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How we test stick vacs

Here's what our cleaning experts get up to in the CHOICE labs.

stick vacuum on wooden floor

Stick vacuum cleaners are useful for those times you just want to do a quick clean and don't want to get out your full-sized vacuum cleaner. Easily hidden away in a cupboard, most can also be split into two devices, with a handheld vacuum being a part of the stick vacuum.

Here we'll tell you what goes on in the vacuum lab to give you the results that help you choose the best stick vacuum cleaner for you.

Our expert testers

With over 10 years of testing experience, Matthew Tung is passionate about determining a product's technical performance. 

He tests a wide range of products in the CHOICE labs, from cots and strollers to electric blankets and blood pressure monitors, as well as standard corded vacuums. He also sits on Australian Standards committees.

How we choose what we test

With so many to choose from, what makes us pick one stick vacuum to test over another? As with most of our product testing, our aim is to test the most popular models on the market and what you're most likely to see in the retailers.

We survey manufacturers to find out about their range of models, we check market sales information and we also check for any member requests to test specific models. From this information we put together a final list that goes to our buyers. They then head out to the retailers and buy each product, just as a normal consumer would. We do this so we can be sure they're the same as any consumer would find them and not 'tweaked' in any way.

How we test stick vacuums

Hard floor dirt pick-up

We use a variety of different materials such as cornflakes, potting mix and flour to evaluate how well the stick vacuum picks up each of these from a hard floor surface.

Cleaning corners and edges

Sand is spread into a right-angled corner and vacuumed to see how close to the corner each cleaner is able to pick-up dirt using the standard cleaning head, with results commented on.

Pet hair removal

We embed cat hair into the carpet and vacuums it to a set pattern and speed in exactly the same way as the dirt pick-up test. Pet hair for testing is supplied by Woof Cat & Dog Grooming in Bondi, NSW.

Thorough carpet clean test

We embed sand evenly into a section of carpet and vacuums it. The sand is weighed and recorded; this is done twice for each model and the results are averaged. With normal vacuums we pre-load the dust collector with dust, but these stick vacs have a very small dirt receptacle capacity so we adapted the method by not pre-loading.

Quick carpet clean test

We measure dirt pick-up from carpet after just four passes of the cleaning head. Our usual test involves 10 passes up and down the carpet.

Car cleaning

For those that separate from the stick into a handheld vacuum, we disperse pebbles and sand throughout the front and rear floor of a car and evaluate how well they pick up these materials. This is not counted towards the final score, as not all vacs are 2-in-1 products.

Ease of use

To determine how easy stick vacuums are to use, we assess:

  • how easy it is to manoeuvre the cleaner
  • how difficult it is to empty and clean the dirt receptacle
  • how easy it is to operate the controls
  • how easy the supplied accessories are to use and store.

Noise test

Noise is measured at the user's position at maximum power setting. Some models emit a high-pitched whistle that can be irritating, even though they may not be louder than others.

Test criteria explained

The CHOICE Expert Rating, our overall score, is made up of:

  • hard floor dirt pick-up (30%)
  • ease of use (30%)
  • pet hair removal (15%)
  • thorough carpet clean (10%)
  • quick carpet clean (15%).

Our test lab

Our testing laboratory is up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools for our testers to bring you the right results.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.