Vacuum cleaner buying guide

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If you want to keep your home as clean as possible, buying a powerful vacuum cleaner is the way to go. They’re not all equal, though, and while they’ll all pick up visible dirt, it’s the dust that you can’t see that’s more harmful. As a result, making the right choice now can also be a matter of health, as David Ludlow, Editor of Expert Reviews, explains.

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An upright vacuum cleaner

Upright, cylinder or handheld?

Your first choice is whether you want an upright, cylinder or handheld vacuum cleaner. There’s little difference between the first two in terms of features, so it’s more about personal preference.
Upright vacuum cleaners are a bit neater, as you push the entire unit around without the need for a long hose. This makes them compact, so they can be stored neatly. The downside is that when you want to use any attachments for cleaning cracks and crevices, you have to attach a hose, which can be fiddly. They can also be a bit unwieldy for cleaning stairs.
A cylinder vacuum cleaner has the motor and dust storage in a box that you drag around on wheels behind you. They can be difficult to manoeuvre and the hose can be a pain to store. Switching attachments is easy, though, as the hose is always out. Cylinder vacuum cleaners can be easier to use for cleaning stairs, as they typically provide more reach.
The third type (handheld) is powered by a battery, so you have the convenience here that you can just unplug from the charger and go without any power cables. Handheld vacuum cleaners are generally a good supplement to a mains-powered cleaner, but you tend to get less power with this type of cleaner and a smaller choice of accessories. Look for a battery life of at least 25 minutes — this is enough to do an entire house, as you only use power when you hit the button and the cleaner isn’t running all of the time.
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Cylinder vacuum cleaner


Vacuum cleaner manufacturers will try to blind you with the raw power of the motor, quoting power figures in Watts. This is completely misleading, though, as this only tells you the power that’s put into the motor. To know how efficient the cleaner is and how much of that power is transferred into actual suction at the end of the hose, you need to look for the Air Watts (AW) rating.
As a rough rule, an upright should have a minimum of 100AW; a cylinder cleaner should have a minimum of 200AW (it needs more power for the longer hose); a cordless should have around 20AW (a power-draining boost mode can up this to 100W for short periods of time). More power generally means better cleaning performance, so go higher where you can.
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Vacuum cleaner bags

Bagged or bagless?

Most vacuum cleaners are bagless nowadays. Most people prefer the convenience, as you simply have to empty the container into the bin when it’s full. Generally, this type of cleaner doesn’t lose power as the dust container fills up, but this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Make sure that you buy one with a big container to save having to empty it so often — 1.5 litres or more is good. The downside of this type of cleaner is that emptying them can be messy, with dust spilling out when you empty them. This can be a problem for people with allergies.
Cleaners with bags aren’t so popular these days, but they can still be a good choice. These cleaners tend to have a larger dust capacity (5 litres or more) and the bag acts as a secondary filter, which can be good for allergy sufferers. Likewise, emptying them tends to be cleaner, as all of the dust is contained in bag that you just throw away. Make sure that the bags aren’t too expensive, though, and look out for hidden extras, such as having to buy new filters. As a rule, only buy manufacturer-made bags, as third-party ones tend to be poor quality.
Finally, bags impact on a vacuum cleaner’s performance: the more full they get, the less suction power there is.
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A HEPA filter


If you or other members of your household suffer from allergies, you may need a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. These ensure that practically no dust particles escape from the vacuum cleaner and that they’re all collected either in the machine or in the special filter inside.
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Handheld vacuum cleaner
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If you have pets and your carpets get hair ground into them, look out for a vacuum cleaner with a special rotating pet fur brush. These use the power of the vacuum to rotate a brush that collects up the hair, and leaves you with fresh and clean carpets.
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