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Choosing a Vacuum | FAQ

Choosing a Vacuum

There are a number of things to consider when choosing a vacuum, including personal preference, flooring surfaces in your home, health considerations, such as asthma or back problems, and budget. The following discussion of the different types of vacuums and their advantages and disadvantages should help you in making your decision. The three basic types of all purpose vacuums are upright, canister and central vacuum. Other types, such as broom vacs, robo vacs and hand vacs, are also available but usually are used in conjunction with one of the other three types.

Uprights | Canister Vacuums | Central Vacuum Systems


Uprights in general tend to be more convenient for carpet and floor cleaning since you don't have to drag a hose or canister around with you, however, you do have to deal with the weight of the handle which includes the dirt containter and the collected dirt.

There are two basic types of upright designs, direct air and bypass. The exceptions are the Riccar and Simplicity lines of Tandem Air machines which utilize both designs.

Direct Air Upright Vacuums:

These vacuums have large fans that are located on the vacuum nozzle which draw air and dirt up through the fan and then blow the air and dirt into a cloth bag which usually contains a paper bag. Examples of these machines would be Kirby, Royal Metal Everlast and Oreck vacuums.

  • ADVANTAGES: Excellent carpet and bare floor cleaning resulting from higher air flow (CFM). The design is simple and durable. Since the fans tend to be larger and located closer to the nozzle, these machines can create higher air flow from motors drawing fewer amps, which means they consume less electricity, in some cases one half to one third less.

  • DISADVANTAGES: Tools, when available, are not as effective or convenient. Filtration is not as effective as bypass designs. Consequently, these vacuums are not recommended for users with severe asthma. Since all debris passes through the fan, hard objects vacuumed up may damage or break the fan resulting in a $30 to $50 repair.

Bypass Upright Vacuums:

These vacuums come in bagged or bagless designs where vacuum is created in the bag or dust cup chamber which creates suction to move the dirt from the nozzle or hose to the bag or dust cup.

  • ADVANTAGES: More convenient and effective hose and tool options for above the floor cleaning. Better filtration. Since dirt and debris do not pass directly through the motor, there are no concerns about picking up large, hard objects.
  • DISADVANTAGES: Less effective carpet and bare floor cleaning resulting from lower air flow (CFM). Heavier handle weight resulting from bag or dust cup chamber weight. Higher electricity consumption.
Tandem Air Design (Riccar and Simplicity Vacuums):

  • ADVANTAGES: These upright vacuums combine the high air flow characteristics of direct air machines with the better filtration and more convenient tool use characteristics of bypass machines. They achieve this performance by connecting a direct air motor in the nozzle to a bypass motor in the handle section. An added benefit of the tandem air machines is the geared belt which is designed to last for the life of the machine.
  • DISADVANTAGES: Costs as much as premium bypass and direct air designs. When used for floor cleaning, it is subject to damage from hard objects like direct air designs are.

Bagless vs. Bagged (Upright or Canister)

  • BAGLESS: Bagless vacuums have become very popular in the last 10 years or so, mostly due to the fact that bags are not required. Most people believe that they can eliminate the hassle and expense of having to purchase bags once or twice a year if they own a bagless vacuum. These machines do not require bags, however they do need filters, which in some cases can be as expensive as bags when changed regularly. Some of the newer designs do have washable filters which eliminates the need to purchase anything except belts. Whether the filters are replaced or simply washed, they do require attention on a regular basis in order to maintain peak performance. The same is true for the dirt container. In many cases, the dirt receptacle needs to be emptied often to maintain peak performance. Bagless machines tend to be heavier and bulkier, resulting from the need for a plastic dirt container and a cyclonic dirt separator.
  • BAG DESIGN: Vacuums designed to use paper bags are cleaner and more convenient to empty since the dirt is contained in the bag and fine dust does not escape into the air when emptied. Machines designed to use paper bags are usually lighter in weight and less bulky than bagless machines since they do not need a heavy plastic dirt container or a cyclonic chamber for dirt separation. These machines do require the purchase of bags and, in some cases, filters. Since the bag is essentially a filter, better filtration is usually achieved with fewer and smaller, less expensive filters than bagless machines.


Unless you have become used to vacuuming with them, canister vacuums tend to be less convenient for floor cleaning since you have to push, pull or carry them along as you vacuum. They are, however, more convenient for above the floor cleaning, cleaning stairways and other chores such as vacuuming the inside of your car. When cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting, they require an electric power nozzle. If your home consists of mostly hard surface flooring, a straight suction machine may be all you need. If you have a combination, or hard surface and low nap area rugs, a canister with an air driven nozzle or rug tool could meet your needs.

  • ADVANTAGES: Canister vacuums in general tend to have greater suction and air flow (CFM). They also tend to be more durable than uprights. When used for chores other than floor vacuuming, they are easier to use. When used without the electric power nozzle, they consume less electricity. They also have better filtration than most uprights.
  • DISADVANTAGES: Not as convenient for floor cleaning.

Portable Vacuum - Best of Both Worlds:

Why choose? Many homeowners with large carpeted areas have two vacuums. A direct air or bypass upright for carpeted areas and a straight suction canister for all other cleaning.


Central vacuum systems utilize a system of inlet vacuum valves located in walls, similar to electrical outlets, that, when connected to a standard 30 foot vacuum hose, provide complete coverage to all surfaces of the home. These inlet vacuum valves are connected via a system of 2 inch vacuum piping to a power unit located in the basement, garage or mechanical room.
  • ADVANTAGES: More powerful than most portable vacuums, quiet when operating because the power unit is not in the living space and lightweight. Central vacuums are also clean since the vacuumed air is exhausted either outdoors or outside of the living space, consequently they are an excellent choice for people with asthma or allergies.

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What is a HEPA filter and do I need one?
How do I maintain a vacuum cleaner?
Do 12 amp vacuum cleaners have more power?
Which vacuums require less maintenance, Bagged or Bagless?
Are self-propelled vacuums easier to use?
Which are best, canister or upright vacuum cleaners?

What is a HEPA filter and do I need one?

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. HEPA filters trap large and small particles in the filter before they are exhausted from your vacuum into the air. Absolute or True HEPA filters are tested to remove 99.97% of particles 3 microns and larger. HEPA type filters typically remove significantly less particles than True HEPA filters.

While many vacuums have HEPA filtration, the vacuums themselves often leak dust particles due to poor design or construction. If the vacuum has visible dust around the bag chamber door, or dirt cup, the vacuum is leaking dust which makes the filter irrelevant. Emptying the dirt cup, if done indoors, also tends to disperse dust particles, which defeats the purpose of the filter.

If you have allergies or asthma, vacuums with HEPA filtration can help decrease symptoms. Make sure you are getting a vacuum with True HEPA filtration which is designed and constructed to prevent leakage in areas where dust particles can leak out. Also don't purchase a bagless vacuum if you plan on emptying the dirt cup indoors.

How do I maintain a vacuum cleaner?

All vacuums require some regular maintenance. Properly maintained vacuums perform better and last longer. The frequency of maintenance depends on how often you vacuum and other factors including the number of people or kids in the home and pets. Bags and dirt cups should be emptied when they are between 1/2 and 3/4 full. Filters should be inspected every three months and washed (if washable) or replaced if the filter is visibly dirty. Flat belts should be replaced at least every 6 months. Hair, lint, and threads should be removed from the brush roll especially on the ends near the bearings, as necessary. The power cord should also be inspected frequently for exposed wires, if the wires are exposed the cord needs to be replaced before using.

Do 12 amp vacuum cleaners have more power?

Amps measure the amount of electricity going from your house receptacle to the motor. The amp draw really doesn't tell you how effectively your vacuum cleans. Direct air style vacuums can clean carpets very effectively with 4 or 5 amp motors. Efficiency depends on the design, construction, and the style of the machine. Better measures are air flow (CFM) and water lift (suction).

Which vacuums require less maintenance, Bagged or Bagless?

Actually they both require the same amount of maintenance. The only difference is with bagged machines you change the bag, and with bag-less you empty the dirt cup. Changing the bag may require a litter more time, but the bag is actually a filter and bag-less machines usually have larger or more filters which require maintenance. Aside from that, the maintenance on the brushroll, cord etc. is the same.

Are self-propelled vacuums easier to use?

Self-propelled vacuums tend to be easier to push forward and backward, but they are harder to direct and control. The transmission or gearbox required in self propelled machines make them much heavier than vacuums without them, so self propelled machines are more difficult to lift and move around when not running. There are many machines on the market that are designed to be easy to push without the self propelled mechanism.

Which are best, canister or upright vacuum cleaners?

It depends on which you prefer. If you are more comfortable with an upright, you should probably purchase one because you will use it more often.

In general canister vacuums have more air flow, and suction. They also tend to last longer and cost more. In the US market 80% of the vacuums sold are uprights and 20% canisters. In Europe its 80% canisters to 20% uprights, which probably results from the fact that European homes have a lot more hard surface floors.

Canister vacuums used to clean carpeted areas should have an electric power nozzle, which costs significantly more than a straight suction canister.

Upright vacuums are more convenient to use when vacuuming carpets, however, canisters work better on hard surface floors and for above the floor cleaning. Canisters are also easier to use when vacuuming your car.

For many people the answer to this question is both. They will purchase a direct air upright for carpeted areas and a straight suction canister for all other cleaning.

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