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Which vacuum cleaner?

By Matthew Knight

Looking for the best vacuum cleaner? They come in many shapes and sizes, to help make sense of it all, here's the Which? guide to buying the right one.

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Trying to decide which vacuum cleaner is the best for you? We explain the different types available as well as features to look out for. 

And to help you choose, our interactive tool below explores the key features of each type of vacuum cleaner as well as the advantages and disadvantages you need to weigh up.

You can also jump straight to our guide to the best vacuum cleaners of 2017, where we reveal which models have topped our independent lab tests.

Choose the right type of vacuum cleaner

Upright or cylinder vacuum cleaner?

The first decision you need to make is whether to buy an upright vacuum or a cylinder vacuum.

Upright vacuums are often heavier, have larger capacities and a smaller reach (that's how far you can clean from the plug socket) than cylinders. Uprights also have a motorised brush bar, or electrobrush, in the floor head which works to pick up hair - an important factor for pet owners. Find out more about upright vacuum cleaners.

Cylinder vacuums are lighter and more compact than uprights. They're often better suited to cleaning the stairs and getting into hard-to-reach places, and will generally be better at picking up dust right next to a skirting board. However, they often have quite large motors, making them less energy efficient. Find out more about cylinder cylinder vacuum cleaners.

Bagged or bagless vacuum cleaner?

It's not just Dyson that makes bagless vacs these days - you have lots of choice. But is it really worth moving away from traditional bagged models?

Bagless vacuums trap everything inside canisters which you then empty into a bin. This can be a straightforward process, but emptying the dust canister from a bagless model can be a messy job - especially if you've overfilled it (easy to do) and need to scrape out the dust by hand. Find out more about bagless vacuums.

Bagged vacuums seal everything away in bags. They tend to have higher capacities than bagless vacuums and they're more hygienic to empty, especially the models with self-sealing bags. But the big disadvantage is the on-going cost - bags can get expensive, particularly from manufacturer brands.

Cordless or corded vacuum cleaner?

Cordless vacuum cleaners are powered by a battery, so they have a limited time that you're able to clean for. We have tested cordless vacuums that can clean for up to an hour and others that only last 15 minutes, so it's important that you know what to expect from the battery before you make a purchase. 

Cordless vacuum cleaners are lighter than corded vacuum cleaners and can be easier to use. However, our testing shows that they're often not up to the higher standards of corded cleaners when it comes to the basics of cleaning. 

If you're interested in a cordless vacuum cleaner, take a look at our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews so that you can be sure you're getting a machine that will last as long as you'll need it and also give your home an all round deep clean.

Floor heads and turbo brushes for your vacuum cleaner

Vacs can come with an array of additional accessories - but they're not always necessary and can add cost. So before shelling out the extra cash, here's a bit more information.

Floorheads for hard floors - the floorhead is the part of your vacuum that makes contact with the floor, where the air is sucked in. Some cylinder and uprights come with a special floorhead for hard floors - but they don't always pick up more dust than the standard floorhead. Whenever a vacuum comes with more than one floorhead, we test both and tell you which is best.

Full-size turbo brushes are sometimes supplied with cylinder vacuums, either in addition to or instead of the standard floorhead. Turbo brushes have rotating brush bars, powered by the air sucked into the vac. They should be better at removing pet hair and dust from carpets - but sometimes the standard floorhead is still better. To find out which really does do a better job, check our.

Combination floorheads should clean just as well on carpets as they do on hard floors. They often have a lever that raises or lowers the floorhead as you change floor surface, some top end models even do this automatically. Combination tools are great if you don't want to regularly change the floorhead as you move over different floor surfaces. 

Handy nozzles and turbo tools for your vacuum cleaner

While manufacturers produce a number of unique attachments for their vacs, there are three common tools that you may want to check are supplied with the vac you want to buy.

Furniture brushes have soft brushes and can be used to dust/clean any delicate furniture without scratching it. You can also use a furniture tool to clean keyboards.

Crevice tools are used for vacuuming in tight spaces and in corners.

Upholstery nozzles have a strip of velvety material to help remove dust and fluff from upholstery.

Combination tools can combine two or all three of the above nozzles.

Mini turbo tools are a bit more specialised, and are often supplied with vacs marketed towards pet owners (such as the Miele S8320 Cat & Dog). Mini turbo tools have a small rotating brush bar which is powered by the air drawn into the vac; they're used to remove hair from the places you can't use the main floorhead, such as sofas or on upholstery.

Checks you can do in the shop

If you're in the shop, here are a few quick checks you can do to find out if the vacuum you're considering is suited to you.

Turn it on - if the shop allows, switch the vacuum on. This will give you a real impression of how noisy it is and how easy the vac is to use and manoeuvre. If you find the vac sticks to the floor and you can't adjust the floorhead or suction to help this, best choose another model.

Pick it up - vacs can weigh anywhere between 5 and 11kg. So if you're going to be lugging a vac up and down the stairs, make sure you don't buy a model you struggle to carry.

Lay it flat - if you're going to be vacuuming under furniture, try to lay the vac flat. You'll be unable to do this with some models.

Check the bag/canister and filters - find out how easy it is to replace the bag, or empty the canister if it's bagless. Then make sure you can get to the filters and remove them easily - they'll need washing or replacing to keep your vacuum in working order.

What you can't check in the shops

You can't tell how well a vac cleans in the shops - or how well it's suited to your home. This is where our expert vacuum cleaner reviews can help. We've found models that are so bad they simply skip over dust, choke on pet hair and leak out what they've picked up.

Some vacuums are brilliant at removing dust from carpets but not hard floors, and vice versa. You can't tell in the shops how well a vacuum will remove dust from different floors, so we test every model on carpet, laminate and floorboards. We give individual ratings for each so you can see how well a vacuum suits your home.

Discover how we test vacuum cleaners to see the lengths we go to make sure you can be confident you're getting the best and avoiding a Don't Buy vac.

2kmThe amount of floor we vacuum every year in our tests

As well as testing all our cleaners on different floors, we also see how they handle pet hair and whether they're any good if you have allergies.

We've found vacuums that only hold half as much as they claim, meaning that they'll have to be emptied more often - so we fill vacuums ourselves to find out their real capacity. And we weigh them, too, completely kitted out with their on-board attachments, tube and hose, to give a real operating weight, which manufacturers don't always do. This is vital information, especially for those buying online.

Before you buy, read our full vacuum cleaner reviews to avoid making a costly mistake.

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