There is no one best vacuum cleaner for all circumstances. To claim there is would be like saying everyone should drive a certain luxury sedan, or small economy car. Someone who needs to haul 6 kids doesn’t need the same vehicle as someone who hauls 4×8 sheets of wallboard. My needs and your needs may not be the same. Some people just want to clean rugs and carpets, others have bare floors, and some people want to vacuum the curtains and wood trim, what we call “above the floor cleaning”. Some of the new frieze and shag carpet is too long for many vacuums and some of the newest high yarn count carpets (like Dupont Silk and Shaw Caress) are very soft & comfortable to walk on but very difficult to push most vacuums on. Some people have dust allergies and need superior filtration. Some people need a vacuum light enough to carry up and down stairs, others need one that’s very easy to push. At Byers Vacuum we spend some time asking questions before we recommend a particular vacuum. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself: What surfaces do you want to clean? If carpets, how long? Bare floor? Above the floor? Do you have area rugs with fringes? Carpeted stairs? Does anyone in the household have dust allergies? Are you picking up long hair that gets wrapped around the brush? How many hours a year will it be used? How many years do you want it to last? Do you want to buy American? Most vacuums, including Hoover, Eureka, Dirt Devil, Bissell, and Dyson, are made in China, S. Korea, Malaysia, or Mexico. If you have the answers to these questions, you are ready to determine what vacuum is “best” for you.
A straight suction canister is good for bare floors and above the floor. A canister with a power nozzle allows you to also clean carpet. Some power nozzles will height adjust for the new friezes and shags, some won’t. The same is true of uprights: some will height adjust for friezes and shags, some won’t. The new extra soft carpets need the ability to reduce suction (one company drilled a bunch of holes in their nozzle to bleed suction). And some uprights have attachments that work well for above the floor cleaning, but some have none, or they don’t work very well. Most uprights cannot turn off the brush separately from the motor, but a few can. This feature allows you to vacuum a bare floor without scattering dirt all over. Also, if you have rugs with fringes, or fragile antique rugs, you might want to be able to turn the brush off. Most canisters with power nozzles allow you to turn off the brush. On the uprights that can turn the brush off, some do it by a lever on the nozzle, others have 2 motors with a switch right on the handle which allows you to turn the brush motor on & off with a flip of your finger, rather than bending over, — much more convenient when doing fringes.
Some uprights, like the Orecks and SupraLites, are very light. This makes them very easy to carry from one level to another or to transport back and forth in a cleaning business. Other machines, like newer Kirbys and certain older Hoovers, are truly self-propelled, where they have a transmission that runs the vacuum in both forward and reverse as you push and pull on the handle. These can be operated with one finger, but are heavy to carry up and down stairs.
Of course, aside from making sure the vacuum will work on the surfaces you need to clean, some vacuums filter better than others. Don’t believe that all “HEPA” filters are the same. In Europe a product claiming HEPA must meet the standard. In the US, you can put a filter that tested HEPA at 10CFM on a vacuum that exhausts air at 90 CFM and blows dirt right through the filter. Or a vacuum may have allow air out other holes so it doesn’t go thr the filter, but it van still claim it has a HEPA filter. From what I’ve read from people who tested vacuums with a laser particle counter (if you have severe dust allergies, you want it to have been tested at 0.3 microns or less) the Miele and Nilfisk have the best filtration. However, one test using imitation bags and filters in a Miele reported a measurable dust emission. So it isn’t just that the vacuum is well sealed and gasketed, it’s the quality of the bags & filters. A typical micro-lined bag will catch most of the dirt down to 5 microns, but it’s not just the bag or filter you need to be concerned with. Bagless machines usually leak a lot more dust (in spite of their “HEPA” filters or cyclone technology), plus you spread a lot of dust when you empty the container. Even if you don’t have dust allergies, you may find if you compare the cost of bags to the cost of filters for most bagless, that the bagged vacuum is more economical and less messy. Replacing a bag usually takes less than a minute and the result is a brand-new primary filter without having to wash and wait for bagless filters to dry, which can take up to a day. In my opinion, the best thing about a bagless is that you can watch the dirt spin.
Some vacuums have metal brushrolls with slide-in replaceable bristles, which in heavy use is more economical and much more durable around long hair. Plastic brushes can melt if hair gets up in the ends. Some are better shielded from hair than others. Another thing to watch out for is plastic axles, rather than metal. These wear out quickly and the wheel falls off. Some vacuums are much more durable than others. Some are more comfortable to use for different people. The only way to know for sure is to try them out. My recommendation is to buy a vacuum from a local vacuum store that services what they sell, can show you the quality differences, lets you try the vacuum on different surfaces, and will let you return it if it doesn’t work well on your carpet. If you have a problem carpet, such as shag, or the new soft carpets, bring in a left over piece to try vacuums on, so you can see how easily each type of vacuum will work on your carpet. They can advise you on the durability of different machines, as well as parts availability.
Some vacuums in chain stores come with longer than average warranties, but there may not be anyone in your market to service it (Dyson & Shark come to mind). So I advise checking to see if a machine can be serviced locally, in warranty or after, before you buy. You may find many brands can be serviced, but not under warranty, in your market. And some may not be serviceable at all.
In conclusion, you can see that there is no one “best” vacuum for everyone. And a number of brands might serve your needs. I personally like the Riccar onboard tool uprights and also their lightweight uprights, but for canisters, I prefer Miele’s German-made models. The German Sebos are also very nice. And if you lived in a town where the only brand you could get repaired was a Hoover, you should probably try to find the best Hoover for your needs, in spite of the fact that they are now owned by the Chinese, and are no longer made in the USA (since I originally wrote this, Hoover has gotten to the point where they don’t offer very many parts for machines, especially if it’s more than 2 or 3 years old, so this advice may no longer be as valid as it was). If you’re just starting out, living in a small apartment, with no allergies, no children, and no pets, a cheap discount store model might be quite adequate. It’s amazing how much longer a vacuum lasts if you only have 500 sf of carpet to clean, rather than 3000.