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Vacuum cleaner buying guide: how to buy a vacuum cleaner to fit your needs
Today’s vacuum cleaner manufacturers offer a variety of innovative features designed to reduce operating noise, enhance convenience, and clean better than ever. So we’ve put together this informative buying guide to help you select the vacuum cleaner that will best suit your needs.
To begin, use the following questions to help navigate through the key components of buying a vacuum cleaner. Find in-depth information on the topics listed below by simply clicking on any of the following links:
- What’s the difference between a canister vacuum and an upright vacuum?
- What’s the difference between a bagged vacuum and a bagless vacuum?
- How does a stick vacuum cleaner work?
- What is the importance of HEPA filtration?
- What’s the best way to clean different types of floor surfaces?
- What are some new and unique features available in today’s vacuum cleaners?
- What accessories are available for today’s vacuum cleaners?
- How can I further protect the investment of my new vacuum cleaner?
A canister vacuum is designed with 2 components: a primary suction motor and a handled wand with brush head. The term canister refers to the cylinder shaped housing unit in which the motor is stored. This canister is conveniently built on wheels, making it easy to pull along from one room to another during operation.
In contrast, an upright vacuum stores all of its mechanics in one unit, with handle and suction head attached to each end. During operation, the vacuum is moved across the floor in front of the user. Many models offer great maneuverability to allow for vacuuming in small spaces.
Motor Power / Suction & Noise:
In general, canister vacuums offer more suction power than rivaling upright models. The reason for this is that canister housing units can accept larger (more powerful) motors which generate high airflow. In addition, the canister shape is more accommodating to sound dampening insulation, which ultimately results in quieter operation.
Maneuverability / Versatility:
Due to their 2-part design, canister vacuum cleaners provide great versatility and ease of use. For homes with predominantly smooth flooring and little-to-no carpet, canister vacuums are ideal. They utilize a flat brush instead of a revolving brush, and therefore scatter less dirt into the air while suctioning. Due to their telescopic wand, they also boast a long range of reach when using attachments such as upholstery brush, dusting brush & crevice tool. Tasks such as vacuuming the stairs or underneath short tables are easily achieved with a canister vacuum.
Upright vacuum cleaners offer the convenience of easy storage and simple usage. Featuring a contained, all-in-one system on wheels the upright can move easily throughout the house. For homes with predominantly carpeted floors, upright vacuums are ideal. Several models also feature options to shut off the agitator brush to allow for smooth floor cleaning. Due to their small footprint, uprights usually fit nicely into a closet or other storage space.
Vacuum bags are critical to the effectiveness of a vacuum cleaner and changing the bag properly and often is a key to success. Regardless of the type, a vacuums bag should be changed at least once a month. In a household with children or pets, it may be necessary to change the bag more often. Bags are available in a variety of types and sizes with some being specifically designed to hold finer particles.
Prior to installing the bag, open the pleated filter paper and make sure the bag is positioned properly so that it seals with the connecting tube, allowing the free flow of dirt into the bag. Fine dust and debris can clog a vacuum bag quicker than ordinary dust and dirt. If fine dust and debris is frequently encountered with the vacuum cleaner, be sure to change the bag frequently.
Though bagless vacuum cleaners have become more popular in the past decade, traditional bagged vacuums are still the most prominently used style. In a bagged system, dirt and dust enter the vacuum system and are deposited into a disposable bag. Depending on the quality and composition of the bag, a certain amount of microscopic particles are released back into the system. A post filter is designed to trap all remaining particles, though some may be re-deposited into the vacuum system or released into the air.
In a bagless system, a directional air pattern spins the vacuumed dirt into a centrifugal force which throws the heaviest particles against the wall of the cylinder. Once full, the dust cylinder must be removed from the vacuum and emptied outdoors. A bagless vacuum typically has two or more filters, the most unique being a very large pre-filter which protects the motor from swirling dust particles. One thing to note: the large pre-filter used in bagless vacuums must be cleaned regularly or replaced to ensure optimal performance. The cost of this replacement can (in many cases) exceed the cost of bag & filter replacements required on bagged vacuum cleaners.
Bag quality is an ultimate determinant of superiority when it comes to bagged vacuum cleaners. Relatively inexpensive vacuum bags are generally constructed of 2 or 3 ply paper with a cardboard collar. These bags often have a high rate of leakage. Higher quality bags feature a cotton liner in addition to a three ply paper. Top quality bags utilize synthetic cotton spun material, which contain the smallest particles. These top quality bags also have sticky paper or plastic closure to seal the hole before disposal, preventing dust from leaking back into the air. return to top
A stick vacuum is an excellent supplement to any household collection. It is much more lightweight and maneuverable than the full size upright or canister styles. Ideal for handling quick vacuuming jobs, the flexible stick vacuum allows access into tight corners and constricted areas that cannot be reached by larger vacuums.
Stick vacuums use a combination brush tool which is ideal for versatile cleaning. The combination brush tool can go from smooth floors to low pile carpets with the click of a switch. Stick vacuums are available in bagged or bagless styles. Some models feature the use of HEPA filtration. return to top
All vacuum cleaners – bagged or bagless, upright or canister -release particulates back into the air during operation. Most models have a post filter to capture these particulates and prevent them from escaping. The best vacuums are capable of removing approximately 95% of the 0.3 micron-sized particles that pass through the filter (a micron is approximately one third the size of a human hair).
While microscopic particles go unnoticed by many people, a large segment of the populace also suffers allergic reactions to them. Airborne allergens can irritate eyes and skin, combining with dust, pollen, or dander to trigger respiratory illnesses. In these cases, HEPA filtration can make a big difference.
Originally developed by the military for trapping radiation particles, HEPA filtration has become the standard for premium medical filtering. HEPA filters are capable of removing 99.97% of the microns from the air, helping keep allergies dormant. HEPA filters should be replaced every 6-12 months, depending on frequency of usage.
Some other features which help to reduce allergic reactions include:
- Vacuum cleaners that self-seal the dust bag, allowing for an easy, dust-free change of the bag
- Vacuum cleaners designed with airtight systems
A variety of floor types can be found in any home -some among them include hardwood, carpet, rugs and tile. Though some homes feature only one floor type, most offer a variety. Pile height also varies for carpets and rugs. When selecting a vacuum cleaner, it is important to consider all floor types and pile heights for ultimate cleaning satisfaction.
Most vacuum cleaners use an agitator brush which loosens dirt particles from the carpet or rug as it rotates, allowing them to be suctioned up. The agitator brush is rotated by a very small, belt driven motor. This entire assembly is referred to as the powerhead. A powerhead is the most appropriate tool for capably cleaning medium to high pile carpeting.
While powerheads are excellent at cleaning carpet, they can be ineffective on smooth floors, as the brush movement tends to scatter dirt and dust away from the vacuum rather than into it. Most vacuums with powerheads allow for deactivation of the brush roll for better cleaning on smooth floors. However, specific hard / smooth floor attachments and brushes are still the most effective way to clean smooth floors.
An increasing number of vacuum cleaners use natural airflow to power the agitator brush. This design is referred to by some manufacturers as a turbobrush. Though somewhat ineffective on high pile or thick shag carpeting, these vacuums clean medium to low pile carpeting very well.
In places where low pile carpeting, rugs or smooth flooring is predominant, the use of a combination tool is ideal. Combination tools have a soft felt glide that prevents scratching on smooth floors. It also features cleaning bristles which can be extended for rugs and low pile carpeting. Since the combination tools do not employ an agitator brush, they are ineffective for cleaning medium to high pile carpet.
Elegant hardwoods such as mahogany or teak may require more sensitive care to prevent scratching and damage. Specialty brushes such as the Miele Parquet floor brush combine natural and synthetic hair to create a brush suited for delicate flooring and capable of retaining shape and function over the years.
Vacuum cleaners can also be used to clean upholstery, drapes, and other non-traditional surfaces. In order to prevent damage to these finer materials, many vacuum models feature adjustable suction power and special cleaning attachments. return to top
Today’s vacuum cleaners offer many features designed to enhance ease of use, versatility, and performance. Understanding these features in relation to your needs and budget will help you in selecting the best vacuum cleaner for your home.
Suction / Power:
Vacuum brushes are driven by a small belt or motor, known as a powerbrush / powerhead. Many models allow for the level of suction power to be adjusted. This provides flexibility in cleaning durable things like high pile carpet and rugs as well as delicate drapes or curtains. Deluxe models feature automatic suction control which can sense the thickness of carpet fibers and adjust airflow for optimal performance.
Advanced Controls: Disconnect:
Some deluxe canister vacuums allows for the powerhead to be removed with the push of a button. This allows for a quick and easy switch from powerhead to attachment.
On/ Off Agitator Brush:
Some vacuum cleaners feature an on/ off switch which activates and deactivates the agitator brush. This allows for a seamless transfer from smooth floors to low pile carpets and rugs without a break in operation.
Nearly all vacuums come with related attachments. The four most common attachments are: floor brush, dusting brush, upholstery brush, and crevice tool. Vacuum cleaners employ different methods for storing these attachments. Some models feature a built-in compartment while others secure attachments through exterior hooks.
Maneuverability / Swivel:
Vacuum cleaner maneuverability varies greatly. Some deluxe canister vacuums can swivel 360 degrees, enhancing ease of use. More basic canister vacuums move only in a straight line, limiting usefulness. Advanced upright vacuums feature swiveling necks for more control and in some cases the neck can be laid parallel to the floor -perfect for cleaning under beds and furnishings.
Cord lengths vary, but no matter how you measure it, longer cords allow for more uninterrupted vacuuming. Some models, such as the Miele S7580 Tango, have cords that reach up to 39 feet!
Many vacuum cleaners employ special ergonomic handle designs for a more comfortable vacuuming experience. Certain canister vacuums feature a telescope wand, which allows users to shorten or extend as needed. This allows the consumer to select an optimal vacuum height based on their preference, ultimately easing back strain which can be caused by vacuuming.
A wider powerhead means less passes over the floor and less time vacuuming. The Miele S5980 Capricorn has one of the largest heads in the industry at 13 3/8″ wide.
Upright vacuums lock into easy storage positions but canister vacuums can be bulky for traditional closet spaces. Some canister vacuums are small enough to store in compact spaces but the majority are designed with built-in hooks to secure the wand to the canister. Some also have powerheads large enough to self-park.
The level of operating noise varies from model to model. In general, canister vacuums are quieter than upright vacuums due more sound-dampening insulation. Typically, as the price of a vacuum cleaner increases, its sound output proportionally decreases. return to top
Most vacuum cleaners include an array of cleaning attachments such as: floor brush, upholstery brush, dusting brush, and crevice tool. If not included with the vacuum cleaner, most manufacturers offer attachments as accessories at additional cost.
More specialty tools to consider include:
- Radiator Brush – specifically shaped to clean the unique crevices of a household radiator. It can also be used to clean between car seats or sofa cushions.
- Mattress Brush- designed to reach tight spaces created by mattress seals.
- Hand Held Turbo Brush – natural air flow powers the bristles of this small, portable-sized brush makes it ideal for vacuuming stairs, upholstery, and other surfaces that require thorough yet delicate cleaning.
- Miele Parquet Floor Brush – combines natural and synthetic hair to create a brush ideally suited for delicate flooring but capable of retaining shape and function over years of usage. return to top
Most manufacturers offer a one year limited warranty on their product. For as little as $25, Warners’ Stellian offers a carry-in performance guarantee designed to keep your new vacuum cleaner removing dirt & dust for years to come. Our Carry-in Product Performance Guarantee covers all functional parts and labor on your new appliance for up to two, three or five years. Simply carry-in your small appliance to any of our store locations and/or to an authorized service center. return to top
We hope you have found this buying guide to be useful and informative and we appreciate the time you took to read through it. If you have questions that were not answered by this guide, please feel free to contact us.