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Corded vs Cordless Vacuum Cleaners

By Matthew Knight

Find out how cordless vacuums measure up to traditional vacuum cleaners. We explain the pros and cons of cord-free cleaning.

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Cordless vacuum cleaners have really captured the imagination of the British public with cordless models hoovering up market share from more traditional cylinder and upright vacuums. But is a cordless cleaner right for you?

Cordless vacuum cleaners are lightweight, upright stick-shaped vacuum cleaners which use battery power to suck up dust and dirt. Most include accessories for cleaning stairs, upholstery, crevices and even your car. 

Their slimline design and light handling has helped make them popular, but their small capacity and the limitations of the battery life means they aren't suitable for all homes. Find out how they compare to ordinary vacuum cleaners below to help you decide what's right for you.

Just want to get straight to our reviews? Head to our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews or standard vacuum cleaner reviews.

Why buy a cordless vacuum cleaner?

Cordless vacuum cleaners are lighter than most ordinary upright vacuum cleaners, weighing an average of 3kg compared with 7kg for a standard vacuum. They're easy to move around too, as you aren't hampered by a cord or your proximity to a plug socket. 

Many come with wall mounts so instead of rifling through the cupboard under the stairs you can just grab and go. This makes them ideal for quick clean-up jobs - when you've spilled crumbs over the kitchen for example, or stomped bits of grass all over the hall carpet.

While some are designed just for floor cleaning, most have accessories for tackling smaller cleaning jobs. This means you can easily use one as a handheld vacuum for cleaning your car, or tackling the stairs without having to do complicated acrobatics.

Pros of cordless vacuum cleaners

  • Lighter than standard vacuums
  • Not restricted by cord length or proximity to power sockets
  • Can use as a handheld vacuum for smaller / awkward jobs
  • Smaller and easier to store

However, you do have to make some compromises if you go cordless. Firstly, you're on a timer. Most cordless vacuum cleaners last for between 15-40 minutes cleaning time. Some have interchangeable batteries, or last for up to 60 minutes, but this will usually cost you extra. If you need to use high-power mode - if you have lots of carpet for example - you'll find the battery life drops dramatically.

Secondly, the dust capacity is much smaller. Usually around 0.6 litres compared with around 2-3 litres for an average-sized standard vacuum cleaner. This means that, while you save time when actually cleaning, you may find yourself spending more time emptying the vacuum and cleaning the filters. If you don't, your vacuum cleaner will get less effective as it gets blocked up.

If you're an allergy sufferer, this isn't ideal either as it means more regular contact with the dust. You might find one of our top five lightweight vacuums a better bet.

Cons of cordless vacuum cleaners

  • Limited by battery life
  • Dust capacity is smaller
  • More regular maintenance needed
  • Storage may require a wall mount / accessible plug point for charging

Ultimately, you'll need to decide if the easier cleaning is worth the pay-off of more regular maintenance. To find the models with the best battery life, you can compare scores in our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews.

Are cordless vacuum cleaners as good at cleaning?

The most important thing about a vacuum cleaner is how well it cleans, and this is where some cordless cleaners will really let you down. While the best cordless vacuum cleaners will clean as well as a good mains powered vacuum, we have tested plenty of awful cordless cleaners that hardly suck up anything. 

Ordinary vacuum cleaners tend to have higher cleaning standards on average, although there are still big differences between the best and worst. The area where many cordless vacuums fall down is cleaning carpets. These require a bit more oomph to pick up embedded dust and dirt. 

On average a cordless vacuum cleaner sucks up 47% of the dust embedded in thick carpet, compared to 79% for ordinary vacuums

If you have a carpet-heavy home, you'll need to choose carefully to ensure your cordless cleaner can tackle carpets effectively. The best we've tested can remove just as much dust as a very good standard vacuum cleaner, although they can't quite compete with the very best.

You can see which models to steer clear of and which are worth buying by visiting our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews.

On average, cordless vacuum cleaners don't clean nearly as well as corded equivalents. But when you look at the best cordless vacuums, they are getting quite close to the performance of the best corded machines, it is just that the best ones are few and far between. 

The infographic below shows the best dust pick up from carpet results we have recorded for robot, cordless and corded vacuum cleaners. 

What about battery life?

Aside from cleaning power, you'll also want to be sure a cordless vacuum cleaner will last long enough for you to get the cleaning done. 

Battery life varies wildly, from as little as seven minutes on full power for some models, to more than an hour on others. It's worth considering whether you're happy cleaning little and often or if you want to be able to tackle the whole house in one go.If you have lots of carpet, check how long the battery lasts for on the turbo setting, as this is likely to be most effective on carpets.

Some cordless vacuums last as little as 7 minutes on the turbo setting

Recharging times can also vary from an ultra-fast two hours to more than sixteen hours. Cheaper models may have longer recharge times which could be frustrating if you are halfway through the cleaning when your battery dies. 

While battery life is important, there's no point having a vacuum that lasts for an hour but is terrible at cleaning. We test the battery life and recharging time for each model, so to find out which cordless cleaners hit the sweet spot between battery life and effective cleaning head to our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews.

Is a cordless vacuum cleaner right for you?

Cordless vacuum cleaners tend to be lighter and easier to use, and if you get one of our cordless vacuum top picks you might never look back. But not all of them are as effective at sucking up the dust and dirt in your home that's hidden in the carpets and between floorboards.

If you want the best possible cleaning power at the best price, the cleaning standards of the best ordinary vacuum cleaners are still higher, and you have to pay less to get a good one. You can get a Which? recommended vacuum cleaner for around £100, whereas the best cordless cleaners will cost you about twice that. 

Whichever type of vacuum cleaner you decide is for you, make sure you get the best by using our vacuum cleaner reviews and cordless vacuum cleaner reviews


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