What’s the difference between a canister vacuum and a classic upright? Hands down, the canister is more versatile–they not only handle carpets, but they excel at cleaning bare floors, vacuuming stairs, and sucking up dirt from corners. We evaluated 16 canisters, measuring suction power, noise level, and how well they removed embedded soil from nylon plush carpets. Then we judged the effectiveness of the attachments, maneuverability, and even the clarity of the use and care manuals. Here, the dirt on our top performers:
This basic model costs less than the others shown here, but it’s just as good at picking up dirt from bare floors. In fact, it also was the most effective of all our picks at removing fine soil ground deep into our test carpets. Extras include large rear wheels for easy maneuvering and a thermostat that shuts off the motor when a clog or dirty filter causes it to overheat. Two minuses: There’s no headlight–good to have if you’re in a dark corner–and the 20-foot cord doesn’t automatically rewind, so you have to rewrap it each time.
Other features: Replacement belt.
Want to know you’ve done a thorough job? You’ll like the dirt-sensor feature: A red light on the power head turns green when the spot you’re vacuuming is clean and it’s time to move on. A good performer in all of our tests, the unit has a slim design and stable base that make it easy to tote and store; the hose, wands, and attachments are a snap to put together and interchange. If the brush jams on carpet fringe, an overload protector shuts off the motor to keep the belt from breaking. We like the vinyl bumpers that protect furniture and walls from nicks and scratches.
Other features: 20-foot cord with automatic rewind, headlight, adjustable rug-height settings, brush-roll on/off switch.
You get great carpet-cleaning power and smooth, gliding strokes from this vacuum–its strong rotating brushes drive it forward so that it almost feels self-propelled. The handle is comfortable to grip, but it doesn’t rotate sideways, so it’s hard to reach all the way under low furniture. A plus: This cleaner comes with a microfilter that traps more dust and dirt from the exhaust than models with only a motor filter do.
Other features: 25-foot cord with automatic rewind, headlight, brush-roll on/off switch, vinyl bumper on canister, 2 high-filtration bags.
This model (shown next page) glides easily over carpets and bare floors while delivering excellent cleaning performance. The on/off switch is located on the handle for easy access, and there’s an extra snap-on attachment with a motorized rotating minibrush to handle deep-cleaning problems on upholstery and carpeted stairs. The chrome wand easily telescopes up or down to adjust to your cleaning task. Say good-bye to dirt, lint, and pet hair: The exhaust from this unit passes through a high-efficiency filter. Not much gets out.
Other features: 28 1/2-foot cord with automatic rewind, headlight, adjustable rug-height settings, brush-roll on/off switch, motor-overload protector, vinyl bumpers on canister and power head.
Allergy sufferers take note: This vacuum sports a true HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) sealed filtration system, which retains 99.97 percent of all dust and particles down to 0.3 microns. And though we’ve seen this type of filter compromise cleaning performance on some models, it doesn’t on this one; it cleans as well as, if not better than, most. A minus: There’s no snap-in storage spot for the bare-floor brush attachment on the canister, so you have to stash it elsewhere.
Other features: 21-foot cord with automatic rewind, headlight, handle with brush-roll on/off switch, suction regulator slide.
Falling somewhere between a full-size and a compact, this midsize model is quiet, sleek, and stylish, but that’s not all–its cleaning ability is comparable to ones twice its size, and its suction power is the strongest of our picks. A big plus: The canister has a sealed construction so no air leaks out around the filtered exhaust, and its unique charcoal filter traps odors, pet hair, and dust. It also has a telescoping wand that moves up or down, adjustable power (to reduce suction for vacuuming throw rugs or drapes), and a 5-year warranty on the motor, the longest of our picks.
See more: The lowdown on canister vacuums
Other features: 21-foot cord with automatic rewind, brush-roll on/off switch, overheating switch and light, vinyl bumper on canister, dust-chamber door to contain debris when the hose is removed.
Choose a Compact
A full-size canister and a compact vac may look alike but there is a big difference: A compact usually picks up dirt using only suction, but not a motorized power head, so don’t expect it to clean carpets as thoroughly as larger models do. Our compacts removed about 30 percent of our embedded test dirt compared to 40 to 50 percent for our full-size picks. (No vacuum will remove 100 percent.) But compacts are great for quick pickups or lightweight jobs on stairs, furniture, and drapes. We evaluated 10 compacts costing from $99 to $450, using the same criteria as with the full-size units. The 2 top performers: Samsung (model #35288, top) and Riccar (model #RC1400, right). The Samsung, $129.99, includes a floor attachment, 2 plastic wands, and a dusting brush; the 20 1/2-foot cord rewinds. The pricier Riccar, $449.95, is well made and offers the suction and features to compete with the big boys. Its 21-foot cord rewinds; the crevice tool and dusting brush store onboard. The chrome wand telescopes to the task, and you can adjust the suction power by using a lever in the handle. The oversize wheels make it a smooth mover over carpets and bare floors.
Filter Facts Concerned about allergies? Check what kind of filters are used to trap dust, dirt, and other allergens. Most vacuums come with standard paper bags that hold picked-up dirt but will also work with special microfiltration bags (bottom) that trap fine particles. Two additional filters-exhaust and motor (left, top and middle)–catch even more of the particles that escape the bag. The best choice? A vacuum with a high-efficiency or HEPA filter and a completely sealed canister that lets nothing leak out.