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17 Jul 2020

Is it worth paying extra for a vacuum cleaner with auto cleaning controls?

Premium-priced vacuums from brands such as Dyson, Tineco and Bissell increasingly feature auto cleaning modes. We investigate if they really do make life easier
The auto mode display on a Dyson V11 cordless vacu

Some vacuums let you cruise through the weekly clean with auto modes that adapt the suction power to different floor types so you don't have to. But do they live up to the hype?

Brands including Dyson, Bissell and Tineco have all launched vacuum cleaners with auto cleaning modes in the last year or so.

On cordless models, such as the Dyson V11 Absolute (£600) and Tineco Pure One S12 (£469), this means you only use as much power as you need, which can help to preserve battery life as you go.

With plug-in vacuums, such as the Bissell SmartClean Pet (£250), it means less faffing about flipping buttons as you move around the house.

But you'll pay a premium for the privilege, as this is a feature usually found on models with a higher-than-average price. So is it worth it?

We've spent many hours testing in the lab so you can find out before you buy.

Get straight to our top picks for cleaning by checking our list of the best cordless vacuums and best vacuum cleaners.

How does auto mode work?

With most vacuum cleaners, the suction power stays the same until you change the power setting manually.

This means that when you move from cleaning carpets in one room to hard floors in another, you may need to switch settings so that the vacuum cleans properly and doesn't stick to the floor.

Auto-clean settings work in several different ways to automate this process.

Some, such as the Dyson V11 Absolute, use sensors in the floorhead to monitor the level of resistance between the turbo brush bar and the floor.

Higher levels of resistance tell the vacuum it's on carpet, and it will up the suction accordingly to lift embedded dust and dirt.

Other models, such as the Tineco Pure One S12, use a sensor to track how much dust is being sucked up, raising the suction power when it notices that there is more dust flowing up the cleaning tube.

Is it worth having auto mode

When it works, we've found that auto mode is a handy feature. It means you can simply sweep through your home without pausing to switch settings across different floor surfaces.

It's particularly handy on cordless vacuums, where it's a useful way to conserve the battery.

However, it's no good if the vacuum itself isn't a good pick. We've found both brilliant and awful vacuum cleaners with auto cleaning. Some are our top-scoring Best Buys, while others are so poor at cleaning we've had to label them Don't Buys to avoid.

Check our list of Don't Buy vacuums and Don't Buy cordless vacuums to find out the models to steer clear of, and check our reviews of auto-clean vacs (listed below) to find the ones that do the job properly.

How to fix a vacuum cleaner that's lost suction - if your current vacuum is struggling, try our step-by-step guide to fixing suction problems

3 vacuum cleaners that (claim to) do the thinking for you

Dyson V11 Torque / Absolute, £550+

The Dyson V11 Absolute is as premium as Dyson gets, and it has a price to match. For a whopping £600 you get a bucket-load of technology: an LCD screen with battery life and maintenance alert display, a six-stage filtration system, and of course, auto mode.

On auto mode, the Torque floorhead uses what Dyson calls a Dynamic Load Sensor, which monitors brush bar resistance to automatically adjust suction power depending on the floor type, to optimise cleaning and conserve battery life.

Other key features include:

  • 0.9-litre dust capacity
  • 13 mins battery life on maximum power, and 1hr 16 mins on minimum power
  • 3.2kg weight
  • Easy dust-bin-emptying function shared by the Dyson V10 models, which aims and shoots at the bin and has a larger capacity than that of the Dyson V7 and the Dyson V8.
  • Plenty of extra accessories, including four extra nozzles, a soft roller head specially designed for hard floors, a wall mount, and clip-on storage for the extra nozzles.

It's occasionally found on offer for £500, and Dyson has recently introduced a cheaper version - the Dyson V11 Torque - which is identical apart from having fewer extra cleaning tools.

But is it worth paying top dollar for? See our full Dyson V11 Absolute review to find out.

Tineco Pure One S12, £469

The Tineco Pure One S12 is the premium offering from an American brand that hasn't long been in the UK, but it's a household name across the pond. The price can jump around a bit, but it's cheaper than the top-end Dysons and jam-packed full of fancy features.

This cordless model uses the dust-detecting auto mode mentioned above. A glowing ring around the edge of its slick digital display turns red if it detects dust and debris under the floorhead, and it ramps up the suction power to suck it up. Once the area is clean it turns blue, so you know when to move on.

Other key features include:

  • 0.9-litre dust capacity
  • Swappable batteries
  • 3.1kg weight
  • A companion smartphone app that notifies you of maintenance alerts, tells you how much dirt you've sucked up, and allows you to adjust the controls remotely.
  • A range of accessories including two lithium-ion batteries, five extra nozzles, a wall-mount, a filter-cleaning tool and a small blade/comb for detangling the brush bar.

See our full Tineco Pure One S12 reviewto find out if this cheaper rival can compete with established brands.

Bissell SmartClean Pet 2228A, £250

The Bissell SmartClean Pet 2228A is another American vacuum cleaner, but this one is a corded model aimed at pet owners. At just under £250, it's also the cheapest choice to have an auto mode.

On the back of the motor unit you'll find a large auto mode button with a blue light around it. During use, the blue ring lights up to indicate the suction power and, like the Dyson V11, the floorhead measures brush bar resistance to detect the floor type and adjust the suction power as you clean.

Other key features include:

  • 3.4 litres dust capacity
  • 13.5m cable length
  • 9.8kg weight
  • Extension tube, a crevice tool and a dusting brush
  • LED lights in the floorhead for spotting debris in dark areas like under furniture

It's a more affordable option that still gives you a glimpse of a hassle-free future. So is it one to snap up? See our full independent review of the Bissell SmartClean Pet vacuum cleaner.

Top five vacuum cleaners for 2020 - get straight to our top picks

Our vacuum cleaner tests

When we test vacuum cleaners, each model is hooked up to a mechanical rig that imitates the action of a person using a vacuum cleaner, and we put precisely the same amount of dust and debris on each floor area. How much each vacuum sucks up can then be measured and compared down to the last particle.

On our test carpets we use both the maximum power setting and auto mode (if the vacuum cleaner has one), so we can compare how deep the clean will be depending on which setting you use. This way you can find out how good the vacuum cleaner is compared with rivals, and how to get the best out of it during use.

For more details on our expert lab tests, head to our guide on how we test vacuum cleaners.

Prices correct as of 16 July 2020.