When it comes to vacuuming, one size does not fit all. But how to choose a vacuum cleaner appropriate for your household situation? The multitude of options can be daunting, not to mention all the additional tools and attachments. Follow our step-by-step guide for a stress-free selection experience.
Identify your personal needs!
The first step in choosing a vacuum is to identify your personal needs. What kind of flooring or carpet do you have? What is the age of your carpet? How many people and pets are in your home? What are your allergy and asthma triggers? How much area do you have to cover, and how much mobility do you have?
Important Considerations for Choosing a Vacuum
Once you answer those questions, you can determine what features are most important to you when choosing a new vacuum:
- Design: Should you opt for a stick, upright, or canister vacuum? Are you looking for super lightweight or need something durable and heavy duty? Canister vacuums tend to have more power, but this makes them bulkier and harder to maneuver. If storage is limited or you have a large surface to cover, you may encounter some frustrations. However, they offer you much more bang for your buck. If you’re after a deep carpet cleaner, an upright vacuum with a Powerhead brush roll may be just the thing. Or, if you have no pets, low-traffic, low-pile carpet, or a lot of furniture to maneuver around, a stick vacuum could be the winner for you.
Robot vacuums are okay for bare floors but really only provide a surface clean for carpets. We don’t recommend them as your only vacuum, especially if you have pets or high-traffic.
- Filtration: What level of filtration does your vacuum offer? Does it have a genuine HEPA filter, or not? A vacuum operates by sucking in air (along with dust and particulates) and then sending out exhaust air. If the particulates don’t go through a filter, or if that filter doesn’t capture the particulates effectively, or if the vacuum isn’t properly sealed, you may be exhausting most of the dust and particulates you suck in, back into the room. A genuine HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter capture catches “99.97% of particulates at 0.3 microns” and will have this exact language on the packaging. Anything else ISN’T genuine HEPA and will filter less particulates. However, not all manufacturers use the word HEPA correctly. Some label their products True-HEPA, HEPA-like, HEPA-style, or hospital-grade HEPA. If particulate removal is important to you because of asthma or another respiratory condition, we strongly recommend choosing a vacuum with a genuine HEPA filter, which typically starts start around $350. Under that price point, it is very unlikely that you are getting genuine HEPA. To be clear, the “HEPA-Like” options will be phased in a similar fashion, i.e. captures “99% of particulates down to 0.3 microns.”If your price range does not allow for a genuine HEPA, the “HEPA-Like” options are better than nothing.
- Bag or Bagless: Vacuums are also separated into two dust collections options, bags and bagless. We are not here to debate which is better but provide advice on which dust collection you choose. Bags come in a variety of options from the standard bag to HEPA or Allergen reducing bags. Note that not all manufacturers offer a “better” bag. The most important thing to remember about a bag is to replace it frequently, as a clogged bag reduces the capture efficiency. Bagless vacuums can be more convenient, but emptying the dust container should be performed outside, or many of the small particles can go back into the indoor air. If you have a respiratory condition we recommend wearing a dust mask when emptying the collector. The bagless dust collection container can get clogged and will need to be cleaned as needed.
- The Powerhead: Powerhead machines have an additional, second separate motor in the head of the vacuum which drives a rotating brush. A motorized powerhead really helps to remove embedded dust and dirt, therefore offering more effective cleaning solutions to pet owners, people who suffer from dust-triggered asthma or allergies, and those with higher pile carpeting than models that don’t have a powerhead. A powerhead is also important if you have older carpeting that may have more impacted dust and dirt.
- Attachments: Alongside the standard crevice tool and brushes, you may encounter models with specially designed extras for dusting hard to reach areas, removing pet hair or even cleaning mattresses. Other features include variable suction functionality, which is great for cleaning delicate items like curtains or area rugs without damaging them. Choose the attachments in a vacuum that best suit your home’s features and your cleaning style.
- Cord vs. Cordless: Cordless options can be handy, but they lack the suction power of corded styles and may not have enough battery life for very large spaces. They tend to do best on small areas of low-pile carpet or smooth surfaces.
Identify Your Household Type
We’ve outlined a few common household situations to help you choose the features in a vacuum that might be right for your home:
- High-pile (shag) carpet and/or pets
Pick a powerhead. Upright and canister vacuum cleaners with strong powerheads are best for removing dust and grime from high-pile carpets and picking up pet hair.
- Highly sensitive, allergies or asthmatic
Pick a genuine HEPA filtered vacuum. Excellent filtration is imperative if you suffer from asthma or allergies. Other “styles” or types of HEPA do not offer the same level of filtration.
- Hardwood or smooth surfaces floors only
Lack of carpets in your home may mean you can get away with a Swiffer or stick vacuum only to pick up dust and dirt, as there are no carpets for particles to become embedded in. However, if you’re going for an upright or stick vacuum, make sure to choose one that allows you to turn the brush roll off, as this can scatter debris on a bare floor and potentially scratch polished surfaces. Remember smooth surfaces need to be cleaned more frequently, carpets contain (and hide) the dust and dirt.
- Wall-to-wall carpet in good condition, no allergies or asthma
With no special needs to consider, almost any canister or upright vacuum will work for you, so choose the features that you like. Avoid roaming vacuums which don’t offer enough suction to remove embedded dirt and grime, unless you are doing supplemental cleaning with another vacuum.
- Carpet and solid surfaces – Vacuuming Isn’t One Size Fits All!
A single vacuum may not do everything in this instance. You may need one vacuum for your carpets and something different for the solid surfaces.
Finally, don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer or a dealer if you have questions when choosing a vacuum!
The Floor is a Collection of the Conditions in Your Home
Remember that the majority of the dust, dirt, particles, and things that make for bad indoor air fall to the ground. Your floor is the largest dust collector in your house and maintaining it should be a priority for good healthier indoor air.
We recommend performing a seasonal deep cleaning on the vacuum, following the manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning any filters, wiping down the unit inside and out, and removing any debris in the powerheads.
We also recommend a thorough floor cleaning in the spring and fall; moving the furniture and vacuuming slowly in multiple directions. Remember to change the bag or empty the dust collector frequently.
For more information on cleaning for a healthy home, read our article Could Cleaning Be Impacting Your Breathing?
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