Are Kirby vacuum cleaners worth buying?
By Matthew Knight
Get the lowdown on the Kirby vacuum, including how the claims made in the sales demo stack up vs rivals, and owner's views.
Our vacuum cleaners expert went undercover to experience a Kirby sales demo, and get hold of a Kirby vacuum cleaner to send to our independent test lab, so we could bring you the inside scoop on what you get with the Kirby, and if it's worth buying.
Kirby vacuum cleaners are only sold via an in-home demo that is shrouded in secrecy. They are hugely expensive, and some people have complained to us of aggressive sales tactics and pressure to buy. Something that expensive must do an amazing job, though, right? We set out to find out whether the Kirby vacuum is really worth its high price tag.
Kirby refused to directly sell a model to us, so our vacuum cleaners expert anonymously set up a Kirby vacuum cleaners sales demo to learn more about the claims that Kirby make for their Kirby Avalir vacuum. We then sent the Kirby to our test lab to find out how well it cleans compared with high-street vacuums that cost a fraction of the price.
In this guide, we explain how much you're likely to pay, what to expect in the demo and how those claims stack up against our independent testing of hundreds of vacuum cleaners. Plus, we reveal what Which? members who have experienced the demo themselves, or bought the Kirby vacuum, have to say about it.
How much does a Kirby vacuum cost?
We paid £1,100 for our Kirby vacuum cleaner, but it took well over an hour to get down to this price after initially being quoted an eye-watering £2,500.
After conducting a survey with Which? members who own a Kirby vacuum cleaner, the lowest price we are able to confirm that anyone has paid for a Kirby in recent years is £950. So if you have your heart set on a Kirby, try not to pay any more than this.
During the sales demo, our vacuums expert was told that trading in his existing vacuum cleaner would help to reduce the cost, and a payment plan was also offered to spread the cost of the Kirby over a more manageable period. Be wary of this option, though, as it would have significantly increased the overall cost of the vacuum by the time it was paid off.
At the price we paid, the Kirby is almost three times as expensive as the next most expensive vacuum cleaner we have ever tested, and £1,000 more expensive than the cheapest Best Buy vacuum cleaner you can buy. If that sounds too steep for you, try our pick of the best vacuum cleaners for cheaper alternatives that have cleaned up in our tough vacuum tests.
The Kirby sales demo - claims examined
During the sales demo that our vacuums expert received, a lot of claims were made about the vacuum cleaner, beyond its supposedly exemplary cleaning powers, that we were very interested to test out in our lab. Below, we break down a few of the key claims.
Great for allergy sufferers
The sales demo focuses particularly on what a great choice the Kirby is for allergy sufferers, but our lab tests of rival high street vacuum cleaners show that you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune to get a vacuum cleaner that will keep dust and dirt locked up rather than leaking them back into your home. We've tested vacuum cleaners costing less than £150 that retain nearly all of the fine dust and allergens that they suck up and also achieve exceptional dust pick-up scores.
At some point during the Kirby sales demo you may be moved upstairs for the Kirby to get to grips with the dust and grime trapped within the confines of your mattress. You will probably be shocked by the amount of fine particles that the Kirby can remove from a mattress. While this demo can be eye-opening, it's more useful as a reminder to regularly vacuum your mattress than anything else. You can do this with any vacuum cleaner, so it isn't essential that you buy the Kirby just for this job.
Kirby vs Dyson and other vacuum cleaners
At our Kirby sales demo, other brands of vacuum cleaner - in particular premium brand Dyson - were regularly referenced as being inferior to the cleaning power of the Kirby Avalir vacuum.
Dyson vacuums are the next most expensive brand, with 2017's models pushing £500 for top-of-the-range options. Dyson also claims to have market-leading suction power, and some vacuums in the range are certified asthma and allergy friendly by Allergy Standard Limited, so these are big claims from Kirby.
Our rigorous lab tests allow us to compare vacuum cleaners from all brands in impartial lab conditions. We can tell you how the Kirby vacuum's cleaning compares with other vacuum cleaners, including:
- How well it cleans dust, debris, and fur and fluff from around the home
- If it is a good choice for allergy sufferers
- How easy it is to use and manoeuvre
- How heavy and noisy it is
Logged-in Which? members can access our independent vacuum cleaner reviews and find out exactly how the Kirby compares against more than 150 other vacuum cleaners including the Dyson range. Not yet a member? Join Which? to get instant access this and all our reviews.
Other Kirby functions
The Kirby doubles up as a carpet washer, and the air flow can also be reversed to blow out air for such tasks as inflating an air mattress. It also has a super-fine needle attachment that compresses the air into a powerful jet that Kirby says can be used for tasks such as unblocking kitchen drains. These multi-tasking options are another benefit used to justify the price.
It's not the only multi-function vacuum cleaner around, though. Some Numatic and Vax models are Wet & Dry vacuums that have carpet-cleaning attachments and suck up wet spills. It's also worth considering that adding more functions can make a product more of a faff to use.
How long will the Kirby vacuum cleaner last?
Another impressive claim made during our Kirby sales pitch was that a Kirby vacuum cleaner will outlast all competitors.
When we asked Which? members who own a Kirby to tell us about their experiences, many did mention that they had had theirs for a long time - some for up to 25 years with only a couple of repairs needed.
But you don't need a Kirby to guarantee a long life for your vacuum. Every year, we ask thousands of Which? members to tell us about their experiences with their vacuum cleaner, including how long it has lasted and if any repairs were needed. We use this unique research, along with our years of testing data, to build up a picture of which brands are the most reliable, and how long vacuum cleaners last.
Vacuum cleaners are generally reliable, according to our 2016 member survey.
Our data shows that vacuum cleaners are, on average, a very reliable product, with only 25% of upright vacuum cleaners developing any kind of fault after nine years, and less than 20% of cylinder vacuum cleaners over the same period. The reliability of vacuum cleaners varies significantly depending on the brand, but if you choose carefully it is reasonable to expect that you can buy a vacuum cleaner that you should expect to least for at least 10 years, if not much longer. The cost over a 25-year period is likely to be cheaper too, even if you do replace your vacuum several times.
Use our guide to the most reliable vacuum cleaner brands to make sure you pick a brand with a good track record for making reliable products.
Kirby vacuum servicing
One issue that is raised consistently by Which? members that own a Kirby is the regular offer of a Kirby vacuum cleaner service.
Many of our members mentioned that this service, which tends to be offered annually, can highlight the need for costly new parts and we have gathered lots of examples of this service being used as an opportunity to upsell to the customer.
It is therefore important to note that your financial outlay for the Kirby vacuum cleaner may not end with the initial purchase, and if you choose to take up the offer of an annual service then further payments may be required.
Regular maintenance of any vacuum cleaner is essential to maintain cleaning effectiveness and keep it in good working order, but on the whole this is a simple job that doesn't require an expert. The key things to remember are:
- Regularly clean filters. These can clog up with fine dust and reduce suction.
- If your vacuum has a spinning brush bar, keep it free of hair, as this can jam it up.
- Don't overfill your vacuum. If your vacuum is bagless, check the maximum fill line and stick to it.
- Avoid vacuuming up hot ash, anything wet, and any larger or sharp objects that may damage the vacuum.
Our reliability data suggests that vacuum cleaners tend to be a very reliable product anyway, without the need for regular servicing and new replacement parts.
What do Kirby owners think of their vacuum?
We collected the views of almost 50 of our members who own a Kirby vacuum cleaner, and it is fair to say that the responses were mixed.
We received as many responses praising the longevity and cleaning power of the Kirby as we did complaints about aggressive sales practices and a certain bitterness at feeling pressured into such an expensive purchase.
'We’ve had a Kirby vacuum cleaner for about 25 years. The cleaner was expensive and so is the annual service, although this includes any new parts and ensures the cleaner is kept in fine condition. I’m particularly taken by the beautiful engineering and, although the cleaner is heavy to lift, in use it has motorised propulsion which greatly reduces effort. We have always been very satisfied with its performance. It’s also very good at carpet shampooing.'
'It was certainly the worst sales experience we have ever had, and I know others who felt the same. It did make a good dinner party conversation piece, though, and we've laughed about it since.'
'It is expensive to buy and does need servicing unless you can work it out yourself, but does save me having several other cleaning items which I appreciate. It is definitely not suitable for everyone, but I am a massive fan of mine.'
'With the benefit of hindsight I can see how my husband and I were manipulated into agreeing to purchase the system, even being put on the phone to someone back at the office who could offer a discount - supposedly an especially good one as my husband was ex-forces. I still can't work out how we parted with £1,800, but we did! I have used the vacuum less than a dozen times since the purchase, as it is far too heavy and cumbersome for someone my age (67).'
"It is a very good cleaner, and shampoos carpets well. However, to use the hose one has to dismantle the front to fit the hose, which takes some effort. I was constantly complaining that I wanted my Dyson back! We now have a cleaner upstairs to save hauling it up each time!"
Kirby vacuum cleaners: our verdict
Some people love the multi-tasking abilities of the Kirby vacuum and its heavy-duty design. But even if it's the best vacuum money can buy, we think it's still a lot of money to spend on a vacuum cleaner, especially when there are excellent, cheaper, high street options that don't come with in-home sales tactics.