Over the course of more than six months, we tested top-rated vacuums of every type — including cordless stick, robot, canister, handheld and upright vacuums — to make it easy for you to choose the best vacuum for your needs.
So whether you live in a small apartment or a spacious home, need to clean up after pets or kids, or just want to stay on top of messes as soon as they happen, we’ve brought together the best vacuums from our testing to make sure you’re getting the right tool for the job.
Best upright vacuum: Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501
In our testing, the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501 was one of the easiest upright vacuum cleaners to maneuver, thanks to its swivel head and at 15.8 pounds, it was also easy to pick up and move around. Just push the large button to easily lift the canister off the vacuum base to detach the pod and carry it independently, then press the button next to the canister to release the wand.
The Shark Rotator comes with attachments like an upholstery tool, a dusting brush and a crevice tool, which conveniently fit onto the end of the handle. It also has headlights, a useful feature when vacuuming on hard floors.
As far as suction power and performance go, both the main brush head and the attachments picked up pet fur in one pass on all types of floors, and the main brush head made easy work of pulling cat litter out of high-pile carpet.
The Shark’s XL bagless dustbin allowed for continuous cleaning and it was simple to detach and empty. But, because this vacuum has three filters, there was no dust or blowback when emptying the machine.
Our only complaint was how the vacuum itself sometimes toppled backward when the dustbin was off, landing hard on the floor a couple of times before we better positioned it. We would have also loved a retractable cord, but none of the units we tested had one, so we can’t hold that against the Shark.
Best cordless stick vacuum: Dyson V11 Animal
The Dyson V11 Animal is an absolute powerhouse that performed equally well on high- and low-pile area rugs and carpets, and all types of hard floors — vinyl, tile and hardwood. The swivel head and lightweight body, weighing in at 6.68 pounds, also made it easy to move around. It sucked up so much debris from our living room rug that no animal fur, no dirt or dust escaped.
Its three modes, Boost, Auto and Eco, let you easily cycle through with the touch of the button though the vacuum defaults to Auto. Boost mode was helpful for pulling dirt and heavier debris, like cat litter, out of plush carpet.
In theory, the Dyson V11 will give you 60 minutes of continuous runtime on a full charge, but in reality, the usage drops down to 30 to 45 minutes when you’re using it on Auto or Boost. The generous 0.2-gallon (or 0.76-liter) dustbin made V11 Animal one of the bulkier cordless sticks we tested, but we’ll gladly take a little bulk rather than constantly emptying it.
Aside from the main high-torque cleaning head, the Dyson V11 comes with four additional attachments and you can swap out the main brush head for each attachment, or remove the wand portion altogether and use the V11 Animal as a handheld.
Best handheld vacuum: Black + Decker Dustbuster
For many, “Dustbuster” is synonymous with “handheld vacuum.” So it’s no surprise this handy machine beat out the competition with a balanced combination of size, function and convenience. With a comfortable, well-balanced feel, it was easy to control and the controls are extremely simple to figure out.
All of its accessories and tools are built into the machine itself, making it easier to find and keep track of anything you might need. The Dustbuster’s only drawback, though not a dealbreaker, was that it lacked a flat upholstery attachment. And, we appreciated that the extremely small charging station comes with a corresponding ring as a connector, so it can be set onto the base in any orientation.
A powerful motor retrieved all of our test debris, even those troublesome Cheerios, without clogging issues, while the dust canister was easy to remove and dump out without a mess. Only one other vacuum we tested had a larger dust canister, and when you take the affordable price into account, the Dustbuster is a no-brainer.
Best canister vacuum: Miele Classic C1 Turbo Team
A lightweight, maneuverable six-speed canister vacuum that’s downright pleasant to use, the Miele Classic C1 Turbo Team does everything from dislodging hair and dust out of low-pile carpets and rugs to gliding over parquet floors to dusting baseboards and overhead fixtures with a nifty 90-degree pivot tool. But you’ll love it because it hits a sweet spot between portability, versatility, build quality and price.
Easier to use on stairs, its 13-pound canister is a full 10 pounds lighter than the high-end Miele Complete C3, and weighs nine pounds less than the Kenmore Pet-Friendly Pop-N-Go. Its floor head has a suction-powered rotating brush and the 11-inch-wide floor head is fairly maneuverable. The C1’s handle and telescoping metal wand don’t have to support a powered floor brush, making them lighter than those used on canisters that do use powered accessories. And, because the handle’s grip is integrated into the suction tube, it’s less tiring to use.
Six labeled suction settings, from drapes to hard floors, are controlled by a dial on the canister – which is smaller since there’s no onboard tool storage. Instead, the crevice tool, dust brush and upholstery tool live on a clip at the base of the hose.
The multi-layer, 4.5-liter GN AirClean 3D filterbags aren’t HEPA-rated, though Miele says that combined with the motor protection filter and exhaust filter, they stop “99.9% of fine dust particles.”
The Turbo Team isn’t the only model of the Classic C1, but it’s the right one for most people. Miele also makes a $699 Cat & Dog version of the Classic C1, which comes with an electric floorbrush, a suction-powered mini turbo brush for getting pet hair out of upholstery, and an activated-charcoal exhaust filter.
Best robot vacuum: iRobot j7+
The iRobot j7+ beats out all the others in mapping, creating virtual boundaries and detecting and avoiding obstacles, which means it’s the best “set it and forget it” smart robot vacuum — and it even empties itself. More importantly, it picks up dust and debris and cat litter from hardwood floors and low-pile carpeting better than the others we tested.
The j7+ has multi-surface rubber brushes on its underside which keep the main brush from getting tangled with pet hair. Plus when it’s done cleaning, it returns to the base and empties itself into a bag in the larger dustbin at the back of the base, making it a lot less messy to deal with on a daily basis. It also did a superb job of staying away from everyday household items like headphones and lamp cords, and fits easily under furniture at just 3.4 inches high.
Of course, all those high-end smart features will cost you and at $699 it’s one of the most expensive vacuums we tested.
What to look for when buying the right vacuum for you
Not sure which vacuum cleaner is best for your particular home? Here’s a short guide to choosing the right one for your needs.
A far cry from their bagged, corded ancestors, today’s cordless stick vacuums are compact, lightweight and impressively powerful — especially for apartments or smaller homes, where they may well be all you need.
With powerful motors, long hoses and wands and a wide range of accessories, canister vacuums can clean your whole house with better suction and filtration than a stick vacuum and more flexibility than an upright, letting you take care of everything from floor care to upholstery, stairs, curtains, and dusty furnishings.
More powerful than stick vacuums and easier to store than a canister vacuum, upright vacuums offer a modern twist on traditional products. And because they’re easy to use, they are also great for spot cleaning – especially in households full of pets or kids.
• Related: Best vacuums for pet hair
Nobody wants to bust out a bulky, full-size vacuum for everyday messes. Which is why compact, cordless handheld vacuums are so popular for light-duty cleaning tasks. Yes, their small capacity and limited battery life makes them unlikely to serve as your primary vacuum, but boy are they convenient for everything from kitchen spills to car clutter to pet hair and dander.
A good robot vacuum will clean floors so you don’t have to do it as often. They’re particularly great for keeping up with pet hair but can also keep your house tidy when you’re just too busy. They may not be able to replace a full-sized vacuum (and they can’t handle upholstery, curtains, or any above-floor task quite yet) or eliminate your weekly chores, but as part of an overall cleaning strategy they can make your job a whole lot easier.