It is hard to find a home that does not have a vacuum cleaner. Whether you have an apartment, small house, tiny home, or mansion, vacuums are essential. But, do you really know everything there is to know about vacuum cleaners? What are all the types of vacuums and how do you choose between? Those are the types of questions answered in this definitive guide to vacuum cleaners.
Keep reading to learn everything about vacuums. Before you begin your search for your next vacuum cleaner for home, you should read this guide. It gives you all the information you need to start your search off right.
Brief History of the Vacuum
Before we discuss the main types of vacuums, we will give you a condensed history of the vacuum. This is a condensed history because the full story of the vacuum cleaner’s development is quite messy.
Vacuums or their early predecessors have only been around for a little over 100 years. Before vacuums, you had to hit a rug outside to remove the dirt. On hard floors, you would need to use a broom. Brooms and rackets are not the best at removing all of the embedded dirt and debris. Plus, those cleaning methods were very time-consuming.
In 1860 the first carpet sweeper was patented. Electricity was not harnessed at this point. This made carpet sweepers manual. The early carpet sweepers used air to move the dirt around. How the air was moved varied. Some carpet sweepers were manual, such as the products that gave Bissell its start.
In the early 20th century James Murray Spangler revolutionized the carpet sweeper and early vacuum designs. He patented his designs and started a company. That company would end up being Hoover, and the design was the first for the upright vacuum cleaner as we know it today.
Since Spangler’s renovations, the vacuum cleaner has come a long way. There are now multiple types to choose from. Vacuums can be used on more than just carpet. You can easily find products that work on hard floors, carpet, stairs, upholstery, and more. Instead of a way to just clean the carpet easier, the vacuum has become synonymous with whole-home cleaning.
It is hard to imagine a world without a vacuum. The modern versions of these amazing machines use suction and a brush roll to remove dirt and debris from our floors. In many ways, this is one of the simplest appliances around. It is also one of the most essential. Keep reading to learn more about the modern vacuum cleaner for home.
The Main Vacuum Types
There are a few types of vacuums for you to choose from. Each type, its uses, pros and cons, and more are discussed below.
Handheld vacuums are the smallest type of vacuum around. The name should give you a good sense of the size of the vacuum. It is small enough to fit in your hand. Handheld vacuums will also be very lightweight. They need to be carried easily by anyone.
The small handheld vacuum has been around for many years. DustBuster is probably the most famous brand. They have been around since 1979. Today the brand is owned by Black + Decker. For over forty years the DustBuster dominated the handheld vacuum market.
Today, however, a lot more brands make these handy products. Another advance is the converting stick vacuum. We will discuss this more in the stick vacuum section below. However, suffice it to say here that stick vacuums often convert into a smaller, handheld vacuum. This feature allows you to enjoy the benefits of two types of vacuums in one product.
You will find handheld vacuums by DustBuster, Shark, Dyson, and Bissell.
Where and when to use?
We recommend using a handheld vacuum as a spot cleaner. Any small dry mess can be vacuumed with this product. Handheld vacuum excels at cleaning non-floor surfaces like car upholstery, furniture, banisters, mantels, upholstery, etc.
Canister vacuums are a unique type of vacuum. These are comprised of multiple parts. The first part of the canister vacuum is the canister. The canister holds the motor and dust bin. This is the part that is pulled along the floor.
The canister is connected to a cleaning head by a hose. The length of the hose is very important. When you have a long hose, you can reach more places. Cleaning heads on canister vacuums are interchangeable. These products often come with a lot of different attachments. You can choose the attachment that will best clean each surface.
Modern canister vacuums come in many sizes and shapes. Some are quite large, heavy, and expensive, others are the opposite. You can easily find a product that will fit your budget and needs.
No matter what canister vacuum you choose, you will enjoy the long reach of the hose. These vacuum cleaners for home make it easy to clean in multiple locations around the house. The canister will also not need to be moved often. This makes a canister vacuum ideal for high pile or dense carpet.
Hoover, Bissell, Eureka, Oreck, Miele, Dyson, and Severin are all great canister vacuum brands.
When and where to use?
Canister vacuums are perfect for any cleaning job in any size home. Most will vacuum upholstery, carpet, and hard floors. They work very well on plush or high pile carpet. Pulling them on that type of carpet can be hard, so leave them on the edge of the high pile rugs if you can.
Upright vacuums are the most traditional type of vacuum. This is the familiar shape that has been around since James Spangler founded Hoover. You push upright vacuums along the floor. This type of vacuum is housed in a single unit. The dust bin, motor, and cleaning head are all aligned.
Many modern upright vacuums come with a detachable hose. These hoses can be used to reach places above your floors. You should also be able to vacuum hard floors and carpet with upright vacuums.
Upright vacuums are the most powerful, and often the heaviest, of all vacuum types. They will likely have adjustable power, height, or speed. The heavier nature of the upright vacuum means that it can be hard to push for some people. They are also better at cleaning low or medium pile carpets. Not all upright vacuums will work on high pile carpets.
All of the top vacuum manufacturers create upright vacuums. This is the easiest type of vacuum to find. There are seemingly infinite options, all at different price points.
When and where to use?
Upright vacuums can be used for any floor vacuuming job. They are ideal for whole-house cleaning or even small spot cleaning. Most surfaces can be cleaned by an upright vacuum. It may, however, not be best to use this vacuum type on high pile or plush carpets. It takes a special product to handle those carpets.
Stick vacuums have the same basic shape as an upright vacuum. They are just much smaller. Everything about a stick vacuum is small. It will not weigh much, the dust bin will be tiny, and more. The main cleaning head may be about the same size as an upright vacuum, though.
Stick vacuums are a more recent development in the vacuum industry. They have only been around for about twenty years. That has not stopped manufacturers from creating a great variety of these vacuums. There are a lot of stick vacuums to choose from. Most will convert into a handheld vacuum. This increases its versatility.
All stick vacuums will weight under ten pounds. They may be either corded or cordless. Because of their small size, stick vacuums tend to be less powerful than upright or canister vacuums. They will also cost a lot less. For a convenient vacuum for small jobs, you need a stick vacuum.
Dyson is especially known for its stick vacuums. They were one of the easiest pioneers in the industry. However, you can also find stick vacuums from Bissell, Eureka, Shark, and other brands today.
When and where to use?
- Stick vacuums are ideal for small cleaning jobs. Have a spill you need to clean up? Are your stairs dirty? Then you need the stick vacuum. The models that convert into a handheld vacuum can be used on all surfaces. If there is no conversion, you will need to keep your stick vacuum on the floors.
The most recent advancement in vacuum technology is the autonomous/robot vacuum. These were first introduced in the late 1990s. The Roomba is probably the most famous brand creating this type of vacuum.
Robot vacuums are usually small and round. They always run on battery power. This means that they will come with a charging base. You set the time for the vacuuming, and the robot vacuum does the rest. Modern models will even empty their own dust bins. This feature is still less common, however.
The most recent robot vacuums have a lot of sophisticated functionality. A Neato robot vacuum in 2009 was the first to use a laser to scan a room and make a map. Most robot vacuums now have this feature. They may also connect to your smart device and the Amazon Alexa. You can control the vacuum from anywhere.
Robot vacuums tend to cost the most of any type of vacuum. They are very small, so their dust bin will be similarly small. You still have to maintain the vacuum. Your time spent vacuuming will go way down, though.
Often brands that create robotic vacuums are not the same that make the other types. Shark is the exception to this rule. Other common robot vacuum brands include iRobot (makers of the Roomba), Shark, and eufy.
When and where to use?
Robot vacuum only clean floors. They work best on hard floors and low and medium-pile carpet. Most robot vacuums will not roll over high pile carpet. You can ensure the robot vacuum doesn’t clean in certain areas. Otherwise, this type of vacuum can be used anywhere and are great for vacuuming on a schedule.
6. Central vacuum
The final type of vacuum we want to highlight is the central vacuum. These are probably the least common type of vacuum around. For the right home, however, they can be invaluable.
Central vacuums are built into the home. The vacuum motor and dust bin are located in a single location, usually the basement. The main unit with a motor and dust bin is connected to each room through the use of in-the-wall inlets. You hook up the vacuum’s hose to each inlet as you clean.
Most central vacuum systems come with a wide variety of attachments. You attach these to the hose depending on the cleaning required. Storing everything together when it is not in use is essential for keeping the vacuum complete.
Central vacuums tend to be quite expensive. Their maintenance costs more as well. However, they have the largest dust bin of any vacuum. You have to run the vacuum, but they require much less work otherwise.
When and where to use?
Central vacuums can be used anywhere that the hose can reach. Because you get so many attachments with this vacuum type, it will safely clean any surface. You are limited by the length of the hose. Some rooms may need more than one inlet. You don’t have to haul out a heavy vacuum with this type, so it is much more convenient to use.
Vacuum Cleaners by Floor Type
Knowing the different types of vacuums is only the first part of the equation. You also need to understand how the types of floors in your home affect your vacuum choice. Not all vacuums work on all types of floors. Some floors have greater cleaning concerns than others.
In the list below we discuss each floor type in detail. We will also let you know what type of vacuum works best for each floor.
1. Hardwood Floor
Hardwood floors have a very distinctive look. Nothing looks quite like wood. Hardwood is one of the most expensive floorings you can put in your home. However, there are synthetic hardwoods. These floors do not have the vacuuming concerns of real hardwood.
Hardwood is beautiful and expensive. You don’t want your investment to go to waste. That is why you need the best vacuum for hardwood floors you can find. The biggest consideration in a vacuum for hardwood floors is the brush roll. It should be able to be shut off.
Upright, canister, stick, and robot vacuums can all be used on hardwood.
2. Tile Floor
Tile is another distinctive type of hard floor. It is made from tiles connected by grout. Tile floors are wonderful because they can have different designs. The tiles themselves are easy to clean and very durable. The grout is the hardest part to clean with a vacuum.
You want a vacuum that has soft brushes or a brush roll that can be turned off. The product should also come with attachments that will clean into the grout. Without those special tools, dirt and debris can embed themselves in the grout. This will make your tile look grungy.
The best vacuum types for tile are upright, canister, and stick vacuums.
3. Laminate Floor
Laminate floors are best known as the synthetic hardwood options. These floors are made from synthetic materials. They are quite inexpensive. The problem with laminate floors is that they tend to be much less durable than tile or hardwood.
Laminate floors scratch easily. Because of that, you definitely need a vacuum with a removable brush roll or one that can be turned off. Rubber wheels and soft brush attachments are also crucial when vacuuming laminate.
The right upright or canister vacuum is ideal for laminate floors. Stick vacuums may work. Be careful, though, as these products may scratch your laminate.
4. Shag Carpet
Shag carpet is a type of high pile carpet. Pile refers to the height of the carpet fibers. The fibers on shag carpets will be cut at the top and at least ½ inch long. Fibers as long as one or two inches are common.
Thankfully shag carpets typically come in rug form. These types of rugs are most associated with the 1960s. They do have a long history, though. Shag rugs originated in the ancient Middle East and Asia. They have made a comeback in recent years.
Shag carpets are notoriously hard to vacuum. Their long carpet fibers can easily become snagged or tangled in the brush roll. You also need a high powered vacuum to reach deeply into the fibers. The combination of high power and gentle suction can be hard to find.
Upright vacuums with height and power adjustments are the best vacuums for shag carpeting.
5. High Pile Carpet
Shag carpets are high pile. Not all high pile carpets are shag, however. Shag has a unique twisted look. High pile carpets are distinguished primarily by their long fibers. Anything over ½ inch is a high pile carpet.
High pile carpets have the same vacuuming problems as shag carpets. The vacuum’s brush roll can easily get tangled in the fibers. The fibers can be snagged or pulled out. If the high pile carpet is plush, the vacuum may not roll well either. Without the right venting, a vacuum can easily get stuck in high pile carpet.
Choose an adjustable upright or canister vacuum for your high pile carpet.
1. Medium Pile Carpet
Medium pile carpets have a fiber length of ¼-½ inch. This is one of the most common carpet lengths around. Medium pile carpet is soft and durable. It can be used in bedrooms, offices, studios, living and family rooms, and more.
The slightly longer fibers do tend to trap dirt. So, you may not want to put a medium pile carpet in a high traffic area. There is not much danger of vacuum damage, though. Any vacuum should work on a medium pile carpet.
2. Low Pile Carpet
Low pile carpets are any with a fiber length of under ¼ inch. These carpets are typically dense and less soft. The low pile is great at keeping dirt and mud at the surface of the fibers. Low pile carpets are also the easiest to clean.
They are not that plush, so we don’t recommend using low pile carpets in bedrooms. But any high traffic area would greatly benefit from a low pile carpet. A major benefit of this type of carpet is that any vacuum can clean it. Robot vacuums are especially effective on low pile carpet.
To Bag or Not to Bag
If you choose a canister or upright vacuum, you will need to choose between bagged and bagless products. What does this refer to? We’ll tell you in the rest of this section.
1. Bagged Vacuums
Bagged vacuums have a bag lining the dirt bin. This is originally how vacuums were designed. Older models always had a bag.
The problem with bagged vacuums is that they can be expensive and a hassle to maintain. Every time the bag fills up, it needs to be replaced. That means you will be spending money on replacement bags. Plus, you have to worry about removing the bag and throwing it away.
2. Bagless Vacuums
Bagless vacuums are a newer type. They do not have a bag in their dirt bin. Instead, the bin is usually clear. The dirt and debris get deposited directly into the bin. There is usually a fill line on the bin to indicate when you need to empty.
Most manufacturers make emptying the dust bin easy on bagless vacuums. There will likely be a button you press. The bottom of the bin will swing away, and the dirt will go in the trashcan.
Bagless vacuums save you money. There are no replacement bags to buy. They are also less of a hassle because you don’t have to touch the contents of the dust bin.
Corded or Cordless
Another extremely important decision you will have to make is whether to purchase a corded or cordless vacuum. The cord in question is the power cord. Corded vacuums run off of outlet power. Cordless vacuums run on battery power.
The option is only available on some vacuum types. For example, upright and canister vacuums are almost always corded. Stick vacuums may be corded or cordless. Robot and handheld vacuums will always be cordless. You don’t have to worry about this consideration with central vacuums.
Corded vacuums have a power cord. They plug into an outlet in your wall to run. When not plugged in, no power will go to their motor, which means they will not run.
A great advantage of corded vacuums is that they will never stop working. As long as they are plugged in, your corded vacuum will run. Corded vacuums are also more powerful than cordless vacuums.
There are not only pros with corded vacuums, however. They come with several negatives as well. One problem is that you always have to have the vacuum plugged in. This can be inconvenient. It also limits where you can use the vacuum.
Another con of corded vacuums is that their cords can be stepped on or tangled easily. Getting wrapped up in a power cord is never fun for anybody.
Cordless vacuums do not have a power cord. They run off of a rechargeable battery. The battery can be recharged in the included charging base. Most batteries take three to five hours to recharge. They will last between thirty minutes and an hour.
Because the batteries do not last that long, cordless vacuums are better for smaller jobs. Unless your home is quite small, you will not be able to completely vacuum it with a cordless vacuum. Some Shark vacuums come with two batteries, which increases your vacuuming time. For the most part, though, a cordless vacuum is better for spot cleaning.
The good news is that cordless vacuums are the most convenient. As long as they are charged, they can be used anytime. You don’t have to find a plug or anything. Just pick them up off of their base and get to vacuuming.
You probably still have questions about vacuums. This is a very involved topic. Hopefully, the facts described below will answer any lingering questions you may have.
- How do vacuum cleaners work?
We don’t have to go into the exact science of vacuum cleaners for you to understand how they work. The motors in vacuums create suction. That suction comes out of the brush roll, most of which have bristles. As the brush roll turns and the suction sucks, dirt and debris are loosened and removed from your carpet.
This is why brush rolls are not needed for hard floors. There is no embedded dirt for the machine to remove. The bristles on the brush roll will just scratch the hard floor.
Every vacuum works slightly differently, but the basic mechanics are the same. You can read more about how vacuums work here.
- What other features should I consider in a vacuum cleaner?
Some features must be considered no matter what type of vacuum you are interested in. Weight is one of these. The heavier the vacuum, the harder it is to use. The number and types of accessories are also very important.
Maneuverability, versatility, and suction power are other features you have to consider. Maneuverability tells you how well the vacuum navigates obstacles. If the vacuum converts or has other cleaning options, it is very versatile. A more versatile vacuum will clean a great number of surfaces. You will get more for your money that way.
Power is a big consideration in vacuum cleaners for home. Carpet, especially, requires a lot of suction power to be cleaned properly. You may also want to look for variable suction. This allows you to tailor the amount of suction to the surface you are vacuuming.
- How often should I vacuum my home?
Vacuuming your home is the most important step to take to keep it clean. You should vacuum your entire home once or twice per week. If you have pets or highly trafficked areas, those should be vacuumed every day or two.
If this much vacuuming seems like too much work, consider a robot vacuum. It can be set on a schedule. The schedule ensures your floors get cleaned often enough.
- What is HEPA filtration, and do I need it?
You will likely see the letters HEPA on many vacuums you research. HEPA is a certification that stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. If a filter is HEPA certified it will catch 99.97% of particles in the air. This ensures that the vacuum leaves your air cleaner than it found it.
HEPA filters are the gold standard. This is a great way to know that your vacuum will probably clean your home. However, it is not essential. Even if the vacuum is not HEPA certified, it can still be very good. Look for at least multi-level filtration systems or other certifications that guarantee quality.
Vacuum cleaners are an amazing tool. They make it easy to keep the floors, and all of the surfaces, in your home clean. Without vacuums, our houses would be a lot dirtier.
To get the most for your money, and the best cleaning power, you need the best vacuum cleaner you can find. The top product is the one that works best for you. Use this definitive guide to decide on the type of vacuum you need. Then read some of our specific vacuum reviews. They will help you narrow down your vacuum choices.
Begin looking for a new vacuum today. You will be glad that you did.