Knowing how to choose the best vacuum cleaner is not a simple task but, when you know what to look for, purchasing a vacuum cleaner does not have to be intimidating. Fortunately, I have done the heavy lifting and compiled everything you need to know about choosing the best vacuum cleaner for you and your home.  

What should I look for in a vacuum cleaner?  

  • High airflow CFM (cubic feet per minute) 
  • High suction IWL (inches of water lift) 
  • Made with high-quality materials 
  • Attachments to clean a variety of messes 
  • Features that fit your needs 
  • A recognizable, trustworthy brand 
  • Minimal noise 

There are a lot of vacuum cleaners to choose from and, if you want to find out what the best features to look for are, then keep reading!  

The Best Qualities in a Vacuum Cleaner 

While there are many specifications that the manufacturer measures (check out this great VacuumsGuide.com article detailing those additional measurements!), there are two that are the most important: airflow and suction (or water lift). 

Airflow 

Airflow is measured in CFM (cubic feet per minute), which tells you the power of the airflow from the ground to the bag (or bin). While it is arguably the most important measurement in the vacuum cleaner, the information can sometimes be difficult to find because only about half of the manufacturers provide it! So, if you can find the information, the higher the CFM value, the higher the suction power. The average vacuum cleaner operates between 50 and 100 CFM, and anything less than that is not really worth your time. 

Suction (water lift) 

Water lift is measured in IWL (inches of water lift). The manufacturers find this number by performing a “seal suction test” that assesses the power of the suction capabilities of the vacuum cleaner. The higher the vacuum can raise the water level, the more powerful the suction is. While there is not a standard measurement of water lift, the higher the lifting capabilities, the more powerful the suction. This, in conjunction with airflow, is what speaks to the efficiency of the vacuum cleaner. Suction is what brings the debris into the vacuum cleaner, and the airflow is what brings the debris into the bag (or bin). 

“If you’re tempted to buy a model with the highest amps, horsepower or watts, you might want to think again. These numbers are simply measurements of the electrical current used by the motor. A vacuum cleaner’s performance depends on airflow, the amount of suction it produces, and other factors including the overall design and attachments.” Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping

Important Design Elements to Consider for Your Vacuum Cleaner 

There are many different designs available in a vacuum cleaner, so how do you know what you should look for? There are a few different factors that are more important than others, which is

what I have outlined below. Of course, you will want to consider the overall look as well, but I have focused on functionality here. 

Which Type of Vacuum Cleaner Fits Your Needs? 

The type of vacuum cleaner you need will be almost entirely dependent on what your needs are and how you will be using the vacuum cleaner. Below is a table I created breaking down the different types of vacuum cleaners,  their best usages, and the main draws of the different types.  

TypeUsesDraws
UPRIGHTCarpet, rugsEffective on carpeting, budget-friendly
CANNISTERStairs, hard surfacesEasily maneuverable, many attachments
STICKSmall, simple messesLightweight, convenient, easy to store
ROBOTICCarpet, hardSet it and Forget It
HANDHELDSmall, simple messesQuick, easy to store, inexpensive

Quality Materials 

The quality of materials used is one of the most important to check into. Most major retailer vacuum cleaners are not built for long term use. Likely, you will need to replace one of these vacuum cleaners within a few years. Generally, you get what you pay for with a vacuum cleaner. The lower the cost, the lower the quality of materials used to make said vacuum cleaner.  

To Bag or Not to Bag? 

It may seem daunting trying to decide between a vacuum cleaner with or without a bag. But this is a preference as well! With a bag, you’ll have a regular expense of purchasing replacement bags (cost can vary greatly depending on the type and size of the vacuum cleaner of choice), but the emptying process is easy and clean. There is not an additional expense with bagless vacuum cleaners, but they tend to be more difficult to empty (and coincidentally, messier) than using the replaceable bags. 

Attachments 

There are a plethora of different attachments available these days. All of the options make it easy to tackle many different tasks with the same device. While there is a seemingly endless number of attachment options, the most useful attachments are: 

  • Dust brush 
  • Nozzle extension 
  • Crevice tool 
  • Upholstery brush 

The most important question to ask yourself when it comes to attachments is: what tasks do you need your vacuum cleaner to complete? If you are just looking for something simple to just vacuum your living room, maybe you do not need any attachments! However, if you will also need to vacuum your stairs and those cobwebs out of the corner in the ceiling, you’ll want some attachments. Assess your specific needs to see what is best for your home. 

Features 

Every vacuum cleaner is going to have (or not have) different features. The following features are some of the most common, as well as the most useful: 

  • On/Off Brush Switch 
  • Retractable cord 
  • Cordless 
  • Multiple power settings 

An on/off brush switch is quite helpful, allowing you to be able to switch between hard and soft surfaces easily. 

When it comes to the cord, the two best options are either cordless (rechargeable) or to choose a vacuum cleaner with a retractable cord. Cordless can be taken anywhere in the home, just make sure it’s always charged! A retractable cord is also great to help make putting away and storing your vacuum cleaner much easier.

While you are likely to only find multiple power settings on high-end vacuum cleaners, they are great if you can get it. This allows you to change the settings depending on the surface you are cleaning. 

Brand 

When it comes to choosing a brand of vacuum cleaners, choose a brand that you know and trust. Every brand has various options, price points, etc. Here are some suggestions for tried and true vacuum cleaner brands. 

  • Hoover 
  • Dyson 
  • Shark 
  • Bissel 
  • Oreck 
  • iRobot 

Another great resource is online reviews! You cannot test every vacuum cleaner you are considering for purchase, so reading about other users’ experience is the next best thing. A word of advice – take all reviews with a grain of salt. If the overall consensus on the brand or vacuum cleaner is positive, then take that into account when encountering a few negative reviews (and vice versa). 

Noise 

While you may not be able to get a silent vacuum cleaner, maybe the noise level is still a concern for you. If so, there are quieter options!  

A general rule is the heavier duty the vacuum cleaner, the louder it will be. Therefore, the simpler the design, the quieter the vacuum cleaner will be.  

Something else to keep in mind in relation to noise is the space in which you will be using the vacuum cleaner. The smaller the space, and/or the more echo your space has, it will drastically increase how noisy the vacuum cleaner is.