Convenience & Design
Warranty & Support
Upright Vacuum Cleaner Review
How to Choose an Upright Vacuum Cleaner
There was no come-from-behind victory for the underdog in this case. Dyson, perhaps the best-known name in vacuum cleaning, proved its prowess as we spent hours testing a range of upright vacuum cleaners on a variety of surfaces. The Dyson Ball Animal 2, our Gold Award winner, outperformed every other competitor in our upright vacuum cleaner reviews. Dyson cleaned up our test messes easily – on hardwood flooring and on different types of carpeting. We even used it to clean up our lab space after all of our testing.
The Silver Award winner, the Shark Rotator NV800, is another great option. It is compact, easy to maneuver and very versatile. It comes apart in two different ways to give you a small canister vacuum experience if you need that, which can be great for cleaning stairs. This was not the easiest to empty – it made a fairly big dust cloud – and its cleaning path is small so you will have to make a few more swipes than you would with wider ones. It has great suction, though, and did a wonderful job of cleaning all types of messes on all types of surfaces.
The Miele Dynamic Maverick, our Bronze Award winner, also was a very strong competitor. With a wide cleaning path and lots of ways to adjust based on specific conditions, this upright vacuum cleaner is useful on a number of different surfaces. This is a great option for allergy sufferers because it seals even the tiniest dust particles inside and has a spot for a true HEPA filter to keep your home as close to dust-free as can be.
Why Use an Upright Vacuum Cleaner?
Your floors are dirty. We’re not judging you; it’s just an unpleasant fact. Dirt and bacteria collect on carpets over time and get ground into carpet fibers where it all stays until you do something about it. Hardwood, linoleum and tile are no exception. Aside from the surface dirt and debris are the crevices between planks and tiles and along edges. An upright vacuum cleaner is one of the best ways you can give your floors a good cleaning. Most also come with tools that allow you to clean curtains and upholstery, too.
If you’re looking for a way to keep your home’s floors clean every day with minimal effort on your part, you might want to consider a robot vacuum. There are some advantages to choosing a canister vacuum cleaner – especially if you have mostly hard-surface flooring or lots of stairs to vacuum, so be sure to check out our suggestions on the best canister vacuums available. To keep your carpets clean and fresh, you want to invest in a carpet cleaner, and you can find the best one for you based on our tests and analysis.
Upright Vacuum Cleaners: What We Tested, What We Found
We put all of the machines on our list through a battery of tests that included purposely messing up the floors in our lab with a variety of things in order to recreate the type of cleaning situations you might face in your home. Each test gave us data that proved most vacuum cleaners are great at picking up dirt and debris, but some were able to do so faster and more thoroughly than others.
To test performance we set up test strips of hardwood flooring, low-pile, industrial-style carpeting and medium-pile carpeting – the kind most often found in homes – in our laboratory. We then scattered Cheerios over each surface and walked over them to crush and grind them in. We counted the number of passes it took each unit to fully clean the cereal off of each surface. We used the dials and knobs on the vacuums to adjust for different settings when that was available – hardwood floor settings when on the strip of hardwood, carpeting settings when on carpeting and so on.
We also scattered flour over each surface in order to recreate how a vacuum would clean up fine dust in your home. We then spread kitty litter over all the surfaces and used the vacuum cleaners on each type of mess on every type of flooring, counting the number of passes it took to clear them. The fewer the number of passes, the better each scored. We also ground dog hair into carpeting to see how each vacuum cleaner did at removing all the hair, so we added points for good performance on that as well.
To test maneuverability, we ran each unit through an obstacle course of table legs and then under a television console to see how easily it reached different awkward spots in a typical home. We gave some credit for a wide cleaning path, which means you can get your floors clean quicker.
If you suffer from allergies, vacuuming can seem like torture – the agitation of rugs and carpets inevitably kicks up dust and other particulates into the air – unless you have a vacuum cleaner with a sealed system and true HEPA filtration. The combination of those features ensures that 99.87 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns and larger in size are blocked by the filter, which means the air that’s recirculated from the vacuum is cleaner and nearly free of allergens. The combination was rare among the vacuum brands we were testing but when we found it we gave extra scoring credit.
We also looked for flexibility and multi-tasking. Modern upright vacuum cleaners should make it easy for you to clean all of your floors, regardless of the type. You should be able to turn off the brush roll, which makes your upright machine more effective at cleaning hard floors without causing damage. Combine that feature with height adjustment – whether it’s automatic or you control it with a knob – and you get stronger suction on low-pile carpets or hard floors.
Upright vacuums do more than clean floors these days, so some of the models on our lineup include suction control. Different suction levels that you can choose means having the ability to use lower suction power so as not to damage delicate rugs or curtains.
Convenience & Design
We carried each of these vacuum cleaners around to see what it would be like to get them to different spots in a modern home. It’s important that you can easily turn a corner with your vacuum cleaner, reach cobwebs on ceilings and sneak under furniture to clear out dust bunnies, so a swiveling head and low profile are ideal.
We also emptied each one to see how easy it was to do and to see what type of dust cloud each one created in the process. We valued the ones that produced less dust and were easy to maintain.
You can’t get around a noisy upright vacuum cleaner, really. The combination of the motor, the suction and the vibration that’s used to power the vacuum to clean effectively means there’s going to be some noise. The quieter it is, though, the better. So, we measured the decibel level of each vacuum cleaner.
Also important are all of the extra features that make vacuuming easier, faster and more effective. Details that may not seem important at first glance can reduce your frustration, such as power cord length – the longer it is, the more rooms you can vacuum before having to switch outlets.
What Else Is Important in Choosing an Upright Vacuum Cleaner?
Although you could still clean with an upright vacuum cleaner that has no extendable hose or extra attachments, most include the hose and a couple of accessories at minimum. A few other nice-but-not-necessary features can help you decide on one model over another if they both do a decent job of cleaning.
Some vacuum cleaners include indicators that let you know when it’s time to clean the filter or change the bag, which helps save you time and possibly money. We like the models that carry their own accessories on board, too, so you don't have to go and hunt for the one you need. A button that retracts the cord makes clean-up faster so we gave some scoring credit for that feature, even though it is not essential.
Nearly every one of the vacuums we feature on our lineup includes an extendable hose, which is expected. The hose gives you extra reach for ceilings, corners and behind furniture – and an extendable wand gives you even more length. An upholstery tool can loosen hair and lint from your furniture and collect it all in your vacuum as you tidy up your living areas. A dusting brush makes it easy to get more chores done at one time, such as dusting blinds and computer keyboards. And a crevice tool is almost a necessity when you have a cat (Does the cat litter spread ever end?) and for getting along baseboards and in tight spots where your vacuum can’t reach.
Warranty & Support
Most upright vacuum cleaners include a solid warranty for at least one year that covers defective parts and the motor, and most manufacturers offer even better protection for the vacuum’s motor. It’s important that you’re able to communicate with customer support from the manufacturer when you have a question about your vacuum. The manufacturers that have service centers make it easy for you to get your vacuum cleaner repaired when it needs it, which means long-term savings for you.
Other Noteworthy Choices
A few vacuum cleaners that we tested stood out in many positive ways, even if they didn't make the cut for the top 10 vacuum cleaners. Here are the highlights:
Best at Basics
Although the Oreck XL Classic did not rank as high as the other vacuums on our lineup, it is a compact, bagged unit that performs well. If you don’t need an extendable hose or accessories and prefer a bagged vacuum cleaner, this one might work well for you. Its more expensive sister product, the Oreck Elevate Conquer, is also worth mentioning. In our tests, it had better cleaning and suction capabilities than 11 other products in our lineup, on all surfaces, though it is fairly expensive and also basically void of accessories and extra features.
Best Vacuum Under $100
The Dirt Devil Razor is not the most sophisticated bagless vacuum cleaner, but it did a great job of cleaning all of the different types of messes on all of our test surfaces. It is also lightweight, easy to maneuver and easy to maintain. It has a lot to offer, especially considering its low price.
Best Inexpensive Vacuum
The Bissell CleanView One Pass costs even less than the Dirt Devil Razor and still had a pretty good performance in our testing. It is sort of bulky and hard to maneuver but got the job done on various tasks. For the budget-conscious, this is a good option.
Best Cordless Option
We expected the battery-powered vacuum cleaners to have less power than their corded counterparts – and they did – but the Bissell Powerglide Upright Cordless was pretty competitive overall. If you really hate dealing with a cord and just want a go-anywhere option, this is a good one. It is very lightweight and did a pretty respectable job of cleaning most things, though it did struggle to clean up flour, which means it isn’t the most effective at cleaning dust.
In the end, what you want is a vacuum that gets your home as clean as possible. There are many units on our lineup that are versatile and can clean more than just your floors, so be sure to read the top upright vacuum cleaner reviews to find one that’s perfect for your home.