How we test vacuum cleaners


Dust, grit and cat hair – all in a day's work for our lab.

vacuum cleaner cleaning messy carpet

Coming clean


For most households, an upright or barrel vacuum cleaner is an essential part of the cleaning arsenal. Most can handle dirt pick-up from hard floors very well, but carpet can be another matter, and pet hair can be a real challenge too. So what makes a good vacuum cleaner? Here's how we put them to the test.

Our expert testers

Over the years, our lab testers have vacuumed up more dust and pet hair than most homes see in a lifetime. They have it down to a fine art – or should that be science? Our test method is based on the internationally accepted vacuum test standard, but adapted to Australian conditions and carpets, so our test is both rigorous and practical. And we're always looking for ways to improve it, to keep our reviews as useful as possible to you, the consumer.

How we choose what we test

With so many to choose from, what makes us choose one vacuum cleaner 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.

Updating our test method and scoring system

From time to time, we change our test method and scoring system to ensure our reviews remain as useful as possible to consumers. For example, we added a quick-cleaning score to reflect the way people typically use their vacuums and in our latest review this result has been incorporated into the overall score. On the other hand, the corners and edges score has been removed from the overall score as we believe this is less important to consumers, although the results are still available in the table for those who are interested.

Sometimes we're also forced to update our test method due to practical realities outside our control. Recently, we discovered it was no longer possible to purchase the specific carpet we'd been using to test our vacuums, so we had to start using a new test carpet. As it wouldn’t be fair to compare vacuums tested on our new carpet with results from the old carpet, we've had to start our testing from scratch. This means we've retired all our old vacuum reviews and replaced them with a new batch of vacuums tested using our new carpet and rated under our new scoring system.

Because of these changes, you may notice the scores for some of the previously tested models have changed slightly.

How we test

Cleaning performance score

Our tester pre-loads the vacuum cleaners with artificial household dust (a standard test material imported from Germany); this reflects the fact that in typical home use, vacuum cleaners are used with the bag or bin partly filled. He then embeds sand evenly into a section of carpet and vacuums it to a set pattern and speed. The sand collected is then weighed and recorded as a percentage of the sand applied; this is repeated twice for each vacuum cleaner and the results averaged. We know exactly how much dirt goes into the test carpet, so we know to within a tenth of a gram just how much dirt the vacuum removed. Our tester rates all models based on the dirt pick-up performance from carpet using the standard cleaning head.

We don't test dirt pick-up from hard floors anymore, as in our experience all vacuums are excellent at this task.

Complete carpet clean
This test stimulates a thorough cleaning of the carpet and is a good indication of the maximum amount of dirt a vacuum can pick up. The tester measures the dirt removal from carpet as above after eight passes of the vacuum.
Quick carpet clean

This test simulates typical everyday cleaning. The tester measures the dirt removal from carpet as above, but after just four passes over the carpet rather than the full eight performed in the complete carpet clean test. 

Pet hair removal

The tester embeds cat hair in the carpet and, as with the dirt pick-up test, vacuums it to a set pattern and speed. He rates the results based on how much cat hair is left behind after the test. Where supplied, the turbo brush or power head is used for this test; otherwise, he uses the standard cleaning head. Pet hair for testing supplied by Woof Cat & Dog Grooming, Bondi, NSW.

Cleaning corners and along edges

Sand is spread into a right-angled corner and, using the standard cleaning head, it's vacuumed to see how close to the corner each cleaner is able to pick up dirt. This result is no longer incorporated into the overall score, but you can find the corners and edges rating (expressed as Poor, OK or Good) in the results table.

Scratch test

For uprights, the cleaning head is set to the hard floor setting and stops the brush from rotating; for barrels, the tester uses the hard floor tool or standard cleaning head set to hard floor. He runs the head back and forth 50 times over a lacquered fibre board and checks for scratch marks. This result is not added to the overall score in our table.

Video: How we test and review vacuum cleaners to find the best

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Ease of use

Based on how easy it is to manoeuvre the cleaner and move the cleaning head on the carpet and under low furniture. The tester assesses how difficult it is to empty and change the dirt receptacle; operation of the controls; and how easy the supplied accessories are to use and store.

Noise

Measured at the user's position at maximum power setting. Even though most models produce similar sound readings, some emit a high-pitched whistle that can be irritating.

Dust filtration

Many vacuum cleaners have HEPA filters or other claims to exceptionally good dust filtration. We don't test this aspect – we don't have the lab capability and would need to outsource the test, which can be expensive. We did have HEPA filters tested many years ago and found that they all performed as claimed. If you have asthma or a dust allergy, HEPA filter models are certainly worth considering, but note that models without a specific HEPA filter can still have excellent air filtration.

Test criteria explained

The overall score is made up of:

  • cleaning performance (55%) (made up of quick carpet clean score 67% and complete carpet clean score 33%)
  • ease of use (30%)
  • pet hair removal (15%).

Ease of use is made up of:

  • how easy it is to manoeuvre the cleaner
  • how easy it is to move the cleaning head on the carpet and under low furniture
  • how difficult it is to empty and change the dirt receptacle (the bag or bin)
  • operation of the controls
  • how easy the supplied accessories are to use and store.

Our test lab

We maintain a climate-controlled lab that is up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools for our testers to bring you the right results.

Ready to buy?

Check out our latest tests of vacuums, as well as stick vacs and robot vacs.


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