How to buy the best cordless vacuum cleaner
By Matthew Knight
Tips and advice on choosing the best cordless vacuum cleaner for your home
Cordless vacuum cleaners free you from the plug socket, making for easier and quicker cleaning.
They are often stick-shaped, light and manoeuvrable, and can be handy for awkward cleaning jobs such as vacuuming your car or stairs.
Originally considered an extra vacuum for quick clean-ups in between full-home cleans, the very best cordless vacs are now good enough at cleaning to replace your corded vacuum.
Beware, though: only a few models truly clean well. Our independent tests of popular models have uncovered plenty of dreadful vacuums that will fail to clean your home.
In this guide:
- Video: how to buy the best cordless vacuum
- Types of cordless vacuum and what to spend
- Cordless vacuum features: what you need to know
- Cordless vs corded vacuums
- Dyson cordless vacuums guide
- Shark cordless vacuums guide
Discover the models we recommend – and the awful ones to avoid – by reading our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews.
Watch our quick video guide to choosing a cordless vacuum, or read on for more advice on pricing, features and key brands.
There are three main types of cordless vacuum cleaner:
- Stick vacuum cleaners: the most common type. Usually a compact handheld vacuum with a slim cleaning tube for floors, which converts easily into a handheld vacuum.
- Cylinder vacuum cleaners: like an old-style vacuum, this is a barrel on wheels, with a long flexible cleaning tube, such as the Numatic Henry vacuum.
- Upright vacuum cleaners: these are bulkier than the stick versions, but may have a detachable canister for added flexibility.
While most cordless vacuum cleaners are bagless, there are a few versions with disposable dustbags. These have the advantage of larger dust capacities, so you'll need to empty them less often. You'll need to factor in the ongoing cost of replacement dust bags, though.
How much do you need to spend for a decent cordless vacuum?
Cordless vacuums range in price from around £50 to £600. Models from brands such as Bosch, Dyson, Samsung and Shark will usually set you back at least £180.
Our tests have shown that it's hard to find a great cheap cordless vacuum (although there are a couple out there), but spending a lot doesn't guarantee you a top-class vacuum cleaner. We've tested models costing more than £400 that are so poor at cleaning we've made them Don't Buys.
To find the best model for your budget, head to our list of the best cordless vacuum cleaners and sort them by price.
- Don't Buy cordless vacuums – these are the models to avoid.
Lift-away handheld vacuum
Most cordless vacuum cleaners have a handheld cleaning mode. This is usually either a pull-out handheld vacuum, or the more common stick design where you can swap the floor tool for mini tools.
You can also remove the cleaning tube entirely and attach the tools to the main vacuum unit to make a small handheld vacuum. This is great for cleaning in tight spaces, up high and in places that are difficult to reach, such as in a car.
Some cordless vacuums are designed largely for cleaning floors and may have no handheld mode, or a rather clunky one. So it's worth thinking about what you need to clean before you buy.
You can also buy standalone handheld vacuum cleaners. These are usually cheaper and might be all you need if you just want something for tackling stairs and cleaning the car. See our handheld vacuum cleaner reviews for our top picks.
It's worth considering charge time and checking battery life on standard and maximum modes to see if a cordless vacuum cleaner will be suitable for your needs
The amount of time you can use a cordless vacuum cleaner for depends on the type of battery it has and what setting you use it on. Lithium-ion batteries are generally the best for quicker charging and longer battery life.
Key things to check include:
- Run time: can vary from less than 10 minutes to more than an hour.
- Charging time: ranges from as little as one hour to 16 hours.
- Max vs standard run time: higher-powered cleaning settings can drastically cut battery life to as little as seven minutes.
- Swappable batteries: some cordless models have a spare battery included that you can swap over if you run out of juice.
When we test cordless vacuums, we assess battery life on both the highest and lowest settings and publish the results in our reviews, so you know whether or not they live up to the manufacturer's claims. We've found models that overstate battery life by as much as a third, which could mean you get caught short when cleaning.
Check our cordless vacuum reviews for our verdict on the best models.
Cordless vacuums have a much smaller dust capacity than corded models
Nearly all cordless vacuum cleaners have a small dust capacity, so you'll need to empty them more frequently. The average dust capacity is 0.6 litres compared with 2.1 litres for a corded model.
Most are bagless too, which means that you might have more contact with dust and debris while emptying than you would like. If you prefer a bagged vacuum, there are a couple of options. These also have have larger capacities. Check our reviews of the Gtech Pro Cordless and Numatic Henry Cordless HVB160 to get our verdict on whether they are a good buy.
Cordless vacuum cleaners are much lighter than standard vacuums. On average, a cordless vacuum weighs 3kg compared with 6.4kg for a corded machine. Their light weight makes cordless vacuums a fantastic choice if you struggle with heaving a conventional corded cleaner around your home.
As well as weight, balance is key for a cordless vacuum cleaner. We've tested cordless vacuums that have a low overall weight but are poorly balanced. This can make the vacuum feel heavier in the hand, particularly when tackling jobs such as cleaning up high.
Ease-of-use features to consider include:
- LED lights on the floorhead: handy for illuminating dark corners.
- Flexible cleaning tube: can make it easier to get under low furniture.
- Power trigger: some models require you to hold down the power button while cleaning. This is usually to save battery life but may not be suitable for everyone.
- Self-standing: some vacs can stand without being propped up, others are designed to stay put when leant against a wall, but some will only lie flat or sit in a special wall-mounted stand
- Battery life indicator: not all models have this, but it's a useful guide to how much time you have left on the clock.
Our tests reveal that only a small handful of cordless vacuum cleaners are as good as the best traditional vacs at the tough tasks of cleaning fine dust from carpets and hard floors, and sucking up hair and fluff from around the home.
Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of cordless cleaners that don't clean well or retain allergens effectively. We've found so many really poor models in our tests that we have a long list of Don't Buy cordless vacuums to avoid.
To get straight to our top recommended models, see our round-up of the best cordless vacuum cleaners.
Our verdict on cordless vacuums
The best cordless vacuum cleaners will keep your floors dust and fluff-free, and be convenient, light and easy to use.
The added convenience of a good cordless vacuum does come at a cost, though. The cheapest Best Buy costs around £200, more than twice as much as our cheapest corded Best Buy vacuum.
If you have a larger home, or one with lots of carpet, you may be better off with a corded vacuum. But if you're sick of lugging a corded model around, going cordless could make cleaning much easier – as long as you choose wisely.
Dyson is one of the most popular cordless brands. It has a wide range of models to pick from in four core ranges: V7, V8, V10 and V11.
As you go up the ranges, you get improved battery life, more features and increased capacity. Within each range you'll find various options, from 'Animal' to 'Absolute' or 'Total Clean' models.
As a general rule, they usually stack up something like this:
- Motorhead: entry-level version
- Animal: includes mini pet turbo tool
- Absolute: additional handheld cleaning tools and more high-spec filtration/extra floor tools
- Total Clean: extended accessory pack
Prices can vary wildly, particularly on the older V7 and V8 ranges, which can make it difficult to know if you're getting a good deal. Head over to our guide on how to choose the best Dyson to unpick the differences between each of the cordless ranges and narrow down your search.
It's also worth knowing how different Dyson models compare on the essentials before you pick a specific model. Check our Dyson cordless vacuum cleaner reviews to see which Dyson vacs are best at cleaning.
Don't disregard other brands, either. We've found rival cordless vacuums that are better at some cleaning tasks, have longer cleaning times or are cheaper. See our cordless vacuum reviews to compare all the popular models and find the best.
Shark has aspirations to be the new Dyson, and has launched a series of premium cordless vacuums over the last few years.
Its two main cordless ranges are:
- Shark DuoClean Flexology Cordless: slim cordless stick with hinge for extra flexibility, dual-brush bar floorhead, LED lights on floorhead, carpet and hard floor modes, fold to store. Swappable batteries (on top end models).
- Shark DuoClean Cordless Upright: liftaway canister with long flexible hose, dual-brush bar floorhead, LED headlights, carpet and hard floor models, self-standing.
Shark's DuoClean floor tool is similar to Dyson's 'fluffy' hard floor tool. It has a soft roller brush that rotates in the opposite direction to the main bristled turbo brush. This is meant to help pick up both larger debris on hard floors and fine dust on carpets.
Both models have a pet and non-pet version; the main difference is whether you get a mini turbo cleaning tool or not. Regardless of whether you have pets, this can be handy for cleaning the stairs. It's worth checking prices when you buy, as sometimes the pet version is the same price as the standard one, or even cheaper.
Shark cordless vacuum cleaners typically cost £200 to £350, making them several hundred pounds cheaper than top-of-the-range Dyson models, but can they compete on cleaning? Read our Shark cordless vacuum cleaner reviews to find out.
Still not sure what you want? See our full guide to corded vs cordless vacuum cleaners for an in-depth look at the pros and cons.