In past issues, it has been explained that consistent vacuuming is essential for multiple reasons such as extending the life of your carpet and improving indoor air quality and the next question commonly asked is…what vacuum should I buy? Vacuum cleaners are not all the same, and I hope to pass along some things to consider when choosing a vacuum cleaner.

There are many things to consider such as style, brand, accessories, and price when choosing, however, some of the most important things to consider when purchasing your next vacuum cleaner often should be what type, such as canister or upright and bagless or bagged as well as specifications such as cfm (cubic feet per minute), amperage, watts and lift which are usually listed on the side of the box under specifications.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the needs of an average consumer, homeowner, or anyone in a residential setting. 

Shopping by Type

Start by determining the best vacuum for the type of cleaning you do. If you have wall-to-wall carpet or lots of rugs, uprights with a bag are the best choice. If you have lots of stairs, canisters can be easier to maneuver, and they tend to do well on floors with hard surfaces, from hardwood to tile. Stick vacs and handheld models are great for lighter tasks, such as spilled cereal, that need quick attention. 

A vacuum cleaner with a motorized brush cleans carpets better than one powered only by suction. A switch that can deactivate the brush will help protect the finish of bare floors and avoid scattering debris. Consider models with a manual carpet pile-height adjustment control, along with suction control for cleaning draperies and other delicate fabrics.

Bagged vs. Bagless.  Bagged-type vacuums tend to hold more dirt, and emptying them releases less dust into the air, thus helping with indoor air quality. An indicator tells you when the bag or bin is full. With bagless vacuums, you can save money by not having to buy bags, but these use more filters (such as HEPA filters) that need to be periodically cleaned or replaced  While this isn’t always the case bagged vacuum cleaners often use HEPA filters to help trap the most allergens that may be around your home. … On top of that, HEPA filters are known to remove more dust and pollen from the air than any other type of filter.


What makes a powerful vacuum?  Most people find it difficult to differentiate between low and high suction units. If you want to quickly test the suction power of your vacuum cleaner, try switching the vacuum to “carpet mode.” Power on the unit and let it run on maximum power. Try attaching the floorhead to a wall. If you have a high suction power device, it should stay attached to the wall without any external support.

Water lift is what gives a vacuum cleaner the power to pick up or “lift” debris from the floor surface, while airflow then removes it to the dust bag. Vacuum cleaners with more inches of water lift will have an easier time picking up sand and other heavier soils from carpet and flooring.  

The higher the CFM value, the higher the suction power. Common vacuum cleaners operate in the range of 50 to 100 CFM. Tip: CFM is usually measured without any connected hose, wand, or other accessories.

Watts…This is probably the most common value provided by the manufacturer. Watts refers solely to the motor power consumption, not to its performance. As a general rule of thumb, units with higher watts have more powerful motors and thus, suck better.

Amps…the Amps specification is in a way, similar to Watts, as it also refers to power consumption. Thus, the logic listed above stands: the higher the Amps, the better the suction power. 

Decibels…according to experts, an ordinary vacuum cleaner can generate noise output in the range of 74 to 81 Decibels compared to a quiet vacuum cleaner that is designed to operate at less than 72 Decibels.

How much suction power is enough?  The level of suction power required in a vacuum cleaner depends only on your needs. It’s like buying a car. Smaller motors consume less. Bigger motors are more powerful and fun. If you are looking for a vacuum cleaner to keep your home or small office space clean and free of dust, a standard canister with a moderate level of suction power would be a good choice (you will save energy). If you are looking at heavy cleaning chores such as for an industrial area or a large shop, you will obviously need a powerful unit such as a shop-vac, which can take care of heavy debris effectively, in a shorter time span. If you’re looking for numbers, let’s just say 180-200 AW is great for an upright, 80-100 AW is more than enough for a cordless and 300+ AW should be ok in a canister.

Are expensive vacuums worth it?  The short answer is, not always.  Some cheap vacuum cleaners perform better than much more expensive rivals. And some cheap vacuum cleaners do better than their more expensive siblings, while other vacuum cleaners see significant differences in quality as the price goes up.  You can find cheap vacuums for a hundred dollars or less that perform about as well as vacuum cleaners that cost two and three times as much though there are cheap vacuums that are responsible for the poor reputation cheap vacuums have. The solution to this is doing your research to find out if the brand you’re interested in makes high-quality, affordable vacuum cleaners, instead of assuming paying more money will yield a better product.

In summary, consider the overall objective when buying a vacuum such as a person’s concerns for allergens should consider a bagged unit with Hepa filtration.  A home with lots of carpet should consider an upright with a brush roller, sometimes referred to as a beater bar.  A home with lots of hard surfaces may find a canister vacuum better.  Comparing the specifications such as water lift cfm, watts, and amps will help you purchase a more powerful vacuum. Beyond high suction power, consumers should look for other factors such as ease of operation, maneuverability, and low noise levels when they set out to buy a vacuum cleaner. Maneuverability is a quality that is often overlooked. I.e., there is no point in having an extremely powerful vacuum cleaner if you can’t use it to access difficult spots.  Given the information above, one needs to consider their facility and requirements and choose the vacuum cleaner that best suits their needs.