For a dependable, versatile, and affordable cleaner, we prefer a bagless upright, but we have recommendations for other types of vacuums as well.
If you want an affordable, versatile vacuum cleaner—nothing fancy, but something dependably solid—look for a bagless upright vacuum that costs about $150. It will work well for most people in most homes. (The Shark Navigator line has been our favorite for this style for many years.) But if you’re looking for something different, we’ve also rounded up the best of the rest—from cordless sticks and long-lasting canisters to cheap handhelds and even robots—for all types of homes.
The best affordable bagless uprights work well with just about any type of vacuumable debris (including pet hair) and floor type (including most carpets, wood, tiles, or anything else). And they should last at least five years without much maintenance (no new belts are required) and with minimal cost (the filters are washable, and these vacs don’t need bags).
On the most common types of flooring (like low- or mid-pile nylon carpeting and most bare floors), great bagless uprights work almost as well as the strongest overall vacuums (like Miele canisters, among some others), often for much less than half the cost. They’re easier to maintain than cheaper uprights and most canister vacuums, and should last longer than all but the sturdiest high-end machines. Read more about the best upright vacuums.
Consider an affordable bagless upright vacuum if:
Skip an affordable bagless upright vacuum if:
(If our current pick, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352, is out of stock, you could consider the NV354, which is the same base model with different accessories.)
If you like your floors to stay very clean, and you’re willing to pay big bucks for a vacuum that will last a decade or more, get a high-end canister vacuum. It’s a big investment, but it can pay off in the long run.
The best canister vacs are arguably the best vacuum cleaners. Their big, high-suction motors and versatile, adjustable cleaning heads do an excellent job cleaning all types of floors (even delicate or high-pile rugs) without being too unwieldy to handle, since the weight is distributed among their different parts. They should last for at least a decade (usually much longer), and tend to do an excellent job of maintaining great indoor air quality—though you’ll need to pay for fresh bags and filters every few months for as long as you own the vacuum. Read more about the best canister vacuums.
Consider a high-end canister vacuum if:
Skip a high-end canister vacuum if:
For most people, great cordless vacuum cleaners are now strong enough to replace plug-in vacuums. But cordless vacs cost more, they don’t last as long, and unless you spring for a really high-end model, they may not have enough run time to clean big homes in a single pass.
All that said, cordless vacuums make it so easy to clean that you may just be fine with those tradeoffs. They’re especially life-changing if you live in an apartment or smaller house with a cramped floor plan, because they’re so thin and light and easy to steer, and there’s no cord to get caught on any corners. And even in bigger homes, you may find that you get used to cleaning just a few rooms at a time, so that battery life isn’t such a big deal. The best cordless models are strong enough to clean as well or nearly as well as plug-ins, even on most types of rugs.
Most cordless vacuums also double as handheld vacuums now, so you can buy one vacuum to clean your floors and your car. Read more about the best cordless vacuums.
Consider a cordless vacuum if:
Skip a cordless vacuum if:
If you’re interested in a robot vacuum and willing to pay for one, then hell yeah, get one. They don’t clean rugs as deeply as traditional vacuums do, and they never navigate perfectly (though some are getting pretty close). But they can keep your floors tidy, with very little effort and oversight on your part. They’re particularly advantageous for pet owners, but most people are pleasantly surprised by how much stuff robot vacuums manage to pick up.
Some simple but effective robot models are about the same price as good traditional vacuums. Meanwhile, higher-end models add advanced features like targeted area- or room-specific cleaning, or even a self-emptying feature. (Roomba introduced smart-mapping software for our top pick in March 2022, but we haven’t tested it yet.) Read more about the best robot vacuums.
Consider a robot vacuum if:
Skip a robot vacuum if:
We recommend a few different types of vacuums that usually cost about $150, including an excellent bagless upright vacuum, a decent cordless vacuum, and a basic (but good!) robot vacuum.
We’re not comfortable recommending any specific vacuums that cost less than $150 (except when the models we just mentioned go on sale). Plenty of vacuums cost less than that, and some of them actually work pretty well—at least when they’re brand-new. But even the good ones tend to wear out quickly and often can’t be repaired at all. It will usually pay off in the long run to spend a little more today on a vacuum that will last longer.
All that said, if you insist on spending less and just need something convenient to use for a couple of minutes per day to tidy up small messes on bare floors—and not to clean rugs—just go for the cheapest thing you can find on Ubuy (or wherever). The cheapest plug-in models cost around $35, and cordless models start around $90. Don’t expect anything great.
It’s handy to have a little handheld vacuum to deal with small messes. Today’s handheld vacuums can be surprisingly strong without costing too much. The best ones have enough oomph to quickly suck up crumbs, grit, and other types of obvious debris, with adjustable nozzles that can make it easier to get at hard-to-reach spots without wrenching your wrist. Read more about the best handheld vacuums.
We’d argue that robot vacuums are the best tool for cleaning up pet hair because they can dutifully keep up with the mess at a pace that few humans have the time or patience to match.
But if you don’t want a bot, then any decent vacuum cleaner will work fine. There’s no special design that makes vacuums especially adept at picking hair up off of floors. Even the cheapest vacuums can pick up pet hair off a bare floor, and any vacuum that’s good at getting dust out of rugs will also be good at digging pet hair out of rugs.
You don’t even have to limit yourself to models that have the words pet or animal in their names. That just means they come with a tool for getting pet hair off of upholstery, or (occasionally) that a vacuum’s brush roll won’t tangle easily. Those are nice features! But plenty of vacuums with names that don’t include animal or pet have these features, too.
One edge case to consider: If you have a lot of hairy pets, like four golden retrievers or a half-dozen long-haired cats, you might want to avoid bagged vacuums. Pet hair fills bags quickly, and the cost of replacing bags so frequently can add up.
If you have asthma or severe allergies, and indoor air quality is crucial to your health, a high-quality bagged vacuum is a safe bet. Our favorite high-end vacuums do an excellent job of sucking up allergens and irritants—and keeping them contained during disposal.
There’s a bit of controversy on this topic. Experts disagree on the traits a “clean-air” vacuum needs to have. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) says that some bagless vacuums are okay in this regard. (It’s worth noting that AAFA is sponsored by Dyson, which makes only bagless vacuums. No other major vacuum brands sponsor AAFA. So that’s a potential conflict of interest, though the AAFA certification testing is pretty rigorous, and we don’t doubt that bagless models have produced good results on this tough test.) But most boots-on-the-ground salespeople and technicians told us that they would not recommend bagless models for households in which air quality was a major concern, because the act of emptying a bagless vacuum re-pollutes your air. We’d recommend erring on the side of caution with a bagged, sealed-system vacuum that has a HEPA filter.
What if you don’t have asthma or severe allergies? Well, it never hurts to have a HEPA filter on a vacuum, but they’re overkill for many people. Also, a vacuum can come equipped with a HEPA filter but have mediocre overall filtration, if the transfer points throughout the vacuum don’t have rubber gaskets. So don’t be fooled into paying extra just because a vacuum has a HEPA filter.
This is the easiest task for a vacuum cleaner, and you don’t need anything special. But if you want to make the job a little easier, there are a couple features to consider.
For a mix of bare floors and rugs, the surest bet is to get a vacuum that lets you turn the brush roll on or off. An aggressive brush can scatter certain kinds of debris on bare floors, or even scratch certain types of flooring, so it’s helpful to be able to switch it off. Most plug-in vacuums (including the upright and canister models we recommend) have this option, though it’s less common among cordless vacuums.
If you don’t plan to clean rugs (or at least not very deeply), you can get a vacuum that’s purpose-built for cleaning bare floors. Most of these are “suction-only” models, without a brush roll (and some of these are dirt cheap). But a few of them use a specialty soft-fabric brush roll to help “hug” the debris toward the intake. Read more about the best vacuums for hardwood floors.
High-pile carpets (like shag, frieze, saxony, cable, or long plush) pose a problem for some vacuums: The long fibers can tangle around the brush roller and/or block the intake, essentially choking the vacuum.
If you have any carpeting like that, and you want to clean it thoroughly, your best bet is to get a vacuum with an adjustable cleaning head—one that can rise or fall with the carpet height.
Alternatively, you can try to clean longer rugs by turning off the brush roll or turning down the suction (if your vacuum has those options). Read more about what makes a vacuum great on carpet.
If you like to keep your car tidy, any handheld vacuum can work, but one with an accordion hose and clip-on tools will make the job easier. This style is also great for cleaning up around the house. Read more about the best car vacuums.
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