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How to buy the best stick and cordless vacuum cleaners

Our expert guide to price, power, key features and whether a Dyson is worth the cost. 

different stick vacuums

Stick vacuum cleaners are useful around the kitchen and other areas of the home when you have an annoying spill and don't want to get out the dust pan and brush. Easily hidden away in a cupboard, they take up less room than a traditional barrel or upright vacuum cleaner – and most can be split into two devices, with a handheld vacuum being a part of the stick vacuum.

Stick vacuums: what you need to know

When it comes to vacuum cleaners, power is no guarantee of cleaning performance – it's the overall design of the cleaner that makes the difference. That said, stick vacs aren't usually expected to perform as well at cleaning carpet as a standard vacuum cleaner. 

For handheld models (as for most cordless appliances), the more juice in the battery, the better the performance is likely to be. Handheld vacs generally lose power as their battery charge runs down. However, new designs and technology, such as lithium-ion batteries, have led to improved running times and dirt pick-up. 

How much does a stick vacuum cost?

In our latest review testing, models ranged in price from $99 to $1199.

Should I get a Dyson stick vacuum?

Dyson dominates the stick vac market even more than the barrel and upright market, and it's a product area where Dyson can deliver. The Dyson Cyclone V10 Absolute+ ($999) is an impressive performer as is the Dyson V11 Absolute ($1199). We recently looked at the latest cordless vacuum from Dyson, the V11 Outsize, which is different to other stick vacuums as it has a far larger bin capacity (comparable to a full-size vacuum).

Dyson's small motor technology is part of their success in this area; they've spent a great deal of time and money developing these compact electric motors and implementing them in their stick and handheld vacs as well as other products. However, other brands also produce good models that have made it into our recommended list which may have attractive features and price points.

To find out which stick vac brands our members have found most reliable, see our vacuum cleaner reliability survey results.

Key data from CHOICE stick vacuums testing and comparison

 Specification  Average Variation
 Average charging time for a stick vacuum  4 hours  2.6 hours - 8 hours
 Average stick vacuum weight  2.8 kilos  2.1 - 4.1 kilos
 Average running time on max  13 minutes  6 - 33 minutes
 Average dust collector capacity  0.4 litres  0.2 - 0.6 litres
 Average noise level on max (decibels)  74 dB  67 - 84 dB
    Dyson V8 Absolute stick vac

    The Dyson V8 Absolute.

    Key features to consider

    Regardless of the brand and model, here's some vital features to keep in mind when making a purchase: 

    Charging and running time

    Look for models that run for a useful length of time and don't take too long to charge. Some may need to charge overnight, or longer. Our data shows that stick vacuums take around four hours to charge on average, and you may only get around 13 minutes of runtime depending on the power settings and surface you're cleaning. Some only run for six minutes on max, so if you have a large area to clean you might need a model which allows you to swap it over for a spare battery.

    Light, quiet and easy to manoeuvre

    Try out the vacuum in the shop to see if it's all these things; for stick models, check that it moves easily over both carpet and hard surfaces. Some of the models we've tested weigh up to around 4 kilos, which may not be noticeable if you're using it on floors, but it could become tiring if you're reaching up to clean ceilings and fans, for instance.

    Floor heads

    Many stick vacuums come with a standard motorised head suitable for both carpet and hard floors. Some have a special fluffy or soft head just for hard floors. Higher-end stick vacuums have the ability to detect the surface you are vacuuming; adjusting the suction accordingly without the need to swap heads.

    Filter

    This should be easy to remove and clean or replace. If you have asthma or allergies, consider a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

    Tools

    The standard items to check for are a dusting brush and crevice tools. Other items may include squeegee tools, an extension tube or a pet hair brush. Tools are especially useful if built-in or stored on the vac itself, rather than separately or on the charging cradle.

    2-in-1 models

    These can be used as either a stick or a handheld vacuum. They usually have a trigger to release the handheld vacuum located on the torso of the stick.

    Variable power/suction

    This allows you to lower the suction, which is handy when cleaning fabric items like curtains or upholstery.

    Battery

    We've found that models with higher voltage batteries – 18V and up – tend to perform better.

    Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the most common battery types in stick vacs. They're generally better-performing and longer-lasting than nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and lead-acid batteries, which are still used in some models. 

    Check the warranty details for the battery. Some warranties only cover the battery for a few months, even if they cover the cleaner itself for a year or more. 

    Several brands such as LG offer the ability for you to easily swap out your stick vacuum battery for a spare pre-charged one which means extra running time for you (Dyson's newer V11 models now offer this feature, but a spare battery will cost an additional $199). A good stick vacuum battery will hold enough charge for you to do what you need to do without frequently running out of juice. Some have battery indicators so you know in advance when your charge is running low.

    Eventually your battery will lose its ability to hold a charge. Once that happens, it's usually cheaper to upgrade your model, unless the battery can be easily switched out for a reasonably-priced replacement.

    Switch

    An on/off switch is easier for continuous operation than a trigger that needs to be held down.

    Fallout flap

    This prevents dirt falling back out of the vacuum when you carry it with the nozzle facing downwards, such as when moving between cleaning tasks.

    Wall/floor mountable charging base

    A handy wall mounted base will help to keep the vac readily accessible and fully charged. Some charging bases are floor mounted which means you can change the location of the base when you want to.

    Wet and dry

    Some models can suck up wet material or liquids. However, they can usually only take a fairly small amount (about 150mL) and you shouldn't fill the bin with liquid past the indicated maximum level. The bin and filter need to be cleaned and dried separately afterwards.

    LCD screen

    Some models can tell you useful information during use, such as how much battery charge you have left, when the filter needs changing, or when there is an obstruction.

    How do I care for my stick vacuum?

    Due to their smaller dust bins, stick vacuums need to be emptied more frequently and this can be fiddly depending on the model. Hair and fluff must also be removed regularly from the rollers. Filters should be washed once a month, and replaced when necessary.

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