Shopping for a new vacuum can be a bit of an overwhelming task. Even if you know that you want an upright instead of a cylinder model, there are still plenty of factors to consider. This guide is intended to help you sort through the many options that are available and to help you better understand the different factors that can make one upright vacuum better than some of the others.
The following pros and cons are generalisations that apply to most models of this type. Some of the less expensive models may not be well designed and therefore, they may not meet all of these pros and on the other side, some of the better vacuums in the upright range may have superior design features that help them to overcome some of the cons that are typically associated with uprights.
Pros of uprights
The motor is close to the vacuum head and this provides better suction with less power
The entire vacuum is a single unit
The upright design is usually easier to store
Easy to control
Better for people that have back problems
Better for cleaning large areas
Uprights tend to provide better results for carpets
Brushes to help remove hair and dirt from carpets
Larger cleaning head for faster cleaning
Cons of uprights
These models are often heavier than cylinder vacuums
The brush heads can be less effective on hard floors
Can be tough to manoeuvre in tight spaces
Bagged vs. Bagless
One decision that you are going to have to make with almost any vacuum purchase is whether you want a model that collects the dust in a bag or one that has a bagless dirt canister. Many owners and reviewers may claim that one method of dirt collection is better than the other, but the truth is that it all depends on your preference. As far as cleaning performance goes, both bagged and bagless cleaners can provide very adequate cleaning.
As a note on the cost of these machines, this is an issue that is somewhat up for debate. In general, bagless machines will cost more to purchase, but since there is no need to buy the bags on an ongoing basis, the user will spend less money on maintenance over the life of the machine.
Bagged dirt collection
The concept of a bagged vacuum cleaner is pretty simple – and it used to be the only option that buyers had. A disposable bag is fitted into the dirt collection area and when it is full, the user removes the bag and replaces it with a new one.
For bagged vacuum cleaners, there tend to be two main advantages. The first is that the bags usually have a higher capacity than the canisters in the bagless units. Along with that, the bags tend to be neater to dispose of; most bags close when the removed from the machine and that means that less dirt and dust escapes during the replacement process.
The most obvious disadvantage of a bagged unit is that you have to buy, and replace, the bags. Finding bags is usually easy, but changing them can be tricky with some models. In addition to that, it can be hard to tell when the bag needs changing. Some machines do have an indicator light to let you know it is ready for a change, but with many machines, it can be a bit of a guessing game.
Bagless dirt collection
Instead of using a bag to collect the dirt, a bagless model has a dirt collection bin where the dirt and debris gather as you clean. When the container gets full, you remove it from the machine and empty it into the rubbish bin.
Many people view the fact that you do not have to buy and replace bags to be a major advantage. Typically, the waste canisters remove very easily and the emptying process is much quicker and easier than having to replace a bag. In addition to that, you don’t have to look for and buy the bags, so you don’t have the additional cost that comes with operating the machine. Many of these models also have clear dirt canisters, so you can easily see when you need to empty the bin.
For disadvantages, the canisters in the bagless machines tend to have a lower capacity than bags. This means that you will probably want to empty it every time you finish cleaning. The emptying process is also less clean as some of the dirt and dust will invariably escape back into the atmosphere when you empty the bin.
When you are shopping for a vacuum, the cleaning capabilities of the machine will be an important deciding factor (if not the most important factor). The effectiveness of the machine will depend on more factors than just the engineering and the design features, but those are key considerations. Once again, your own individual needs will play a significant role when it comes to how effective any given machine will be for your purposes.
The amount of power that the motor can deliver will be a major factor in determining the effectiveness of the machine. A more powerful motor should be able to deliver better suction and that will result in better cleaning performance. However, there are many other factors that can determine how efficiently the vacuum makes use of the power that is provided by the motor.
Having a ton of power is only good if the machine is designed well. If the machine is poorly designed, then much of the power from the motor is not being translated into suction power.
Consider whether the machine has ‘cyclonic’ suction (as pioneered by James Dyson – this video shows you how it works). With a cyclone vacuum, the user gets more consistent performance and better airflow. This does not always mean better suction and cleaning capabilities, but in many machines, this does mean better overall performance.
You also want to look at the design of the cleaning head. A poorly designed head will lose some of the suction power from the motor and this will limit the cleaning capabilities of the machine. You want a head that has a minimal loss of suction in the cleaning area.
One of the things that make upright vacuums better for carpeting is the fact that they have rotating brushes and rollers for freeing the dirt and debris from the fibres. How well the brushes are designed can make a difference. You want brushes that get deep into the carpet, but you don’t want them to be so harsh that they actually damage the carpet.
While the brushes can be advantageous for cleaning carpets, they tend to be an impediment when it comes to cleaning hard floors. Some uprights do come with a switch for turning on and off the brushes and this can make them better for cleaning hard floors. If you home has a mix of carpets and hard floors this is a feature that you’ll definitely want to look for.
Adjustable Cleaning Head
If a vacuum has an adjustable cleaning head, then it will be more effective on different types of surfaces. This is an important feature to look for if you plan to clean hard floors and carpets with an upright. Most models have a manual knob or lever that activates the height adjustment, but there are some machines that automatically adjust to the floor type.
Handling the Machine
Due to the body-design of an upright, these models tend to be fairly easy to handle, but, having said that, some do handle much better than others. When it comes to moving the machine around, the key factors that play a role are size, weight and the steering system. Some people may not really concern themselves with the handling of the machine, but a vacuum that has advanced design features for steering will be much easier to use than one that does not.
Steering and Manoeuverability
In the past, how well an upright vacuum could be turned and moved depended heavily upon the arm strength of the user. Now, this is not so much the case. Newer models come with steering components integrated into the machine to help the user steer around furniture and get into the less accessible spaces. Many of the newest uprights that are available even have heads that swivel and pivot for added user control. Check out the Dyson video below for a demo of how easily their new models can be manoeuvred.
Size & Weight
If a vacuum is heavy and bulky, it’s obviously going to be more of a pain to move around and work with. One of the problems that plagued the upright models of the past was their increased weight. However, newer technology and design principles have allowed manufacturers to produce vacuums that are smaller and lighter than their predecessors while also delivering performance that is just as good.
One of the criticisms that have typically been levelled at upright cleaners is that it can be difficult to get the cleaning head under things like tables and chairs. This has led many to prefer cylinders because the wand can be easily angled under furniture. However, this is another feature that manufacturers have started to successfully address by designing machines where the handle has a further recline. The greater the recline on the handle, the easier it will be to clean under some pieces of furniture.
For some consumers, the type of filtration that a vacuum offers may be inconsequential. However, this feature can affect the air quality in your home and this can be a major concern for people with allergies or asthma. Most machines do come with a dust emissions rating that can help to indicate the quality of the air that is being released from the machine’s exhaust.
Standard filtration (or staged filtering) is the type of filter system that has been used in vacuums for most of their history. The air that enters the machine passes through a series of filters and this removes the dirt from the air before it is released through the exhaust. The effectiveness of this type of filtering depends on the quality of the filters and how many stages are in the filtering system. Generally, a vacuum that uses this method of filtration is going to have anywhere from 4-7 stages, though there are some high-end models that go even further.
If you have a particular concern with indoor air quality, this is probably the type of filtration that you want to look for. A HEPA filter is designed to remove some of the smallest forms of microscopic particles from the air that passes through the machine. True HEPA filtration will remove at least 99.7% of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter.
A machine with a charcoal filter can help to reduce unpleasant odours. The layer of charcoal in the filter absorbs odours from the air and this can make it especially good for homes with pets.
A lifetime filter is a filter that is designed to work for the life of the machine. In general, a lifetime filter will be no more or less effective than a replaceable filter, but not having to search for and buy new filters will cut down on the operating costs of the vacuum. Depending on the model, the lifetime filters may need to be washed from time to time. Whether you have replaceable or lifetime filters, you should follow the manufacturer’s care recommendations. Failing to maintain the filters can compromise the efficiency and effectiveness of the machine and it can also damage some of the components.
When it comes to the versatility of an upright vacuum, the attachments and tools that are included will make a big difference. These tools allow you to perform additional tasks like dusting and cleaning furniture. If a vacuum does not come with a good set of tools, then it won’t be nearly as useful as one that does. The standard set for most machines includes a crevice tool, an upholstery tool and a dusting brush (like the set shown on the right).
The crevice tool is the long narrow attachment that has an angled tip. It is good for getting into narrow spots like around heavy pieces of furniture, between sofa cushions or around large appliances.
This is a tool that resembles a small vacuum head. It may have bristles to help it pick-up hair and debris, but it will not have the motorised brushes like the main cleaning head. It can be good for cleaning furniture and it can also be used to clean the stairs.
This is the attachment with the small, round head that has bristles at the end. It is designed for cleaning dust from areas like the curtains, shelves and around lamps.
Some of the better uprights will come with what is known as a turbo tool or a power tool (like the Dyson one shown left). This is like a small vacuum head, but unlike the upholstery tool, this one will have powered brushes to improve its ability to lift dirt, dust and hair. These tools are especially popular with buyers that have pets because they are good at removing pet hair from surfaces.
Some people could care less about how energy efficient their vacuum is, but this does affect the overall operating costs of the machine. A machine that uses 55 kWh per year is going to cost you more over the life of the machine than a model that uses about 27 kWh per year. Buying a more efficient model will not only be better the environment, it will also save you money in the long run.
As you may already know, there are new energy standards for vacuums that are being sold. The machines are graded on a lettered scale that goes from A to G, with A being the most efficient and G being the lowest efficiency. The new energy labels with their marks for energy rating and the listing for annual consumption can be a valuable tool to help buyers find the most efficient models.
Additional things to consider
Capacity – A vacuum’s capacity for dirt collection can be an important consideration. If you need to vacuum a large area at one time, then you will want to find a machine with a larger capacity.
Cord Length – The length of the power cord will determine the working radius of the machine. A longer cord will be able to cover more area before the user needs to move to a different plug.
Storage – If space is a consideration (and let’s face it, it is for most of us) you should also look for a model that packs up neatly and is easy to store. A machine that is lightweight and compact is good for storage. Additionally, you want to consider whether it has a good cord storage solution and whether the machine has an on-board place to store the attachments.
Noise – A little bit of operating noise is just a fact of vacuuming, but some machines can be excessively loud. If noise is an issue for you, then you may want to look into how loud the machine is. The new energy labels will give you a good indication although, if decibel levels aren’t your thing, you’ll need to find something to compare to.
Settings – Plenty of fine vacuums will come with only one power setting, but there are some models that do come with multiple settings for the different jobs like dusting and upholstery cleaning.
Pets – If you have pets, then finding a model that is designed to handle pet hair should be a high-priority. With some machines, the brushes and attachments are not designed for pet hair and these machines will not serve a pet-owner well.
Warranty – A good vacuum should come with a good warranty. After you spend all of that money on a new vacuum, you want to know that the machine is guaranteed to work for at least a few years. Look for at least a 2 year guarantee if you can.