If you're looking for a new vacuum cleaner, our buying guide will look at each type to help you decide on the right option for your needs. We also look at all of the other main considerations, including the power ratings, the pros and cons of bagged vs bagless, the different types of filtration in vacuum cleaners and explain the efficiency, noise and performance ratings found on the labelling of every device.
Vacuum cleaner power ratings
The power of corded vacuum cleaners is measured in watts (W). Since September 2017, EU law only allows vacuum cleaners of 900W or less to be made in, or imported to, the European Union. However, the suction, dust/dirt pickup and efficiency of a vacuum cleaner relates as much to its design as the power it draws, so higher watt machines are not always the best fit for every situation.
Cordless vacuum cleaners are different, with their power being measured in volts (v), which relates to the amount of power it takes to charge the battery that they use. Most cordless vacuum cleaners can run for between 20 minutes to 40 minutes from a full charge, depending on the model.
Different vacuum cleaner types
Depending on what main tasks you want your new vacuum cleaner to perform, and on what surfaces, there are a number of different options, from traditional uprights or cylinders, to lightweight cordless, wet and dry vacuums, window vacuums and handheld vacs.
Upright vacuum cleaners
Upright vacuum cleaners are ideal for homes with large areas of carpet. Using one means that you don't need to bend as often when operating the cleaner, and they are often the most powerful and effective vacuum cleaners available on flat surfaces, using brush bars in the head to help loosen and direct the ingrained dirt as you go. You can usually buy bagged upright vacuums or bagless versions, and upright cleaners often have the largest capacity of all the different types of vacuum, meaning that you need to stop and empty them less often. They often come with various attachments for using on different surfaces e.g. upholster, crevice tool etc.
Cylinder vacuum cleaners
Cylinder vacuum cleaners are generally smaller and lighter than uprights, which means they are generally more portable and able to be used more easily on stairs, as well as carried up and down them when needed, usually with a built-in handle for this exact purpose. They can be great for getting into hard-to-reach areas and the head will often clean right up against the edge of furniture and skirting boards, but they can be less energy efficient than other types of vacuum cleaner. Smaller homes, or homes with several floors might be best suited to this type of vacuum cleaner. They are also often easier to store away, usually taking up less space than a standard upright vacuum, so can be tucked out of sight more easily.
Cordless vacuum cleaners
In recent years, rechargeable cordless vacuum cleaners have become highly popular, in some homes replacing conventional corded cleaners entirely. Cordless vacuums are light, easy to lift and therefore can get into places and spaces that larger upright and cylinder vacuum cleaners cannot.
They come with a variety of different names and designs, including cordless pole, stick and upright vacuum cleaners. These types of vacuums are often less powerful than corded cleaners, as they are battery powered, and have a limited running time (20-40 minutes, depending on the model) before they will need to be recharged, which can take several hours. They are ideally suited to small homes, flats or apartments as a main vacuum cleaner, and because they are cordless, can also be used outside the home easily e.g. when cleaning the car. Many people also use a cordless upright vacuum cleaner in their home for quick clean ups, then have another corded vacuum for bigger tasks or for doing the whole house.
Many cordless vacuum cleaners can be used with attachments e.g. with a long reaching pole for cleaning the floor, but can be quickly turned into a handheld vacuum cleaner without the stick when required for cleaning the car, stairs, upholstery or other surfaces at home or away.
Handheld vacuum cleaners
Handheld vacuum cleaners can be either corded or cordless, and tend to be best suited to households who want to do several quick clean ups during the week, when it would be inconvenient to get out the main vacuum cleaner, but are not usually suitable, or powerful enough, for cleaning large areas of floor or carpet and so are not generally the only vacuum in the home. The cordless versions are also popular for using in the car or other cleaning jobs outside the house. Depending on the model, a cordless handheld vacuum cleaner can have a running time of between 10-30 minutes.
Wet & dry vacuum cleaners
Wet & dry vacuum cleaners are machines that can be used for normal vacuuming tasks, such as cleaning up dirt and dust, but are also able to be used on liquid spillages. They have a special filter or reservoir which stops any liquid from coming into contact with any of the electrical parts. Wet and dry vacuum cleaners can come in corded or cordless models, cylinder, upright or handheld.
Increasingly popular in recent years, window vacuums are usually cordless handheld units, with rechargeable batteries offering a running time of 20-40 minutes. The idea is that instead of traditional window cleaning, which can leave streaks and result in water dripping down onto woodwork and the wall, the window vac instead sucks the dirty water away directly from the glass, leaving a streak-free window and minimising any mess. Window vacuums are also often used on shower doors or screens, as a great way to stop any mould or mildew growing, and on mirrors, for a flawless clean. As these window vacs are generally used by holding the unit up against the window for a period of time, ensuring you choose one that is lightweight, even when full, can really help to make cleaning larger windows a less tiring task.
Vacuum cleaner energy labels explained
The supplier name or trademark and model identifier will appear at the top of the label. Other information on the labels include:
Energy Efficiency Class: This ranges from A-G, the A is considered to be the most efficient and G the least efficient.
Average annual energy consumption: This has been calculated for an average household with 87sqm and with the frequency of 50 cleaning tasks performed over one year. Naturally the exact amount will vary depending on the actual usage of the appliance and the size of your home.
Noise level: This is measured in dB (Decibels), for instance if you want a quiet machine, go for the lowest possible dB rating.
Carpet & hard floor cleaning performance: Cleaning performance class is rated from A-G. An A rated cleaner is shown to clean more than 91 % of the dust, whereas a G rated cleaner will clean 70-71% of the dust.
Dust re-emission class: Rated from A-G, this indicates how clean your machine’s exhaust air will be and depends on the type and quality of the exhaust filter.
Bagged Vs BaglessBagged vacuums tend to have a larger capacity, collecting dust and dirt in a bag, which should be disposed of when full and replaced. Some bags seal the dust away for cleaner disposal whilst some bagless cylinders use powerful cyclone technology to remove bacteria and allergens from the airflow and trap dirt in a chamber. These models are better for asthmas and allergy sufferers. Bagless vacuums are cost effective and environmentally friendly, as you don't have to replace bags which reduce the suction power as the bag fills.
Vacuum cleaner filtration types
Filtration is a very important consideration for allergy sufferers and asthmatics. Filtration determines how many dust particles will escape into the air from the vacuum exhaust. There are several types of vacuum cleaner filtration, some more effective or sophisticated than others.
Stage filters: Usually vary between 3 and 7 stages. A typical 4-stage filter would comprise a double-skinned bag (2 stages), a filter between the dust bag and motor chambers, and a final filter.
Lifetime filters: No need to change the filter during the lifetime of the machine. Vacuum lifespan is normally 7-10 years.
HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air): Also known as S-Class, these retain even the smallest of allergy-causing particles. Look out for vacuums that have been given the British Allergy Foundation’s seal of approval.
Charcoal filters: A charcoal layer neutralises any bad odours. This type is particularly suitable if you have pets.