If you're looking for a budget vacuum, I would choose the Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ because of its excellent performance, versatile feature set and reliability—even though it’s a bagged model.
Put away your pitchforks, bag haters. After 40 hours of research we can say that this vacuum will give you excellent performance on all surfaces, the features to help you tackle hard to reach areas and the knowledge that peak performance is just a bag change away.
The earliest bagless design came out of the work of James Dyson, and though the first Dyson model wouldn’t hit the States until the mid-’90s, the patent was filed in 1984. The essential nature of this patent made it hard to develop these types of designs without infringing on Dyson’s intellectual property, something they were happy to defend. So while Dyson has spent nearly 30 years refining their bagless vacuums, the competition doesn’t have near that much experience. The deficit is compounded by the competition’s desire to undercut Dyson on cost. Making a bagless vacuum on the cheap means skimping on parts and materials, which often results in a subpar product.
To combat this, manufacturers standardize certain components across large swaths of their product line. Reviewed.com’s current appliance editor-in-chief, Keith Barry, described this approach as a classic platform strategy: You develop one basic design, based around one motor, one chassis and one canister design. Your highest-end model gets all the bells and whistles. Then the cheaper models lose out on a few things. Maybe they get a smaller canister or fewer attachments. Maybe you swap in a cheaper motor or a cheaper-to-produce suction mechanism. It’s these cost-cutting measures that cause issues.
I spent hours researching bagless vacuums in the sub-$250 range and one complaint came up more than any other: loss of suction. No matter the manufacturer, the claim came up again and again in user reviews for budget bagless models. Clearly something about the budget space didn’t lend itself to the reliability that users have come to expect from pricier models. To look into this further we got in touch with Richard Baguley, who designed much of Reviewed.com’s appliance testing labs and procedures and is the Wirecutter’s resident testing guru. In our chat, Richard described the budget space as one where you “get what you pay for.”
The problem is that some components don’t work as well as they should if you go too cheap. A cheaper motor means less powerful suction. A smaller canister that needs to be emptied and cleaned more frequently is more trouble than it’s worth. A suction design with narrower, more clog-prone channels is a recipe for long-term loss of suction.
These cheaper bagless models aren’t hopeless, but the degree of preventive maintenance they require to keep proper function is too high a cost, even against the cost of vacuum bags.
What makes a great vacuum?
Home vacuums need to provide great performance on all surfaces: floors, short carpeting, long carpeting, area rugs, etc. To achieve this, they need to have adequate suction, a roller brush on/off switch and manual height adjustment. Floating head designs that purport to adjust height automatically rarely meet expectations. The right pick needs to perform as well on day one as it does on day 500, and that’s usually where the wheels come off the wagon (more on that in a moment). The basics for utility include a hose, crevice tool, upholstery tool and extension wand; with that assortment you’ll be able to tackle couches, stairs, cobwebs and hard-to-reach corners. Lastly, the right vacuum has to come from a company that wants to make sure their customers are happy and have a working vacuum at all times. That means a decent warranty that’s packed up by good customer service.
So how does the Boss come out on top?
The hose offers up about 6 feet of reach; when paired with an extension, it’s plenty to get behind furniture and at cobwebs up on ceilings. The air-powered turbine brush will help lift pet hair off of upholstery. Just remember to use a light touch, as pressing down hard against the fabric will impede the brush. The 30-foot cord will probably get you from one room right into the next, and with that brush on/off switch and adjustable height, you’ll be able to match whatever surface you encounter on the way.
Its only major flaw is that it’s a bit on the heavy side. All of the professional reviews we read cited handling and maneuverability as the 4870MZ’s weakest point. At around 22 pounds, this isn’t terribly surprising, yet we might have considered chalking it up to personal niggles if it wasn’t such a consistent finding. Not infrequently, users of vacuums with manual height adjustment fail to adjust their vacuum’s height. The resulting struggle to move the vacuum can make for a serious workout. User reviews, though, don’t bring up maneuverability as a concern as much, likely owing to the relative scarcity of thicker carpets. People do complain about lugging it up and down stairs, so readers with multiple floors might want to think twice.
A promising but unproven bagless recommendation
The professional reviews for last year’s Shark Rotator Lift-away NV501 (street price $200) are just hitting, and they’re mostly positive. Consumer Reports called its carpet performance “impressive,” while giving it a score of 65. Good Housekeeping’s B+ rating comes with praise for versatility and a good selection of tools.
The unit is lightweight and easy to maneuver, owing to its rotating head. It also features a removable canister component that gives the model an advantage over other uprights for stairs and hard to reach areas. Air flow through those tools is questionable, and the lack of manual height adjustment is usually a nail in the coffin, but the versatility and performance of this model seems to belie its cost and reputation.
These reviews are good preliminary indicators, but longterm reliability is still an unknown quantity. User reviews were mostly polarized, with some users loving their units (for the handful of months they’ve had them) and others livid that their new model has already started falling apart or failing. One weary Amazon reviewer only managed to use their new vacuum four times before the roller brush broke. To make matters worse, customer support sent them the wrong replacement part. That said, a little over a week later, a return call to Shark put a new vacuum in the reviewer’s hands. This sort of customer service is encouraging and could go a long way to mitigating our concerns with lower-priced bagless models.
We’re a cautious bunch, though. A new model with lots of whiz bang parts and awesome performance could be great, but we won’t know for sure until people have been kicking them around for a little while. While we wait, though, readers on the lookout for a great vacuum that’s bagless might consider this attractive option. Just remember, keep up with your unit’s preventive maintenance, or you might end up putting that customer service to the test.
What can I get for a little more?
Where does 40 hours of research go? Into sorting a whole lot of chaff to get just a bit of wheat. There were some that stood out, yet weren’t quite good enough to earn our full recommendation.
The Hoover UH70015 is one of Hoover’s ‘halo’ models, meaning it’s the nice one that all the cheaper ones are based off of. The 5-year warranty for this model made it a very tempting contender. A solid review from CR (65) was bolstered by a feature set that included a 40’ cord and nifty dirt sensor. All of Hoover’s bagless models, though, were found to be difficult to maintain and to lose suction without frequent and thorough maintenance.
Hoover’s bagged line-up includes the Windtunnel Anniversary (U6485900), a solid all-around vacuum. It has the distinction of bearing Consumer Reports‘ highest upright vacuum score (73), for its impressive performance on all surfaces and its excellent handling. The handling, though, is its downfall: countless reviews cited the units self-propulsion as a common failure point. Once that part has failed, this Hoover becomes a bear to move across carpet.
We also looked at the Electrolux Nimble EL8602A because the brand is well-known in Europe for its reliability, however, that’s not quite enough to make up for mediocre performance. Despite its excellent customer service and reliability, CR gave it a middling score of 57 due to poor performance on carpets, and handling that doesn’t match its name.
- Panasonic UL815 - Once our top contender, this bagless upright got good reviews from Reviewed.com and Consumer Reports, citing its performance and value proposition. But user reviews made clear that it is a hard to maneuver and difficult to maintain model. The short warranty was the final nail in its coffin.
- Shark Navigator NV100 – Beloved by users on Amazon and Overstock; unfortunately scored a 43 by CR for bad carpet performance.
- Kenmore Intuition 31100 – Pricier model, shorter warranty and inconsistent floor performance.
- Hoover UH70120 – Tons of PM to maintain.
- Kenmore Intuition 31040 – Poor pet hair performance, expensive and hard to maneuver.
- Hoover UH30310 – Poor suction performance masked by strong brush action.
- Bissell 89q9 – Poor carpet performance, hard to maneuver.
- Hoover UH70600 – Poor long carpet performance, tons of work to maintain.
- Eureka AS1104A – Tough to maintain, quirky operation, hard to maneuver.
- Shark NV402 – Not as versatile as the NV501.
- Hoover 30010COM – No brush shut off = poor floor performance
- Hoover UH30600 – Reports of tough-to-manage clogs.
- Shark NV356E – Too close to cost of NV501, with some shocking complaints.
- Panasonic UL915 – Automatic height adjustment = poor long carpet performance, tough to maintain.
- LG LuV200R – Novel design, EOL’d.
- Hoover UH70400 – Poor long carpet performance, tons of parts to maintain (canister, filters and roller).
- Shark NV352 – Reports of high fail rate, back ordered parts, not as well performing as NV501.
- Shark NV22L – Poor long carpet performance, reports of high fail rate.
- Hoover UH70210 – Poor carpet performance, reports of overheating and reliability issues.
- Eureka Airspeed AS1000A – No brush shut off = poor floor performance.
- Hoover UH30300 – Fail points related to mechanical operations (roller brush).
Wrapping it up
What really impresses me about the Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ is that for all its performance, for all its features, and for all its durability, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. At less than $150, you could pick up our step-down handheld pick, the Black and Decker Pivot PHV1810, for stairs and hard-to-reach places and still stay under $200. It’s not the most elegant solution, but for the price you can’t do better.
James Dyson, Wikipedia,
Eureka Boss 4870MZ Review, Reviewed.com Vacuums, 2012-09-27,
Eureka Boss SmartVac Pet Lover 4870SZ Vacuum, Good Housekeeping, 2010-09,"It also worked well at removing dirt from bare flooring and at picking up pet hair from carpeting, making it a very versatile cleaner."
Eureka Boss Smart Vac 4870[ ], Consumer Reports,"Impressive carpet cleaning and superb pickup on bare floors and pet hair for less than many models are all reasons to put this bagged upright on your shopping list. It was also superb at containing the dust it picks up."
Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501, Consumer Reports,
Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501 Vacuum Cleaner, Good Housekeeping, 2013-05,
Hoover WindTunnel Anniversary Edition U6485-900, Consumer Reports,