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Should you trust new vacuum cleaner energy labels?

Tests reveal inconsistencies between label ratings

Woman vacuum cleaning

Our tests have revealed inconsistencies between label ratings for cleaning power

Which? has tested 38 vacuum cleaners that carry the newly introduced EU energy label and found that while the label has some benefits, performance ratings on some labels bear little relation to how well one model will clean compared to another when you get it home.

Introduced in September 2014, the new vacuum cleaner energy label restricts motor size to less than 1600 Watts and asks manufacturers to score their vacuum cleaners from A-G on four factors including energy use, pick up on hard floors, pick up on carpets and dust emissions. The label also shows how noisy the vacuum is in decibels.

In principle this is good news for the consumer as it should make it easier to find the best models, but our independent tests have uncovered inconsistencies between some label ratings. Our results suggest that a model with an A for cleaning performance on its label is not necessarily any better at cleaning than models with lower ratings – and could actually be a lot worse.

Don’t miss our full vacuum cleaner reviews for a full run down of the latest top scoring models from Which? tests.

Vacuum cleaner labels under the microscope

The best vacuum cleaner for dust pick up on carpet in our test has just a C rating for carpet cleaning performance on its energy label, which is some way off the best ‘official’ energy label rating of A.
And there are examples from well-known vacuum cleaner brands that achieve poorer dust pick up scores in our own tests, yet are displaying A ratings on this measure on their energy labels.

At Which? we test vacuum cleaners on the same surfaces with the same procedures that are specified on the energy label, so we’re surprised at some of the ratings on a good proportion of the new label-carrying models.

Finding the best vacuum cleaner

If you relied purely on the new energy label, the chances are that you would not look twice at one of the very best vacuum cleaners according to our tests. The best model we’ve tested excels in nearly all of our tests, including cleaning performance, yet carries an EU energy label with D ratings for carpet and hard floor cleaning performance. We found inferior models to this one that have an A or B for carpet and hard floor cleaning under the new label.

For hard floors it is even more confusing, with our five-star hard floor vacuums being given energy label ratings for cleaning performance anywhere from F through to A.

This apparent lack of consistency in how carpet and hard floor ratings are assigned by manufacturers means consumers could struggle to pick the best vacuum cleaner using the new label.

And Which? is not alone in raising concerns. Already one big manufacturer in Europe has challenged another in the courts in Germany to have high rating labels on a certain rival manufacturer’s vacuums revoked due to perceived inaccuracies.

Vacuum cleaner energy label

The energy label that now appears on all vacuum cleaners

Vacuum cleaner energy ratings

Our independent lab testing does confirm that the energy consumption aspect of the energy label is accurate. Individual models’ labels rank from A-F in line with what we’d expect based on our own testing.

While energy use is an important consideration when choosing a vacuum cleaner and it is good news that these appliances are using less energy, we know that most consumers place carpet and hard floor cleaning well above this.

Raising vacuum cleaner standards

It looks like the minimum suction regulations included in the EU label are at least encouraging some brands to up their game overall and the standard of models from previously poorer manufacturers has improved.

Normally in a group test of 38 vacuums we would expect to find several really poor models to which we would assign our Don’t Buy label, however there are no such models in our latest tests. To find out which models were the best of the bunch, take a look at our vacuum cleaner Best Buys page.

Which? says

At Which? we welcome the new energy efficiency requirements for vacuum cleaners and support the inclusion of other minimum performance requirements on the label. But we have identified some big discrepancies which suggest that consumers cannot always rely on the label to choose the best vacuum cleaner. 

We can’t put our finger on why this is happening so we are challenging the manufacturers to explain this and are approaching the European Commission to get to the bottom of this. We will also be sharing our findings with the UK government and with the National Measurement Office, which is the UK energy label enforcement authority.

We will continue to rigorously test new vacuum cleaners and we’ll report back on our discussions with official bodies and whether any changes are made.

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