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NerdWallet’s Vacuum Buying Guide

Aug. 19, 2016
Product Comparisons, Shopping, Shopping News
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Vacuums aren’t a household purchase you have to make often, but when you do buy one, you want to make the right decision.

From what to look for in a new cleaner to where and how often you’ll be using it, we’ve compiled everything you should take into account before picking a model for your home.

When you set out to buy a vacuum, these are the top things you should keep in mind:

Vacuum type

Vacuums aren’t a one-size-fits-all purchase. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and each type has a slightly different purpose. Before diving into deep vacuum research, it’s important to decide on the type that would be best for your home.

  • Upright vacuums: The most well-known of any vacuum type, uprights are likely what you think of when you picture a vacuum. They’re usually corded devices with the head and motor contained in one vertical unit. They’re suitable for use on carpet, hardwood and stairs, but they tend to be heavy.
  • Stick vacuums: Stick vacuums are slim and lightweight, which makes them a suitable choice for smaller homes and apartments. They’re usually cordless, but they tend to have a fairly short battery life, which can make cleaning large spaces a challenge.
  • Canister vacuums: Canister vacuums separate the head and motor in an easily recognizable two-part design. Users can carry the motor portion in one hand as they maneuver the cleaning head with the other to reach areas like tight corners and stairs.
  • Robot vacuums: Robot vacuums are self-operating devices that can be scheduled to do the household cleaning for you. Owners program these battery-operated vacuums to clean wherever they want — and to avoid spaces they don’t want touched. But convenience comes at a price; robots typically are more expensive than any of the other vacuum types.

Cleaning surface

Where do you need your vacuum to clean? Depending on the flooring in your home, see whether the model you’re considering can conquer carpet, rugs, tile and/or hardwood. For instance, canister vacuums have a reputation of doing a good job on bare flooring, while robot vacuums aren’t equipped to tackle stairs.

To transition seamlessly between surfaces, look for a model with an on/off brush roll feature. For households with dogs and cats, some models are specifically designed to pick up pet hair.

Size and weight

Note the dimensions of any vacuum you’re considering. Then, look around your home and measure the height of your furniture. If you want a vacuum that can clean underneath your couch, bed, end tables and more, you won’t want one that’s too bulky or that could get stuck.

Also, look at the vacuum’s weight and test it out if you can. Remember that you’ll be toting it around your home, so you may want a lightweight model, especially if you’ll be trundling it up and down stairs. Also take the length of its power cord into account. If the cord is too short, it might not be able to reach across your largest rooms.

» MORE: The best Dyson vacuums


Programmability is unique to robot vacuums, which are all about convenience. Some devices come with remote controls for hands-off operation. Other models allow you to schedule cleaning sessions in advance. Still others have boundary markers to determine where the vacuum should and shouldn’t clean. Pay attention to programming instructions and functionality options.


You may want a vacuum that cleans quietly, especially if you have young ones at home. If you’re buying online or don’t have the opportunity to test the vacuum in person, read reviews from other users to help you judge how loud a particular model will be. Or, look up videos of the vacuum in action.

Battery life

Some models, such as robot vacuums and stick vacuums, are powered by a battery instead of a power cord. If you opt for the convenience of cordless, you’ll want an idea of the vacuum’s battery life. Check to see how long the vacuum can operate on one charge and how long it takes to recharge between uses. Then be realistic about how long it may take to clean your entire living space.

» MORE: The best Shark vacuums

Ease of cleaning

Though your new vacuum will clean the carpet and hard floors in your home, you’ll be the one to clean the vacuum. Consider the size of the dust container, which will suggest how often you’ll need to empty it.

Upright models with bags are easy to clean, since you need to replace only the bag. However, they carry the extra cost of replacement bags. That’s not an issue with bagless vacuums, but emptying their dirt bin can get messy.


Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, you can get a vacuum that’s loaded with extras. More advanced models include features such as headlights for vacuuming in dark areas and retractable power cords that eliminate the usual work of winding or unwinding. Before you make a purchase, look for these features and compare extras across the models you’re considering.

On-board tools

Look for a vacuum with bonus tools. Some models include nozzles, brushes, attachments, filters, bags or other accessories with purchase. These usually are designed to help you clean those nooks and crannies that the vacuum’s head may be unable to reach, like inside your car. If you’re a pet owner, you’ll usually be able to find some vacuums that offer pet-specific tools.

But remember, the more tools your model comes with, the higher its price is likely to be. Be realistic about how often you’d use such attachments.

» MORE: The best cheap vacuums

Timing your purchase

Once you’ve done your research and decided on the vacuum you want, you still have to consider when and where to make your purchase. Historically, the best times to buy a vacuum are April, during spring cleaning season, and November, during post-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales.

If your current vacuum breaks down in the dead of summer, you probably won’t want to wait for the next sale period to roll around. If that’s the case, you still have a few options. First, consider buying directly from the manufacturer. Vacuum makers will often offer free shipping or free attachments as an incentive to buy from them. Next, compare prices at third-party retailers. Amazon in particular is known to reduce vacuum prices, even when the manufacturer or other stores don’t.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @courtneynerd.