How to buy the best vacuum cleaner
By Matthew Knight
With so many vacuums available, how do you narrow the choice? From cheap Hoovers to sleek Dysons, here’s how to find the perfect model.
Our years of experience testing and rating vacuum cleaners of all prices and brands have proved that it's generally worth spending at least £100 on a vacuum cleaner, if you can.
We rarely test models below this price as the vast majority of vacuums we've tested for less than this tend to score poorly on vital factors such as cleaning power and manoeuvrability. But very expensive models can also score poorly, which is why it's important to do your homework before hitting the shops.
The very best vacuums that hit our Best Buy gold standard tend to cost more than £150, with around half pushing £200 or more. But while our most expensive Best Buy has been an eye-watering £400, we regularly have recommendations for less than £100, so use our vacuum cleaner reviews to narrow down the choice to those in your budget.
The best model for you may not necessarily be one of the best all-rounders we've tested. Before you buy, consider what your home is like. If you only have laminate floors, there’s no point shelling out for a vacuum cleaner that delivers a five-star cleaning on carpet and wooden floors, as well as laminate. Our vacuum cleaner reviews include ratings for cleaning power on laminate floors, wooden floors with crevices and carpet.
Our Best vacuum cleaners page lists the recommended models that have excelled across all our tests.
Upright vacuum or cylinder, bagged or bagless?
There are pros and cons for each type of machine, but a lot comes down to the layout of your home. Cylinder vacuum cleaners (the type that you pull around the home behind you) are useful if you have stairs and hard to reach spaces, but they don't tend to pick up pet hair very well. Push-along upright vacuums are good if you have large areas of floor to cover, but are larger and harder to store in small spaces.
There isn't a big difference between the cleaning power of bagged and bagless vacuums, so it's more down to your personal preference.
To help you make up your mind, go to our in-depth guide on which vacuum cleaner you should choose?
Is the vacuum cleaner's capacity important?
The dust capacity of a vacuum is measured in litres. If you have a large home that needs lots of cleaning, generally it's wise to choose a vacuum cleaner with a high capacity – you'll have to buy fewer bags or empty it less often and there'll be less fiddling around emptying it.
But for many vacuum cleaners, the amount of dust picked up can diminish as the bag or canister fills up, so it's a good idea to change the bag before it's bursting at the seams and empty the container as often as you can. This can prove pricey with some bagged models, though.
When we test vacuum cleaners in the Which? test lab, we measure how much dust they really can hold - rather than how much space the manufacturer claims is in the container.
Are higher wattage vacuum cleaners better?
Since 2014, all vacuum cleaners made or imported in the EU have to have motors of 1,600 watts or less. Once older models that exceed that wattage sell out, shops are unable to replenish their stocks of higher wattage vacuum cleaners.
But less power doesn’t necessarily mean less suction – we've uncovered several Best Buy vacuum cleaners with lower wattages that are great at cleaning.
Vacuum cleaners also now have to carry an energy label, rating the model A to G for energy use, cleaning performance (on carpets and hard floors) and dust emissions. The energy labelling rules also require a minimum level of performance for every vacuum to be sold in the EU.
It's also been announced that in 2017 the maximum power that manufacturers will be allowed to produce and import will be reduced again to 900 watts.
Do vacuum cleaners that claim to be more energy efficient really use less energy?
Which? has tested a few vacuum cleaners that are claimed to have low energy use, and levels vary. Some recorded low levels in our tests, others proved average. Vacuum cleaners need the power to clean floors and as yet, we’ve not found a vacuum cleaner that balances excellent all-round cleaning with very low energy use.
Average energy consumption is around 0.27kWh to vacuum a 10m2 area of carpet at full suction – that’s about the same area as three king-size beds. We've seen energy-sapping models use in excess of 0.15kWh more energy than the less power-hungry ones - enough energy to boil a litre of water in a kettle.
Since the introduction of EU restrictions on the motor size of vacuum cleaners nearly all vacuum cleaners are relatively energy efficient. The impact on your bills is somewhere between £5-10 per year depending on the size of your home and the motor size of your vacuum cleaner.
Is it true that some vacuum cleaners can help allergy sufferers?
It's estimated that about 40% of us suffer from allergies at some point in our lives. And one way of keeping dust-mite allergies at bay is to use your vacuum cleaner regularly.
But it's important to choose a vacuum cleaner that can retain the contents of its dust bag or canister, and not let them leak back out. Some vacuum cleaners that are poorly built or have poor exhaust filtration allow tiny particles to escape back into the room, wreaking havoc for allergy sufferers.
Our allergen retention tests show there are significant differences between models in how well vacs can retain allergens. The worst vacuum cleaners retain less than 10% of the tiny allergen particles, compared with the very best which retain more than 99%. Look carefully at these ratings in our reviews if you suffer from allergies. Watch our video to see the lengths we go to test vacuum cleaners.
Vacuum cleaners that have Hepa (high-efficiency particulate air) or S-class filters, designed to retain the particles that cause allergy attacks, should also make a difference.
What kind of vacuum cleaner bags are best?
Vacuum cleaner manufacturers usually recommend buying replacement bags sold under their own brand names. But you can also buy bags from third-party suppliers, such as Airflo, Unifit and Vivanco. These companies make the 'official' bags for some vacuum cleaner manufacturers as well as providing their own-branded alternatives.
Generally, you're unlikely to see much difference. But our Which? tests show that some alternative bags tend to let small particles of dust escape, which might mean you'd need to clean the vacuum cleaner's filters more often.
Are there any 'extras' you should look out for?
Some vacuum cleaners come with extra nozzles and brushes for cleaning upholstery and curtains, or around the edges of skirting boards. From turbo brushes to crevice tools, see our Which vacuum cleaner? guide to discover what added extras are worth shopping around for.
A vacuum cleaner with a long cord and hose is handy for cleaning stairs, or if you're short of power sockets around your house. You'll be able to clean a larger area without having to unplug and find a nearer socket.
We’ve found that vacuum cleaners' reach can range in length from 6 to 15 metres – a big difference when tackling a large room.
Are robot vacuum cleaners any good?
Robots that vacuum while you take it easy have been around for several years, and the technology is getting better and prices from some brands are getting cheaper.
But with some robot vacuums still costing up to an eye-watering £800, you'll want to be sure any model that you invest in will leave your home free of dust without you lifting a finger. Unfortunately, our experience of robot vacuum cleaners suggests that you're likely to be underwhelmed.
Even the best robot vacuum cleaners aren't claimed to match a standard vacuum cleaner for cleaning power. And they can't tackle the annoying little bits of your home such as stairs, crevices and upholstery. However, they can be a convenient way to keep your floors free of every day dust and hair in between deeper cleans with a regular vacuum.
We've put 15 of the latest models to the test in the Which? test lab, including those from all the major robot vacuum brands including Dyson, iRobot, Neato and Samsung. Find out which ones are worth buying on our best robot vacuums page.