Buyers' Guide to Vacuum Cleaners
Thursday, 16th September 2010
Robotic vacuuming, auto-sense cleaning, mite-killing and even turbo-boost function...today's vacuums come with a dazzling array of extras. And it's comforting to know that whatever your cleaning needs, there's a machine out there that's up to the challenge. But don't let all these impressive features distract you from the real questions - is the machine powerful enough to clean my floors? Does it offer the flexibility I need? Can I move it around and store it with ease?What do you really need?
Before you get sucked in by all the impressive features on today's vacuum cleaners, do a thorough assessment of your cleaning needs.
If you have expansive areas to clean then you'll want a large vacuum cleaner head that gets the job done in less time. Some heads are up to 25% wider than standard models, and will cut down your cleaning time considerably.
If you're in a townhouse with stairs, your best bet is to consider a lightweight and easy to maneuver cylinder model with a long cord (so you're not constantly changing power points). Or, seek out an upright cleaner that comes with an extra-long stair hose.
Where are you going to store it? A cylinder model is smaller and easier to store than an upright model, so requires less cupboard space.
Do you have an air bed that occasionally needs to be blown up? If yes, look out machine that has a blower function.
What about your floor type?
Do you have acres of deep-pile carpet to clean? If so, you'll want a strong cleaner with a rotating brush that agitates the carpet pile and lifts up ingrained dirt and dust.
If your home has different floor types, for example a mix of low-pile and deep-pile carpets, plus some hardwood or tiles, then you'll need a model that has plenty of flexible features, including carpet height adjustment and variable suction power.
And what about you?
For those with back problems an upright model or a cylinder with an adjustable telescopic wand will reduce the need for bending over.
If you're living in a small space where the sound bounces around, you should look for a quiet cleaner between 71-73 decibels as the last thing you want is a noisy machine that will give you a headache every time you turn it out.
Do you have allergies or asthma?
If yes, then you'll want to pay close attention to the filter as the better the filter the more dust and allergens will be removed from the air. Look for a high pick-up percentage rate and small particle size. Your best bet is to look out for one with a HEPA filter (this stands for high-efficiency particulate air filter). They tend to be more expensive than models with a standard filter, but they are able to pick up minute dust particles and allergens.
If you have pets, you should look for a model that has a special filter for pet hairs and odours, such as the Active Air Cleaner Filter.
It's worth noting that you'll need to clean or replace your filters annually to keep them working their best.
Upright or cylinder model?
Upright vacuums are the model of choice if you have a carpeted floor as they have a special brush roll that agitates the carpet and lifts up ingrained dirt (although many of the newer cylinder models offer this function as an optional extra). They require little or no bending over to clean the floor, and some even have a self-propelling function, which means the cleaner itself does some of the pushing forward for you. But uprights are heavier and bulkier than cyclinder models, and they're more difficult to store.
On the plus side, because uprights are designed to be closer to the ground, the debris doesn't have to travel through a long tube to reach the cleaner, and therefore less suction is required to get the job done than with a cylinder model.
Cylinder models are a good choice for anyone living in a small apartment, as they're light, easy to maneuver, compact enough to store and can reach into all those tricky areas such as under the coffee table. They score top points for flexibility, coming with a range of handy tools, and they're a doddle to use on upholstery and curtains. On the downside, cylinders require more effort to move around the floor than uprights, so they might not suit to those with back problems. If you're looking at a cylinder model and have lots of carpeted floors or pet air, opt for one with a power head, where the brush has a built-in motor, as it will have stronger pick-up than the average cylinder.
How much power do you need?
The power of a vacuum cleaner is measured in watts, and they mostly range between 1100 and 1600 watts. The higher the wattage, the more powerful the vacuum cleaner. But it's important to note the suction power too - the combination of motor power and airflow efficiency - as this will tell you not just how powerful it is, but how well it actually cleans.
Bagged or bagless?
Bagless vacuums have been big news since Dyson came out with its revolutionary model a few years ago. Since then many of the big vacuum names have come out with similar or near-identical models. A bagless model collects dust and debris in an easy-to-view canister, which you then empty out by hand. Saying that, the emptying part can be a messy job as you do come into contact with the dust, so they might not be suitable for those with a dust sensitivity.
With a bagged vacuum cleaner you'll have the ongoing cost of buying replacement bags, but as many of them now have a special dust flaps or self-sealing bags that prevent the dust from escaping, the user rarely, if ever, comes into contact with dust.
A 360-degree swivel hose - ideal for apartments with lots of rooms and small awkward spaces as it allows you to get the cleaner right into those hard-to-reach areas.
Autosense cleaning - machines with this function are able to tell the difference between a lightly and heavily-soiled carpeted, and boost or reduce power automatically.
Retractable cord - the power cord pings back into the machine at the touch of a button - far easier than winding it back by hand!
Variable suction/ power - this allows you to alter the suction level at the touch of a button so that you can do more delicate jobs such as cleaning the curtains.
Dustbag full indicator - gives you a clear indication of when it's time to change the bag.
Soft ride wheels - these extra-soft wheels mean no more scratches on your wooden floor.
Built-in accessory storage - with all special nozels already on-board, this means no more searching inside cupboards for the crevice nozel or upholstery brush.