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How to buy a great vacuum cleaner

Our handy guide to vacuum types, price, pros and cons, and which one's best for your home. 

different types of vacuums

You need a new vacuum cleaner, but which type is right for your household? We break down the options.

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Barrel and upright vacuums

These are the best models for thorough cleaning of large areas of floor, especially carpet. Barrel models are easier to use in awkward places (such as stairs, cars), while upright models are good for large level areas of carpet due to their built-in power heads.

Price range: $50–1500+
House size: Medium to large (but suits all sizes)
Pet hair pick-up: Good to excellent
Types of floor to use it on: All types
Weight: Usually about 7kg (range 3–11kg)
Easy to store? No. They need cupboard or floor space to fit their bulk, height and hose. Upright models are usually bulkier than barrel models.

See our barrel and upright buying guide for more info.

Cordless and stick vacuums

These are very convenient for quick clean-ups and spot cleaning. They perform well on hard floors, but are not very good at cleaning carpet.

For homes with carpets, a stick vac (for quick cleans) plus a barrel or upright vacuum for occasional thorough carpet cleaning is a good combination.

Price range: $40–850
House size: All sizes
Pet hair: Usually excellent
Types of floor to use it on: All types, mainly hard floors
Weight: Usually about 3kg (range 1.8–5kg)
Easy to store? Yes. They aren't bulky and usually come with a stand or mount.
Typical battery life: About 17 minutes (range 7–37 minutes)

See our stick vacuum buying guide for more specific info. 

Robot vacuums

These can be good for keeping floors reasonably free of fluff and dust. They work best on hard floors, but are usually bad at getting dirt out of carpet, though they can give it a superficial clean.

Robot vacs don't always navigate rooms or clean corners and edges effectively, so they're best paired with a regular barrel or upright vacuum for occasional thorough cleaning.

Price range: $130–1800
House size: Small to medium
Pet hair: OK on hard floors, but usually poor on carpet
Types of floor to use it on: Hard floors
Weight: Usually about 3.5kg
Easy to store? Yes

See our robot vacuum buying guide for more specific information.  

Handheld vacuums

These are very convenient for spot cleaning and car interiors. Handheld vac sales are declining, mainly because stick vacs are so popular and most can be used as a handheld vac. For this reason we don't have a current review of handheld vacs.

Handheld vacuum cleaner - Kambrook Captiv Wet and Dry Minivac KHV200

Price range: $39–399
House size: All sizes (but is best suited to spot cleaning)
Pet hair: Usually good to excellent
Types of floor to use it on: All types, but spot cleaning only
Easy to store? Yes, they aren't bulky and usually come with a stand or mount.
Typical battery life: About 16 minutes (range 6–30 minutes)

Vacuum cleaner FAQ

Do I need a Dyson?

Dyson makes popular and stylish machines, but are they always worth the high price tag? Our tests often find cheaper brands that perform the same or better. 

Which vacuum has the strongest suction?

The strongest suction doesn't necessarily mean the best performance; you also want one that's also easy to move up and down the surface, particularly if you're vacuuming rugs and carpet. The motorised head provided with many models can give a vac extra power for stubborn areas. Wattage generally doesn't have an affect on performance either; we see many models under 1000W which perform very well overall.

Are expensive vacuum cleaners worth it?

When it comes to traditional corded vacuums, we often see cut-price models outperform their costly counterparts. However, they may not necessarily last as long over time (our reviews list the reliability and satisfaction scores of several major brands) and they may have parts that are harder or not cost-effective to replace. If you're after certain features such as a selection of cleaning heads and accessories, as well as the ability to repair rather than replace your unit, you may be willing to pay a little extra.

Which are the cheapest vacuum cleaners?

Often barrel vacuums are the cheapest, but we've seen cordless stick vacuums for as little as $69 (when they can cost around $1400).

How repairable are vacuums?

The best way to keep any appliance out of landfill is to keep it going – but when it comes to repairing or replacing parts, some vacuum cleaners are greener than others.

Replaceable filters, brush bars, cleaning heads and batteries (for stick vacuums) can all help prolong the life of your appliance – and also save you money in the long run, as you won't need to rush out and buy a new model.

In France, manufacturers must self-assess how easy it is to repair appliances, including stick vacuums, using a set of criteria that converts into a total Repairability Index score (as outlined on the French Indice de réparabilité website).

The Index looks at factors such as how easy it is to disassemble various parts in order to repair or replace them, the quality and length of ongoing support, and how long spare parts will remain available. For instance, the Dyson France website lists its Dyson V15s Detect Submarine with a score of 7.5 out of 10 (top-scoring products must get at least 9.5, and the lowest possible score is 0.5). While we're yet to see a similar scheme here, the 2021 Productivity Commission inquiry report, Right to Repair, recommended the government introduce one.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.