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Vacuum Buying Guide

Vacuum Buying Guide

Deciding which vacuum cleaner to purchase can be very complicated and confusing. Not only do you have several brands and price ranges to choose from, but it seems nowadays that manufacturers continue to create more and more models of vacuums that are almost exactly the same. Hopefully this article will provide you with a framework you can follow in choosing the right vacuum for your household needs.

1. First Decision – Cannister vs Upright.

The first decision you need to make is what type of vacuum you want to purchase.  While uprights are much more popular in the the USA and England, cannisters are more popular in the rest of the World and Europe – and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Before you decide which type is best, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What types of flooring do I want to clean
  • Is my house mainly wall-to-wall carpets
  • Do I want to be able to clean my hard floors with my vacuum
  • Do I have stairs to clean
  • Do I have rugs
  • Are their any special areas that may require special cleaning attachments (ceiling fans, light fixtures, etc.)

 

Uprights are great for cleaning synthetic carpets (which make up approximately 99% of all floor carpets today).  Most have powerful, electric beater bars that agitate the carpet fibers nicely, allowing the suction power to remove dirt and dust deep down in the carpet fibers.   Upright vacuums also come with a wide variety of attachments, making it possible to clean everything from stairs to upholstery much more effectively than you could decades ago.   Some uprights also allow you to turn off the beater bar, enabling you to perform suction-only vacuuming, which can be excellent for hardwood floors and some rugs.  Vacuuming stairs, however, can be tricky with an upright unless the hose portion and attachments are extremely long and flexible.

Cannister vacuums, on the other hand are typically the most versatile of the two types of vacuum cleaners, and are recommended for homes that have a more varied structure – lot of stairs, hard flooring, some carpets, lot of rugs, etc.  With this type of cleaner you will have three different choices for nozzles (which is what all cannisters use):

  1. Straight suction nozzle – this nozzle does not have a rotating beater brush and relies purely on suction power to clean the floors.  This is recommended for hard floors and delicate/expensive rugs.
  2. Turbo or turbine power nozzle.  This nozzle has a rotating brush that is powered solely by the suction created by the vacuum.  There is no electric motor to power the nozzle.  This type is recommended for housing with smaller amount of carpet, or homes with only low to mid pile carpet heights (such as Berber carpeting), or for woven rugs made from jute, sisal, coir, etc.
  3. Power nozzle.  These come with separate electric motors that drive the brush roll in the nozzle.  Essentially, these perform the function that the beater bar does in an upright vacuum – agitating the carpet fibers so the suction power can lift particles deep down in the carpet. If you have medium to high pile carpeting, a high percentage of your home is carpeted, or have a pet, then a power nozzle cannister vacuum is recommended (if you want to go the cannister route).

As you can see, with a canister vacuum you have a greater ability to customize the vacuum according to your needs.  However, you do have to pull the vacuum behind you instead of push it along as some people prefer.

 

2 –  Second Issue: How Dirty Does Your House Get

The next question you need to ask yourself is how much soil, and what types of soil, get brought into your home each day.  Most dirt and soil is brought into your home by shoes of people or animals coming from outside.  If you have children and/or pets, then expect a lot more soiling than you otherwise would.  Remember that most of the debris that is embedded in your carpet is dry debris that has sharp edging – edging that is very abrasive and acts just like sandpaper against your carpet.  Regular vacuuming with the appropriate vacuum will help to prevent this abrasion from wearing your carpets down, reducing the amount of light they reflect, and making them look worn and ugly.

If you have a heavy trafficked/highly soiled home, then you will want to find a vacuum cleaner that has a lot of suction power and has the ability to agitate the carpet file sufficiently to loosen the dirt and debris.  Look for a powerful vacuum cleaner (high CFM or Airwatt ratings) with an aggressive revolving brush and firmer bristles (not too firm, or it will damage your carpet).  The same is true for pet hair (although pet hair won’t damage your carpet in the same way as other soils will), as pet hair can be very difficult to constantly pick up.

Obviously, if your home is not highly trafficked then you won’t need as powerful of a vacuum cleaner.  In this case, it’s recommended to purchase the strongest vacuum cleaner that won’t damage your carpet fibers.

 

3 – Third Issue: Performance of Your Vacuum

How well your vacuum cleans your carpets (i.e. how well it sucks up dirt and debris) is generally the most important factor someone considers when purchasing a vacuum.  Unfortunately, the vacuum industry can’t seem to find a way (or don’t want to find a way) to make it easy for consumers to compare models against each other.

There are typically 4 different measurements of performance used by manufacturers:

  • Voltages (measured either in watts or amps)
  • Water Lift (or sealed suction and measured in inches of water lift)
  • Air Watts (an attempt to rate the vacuums actual output)
  • Airflow (measured in CFM, or cubic feet per minute)

(Click Here to Read in More Detail And Understand Better What These Specifications Mean)

Which of these measurements is best?  That will depend on who you talk to – it seems that each reseller / manufacturer has their own opinion on the matter.  Personally, we like to see either Air Watts or Airflow, as these are both measurements of what the vacuum actually produces or creates in terms of suction power and airflow.  We don’t like comparing the amp or watt ratings, because all those ratings tell us is how much power the vacuum uses (i.e. how much it’s going to cost us to operate the vacuum).  Even most of the cheapest, worst vacuum cleaners have 12 amp motors, which is the same size as some of the best vacuums on the market today.

So how can you compare and make an educated decision?

  1. First of all, try to find these two numbers (CFM, Air watts).  We try to find these numbers for you in our reviews.  When we can’t, we try to then test the models against themselves while they actually pick up dirt/debris and measure the results.
  2. Second, you can talk to vacuum experts.  They will generally be able to give you good comparison on models – the downside is that the comparison usually is only with the models they sell, which are almost always exclusively the higher end models.
  3. Next, you can read customer reviews.  Yes, this sounds very cliche and simplistic – but the fact remains that the law of large numbers works when it comes to consumer reviews.  In other words, if a vacuum cleaner is extremely highly rated by thousands of actual customers, then there is a good chance you have a good machine.

 

4 – Filtration

One important aspect of vacuum cleaners that is often overlooked is how well the filtration system works.  If your vacuum has poor filtration, then a lot of dust and finer particles can simply pass right through your vacuum cleaner and into the air.  These particles then settle as dust all over your furnishings.

Furthermore, if you or someone you live with suffers from allergies, poor filtration can exacerbate these problems by increasing the amount of allergens in the air.

A good vacuum cleaner will have good filtration – meaning it will prevent small particles from simply passing through the vacuum cleaner and into the air.  This is done through the following:

  1. Filters (pre-motor, post-motor, inner).  These filters are designed to trap small particles so they don’t escape into the air.  They must either be washable or replaced when they become dirty; otherwise, they will reduce the airflow and suction of the machine.  The best filters will be of HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) quality.  HEPA filters will prevent 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size from escaping from your vacuum cleaner.
  2. Preventing particles from escaping throughout the entire system.  Filters play a part of this, but so does the construction of the vacuum cleaner.  The best cleaners will be those which are 100% ‘Sealed Systems’ – i.e. once air goes in, it doesn’t go anywhere but the dust bin or vacuum bag.

 

5 – Durability of the Vacuum

Obviously you want the vacuum cleaner you purchase to last as long as possible.  Evaluating warranties is a great place to start to get an idea of how long you can expect the machine to last.  Find out how long the warranty lasts AND what the warranty covers.  Many warranties are bare-bones limited warranties that only cover the motor and few other parts of the vacuum, leaving you to foot the bill if something else breaks due to manufacturer issues.

However, warranties are only a place to start when determining the durability of a vacuum.  You also need to look at and evaluate the construction quality and build of the machine and it’s parts.

Generally, with vacuums you get what you pay for in terms of how long it is going to last.  Don’t expect most sub-$200 vacuums to last more than a few years (with the range being 2-5) without the machine breaking and/or loosing a lot of suction.  There are exclusions to this rule, but they are rare (and you see that in the shorter warranties for such machines).

 

6 – Ease of Use

Balancing suction power and ease of use is something that all manufacturers have to take into consideration.  They could make the high powered vacuum in the world – but chances are the suction power would be too great for you to be able to move the thing.

So while the vacuum does need to be powerful, you also need to be able to vacuum your living room and stairs without hurting your back (which is actually a very common problem).  Look for a vacuum that is lightweight when in use and has good mobility.  Examples of machines that have both are the Miele S-Series cannister vacuums, the Dyson DC25 All Floors with the ball technology, and the Shark Upright Lift Away.  In addition, many commercial grade vacuums are very lightweight and are great for people who are not as strong and prefer a lighter machine.

There are also a hand full of features and accessories that can make your vacuuming job much easier.  These include:

  • Rotary power brushes (great for removing pet hair, vacuuming stairs, and upholstery)
  • Crevice tools
  • Dusting wands
  • Auto rewind cords (although with lower-end machines this feature has a tendency to break easily over time)
  • Variable power levels
  • Ability to shut off the beater brush (for when vacuuming hard floors and using the hose / accessories

 

7 – Finally, Cost

You want the vacuum that gives you the most bang for your buck.  For everyone this will be different, but the focus will be the same – value.  There are quality machines to be purchased at every price level, but as is generally the case, the more you can spend the better vacuum cleaner you can get.

 

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