairs.
As for the rest of the upscale bagged uprights:
Several Kenmore uprights, including the Elite 31150, Intuition 31140, and Progressive 31069, are among the top 10-ranked vacuums at Consumer Reports. They cost hundreds less than other high-scoring models from Miele, Sebo, and Dyson. Yes, Kenmore vacuums clean pretty well for the price. But the plastic body parts are known to wear out after a few years, and they are just not very pleasant to use.
The 31150 in particular has all the charm of a brick on wheels and is so much more difficult to turn in any direction than pretty much any other vacuum we’ve tested. But, hey, it pounds the heck out of any carpet, and that’s enough to get it to jump to the top of CR’s standings. Look, Kenmore vacuums (made by Panasonic) are fine. Driscoll recommends the Panasonic-branded models as a budget option. (We have a different idea of what a budget vacuum should be.) But if you’re shopping for an effective, reliable, long-lasting, and pleasant-to-use machine, these Kenmores are not the deal you want.
The Sebo Essential G series costs as much as the Felix, but is heavier and harder to steer. The higher-end Sebo 370 Comfort and Automatic X series cost more and don’t provide the kinds of advantages that are important to most people. Nothing we’ve seen or heard has convinced us that they’re a better bet than the Felix or Dynamic U1 series.
The step-up series from Riccar (and Simplicity, and Maytag) all price themselves out of contention. The Brilliance models start at $950, and the top-of-the-line Radiance model costs $1,530. Compared with the Vibrance model we covered above, these vacs include features that should make them even more reliable over time, and better cleaners, too—but nothing is there to make them any easier to handle, which has been one of our main gripes.
A couple of the experts we spoke with mentioned Royal as a brand to consider if you want an affordable bagged upright. But we think you can skip this brand, for a few reasons. They’re actually not that affordable. They’re not easy for everyone to find (which means they won’t be easy to repair). And they seem to be designed primarily for very short carpet and bare floors, so they’re lacking versatility. We also can’t find any user reviews of these things—maybe there’s something here, but we can’t find any evidence of it.
Electrolux is not the same vacuum brand that your parents used and probably loved. The name has been licensed out to a company that has nothing to do with the old Aerus Electrolux company that made the reliable, widely loved machines of the second half of the 20th century. The new Electrolux is a nostalgia trap—essentially, cheap bagless vacuums sold at a markup. Don’t bother.
We’ve also caught wind of a trio of extremely expensive vacuum brands sold almost exclusively by door-to-door salespeople. Kirby is arguably the best known of them. The vacuums work pretty well, apparently, as Consumer Reports gives the Avalir top marks in all of its cleaning tests and a strong overall score. But you always pay way, way more than you need to. Reading owner stories, it’s not uncommon for salespeople to start “negotiations” at an absurd $2,000. Never, ever pay that much money for a vacuum. What’s the right price to pay for a Kirby? Trick question. Don’t buy a Kirby. You might know somebody who bought one, and they’ve probably told you over and over again how great it is. They’re not lying, but by repeating it out loud, they’re also trying to convince themselves that they didn’t just blow a thousand bucks more than they needed to.
Aerus brand vacuums seem like a similar story (we don’t know if this company has anything to do with the old Aerus Electrolux company). Their vacuums are only sold in showrooms (and there are only a few in the US) or by door-to-door salesmen. Their website doesn’t list prices for any of their vacuums. If we had to guess, they’re probably very expensive. We can’t recommend a brand that’s so hard to find, and that keeps its prices secret.
And finally, Rainbow is another crazy-expensive brand sold door-to-door that you should probably avoid. The selling point is that they use water filtration, which is unique. It stands to reason that it’s a good system for people with allergies. But we’re not sure if it provides a tangible advantage compared with a Miele, for instance, and Miele seems to be good enough for most allergy sufferers. As such, there’s no reason for us to recommend them.
If you think we’ve missed something, check out the long list of dismissals in our cheap vacuum guide. And if you want to know why we didn’t consider any bagless uprights, read this section.
A high-end canister vacuum will be a better fit than an upright for some people in some homes. If you live in an apartment, have mostly bare floors, have to be careful moving heavy stuff, or just like the design more, a canister vac might be right up your alley.
Unless you’re willing to pay top dollar for the best canister vacuum, there’s no one-size-fits-all best product for every person in every home. Each configuration is somewhat specialized for different types of flooring and living situations.
As a starting point, we think the Compact C2 Onyx is a great choice for apartments with mostly bare floors, plus a few area rugs or some light carpeting, and not too many pets. For bigger homes with more carpeting, the Complete C3 Kona will be a better fit. You can jump to those recommendations now, or read on for some background on canister vacs in general.
If you’re not sure what we mean by a canister vacuum, imagine the type that is split into two parts. There’s the wand, which is made of a handle, long tube, and cleaning head, and the canister itself, which houses the main motor, bag, and filters in a wheeled body. The two sections are connected by a long accordion hose.
Upright vacuums outsell canister vacuums 10 to 1 (or more, depending on who you ask) in the US and Canada, mostly because of tradition. Wall-to-wall carpeting has been the norm in most of North America since … well, way back when. The first electric vacuum with an agitator that could efficiently clean carpets was an upright, developed by the Hoover company in the 1920s. The first canister vacuum with an agitator didn’t appear until more than a generation later, in the late 1950s. That was enough of a delay for uprights to become most people’s idea of a “normal” vacuum cleaner, and canisters have never come close to matching their popularity in this part of the world.
Based on all the arguments we’ve heard, neither design is strictly better than the other. “It’s really up to your personal preference,” Haver told us. That said, each has some relative advantages:
Uprights feel more familiar to most people who grew up in North America, and comfort is a huge part of the vacuuming experience. Uprights also tend to give you more bang for your buck—compared with a canister with a similar feature set and build quality, an upright usually costs hundreds of dollars less.
Canister vacuums are better than most high-end uprights for apartments with tight floor plans, we think. That’s because a canister’s skinny wand and narrow cleaning head is easier to navigate into corners and around furniture. It’s also generally easier to carry a canister up a flight of stairs because the heft is divvied up between two pieces.
We heard a few other arguments from our experts in favor of high-end canisters, though our experience leads us to question a few of them.
For example, Spindler said that canisters are more versatile, because you can swap cleaning heads. But many of them come with only a single cleaning head anyway, and the models that come with a super-versatile motorized head cost hundreds more than a similar upright.
Another pro-canister argument we heard from both Spindler and Driscoll is that it’s easier to drive a canister because you’re pushing only a thin, hollow wand, rather than the entire weight of an upright. That’s probably true compared with some uprights on some surfaces. And it is definitely easier to steer a wand around tight corners. But I found, personally, that cleaning with the Miele Dynamic U1 upright was easier on my wrist (prone to tendonitis flare-ups) than the Miele Compact C2 Topaz canister. The Dynamic U1 and many other uprights are well-balanced, easy to steer thanks to the swiveling joint, and self-propelling to some extent when the brush roller is turned on. Your mileage may vary, but canisters are not always easier to use.
Driscoll cited longevity as another pro-canister argument. Consumer Reports’s reliability ratings don’t offer enough detail to draw conclusions about longevity, though for what it’s worth, the stats suggest canister and upright vacuums have similar repair rates. Del Gaudio at Miele told us that according to the company’s research, upright owners are more likely to try vacuuming items that they shouldn’t vacuum—think large, plastic items. To be fair, he also said that uprights have more choke points, whereas canisters leave an unobstructed path for debris to get into the bag. But reckless user behavior could influence the perception that the uprights are more prone to clogging and, by extension, likely to have a shorter lifespan.
As for price, you can break even between canisters and uprights, or one can end up costing you more—there are way too many variables to predict how long your particular vacuum will last in your particular home. It’s really hard to prove that you’ll get a better value out of either style. But the bottom line is, high-end vacuums will almost always be a better value than any cheap vacuum, so pick whichever type in that category that will work best for your needs.
If a canister vacuum is the right choice for you and you want one that’ll last for decades, get a Miele from the Compact C2 or Complete C3 series.
If you live in an apartment with a mix of bare floors and short carpets, the Compact C2 Onyx is a great bet. It comes with a parquet tool for bare floors, as well as a turbine-powered head for carpet work. Compared with a high-end upright, this compact canister is easier to maneuver and takes up less space in storage.
If you’re in a bigger home, the Complete C3 Kona has the tools to clean pretty much any surface you’ve got. It comes with an adjustable-height power head for deep-cleaning all kinds of carpet, as well as a parquet tool for bare floors. The canister is larger and uses bigger bags than the Compact C2 models, so you won’t have to change them as often—helpful if you need to cover a lot of floor space or pick up after multiple pets. As one of the top-of-the-line canisters from Miele, the Kona has some bells and whistles like foot-tappable suction controls, and a HEPA filter comes standard (instead of as an add-on). Just keep in mind: It’s doing roughly the same job as the Dynamic U1 Twist, but costs twice as much.
Miele canisters have a phenomenal reputation everywhere in the industry. Technicians, salespeople, enthusiasts, testing houses, average everyday vac owners, you name it—they all love these machines. Some of the experts we talked to said that if they could recommend just one vacuum, they’d recommend a Miele canister. Del Gaudio, the product manager at Miele, admitted the company is known more for its canisters than its uprights.
The Compact C2 and Complete C3 are basically the same machines, Driscoll told us; the C3 models are just physically larger, and have extra features like the foot-controlled suction buttons we mentioned in relation to the Kona.
We like both series for a lot of the same reasons we like the Dynamic U1 uprights. They’re built to last for 20 years. Driscoll has said that he’s even seen 30-year-old Miele canisters. The service network and seven-year warranty are among the best in the industry.
Cleaning performance is top-notch, too. Results will vary depending on the cleaning head that’s attached to the canister. But the top-of-the-line Complete C3 Marin is Consumer Reports’s top-scoring vacuum of any kind.
Thanks to the high-quality bags and filters, they’ll run reliably without much too much maintenance, and probably even improve the air quality in your home. If anything, they’ll be easier to maintain than uprights. Canisters come apart in more places, which makes it easier to clear clogs, and have fewer choke points in the first place.
And the C2 and C3 are wicked quiet, even quieter than the Dynamic U1. We measured the Compact C2 Topaz running at just 66 decibels with the power head attached. That’s not much louder than regular speaking voices.
Above, we recommended two configurations that we think would be good fits for many of our readers. But if they don’t sound quite right, Miele offers a bunch of other versions of the C2 and C3, with different capacities and cleaning heads for different kinds of homes. In brief, here are reasons you’d want to consider other C2 or C3 models, in rough order of how likely it is you should consider one:
We used to recommend the Miele Classic C1 line as our primary canister pick. It’s the company’s entry-level canister line, but it has many of the same attributes that make upscale Miele vacuums so great: the seven-year warranty, a wide service network, quiet operation, and strong cleaning performance.
So what’s different? Build quality. After we refocused on longevity for this version of the guide, the C1 didn’t quite make the cut. Compared with the C2 and C3, the C1 hose is stiffer and more prone to damage. The plastic body parts are thinner and more likely to crack. The nylon bristles on the floor tool and dusting brush are more likely to break. The cord is a few feet shorter. The filtration apparently isn’t as air-tight. The wand is shorter. It runs a little bit louder. One Sweethome editor who bought a C1 got shocked by her wand once, too—that’s a hint that the insulation is a little cheap.
The Classic C1 is still a great vacuum for the money, and it could last as long as the higher-end models. But even though you save money on the purchase price, you’re more likely to have to pay more for repairs down the line, we think.
Sebo makes a couple of canister vacuums as well, the Airbelt D and Airbelt K series, and they seem like solid machines. But just like with the uprights, the repair network is relatively narrow, and that’s a huge drawback for a vacuum that you’ll want to keep for decades. Also, there just aren’t anywhere near as many user reports about Sebo canisters as Miele canisters. Maybe we’re missing something by passing over Sebo, but that’s a chance we’re willing to take.
Riccar and Simplicity canister vacuums do not have the same reputation as their uprights. Our expert sources never brought them up, and the enthusiast chatter just isn’t there. What’s the deal? Well, they aren’t made in the same factory as the uprights—they’re not even made in the USA. They might as well be a different brand of vacuum.
If you read Consumer Reports you probably get the impression that Kenmore and Panasonic canister vacuums are as good as it gets for the money. (Panasonic told us that they make all the Kenmore canister vacuums, so there’s no difference between the brands in our minds.) We’ve tested a couple of them over the past few years, and they’re very effective cleaners, just as CR’s scores indicate. They all come with multi-height power brushes, a bunch of useful attachments, and reasonably tight filtration.
But we found, just as dozens, if not hundreds, of users in their reviews indicate, that the build quality on these vacs is a bit chintzy, just as it is with their upright counterparts. (CR’s ratings do not factor in build quality, reliability, or projected longevity.) Some of the plastic parts never quite fit together properly, and others crack over time. The wiring in the hose and wand (to supply power to the cleaning head) commonly frays and gives out over a couple of years. The warranty is relatively short; replacement parts can be frustratingly expensive or hard to find (especially for Kenmore models).
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced canister vacuum to last for a few years, we recommend the Panasonic CG902 in our cheap vac guide. But if you want reliability and longevity, these aren’t the brands you want.
Electrolux used to be the premier canister vacuum brand in the US, and one of the better upright brands, too. As we said in the upright competition section above, the Electrolux of 2015 has nothing to do with those excellent old vacuums. You can skip their canisters.
If you don’t want to spend much on your vacuum and don’t mind replacing it in five years, then go ahead and get a cheap bagless vac. We like the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352. Seriously, we mean that without sarcasm or judgment. You’ll spend a couple of extra hours per year maintaining the thing (as opposed to a few minutes), it’ll never get your carpets completely dust free, and almost certainly won’t last as long. But most people own some kind of cheap bagless vac these days, and if they own a decent one, it usually keeps them happy for a few years.
But if it’s longevity and ultimately a better cash-money value that you’re after, the consensus is that a high-end bagged vacuum is the way to go. Bagged vacuums inherently need less upkeep, which improves performance and your experience with the machine in the short- and medium-term, and tend to be built with sturdier parts, which saves a bunch of money in the long term.
Bagless vacuums need more care and attention than bagged vacs to keep working properly over time, critics say.6 The filters in bagless vacuums get dirtier much faster and need to be washed or replaced more often—or else they choke the airflow through the machine, and cleaning performance suffers. Driscoll argues that even if you’re diligent about keeping clean filters in your bagless, you’re fighting an uphill battle. “The moment you start using [a bagless vac], you start losing suction as the filter gradually becomes more clogged,” he said. (Yes, filters in bagged vacuums get dirty, too—but at a much slower rate, because the bag itself is a very effective primary filter.)
Keeping the dust bin clean takes more effort, too. The biggest bagless bins have only about two-thirds the capacity of the smallest bags, and it feels like less in practice because the debris doesn’t pack itself as densely in a bagless bin. That means more trips to the trash, and emptying a bin is messier than changing a bag. And occasionally, you’ll need to hand-wash the bin because grime inevitably builds up, and that can also restrict airflow. Even Rob Green of Dyson, the most famous bagless-vac company, told us, “There’s more of a process” in emptying a bagless machine.
If you have allergies, asthma, or any other condition where indoor air quality is a concern, bagless vacuums are more trouble than they’re worth. Whenever you empty the bin, some of the dust poofs out and goes airborne, where it can aggravate allergies. Yeah, you can work around the dust cloud—with some effort. One way is to empty it outdoors. AAFA recommends wrapping a plastic bag around the bottom of the dust bin before you open it, to trap the plume.
But it shouldn’t have to be so difficult, said Jeffrey May, the indoor-air-quality consultant and former AAFA board member. He also told us that he’d never recommend a bagless vacuum to his clients. Haver and Spindler both said they always steer customers with allergies toward bagged vacuums because they do a better job permanently removing allergens from your home.
What about the proud claims in advertisements and on product packaging stating that bagless vacuums never lose suction? It’s not quite true, and even if it were, it’s just not an impressive achievement by current standards. Haver explained that bagged vacuums used to lose suction as they filled with debris, because they used paper bags that weren’t porous enough to let air flow freely. When Dyson vacuums first hit the scene about 15 years ago, they were amazing because they didn’t lose suction as they filled. But it didn’t take long for the makers of the best bagged vac to figure out a better bag design, ultimately switching to one made of cloth that lets air flow through the sides. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find any vacuum, bagged or bagless, that noticeably loses suction while it fills. Pretending that “no loss of suction” is an important feature these days is like boasting about a Wi-Fi card in a laptop—it’s nothing special.
Even if we ignore all the implications of baglessness in general, real-world bagless vacuums aren’t as sturdy as bagged vacs, even the expensive ones like Dyson.
Driscoll told us that all the newer Dyson Ball models “have brittle parts that break.” Rich Brown at CNET told us that when his team reviewed the Dyson DC41, an earlier Ball model (which at the time in 2013 cost about $500), they were surprised by how plasticky certain parts of it felt. We’ve tested both the DC41 and Ball Multi-Floor (formerly known as the DC65) and found the same thing. Driscoll also pointed out that the ductwork inside Dyson vacs is relatively narrow, at three-quarters of an inch, which makes them more prone to clogging. (The ducts in some high-end bagged vacs are twice as wide.) Non-Dyson bagless vacs tend to be just as plasticky, but they’re usually much cheaper than Dyson vacs.
Dyson backs up its vacuums with a five-year warranty. Beyond that coverage period, based on everything we’ve covered above, we don’t think they stand a chance of lasting anywhere near as long as a typical high-end bagged vac. Here’s a figure to put it in perspective: One pro-bagless argument is that you save money on bags and filters. But a $400 Dyson costs as much as 21 years worth of replacement bags and filters for the Miele U1. Even if you replace it every 10 years, which is a generous estimate, you still come out on top with the Miele.
That’s why we think, if you absolutely want a bagless vacuum, the best value is to go cheap. We really, really like the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352, which we cover extensively in our guide to the best cheap vacuums. It does not deep-clean carpets as well as a Dyson can, but it can clean pretty much any kind of debris from any common surface just as effectively.
We can think of one logical, almost air-tight reason7 you’d want to buy a high-end bagless vacuum like a Dyson: cleaning carpet if you have lots and lots of really hairy pets, and you really care about keeping the dander out of your rugs. Pet hair fills up bags very quickly, and the cost of replacing those bags can add up if you’re filling them three or four times faster than the average person would. Cheaper bagless vacuums won’t be able to get dander out of your rugs as effectively as a Dyson can, either.
If that’s you, we think the Dyson Ball Multi-Floor is the right Dyson for that job. It’s the most affordable Dyson upright these days, it’s the top-ranked Dyson model at Consumer Reports, and it has mostly positive user reviews after almost two years of availability. It still feels cheaper than it costs, and despite the “ball” joint that James Dyson is so fond of, we found it harder to handle than some of the other high-end vacuums that we tested for this guide. But it’s a safer bet than the other current Dyson uprights. Price tracker CamelCamelCamel says it’s been available for as cheap as $270; try to wait for the price to drop down to that ballpark if you’re convinced that this is the best vacuum for you.
What about other Dyson models? The Ball Compact costs more and has worse reviews. The newer Big Ball Cinetic is significantly more expensive than the Multi-Floor. It doesn’t use any filters at all, and Dyson claims that it will never clog, thanks to rubber-tipped cyclones that shake loose buildups as they form. If those promises turn out to be true, it could be a useful technology. For now, Driscoll told us that he worries it could end up like the older DC17, which was infamous among vacuum technicians for cyclones that clogged completely shut and couldn’t be easily cleaned by owners. (Rob Green of Dyson says that model had no clogging issues.)
Does Dyson make bad vacuums? No, that’s not the right way to put it. If you’ve only ever owned cheap, semi-disposable vacuums, a Dyson will be a huge improvement in terms of cleaning performance and reliability. All we’re trying to argue is that compared with cheaper bagless vacs, or comparably priced bagged vacs, Dyson machines are not a great value.
As for the couple of other “upscale” bagless vacuums: The Hoover Air Cordless Lift is a nice idea, but we’ve tested one of the company’s other full-size cordless vacuums that runs on the same battery, and it is miles away from being a worthy competitor to any high-end vacuum. It just does not clean thoroughly enough to justify the price tag. The Shark NV700 series is essentially the same vacuum as our favorite cheap vac, the NV352, with a few extra features added to sweeten the deal. But as far as we can tell, it’s not a significantly better cleaner than the cheaper version, so we don’t think you should spend the extra money on this. And then there’s the curious case of bagless canisters, which nobody seems to want. The main complaint is that it’s extra messy to empty the dirt bin.
Honestly, this category doesn’t change very much from year to year, so there’s no point in holding out and waiting for the “next big thing” to be released. We will, however, be sure to update this space with new models that could be interesting.
Unlike with other appliance categories, we think it’s pretty unlikely that the US government will come down with stricter efficiency regulations anytime in the next few years, since vacuums are relatively low-impact as far as home goods go. However, the European Union recently began tightening the restrictions on high-wattage vacuums. As of September 2014, the EU instituted a ban on building or importing vacuums over 1,600 watts. It gets stricter in 2017, when the limit will drop to 900 watts. The US has no plans for similar regulations anytime soon.
Then there’s the push, led by Hoover, toward battery power. One company representative told us in 2014 that Hoover wants 50 percent of its new vacuums to be battery-powered within the next five years. In our experience, battery power is a great thing in small, affordable vacuums for small homes. But in a high-end machine, we don’t think it makes sense. Lithium-ion batteries simply stop working after a few years, and proprietary packs are not cheap to replace, so you’re looking at some extra costs over the long term. It just makes more sense to keep these things corded.
How to use the right settings: With vacuums as powerful as these, you should vacuum bare floors with the brush roller turned off and the suction at the highest possible setting. The air flow will be strong enough to pick up debris on its own.
On installed carpet, turn on the brush roller. If you have a cleaning head with manual height adjustments, start on the maximum height, and lower it until you feel the carpet start to vibrate. That’s the correct setting. The brush is agitating the carpet, but air should still be flowing freely. You probably won’t need to adjust the suction. If your cleaning head adjusts its height automatically (or doesn’t adjust at all), set the suction to the highest setting that allows you to push the vacuum comfortably. If it feels like the vacuum is stuck on the carpet, turn the suction down.
On area rugs, the same rules as above apply, but you’ll probably have to turn the suction down, so that the vacuum doesn’t start to pull or bunch the rug.
What not to vacuum: We’ll stick with the biggest no-nos here. You might’ve gotten away with these a few times, or even think they’re no big deal. But for the sake of your vacuum, don’t make a habit of any of them.
When to replace filters and bags: In a high-end vac, replace the bag when it’s so full that the suction drops off—there’s no advantage to replacing it earlier. Each manufacturer provides a recommended schedule for changing filters. Follow it. Usually, it’s something like changing the pre-motor filter every time you change the bag, and changing the post-motor filter on every fourth bag change.
Third-party bags: They’re probably fine, but Driscoll has shared stories on Reddit about generic bags made by 3M busting open during use. It’s rare, but when it happens, you’ll need to get the interior of the vac professionally cleaned and the filters replaced, or risk mechanical problems and dirty emissions.
Cleaning clogs and tangles: If your vacuum seems like it’s struggling to suck up the debris that it normally would handle just fine, but the bag still has plenty of space left in it, the brush roller could have a tangle, or a clog could be building up between the intake and the bag.
Some vacuums let you remove the roller in order to de-tangle it—you’ll be able to take it out without tools if you’re meant to take it out on your own. Others aren’t meant to have their rollers removed, but they usually have a “clean-out” groove in the roller. Slide a razor blade or pair of scissors through it, and the hair should pull off pretty easily. As for clogs, if it’s a canister vac, it’s usually at the joint of the cleaning head, so all you have to do is pop the head off and clean it out with your finger. If it’s an upright, it’ll have some kind of trapdoor on the bottom of the head or lower part of the back of the body.
When to take it to the shop: If there’s ever a concerning noise or foul smell coming from your vacuum, it needs service. If it’s just not cleaning very well, and you’ve made sure that the bag and filters are fresh, and you can’t find any obvious tangles or clogs, and you’re sure you’re using the machine properly, then it probably needs service.
Before you start Googling for shops in your area, call customer service and file a claim. (If you’re not sure whether the vacuum is under warranty, they’ll be able to tell you.) They’ll refer you to an authorized technician in your area.
(Photos by Brendan Nystedt)
Originally published: November 3, 2015