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How to buy the right vacuum cleaner

Do I still need a regular vacuum cleaner?

Many companies are moving to make cordless vacuum cleaners only. In many ways, this makes a lot of sense, as cordless cleaners are more convenient, ready when you need them, and they’re now offering performance similar to a plug-in cleaner. They’re not the only answer, though, and a traditional plug-in vacuum has some advantages over its battery-powered rivals.

Most aren’t as powerful as corded vacuum cleaners, but they make up for that with versatility and simplicity. Ridding yourself of the cable makes spot cleans much easier, so they’re a great alternative if you already have a decent corded vacuum cleaner for tougher jobs.

– First, there’s the price. Cordless vacuum cleaners are typically a lot more expensive than plug-in ones, particularly the models designed for whole-home cleaning. This is largely because of the expense of the battery technology uses, and the additional engineering required to make these models more efficient. For around half-the-price of a top-end cordless model, you can buy a corded model with more features.

– Power is also worth thinking about. Corded models are more powerful, so they suck up more dirt and can deal with bigger jobs, such as sucking up some DIY mess. If you’ve got bigger jobs to deal with, you’ll find a corded model is better.

– Of course, there’s also runtime, with corded models able to run as long as you need them too. If you’ve got a larger house, then a corded model will probably make a lot more sense, as you’ll be able to clean in one go without having to wait for batteries to charge.

– Finally, corded models tend not to have automatic cutouts, so they keep on sucking regardless. If you want to use a vacuum for vacuum bags or with use with DIY tools, such as drill attachments that suck up the dust as you drill, you’re more likely to get these features with a corded model.

With the latest technology, cordless vacuum cleaners are now exceeding the capabilities of corded models. In fact, Dyson has announced that it will no longer be developing new corded models, focussing its attention on cordless. Existing Dyson corded models will still be sold, but cordless is clearly the future.

None of this is to say that cordless models don’t have a place, but the right vacuum cleaner is more about getting the model that suits your life, your lifestyle and the types of jobs that you have to do.

Can a vacuum cleaner help with allergies?

If you suffer from allergies, a vacuum cleaner can be a helpful tool to suck up anything that may irritate you.

A vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter for preventing small particles from escaping your clean and being blown around. This will ensure that everything that may irritate you will be deposited into the bin or bag.

Is vacuum cleaner power important?

Vacuum cleaners will be rated by the amount of energy that they use, but don’t be fooled into thinking that a cleaner that uses more power is more powerful. Rather, it’s efficiency that counts, and the amount of air that a cleaner can pull through it. Look for the Airwatt rating instead, which is a truer description of how powerful a cleaner is.

Even then, Airwatts doesn’t tell the entire story. After all, what’s the point in a vacuum cleaner that suctions itself to the floor, so that you can’t push the head along?

A vacuum like that won’t be sucking up much dirt. The most important thing is how well a cleaner picks up dirt, which is what we focus our in-depth tests on.

What is a wet vacuum cleaner?

We’ve reviewed a few wet and dry models of vacuum cleaner, but what’s the difference? Well, a wet and dry vacuum cleaner can handle dry spills (normal dust), as well as liquids. So, what’s the point of being able to suck up liquids? The main reason is that you can clean up practically any spill or handle a wider variety of jobs.

If you’ve just dropped a bottle of wine, for example, your wet cleaner will suck up the spill quickly, saving on paper towel. Have you got a blocked washing machine waste pipe? Just suck up the mess with your wet vacuum cleaner, and you’ll clear the blockage with no problems faster than you thought.

These models are also best for handling any damp materials. For example, if you do a lot of DIY, sawdust, brickdust and plaster can all be damp and clog the filters of a normal vacuum cleaner; a wet model will make light work of this kind of mess, letting you tidy up pretty much everything.

Typically vacuum cleaners need to be converted from one mode to the other, removing a bag (if installed) to go from dry to wet mode. Still, if you’ve got a lot of jobs involving spills, you should go for one of these models rather than a traditional vacuum cleaner.

Bagged vs Bagless – which is best?

Dyson popularised bagless vacuum cleaners, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both types. The main benefit of a bagless vacuum cleaner is no loss of suction, or at least a smaller reduction, as your cleaner fills up. Performance varies from brand to brand, depending on the quality of their systems, but that’s the key selling point.

Bagless cleaners have the advantage that you don’t have to pay for bags, so once you’ve bought the cleaner, you can just keep emptying it and using it time and time again.

The downside is that the bin can get quite dirty and you can spill dust when you’re emptying it. If you’ve got allergies, having dust go everywhere isn’t particularly helpful: you may end up vacuuming up dust again to clear up the mess caused by emptying. The second downside is that the dust tends to fill up the filters quicker, so you have to keep an eye on these to make sure that you get maximum suction.

Bagged cleaners have the disadvantage that you have to pay for additional bags, throwing away one when it fills up. This is an extra hassle and cost. If you forget to buy new bags, then you can’t use your cleaner. However, there are a couple of advantages. First, bagged cleaners are easier to empty, and they keep the dust sealed in, which can be useful for allergy sufferers. Secondly, the bag acts as a secondary filter, so you’ll typically need to clean your vacuum’s other filters less regularly.

Upright vs Cylinder Vacuum Cleaners

Whether you choose an upright or a cylinder vacuum cleaner largely comes down to the style of cleaner you prefer. Cylinder cleaners are normally easier to store, but pulling them around can become annoying. They’re not the best for people with bad backs, either, due to you having to bend down to pick them up.

A good upright will breeze around your floors with ease, and they normally have wider cleaning heads that cover a larger area in one sweep. It can be tricky to get under furniture with an upright, but some are designed to avoid this problem.

If you’re unsure, see if you can try some out first.

What style of cordless vacuum cleaner is best?

When cordless vacuum cleaners started to appear they were all roughly the same size and shape, which we’d now call stick models. These have a handheld unit that you can attach accessories to. When you want to use the vacuum as a traditional model for cleaning floors, you attach the wand and floor head and off you go. In terms of versatility, these models are still the best, letting you clean a wide variety of surfaces and really getting to where the dirt is whether that’s on the floor, on a shelf or even above a cupboard.

The downside of this type of model is that the weight is all in the handheld unit, which can make them slightly more tiring to use and not ideal for people with mobility or grip problems. Fortunately, there are other types of cordless vacuum cleaner.

Upright models are becoming more popular. They aim to mimic a traditional upright vacuum cleaner, only in cordless form. These models have elongated bodies and can often stand up by themselves. With the balance spread throughout the body, you use them as a traditional vacuum, pushing them along the floor. As such, you get the convenience of not having to have a cable but the simplicity of having a model that’s easier to push around.

These models are best suited for cleaning floors. While they usually have accessories, using them means picking the entire vacuum up two-handed, which makes them clumsy to use.

Finally, there are mini handheld models, which are similar to the old Dustbuster. These small, low-power cleaners are really designed for light spills: you make a bit of a mess when cooking and want to tidy up but you can’t be bothered to get the big vacuum out. These models work alongside other cleaners and aren’t suitable for cleaning an entire house.

Should I get a cordless vacuum that can mop?

We’re starting to see more models that don’t just vacuum but also clean hard floors. These can be simple systems using water on a microfibre cloth or more in-depth including spinning cloths and steam cleaning. These products are designed to not only pick up surface dirt, but they can also clean hard floors of stains and harder-to-remove marks. So, should you buy one?

Our reviews tell you how good each product is at vacuuming and mopping, but the main choice will come down to how much area you have to cover. If you’ve got a lot of hard floors then you may well be better off with a dedicated hard floor cleaner, using this after you’ve vacuumed. Typically, you’ll get better overall results and you won’t waste the battery on your vacuum cleaner trying to do two jobs.

For smaller areas or for more infrequent use, a cleaner that can vacuum and mop can be really handy. For example, if you’ve got a kitchen floor that constantly looks messy, then you can use one of these products to quickly whip it back into shape, cleaning up mess and spills that would otherwise need some manual labour.

It’s worth pointing out that these types of device tend to leave the floor less wet than using a mop, as the control of water is better. In turn, that’s better for the environment as you use less water to clean, as well.

Space is also an important consideration, as you can store a vacuum cleaner and mop combination in the same space as a vacuum cleaner. For those with smaller flats or houses, this could well be the selling point that makes you choose this type of vacuum.

What accessories do I need?

Cordless vacuum cleaners are largely about the accessories that they ship with, extending the quality of the clean and making a vacuum more flexible. It’s possible to find different accessory bundles with the same cleaner, with the more expensive packages offering more.

In general, the minimum you should look for are a motorised floor head, which spins a brush to agitate dirt from hard floor and carpet; a soft brush for cleaning more delicate items (these typical convert into a harder brush for upholstery); and a crevice tool that lets you get right into the corners of a room.

While these will cover the basics, you can go a bit further if you get more tools. A small motorised brush does the same thing as a floor one, only you can more easily use this tool on stairs and upholstery. Look out for a soft roller if you have hard floors, as these improve dust pick-up where you don’t have carpets. An extendable crevice tool can improve reach, such as for the back of radiators. Look for an extendable hose, too, as you can improve the reach of some of the handheld tools. A soft dusting brush can be useful for clothes and more delicate fabrics, where the normal upholstery tool is a bit too harsh.

Carefully weigh up how you’ll use each tool and only buy the package with the accessories that you’ll use: while more accessories increase cleaning flexibility, you still need somewhere to store them all.

Cordless vs corded

Cost: A good cordless vacuum cleaner doesn’t come cheap. You can buy cordless vacuums for around £100 or so, but they generally don’t clean well enough to justify the expense. That means the cheapest machines in our round-up designed for general cleaning cost upwards of £200.

Battery life: this varies, too. Most corded cleaners have multiple power settings, with the lowest power modes giving you a longer run time at the expense of cleaning performance (typically 30 minutes plus); high-power modes can suck the dust out of anything, but sub-ten-minute runtimes are par for the course.

Run time: to get the most out of a cordless cleaner, you need to balance the power modes you’re using. Don’t worry too much about run time, as 30 minutes or more is quite a lot of time, particularly when you’re only using the vacuum in comparatively short bursts. The main downside is that for larger houses, the run time of a cordless cleaner may not be good enough for a single cleaning sessions. You’ll either have to adjust your routine to allow for charging inbetween cleaning or opt for a corded model for larger jobs.

Auto-shutoff: cordless cleaners also tend to have one major weakness for some jobs: they typically have an auto shutoff when the cleaner is clogged or air is not moving through them properly. That’s generally very clever but there are a couple of scenarios where this isn’t the best option. First, if you use vacuum bags for storage, then a cordless cleaner will turn off before it has sucked the air out and compressed everything.

And, if you have a drill vacuum attachment to suck out dust, preventing it falling to the floor, then a cordless vacuum cleaner may turn off. Plus, many have triggers making it impossible to turn them on constantly.

What power mode is best?

All cordless vacuum cleaners have several power modes available, with low-power modes designed to increase battery life at the reduction of suction power; more powerful settings up the suction power but reduce battery power. There’s often a setting or two in the middle, so which one do you go for? While this varies between cleaner to cleaner, we can give some basic guides here.

– First, the high setting, often called Turbo or Max, will generate a lot of suction but gives you a run-time in minutes. Use this for sucking up stubborn dirt that’s left behind by the other modes. Only use this mode sparingly, as you’ll run out of battery before you manage to clean everything. The standard (the lower setting of two on some cleaners, or the middle option on others) is good for general cleaning up, and you should find that this works well on most surfaces for a regular clean.

– Try the lowest setting or Eco mode if available on surfaces where high suction isn’t as needed. For example, on hard floors the dirt tends not to get trapped in the flooring, so you can get away with less suction and still pick up everything.