Skip to main content

Best heavy-duty vacuum cleaners: Take on tough messes with our top cleaning picks

We spent more than 40 hours testing high quality vacuums that can offer a deeper clean than bargain units. We found the Shark APEX DuoClean Powered Lift-Away to be especially good at cleaning all types of flooring and other surfaces thoroughly. It's our top pick because it completely cleaned ground-in breakfast cereal, kitty litter and flour on thin carpet, thick carpet and hardwood flooring. And the APEX cleaned faster than all competitors, leaving clean floors behind with very little effort. 

Best Overall

Shark APEX DuoClean Powered Lift-Away

Shark APEX DuoClean Powered Lift-Away

All the tools are stored on-board for easy access.
This vacuum is strong on both hardwood and carpeting.
The pull-apart design means you get a canister vacuum for cleaning stairs easily.
Emptying the dustbin creates a large dust cloud.
This is too bulky to vacuum far under beds.
Other machines have wider cleaning paths, which saves time.

For this comparison, we tested vacuum cleaners that are designed to deeply clean your home. The Shark APEX DuoClean Powered Lift-Away was noticeably faster and more powerful than most others. Many of the competitors took more than twice as many passes to clean as much as the APEX.

There were only a few that came close to the same performance. This is an especially good option if you have a variety of flooring in your home. It was the only one that got a perfect score for hardwood floor. Competing units flung kitty litter and cereal in every direction, requiring lots of passes to get it all cleaned up. The APEX quickly cleaned it all.

This is a very versatile machine. It pulls apart to give you a canister vacuum for cleaning stairs or furniture. It also comes with a long hose and lots of attachments that are stored on the body of the machine.

However, this vacuum is not perfect. The cleaning path is narrow and the main body is pretty bulky, so it can’t lay perfectly low and flat for cleaning under the bed. Also, bagless models such as this are cheaper for maintenance, but they always create a cloud of dust when it is time to empty – not the best for those with allergies.

Best Value

Shark Navigator Lift-Away Pro

Shark Navigator Lift-Away Pro

It functions as an upright and canister with the pull-apart design.
You have brushroll control, which makes it easier to clean hardwoods.
It comes with a lot of tools – a crevice tool, pet power brush, dusting brush, turbo brush and hard floor attachment.
Some machines have longer cords that make cleaning large spaces more convenient.
It doesn’t have a headlight.
The cleaning path is narrower than some vacs, which can slow you down.

The Shark Navigator Lift-Away Pro is remarkably versatile. Even though it is lightweight and compact, it manages to do the duty of three machines – a strong upright, a canister and a hand vacuum cleaner. All of this comes for less than $200, which is 50 percent cheaper than our top unit.

This machine has one of the Shark designs that pulls apart, giving you a canister for taking up and down stairs or into other hard-to-reach areas. This vacuum has a long hose that can make it easy to clean tall draperies and cobwebs along the ceiling. It also comes with a lot of tools for multiple cleaning tasks – a crevice tool, pet power brush, dusting brush, turbo brush and hard floor attachment. The Dust Away tool has a microfiber pad that is designed to capture dirt from your tile and hardwood floors. There is also a brushroll control so you can clean on hardwoods without flinging debris everywhere.

Machines like this with a dust cup instead of a bag are not really known for their ability to trap allergens, but this one is designed with that in mind. It has a HEPA filter, and the vacuum’s components are designed to fit snugly together to seal in messes. The five-year warranty is an added bonus.

Best for Allergies

Miele Dynamic U1

Miele Dynamic U1

Its bag holds dust particles well.
It’s very heavy and not portable.

As a vacuum with a bag, the Miele Dynamic U1 is ideal for allergy-sufferers.

Bagged vacuums hold dust particles securely and eliminates them getting back into the air when you switch the bag out. Comparatively, vacuums with a dust cup tend to release a cloud of dirt back into the air around your garbage can. Miele even sells high end HEPA vacuum bags to contain even the tiniest of allergy-causing particulates. This vacuum is also incredibly quiet given its size, but it’s not very portable. It’s also very good at cleaning all floor types and gets under beds easily. This means you can use it to get rid of the stuff that makes you sneeze, even in hard to reach places.

Why Trust Us  

We've been evaluating heavy duty vacuum cleaners since 2014. We have interviewed people with expertise in the field and have tested numerous machines. We've seen demos of even more, including models that cost over $1,000. They are impressive. Their cleaning power is strong, and for some people there is no substitute. However, many units are available for much less that provide great performance.

It can be difficult to judge the most important feature of any vacuum before you buy – its cleaning power. Keith Quimby, a Utah-based vacuum dealer and repairman with more than 30 years of experience, said the best way to evaluate a vacuum's cleaning ability before you buy it is to get a demonstration in a shop that services vacuum cleaners. Those are the people who know what will break first on a vacuum, and they know the reliable products and brands.

Maintenance also plays a major role in determining how well your vacuum is cleaning, especially as it gets older. Cleaning filters and dust cups regularly can make all the difference, according to Caitlin Wagner, product manager for upright vacuums at Shark. Ignoring maintenance can lead to less suction or even the total loss of a vacuum cleaner. "That's when you do see a lot of malfunctions in a vacuum," said Wagner.

Utah resident Diana Lea has owned her own house cleaning business since 2002. She also swears by proper maintenance, no matter what vacuum cleaner you own, and she has owned many.

"Keep your filters clean and keep it empty," Lea said.

How Much Do Deep-Cleaning Vacuums Cost?

The deep-cleaning vacuums we tested cost an average of $288 and our tests proved you don’t have to spend a lot to get a good vacuum. Several of the $200 vacuums we tested outrank those costing $400 or more.

How We Tested

We sprinkled the same amount of debris on thin carpet, thicker carpet and hardwood flooring to gauge each unit's ability to clean thoroughly. The vacuum cleaners that completed the tasks with the fewest passes scored the best. We purposely ground in much of the breakfast cereal to recreate a common scenario in most homes. We also purposely used debris of different types to get a sense of each vacuum's suction.

We wanted to evaluate more than just cleaning power, so we also ran each vacuum cleaner through an obstacle course in our laboratory. We observed how well each unit could get around table legs and under low-slung furniture. We also used a sound meter and made note of the decibels produced when using each vacuum cleaner. Finally, we considered features that impact portability, including each vacuum cleaner's weight and the quality and quantity of handles.

Is It Safe to Vacuum Hardwood Floors?

Because most vacuum cleaners have a stiff rotating brush on the front, it may seem like a bad idea to use them on hardwood floor, especially older flooring or flooring with a thinner finish. However, this hasn't been an issue in our experience – we have tested a lot of vacuum cleaners on a lot of surfaces and haven't seen any scratches or nicks. Some people say that the rotating brush can wear down the finish over time, but we assume that is only on the most delicate flooring. Also, while metal wheels on really old vacuum cleaners probably did cause a little damage back in the day, most are now made of softer material.

The bigger problem with vacuuming hardwood flooring is it just doesn't get clean. The rotating brush often knocks debris out of the suction path or the suction is too far from the surface to pull stuff in. You should look for vacuum cleaners that address these problems specifically if you want to clean your hard flooring. Our best overall pick is great with hardwood floors, with its soft rolling brush at the front of the cleaning head.  

Best Heavy-Duty Vacuum Cleaners - Deep Cleaning Vacuums

ProductPriceOverall RatingPerformancePriceDesignExtrasWarranty & SupportMedium-pile Carpet CleaningLow-pile Carpet CleaningHardwood Floor CleaningManeuverabilityPriceSwiveling HeadHeadlightOnboard AttachmentsWeightCleaning PathExtension WandUpholstery ToolDusting BrushCrevice ToolWarrantyVideo TutorialsOnline ManualManufacturer Support
Shark APEX DuoCleanView Deal4.5/510$3999.8101094%92%100%95%$39916107 Years
Dyson Ball Animal 2View Deal4.5/510$36977.59.897%100%91%90%$369-17.5135 Years
Hoover React Powered Reach PlusView Deal4.5/58$29910109.882%55%81%95%$29918135 Years
Shark Navigator Lift-Away ProView Deal4.5/58.5$1696.87.58.882%77%68%85%$169-149-5 Years
Miele Dynamic U1View Deal4/59.3$5999.810888%81%84%100%$59921.4122 Years
Fuller Easy MaidView Deal4/58.8$26977.5579%83%78%90%$269-15.412-1 Year-
Kenmore Elite 31150View Deal4/57.5$2796.810579%55%67%80%$279-21131 Year-
Riccar Supralite R10DView Deal3.5/59.5$5495.8788%90%95%95%$549--11.112----4 Years-

Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Deep Vacuum Cleaner

For our deep vacuum tests, we considered any machine that is specifically designed to clean more deeply than normal vacuum cleaners – that can include either upright or canister-style designs. Our comparison includes bagged and bagless models. Both have their advantages: Bagged units are generally better for containing dust at all points in the cleaning process, but they do add a layer of expense because you have to keep buying bags for the lifetime of the machine. Bagless machines can sometimes create a dust cloud when being emptied, and are generally not as good at containing allergens during the cleaning process either, but you don't have to worry about buying bags.

The very best deep cleaning vacuums can cost more than $1,500. Our research indicates that most people are not willing to pay that much, though, even for a vacuum that is designed to have better than average cleaning power. We decided to stay in a more universally accepted price range – right around $350 and below – and found some great vacuums for the money.

Whether you decide to use an upright or canister, bagged or bagless, you want a machine that gives you the right accessories. Look for the ones that come with brushes and other tools to help you clean furniture, draperies, stairwells and other surfaces besides carpets. Features like a wide cleaning path and a long cord can add convenience by allowing you to cover more area quickly and to hunt for new outlets less often.

Help & Support
All products are better with good customer support from their manufacturer. We looked for the ones that have long warranties and lots of ways to get answers when you need them.

More vacuum buying guides:

Best robot vacuums

Best car vacuums
Best budget vacuums
Best stick vacuums
Best shop vacuums
Best handheld vacuums
Best stick vacuums