A vacuum cleaner is a must-have item for any household, but with an ever-expanding product range available, how exactly do you know which type of machine is the right one for your home?
We’re here to make the decision a little easier by explaining all the need-to-know features of vacuum cleaners – from bagged to bagless, to pet-specific models and even robot cleaners.
We’ve also reviewed a whole heap of vacs ourselves to help you find out which ones are really worth buying, whatever your budget may be.
Before you start browsing vacuum cleaners, it’s important to consider the type of floor and how much coverage you’ll need. Some vacs are more powerful and specifically designed for use on carpets, some work best on hardfloor, coming with a sweeping mode, while others have a whole range of attachments to help you get to those tricky corners or up and down the stairs.
Bin capacity is another important factor – cleaning is a chore so you don’t want to be adding to time spent hoovering because you’re having to empty the bin after every clean. Robot and handheld vacuums understandably have much smaller bin capacity, while upright cleaners have the largest.
If you’re looking to buy a corded vacuum for a larger living space, make sure you take note of the cable length – you don’t want to have to unplug it every few minutes as you move to a different area of your house.
Another consideration before you buy – where are you going to put the vacuum cleaner and do you need something more compact? Vacs come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure you think about the storage you have available, as well as how heavy the model is, especially if you’ll be taking it up and down stairs.
Finally, if you’re looking to buy a cordless cleaner, take note of the charging time and battery life – these can range from 15 minutes to an hour.
Scroll down to learn more about the different types of vacuum cleaners and how to choose the right one for your needs.
The best vacuum cleaners to buy in 2021:
Best cordless vacuum cleaner – Dyson V11 absolute: £599, Dyson
Best bagless vacuum cleaner – eufy HomeVac S11 Infinity: £279, Amazon
Best pet vacuum cleaner – Hoover telios extra pets bagged cylinder vacuum cleaner: £80, Amazon
Best robot vacuum cleaner–â Roborock S5 max: £369, Myrobotcenter
Best upright vacuum cleaner –Shark duoclean: £299.99, Shark
Best handheld vacuum cleaner – Gtech multi MK2 K9: £169.99, Gtech
Types of vacuum cleaner
These are the most popular and most powerful models – the rotating brush scoops up dirt from carpets and tend to be especially good at picking up pet hair. These machines are usually bulkier and heavier than other vacs, but their power means they are the best choice for a deep-clean. You can get bagged, bagless, corded and cordless versions, and most come with extendable wands to help you clean hard-to-reach areas. Choose an upright vacuum cleaner if you have a large house or a big, open plan flat.
These are much lighter than upright vacuum cleaners, consisting of a main tank with a long hose. With a motorised brush roll head, these versatile cleaners come with a wide range of different attachments, making them suitable for use on carpets, curtains, sofas and stairs, and they can easily clean tight corners. Make sure you consider the fact that you’ll need more storage space for a canister vacuum, and as the main tank follows you as you clean. They can get slightly annoying, bumping into furniture along the way.
Spilt something in the kitchen and want to clean it quickly? This is the perfect job for a stick vacuum. They’re slim and lightweight, are often cordless and usually have a removable handheld vacuum attachment for those tighter corners and smaller areas that need a quick clean. Keep in mind that these models tend to be less powerful, with a battery life of up to an hour depending on the model. These are best suited to smaller, carpet-free flats.
These lightweight, portable, compact vacuum cleaners are designed to grab and go. Perfect for sucking up small messes at the dinner table, on the sofa, or cleaning your car interior, they are a more powerful version of the humble dustpan and brush. A handheld cleaner is definitely a useful addition to your cleaning cupboard, but you’ll still need a full sized vacuum for cleaning the floor. For extra convenience, we would recommend choosing a cordless model.
Animal hair seems to get everywhere, so if you have a pet you’ll need to look at a vacuum cleaner with much stronger suction than a regular model to make sure your home gets properly cleaned, as well as a good filter and tangle-free brush rolls to stop all that pesky hair getting trapped around the brush. If someone in your household suffers from allergies, make sure you choose a vacuum with HEPA filtration, to minimise the effect of pet hair and dust. We would also recommend choosing a model with cleaning attachments, so if your dog’s favourite hang out place is the sofa, you can easily get it clean again.
Bagged or bagless vacuum cleaners?
If you choose a bagged machine, this simply means the vacuum will suck all the dust and dirt into a bag, which you will then need to remove and dispose of.
If you choose a bagless model, the debris will go into a container, which you will then remove and empty. Both options are easy to do, however if you have allergies or asthma, we recommend a bagged machine, as this will minimise the amount of dust that you are exposed to.
The downside to a bagged vacuum cleaner though, is the on-going cost of buying replacement bags as you use and dispose of them. We’ve tested and reviewed a variety of bagless vacuum cleaners, so take a look to make sure you get one you can rely on.
Corded or cordless vacuum cleaners?
The main difference here is that cordless models run on battery, meaning your cleaning time will be anywhere between 15 minutes and one hour, depending on the machine you buy. The main benefit to cordless vacuums is that they tend to be much lighter than corded models.
The lack of cord also makes them super easy to navigate around the home without getting caught on furniture, or needing to unplug and plug back in when you move into a different room. However, corded vacs do tend to be more powerful, meaning they’re better at picking up dust. Corded vacs also have a much larger dust capacity, so you won’t have to spend so much time emptying the machine. We’ve tested out a range of cordless vacuums for ourselves though, to find out which ones will do the best job at cleaning, leaving your home looking spick and span.
What are robot vacuum cleaners?
Robot vacuum cleaners hold an ever-increasing share of the vacuum cleaner market. These intelligent machines can map your home layout using built-in cameras and smart sensor technology, so they know exactly where to clean, choosing the correct level of power depending on the floor surface. Invest in one of these machines and you can schedule when and where the robot should clean, usually via an app. The best thing about a robot vacuum cleaner is that they require minimal effort – it knows when it needs to return to its base to be charged, it can be set to clean while you’re at work each day, or if you’re in the house, most newer models even come with voice control.
Many brands have now created dual-use cleaners, which can vacuum as well as mop, which is particularly handy if you’re short on storage space. Although they are an easy, hands-free way of cleaning, they can’t navigate stairs or get into every little dusty corner of your home, which means you will still need a standard vacuum cleaner. These machines are pretty pricey too, with models ranging from £150-£1500. With big brands like Dyson and Miele launching robot vacuums, and lesser known brands such as Eufy and Neato, we tested robot vacuum cleaners to find out exactly which ones are worth the splurge.
EU vacuum cleaners ruling explained
In 2017, the European Union ruled that all new vacuum cleaners made or imported by manufacturers into the EU must have a visible energy rating label, have less than 900W of power and must not emit more than 80 decibels. This was all part of the EU’s drive to help tackle climate change.
However, Dyson recently won a court ruling over this energy rating label, alleging that cleaners with an A-rated efficiency label could soon drop to a G grade once it is used. The European Commission has not appealed this decision, which means that the energy label is no longer applicable – vacuum cleaner manufacturers do not have to display energy labels.
EU eco-design rules are still in place, meaning that the motor size of vacuum cleaners is restricted to 900W. We would always recommend that you read reviews on your chosen model before you buy, as the performance suggested by manufacturers (which has been tested and decided in a lab) doesn’t always match a vacuum cleaner’s performance in a real-world situation.
Vacuum cleaner reviews
Now you’ve worked out exactly what type of vacuum cleaner you need, take a look at our reviews to find one you can trust to get the cleaning done quickly. To help get you started, here is a selection of our most popular reviews.
Best cordless vacuum cleaner – Dyson V11 absolute: £599, Dyson.co.uk
We weren’t convinced that anything could surpass its predecessor, the V10, which gave a professional level clean on both carpet and hard floors, but hats off to Dyson for proving us wrong. With incredible suction and increased air flow, which means it needs less battery power to support it, the V11 gives you an impressive 60 minutes on minimum setting and a quarter of an hour on turbo (and it takes only three and a half hours to charge).
It’s intelligent too – the floor head can detect what kind of floor it’s dealing with by sensing the resistance, then speaks to the motor and battery to work out what it needs to deliver the most in-depth clean. And there’s no need to worry how much time you’ve got left on your current charge as the digital display shows you, along with alerts about blockages or if the filters (which are excellent) need cleaning. It’s lightweight, reaches into corners and is easy to push and empty. It’s expensive, but it’s the only vacuum cleaner you’ll need.
Best bagless vacuum cleaner – eufy HomeVac S11 Infinity: £279, Amazon.co.uk
A lean, mean dirt-guzzling machine which can be used on a wide range of surfaces, this eufy model is the dirt buster of our dreams – a lightweight cordless vacuum which will run for up to 40 minutes on a single charge (select the ultra-powerful “max-mode” and this is reduced to eight).
Four ultra-bright LED lights above the brush ensure no fur ball, dust speck or crumb evades its superior sucking and the huge range of added extras (including wall mounting accessories, a 2-in-1 crevice tool and additional battery pack) ramps up the versatility. It feels more top-heavy than certain models, although not in a bad way – it’s both stable but incredibly manoeuvrable and easy to direct. Both the battery and bin are easy to remove, too.
Best pet vacuum cleaner – Hoover telios extra pets bagged cylinder cacuum cleaner: £80, Amazon.co.uk
It’s that good, that we’d have included this bagged cylinder vacuum cleaner in our round-up at double the price. The suction – which has a variable slider to control – works a treat on all floor types including thicker carpets, with no pet hair or dust left in its wake.
Besides the different floorheads, you get a turbo-brush pet tool, crevice tool, upholstery tool and dusting brush – so it can manage every area of your home – and it’s got a marginally longer cord than most at nearly 10 metres – handy for zooming round the house without lots of unplugging. It’s quiet and has a good filter, but those thicker carpets do need a bit of elbow grease.
Best robot vacuum cleaner–â Roborock S5 max: £369, Myrobotcenter.co.uk
Available in black and white, this sleek-looking robot vacuum won our best buy. This is actually a dual-function robot, so it comes with an in-built dustbin and water tank, to vacuum as well as mop floors. As with many other products, this robot can be controlled via the Roborock app, but you can also simply press the "start" button on the top of the robot to begin a quick spot clean.
During testing, we found this product had no problem with navigating rugs and different surfaces at reasonable speed, and most importantly it always corrected its cleaning path so that it wouldn’t fall down any stairs. With an impressive 180 minutes of battery life, this was one of the longest-running robots we tested, and we particularly liked that if it runs out of charge while cleaning a room, it’ll return to the dock to charge just enough battery to then complete the remainder of the room.
The easy to use app allows you to see each room map that the robot has created, which you can then cleverly edit and divide according to your cleaning preferences. The scheduling options for this vacuum cleaner were advanced compared to other products we tested, letting you choose the room, the setting (vacuum or mop), the day and time, as well as the power mode – we were impressed.
This vacuum robot consistently finds its way back to its small charging dock, and you don't have to completely clear a room of obstacles (as with other models) in order for it to effectively vacuum dirt and dust. Another feature we liked was that the air filter and mop pad were washable, meaning they last longer before needing to be replaced. We also found the dust tray could gently slide out, making it easy to empty after each clean.
Buy this reasonably priced, versatile robot vacuum cleaner to get more bang for your buck – it will work effectively across all floor types and large and small spaces.
Best upright vacuum cleaner –Shark duoclean: £299.99, Sharkclean.co.uk
Using this Shark model on a neglected spare room rug was a revelation – a rather embarrassing one, unfortunately. Our house proud tester was horrified by the amount of dirt, dust and hair picked up after the first use, but the longer pile of the carpet was looking tufty and new by the time he’d finished, filling the see-through container with a gobsmacking amount of dust.
We loved the lights on the front of the main head and the “lift away” feature which let us unclip the main suction pod and carry it around. Lightweight and quiet, the soft front roller made it great on hard floors and the rotating brush of the pet accessory cleaned stairs – our tester’s dogs’ favourite perch – to perfection.
Best handheld vacuum cleaner – Gtech multi MK2 K9: £169.99, Gtech.co.uk
A well-balanced handheld from the UK brand that can handle everything from awkward dusty corners to pet hair on scratching posts and stairs. It’s equipped with a range of tools which make the most of the excellent suction, including a power brush, dusting brush, 36cm extension tube and crevice tool.
Gtech also sells a car accessory kit (£50), with a bendy crevice tool, upholstery tool and a dusting brush that extend the handhelds operation to the car. To back all this up, Gtech is renowned for its excellent customer-and-replacement service in case of any problems.