vacuum cleaner may be an unloved member of your household, but it does an important job. Without them, we’d still be dragging the carpets outside to beat the dust out of them once or twice a year, or at least getting the servants to do it.
It’s not just dust they remove, of course. There’s pet hair, allergens, bits of last night’s dinner and the small bits that come with dolls and action figures to be swept up, and getting the best one for your needs is important, as it can save a lot of time and effort.
Be they cordless, cylindrical, upright, or even robotic, getting a good vacuum can make the difference between cleaning the house being something you approach with mere trepidation, and it being a complete disaster. Cleaners that lack suction, are a pain to empty, can’t get into tight spaces, and which get easily tangled in hair make cleaning so much worse than it really needs to be.
While generally designed to clean floors, carpets and other surfaces, some vacuum cleaners are also built to tackle upholstery and curtains. If you’ve got pets, special pet vacuums are available, able to winkle the fur out of carpets. Look out for anti-hair wrap rollers too, which prevent long strands from lowering the cleaning efficiency by wrapping round the roller in the cleaner’s head. Some vacuum cleaners even come with wet cleaning capabilities, allowing you to clean up spills and stains from carpets and floors.
To bag or not to bag
Things to consider include whether you want a bagless cleaner, or one that uses bags. Bags make emptying them a cleaner process, as you just remove the bag and throw it away, but they contribute to running costs, and you never know how long the right kind of bags will be available for. A bagless cleaner collects dirt in a plastic chamber that you can remove, shake out over the bin, and replace. This is generally fine, but if something gets stuck in the container, you’ll have to find some way of getting it out.
Cylinder cleaners, which lay on the floor and trundle around after you, often have larger capacities, but are heavier. This generally doesn’t matter, as the weight is taken by their wheels, but you may need to bear this in mind if you’re going to be taking one up and down the stairs. Upright vacuums are easier to handle and store, and while cordless models aren’t really meant for cleaning the whole house, their endurance may surprise you. They’re small and easy to use, however.
For anything other than a cordless cleaner, it’s worth checking out the length of the power cord a cleaner has. A longer cord means less time and effort spent unplugging and moving to a new power socket. Cords as long as 10m are available, which can mean you’ll clean a whole floor without needing to jump from socket to socket.
Another thing to consider is the cleaner’s suction power. The power of the motor in a vacuum cleaner is measured in watts, and the higher the wattage, the more powerful the vacuum, and the more dirt it will lift from your carpets in one sweep. However, a higher suction power also means greater energy consumption, so it’s important to strike a balance between power and efficiency.
And talking of energy efficiency, vacuum cleaners are required to meet certain standards. Look for a vacuum cleaner with an energy efficiency rating of A to ensure you are purchasing an model that will save you money on your electricity bills.
The width of the cleaning head is also important. With a wider head, you’ll take fewer passes to clean an entire floor, meaning it’ll take less time to do but registering fewer steps in your fitness tracker. Smaller heads allow you to get into corners more easily, so there’s another trade off to be made, but you can always get around this using accessories, as all cylinder and some upright cleaners feature a hose that can accept smaller ends such as crevice tools, upholstery brushes, and pet hair attachments. These can be very useful for cleaning different surfaces and getting into tight spaces. Some cleaners allow you to lift the motor and dirt reservoir away from the rest of the cleaner, making the remaining frame and head much slimmer, so they can be more easily slid under furniture.
Hip, HEPA, hooray
One important feature is the type of filter used in the vacuum cleaner. Some vacuum cleaners use HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which are designed to capture tiny particles of dust and allergens. If you or anyone in your household suffers from allergies or asthma, a vacuum with a HEPA filter may be a good choice.
Other cleaners use simpler filters, trapping dirt in the dust chamber before it can be blown out the cleaner’s exhaust. In bagged cleaners, this function is carried out by the bag, but if your cleaner is bagless you’ll need to clean the filter periodically, as it will restrict airflow, and therefore cleaning power, when it’s clogged. There’s also a filtration method called cyclonic separation, which spins the dust and dirt around so that the larger particles are forced out of the airflow and into the chamber.
Finally, consider the noise level of the vacuum cleaner. Some vacuum cleaners are very loud and can be disruptive to household members and neighbours. Look for a vacuum with a noise level of 75 decibels or less if you want a quieter cleaning experience.
Where to buy a vacuum cleaner in the UK
Now that’s demystified, there are lots of places to go if you’re in the market for a new vacuum cleaner, and these retailers often have a great range in stock.
Shop our top pick below
Shark Anti Hair Wrap XL PZ1000UK
Best for: an upright cleaner
With a nice wide head to clean more of the floor in one go, this mains-powered upright bagless vacuum cleaner is larger than some, but makes up for it with plenty of power where it counts.
Not only does the dirt container lift out so you can empty it, but you can remove both it and the motor to make a flatter vac you can use to get under furniture. There’s a small head, for getting into places you can’t push the whole cleaner. Removing the waste bin also provides access to the cleaner’s filters, so you can clean them.
More suitable for a larger house than a flat, the PZ1000UK is powerful, efficient and surprisingly quiet, making short work of cleaning large expanses of floor.
Numatic Henry Eco
Best for: a reliable all-rounder
Instantly recognisable, the Henry is a bagged corded vacuum cleaner with a smiley face, a sort of insatiable emoji that lives in your kitchen cupboard. There are several different models, in various bright colours, but we like this version of the bright red original, as it shaves 30 per cent off the energy usage and is made from 80 per cent recycled materials.
It can suck up 6L of dust, and comes with a 10m cable so you can pull it around the house without needing to move from socket to socket too often. There’s a special EcoBrush head too, with a spinning roller that helps remove dirt and hair from the carpets.
Miele Boost CX1
Best for: a cylinder cleaner
Vacuum cleaners are all about suction, and this elegant, compact cylinder cleaner has it in spades. It’s bagless, comes with a few small extra heads, and the company claims you’ll be able to use it for 20 years, as well as being able to repair it if it goes wrong instead of just throwing it away. There’s even a clip on the main body you can use to support the tube if you need a break from using it, preventing it from toppling onto the floor.
Suction is adjustable using a large dial on the top of the cylinder, and we can’t help but think there’s a hint of Star Wars Droid in the way that it looks, the red circle that surrounds the wheel contrasting nicely with the otherwise monochrome casing.
Samsung Bespoke Jet Pro Extra
Best for: a cordless cleaner
With its nicely designed Clean Station dock, the Jet Pro Extra has a neat self-emptying feature, whereby the contents of its dust chamber are transferred into a bag in the stand for you to dispose of.
It’s clever, and while it might be easier to just empty the cleaner itself, this cordless stick vacuum has other tricks up its sleeve. Take the Spray Spinning Sweeper Mop attachment, which uses a pair of microfibre pads that spin at 260RPM and a small reservoir to spray water. It doesn’t suck up the mess, but can be used to mop up muddy footprints or spills. The pads are disposable, as are the bags for the auto-emptying system, adding more cost to an already pricy system.
Hoover H-Upright 300
Best for: a budget upright cleaner
You can go cheaper than this, but the H-Upright 300 is light, cleans well, and is easy to empty, providing everything you need in a budget cleaner. You don’t, however, get many extra tools, though a Pet model is also available that adds another head.
Like most modern upright cleaners, you can unclip the hose to add a bit extra to its reach or to clean in restricted areas. As a budget model there’s no anti-hair wrap cleverness at work, but you can at least remove the roller for cleaning, and the machine is easy to empty.
Karcher WD 2 Plus
Best for: a wet and dry cleaner
Designed for use in vehicles, garages and even gardens, the WD 2 Plus can take on jobs that a normal domestic cleaner wouldn’t manage. It has got a huge 12L container inside to collect the dirt and dust, and can be switched into reverse to act as a blower when tidying up fallen leaves.
It can suck up broken glass, stones or liquid, is powerful enough to vacuum up stubborn debris, and uses an interchangeable filter cartridge so it’s not out of action while the filter is being cleaned – you can just slide a new one in. It uses disposable bags, and the power cord is only 4M long, but if you need its particular abilities, this is a great choice.
Best for: a handheld vacuum cleaner
Claiming to be the world’s lightest handheld vacuum cleaner at just 1kg in weight, the ProLite uses bags and comes with two extra heads, though an accessory pack is available at extra cost.
It runs for about 20 minutes from a charge, which is probably more than enough time to tackle the sort of spills that make you reach for the handheld cleaner. The rechargeable 14.4V batteries are interchangeable with other Gtech products, if you’ve already got some.
iRobot Roomba S9+
Best for: a robot vacuum cleaner
A self-emptying robot vacuum cleaner with an advanced mapping system to help it learn its way around your house, the Roomba S9+ has greater suction than previous models and is compatible not only with home voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa , but can also communicate with the iRobot Braava Jet M6 robot mop to coordinate their cleaning.
As with other robo-cleaners, it’s not for everyone – you need a level floor for it to operate on, and an accessible corner to place its recharging/emptying dock that’s not going to be too much of an eyesore, but in the right home it can be a very useful device, especially if you don’t like pushing a cleaner around, or don’t have the time. Just a shame it’s so expensive.
It’s easy to think that just buying the cheapest cleaner is fine, as it’s only a vacuum, but if you choose a complete bargain basement model you’re likely to spend more time emptying it, re-cleaning bits it has missed, and washing your own hands after taking it to bits. Save yourself time and aggravation by buying one of the best models for whatever type of cleaning you’re looking to do.
The models we’ve highlighted from Shark, Miele and Numatic are all excellent examples of what a modern vacuum cleaner can do, no matter what kind of floors you subject them to.