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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 stick vacuum cleaners are hoovering up market share from more traditional cylinder and upright vacuums. But is a cordless cleaner right for your home?

In this article: 

The slimline, portable design of cordless vacs makes them light and convenient for whipping round the house, but their small dust capacity and the limitations of the battery life means they aren't suitable for all homes. 

Plus, we've found only a few can match the cleaning power of the best corded vacuum cleaners.

Head to our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews or corded vacuum reviews to get straight to the models we recommend, or read on to find out which type is best for you.

 

Why buy a cordless vacuum cleaner?

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 awkward jobs such as cleaning the car or stairs
  • Smaller and easier to store

Cons of cordless vacuum cleaners

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

Weight

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. If you're cleaning up high though, you will have to shoulder the whole weight of the vac as you clean.

Accessibility 

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.

Some are designed just for floor cleaning, but most have accessories which make tackling smaller cleaning jobs such as cleaning your car, or the stairs, easier.

Battery life

Many early cordless vacuums barely lasted 20 minutes, but runtime has improved on more premium models over the years. 

  • Most cordless vacuum cleaners last for between 20-45 minutes cleaning time 
  • Some have swappable batteries, or last for 60 minutes plus, 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. The Dyson V11 (£500) gives 60 minutes cleaning time on eco mode, but just 12 on turbo.

To find the models with the best battery life, compare runtime scores in our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews.

Dust capacity 

Cordless dust capacity is around 0.7 litres compared with around 2.3 litres for a corded vacuum
 

You might save time when cleaning with a cordless vacuum, but you'll likely spend more time emptying it and cleaning the filters. If you don't, your vacuum cleaner will get less effective at picking up dirt 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. There are some bagged cordless vacuums available though, which have larger capacities, such as the Numatic Henry cordless and Gtech Pro bagged cordless

Some bagless models have features designed to prevent dust escaping, such as Dyson's dirt ejector - a silicone collar which pushes debris into the bin.

 Are cordless vacuums 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. 

  • Key problem areas are cleaning carpets and retaining allergens
  • Cordless vacs tend to be noisier
  • Corded vacuums have a better reliability record

While the best cordless vacuum cleaners will clean as well as a good mains-powered vacuum, we've tested plenty of awful cordless cleaners that hardly suck up anything. 

On average, cordless vacuum cleaners suck up 41% of dust from carpets, compared to 70% for corded vacuums

The best models can leave carpets clean and keep dust safely locked up. But with more than one in three cordless vacs we test being so poor we name them Don't Buys, you'll need to choose carefully - especially if you have a carpet-heavy home.

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. Generally, the more you pay, the more battery life you'll get. 

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 higher power settings recommended for carpets.

Some cordless vacuums last as little as 5 minutes on the turbo setting

Charging time counts too

How long a cordless vac takes to recharge can vary from an ultra-fast 60 minutes 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. 

Of course, a long battery life is worthless if it can't clean effectively. We test runtime 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 list of the best cordless vacuum cleaners.

 Is a cordless vacuum cleaner right for you?

  • Good for smaller homes with less carpet, quick cleans and those who struggle with heavier vacs
  • Tend to be more expensive
  • Only a few are good at cleaning

Cordless vacuum cleaners are undeniably light and convenient, but only a few are truly effective at sucking up dust and dirt in your home. 

We've uncovered more than 30 Don't Buy cordless vacuum cleaners. This is more than double the number of Don't Buy corded models and represents more than a third of the total number of cordless vacuums we've tested.

They also tend to be more expensive. You can get a Best Buy corded vacuum cleaner for around £100, whereas the best cordless cleaners will cost you about twice that. 

Vacuum cleaner choosing guide

Still not sure what type of vacuum cleaner you should buy? Head to our full vacuum cleaner buying guide where we explain how to choose between the different types and guide you through the key buying choices with our interactive tool.

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