How to Choose an Upright Vacuum Cleaner
The top performers in our review are the Miele Dynamic U1 Twist, the Gold Award winner; the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal, the Silver Award winner; and Kenmore Intuition, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing an upright vacuum to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 14 products.
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 alongside edges. An upright vacuum cleaner is one of the best ways you can give your floors a good, deep cleaning.
These modern-day beasts of burden can eliminate evidence of spilled potting soil, pull up deeply set-in dust and allergens and remove stubborn pet hair. The best upright vacuum cleaners combine low profiles with foot-controlled buttons that allow you to dip the body of the vacuum down so it is parallel with the floor so you can slide the machine under a couch, a low coffee table and beds. They should use true HEPA filtration that traps almost 100 percent of allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander and pollen, and keeps them in their sealed systems.
Most homes have a combination of floor types, so it’s helpful to have an upright vacuum cleaner that allows you to shut off its brush roller, so it won’t scratch floors or kick back dirt onto your legs. It’s also useful to be able to adjust the height of the vacuum’s head – the closer it can get to the floor's surface, the better it can pick up debris.
If you’re looking for a way to keep your home’s floors clean every day with minimal effort on your part, you 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.
Many other features, design details and accessories also play a big part in your decision when you’re ready to choose the upright vacuum cleaner. You can see the vacuum cleaners we tested in action and learn more from our videos and articles on upright vacuum cleaners.
Upright Vacuum Cleaners: What We Tested, What We Found
You can get an upright vacuum cleaner in blue, purple, black, orange and almost any other color. Some come with every accessory you can imagine. Most importantly, though, is how well the vacuum sucks up all the icky stuff, so we put all of the machines on our list through a battery of tests.
A great upright vacuum cleaner goes beyond just picking up surface area dirt and debris – it digs deep to reach all of the dust, pet dander, pet hair and other particulates that you can’t detect with the naked eye. So, in a home with combination flooring, we set out to determine which of these machines could clean thoroughly. We gave each vacuum cleaner the job of sucking up flour, pet hair, human hair, crumbs, cereal, cat litter and garlic skins. 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.
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 ensure 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.
Modern upright vacuum cleaners make it easy for you to clean all of your floors, regardless of the type. A common feature they now include is a button that allows you 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, and 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.
We included tests to demonstrate which upright vacuum was able to get into hard-to-reach places, too. 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. And a wide cleaning path means you can get your floors cleaner quicker.
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 features that make vacuuming easier, faster and more effective – the easier it is to use may mean fewer complaints from whoever has to do the chore. 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. The location of the on switch should be intuitive and easy to reach.
Choosing a bagless or bagged upright vacuum cleaner comes down to how sensitive you are to allergens, personal preference and cost. Allergens can be more easily contained in a bag, and when you switch it out, you won’t be exposed to as much of the debris as with bagless dustbins.
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 timed how long it took to empty the bin, change a bag and untangle a roller – though it’s much easier to just cut the hair off the bristles – and came up with a percentage that reflects how easy the vacuum is to maintain.
What Else Is Important In Choosing an Upright Vacuum Cleaner?
Although you could benefit from an upright vacuum cleaner with no extendable hose or extra attachments, most include the hose and a couple of accessories at minimum. And like any home appliance, vacuum cleaners include warranties that generally cover the motor and other parts to ensure they’re free of defects.
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 to use to get 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, but 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.
Upright Vacuum Cleaners: Our Verdict & Recommendations
After our extensive tests, we found that the Miele Dynamic U1 Twist offered the most impressive system overall, and especially for those who have allergies. It combines a sealed system, bags and true HEPA filtration to eliminate the most allergens possible. Its swiveling head made it simple to move around corners and its extra-long power cord meant we rarely had to unplug it to find a new outlet.
One upright vacuum cleaner with impressive suction power came from the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal vacuum cleaner. Its long, flat head seems to almost make a seal between it and the floor to apply the maximum amount of suction – we pulled deep, set-in dirt and more from between planks of hardwood floor we didn’t expect. The ball design and swiveling head work together to make this unit very easy to move around the floor.
Another bagged vacuum cleaner made it to the top of the list: The Kenmore Intuition had excellent suction, picking up 100 percent of the debris we tasked it with tackling, and most of the time, in the fewest passes comparatively. This upright vacuum has one of the widest cleaning paths of the vacuum cleaners on our list, which means you can clean your floors faster than ever.
Other Noteworthy Choices
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.
If you’d rather not deal with a cord at all, the Hoover Air Cordless Series 3.0 fits the bill. It performed well in most of our tests, but you don’t get all of the features and convenience you do with a standard upright vacuum cleaner.
In the end, what you want is a vacuum that really works to get your floors as clean as possible. If your priority is to eliminate the allergens that may be present in your carpets, then you want an upright vacuum that has a sealed system and true HEPA filtration, and perhaps one that requires bags. There are many units on our lineup that are versatile and can clean more than just your floors, so be sure to read all of the upright vacuum cleaner reviews to find one that’s perfect for your home.