How to Buy an Upright Vacuum Cleaner

By Brooke Kaelin on 16 April 2011 (Updated 2 June 2011) 2 comments
Photo: Emery_Way

This is a Guest Buying Guide written by the Editors of Cheapism.com

A vacuum cleaner doesn’t have to be a hulking noise machine that eats up more money than it does dirt. Even some of the cheapest vacuum cleaners can do the job easily and effectively. Bissell, Eureka, Hoover, and Dirt Devil make solid options under $150, while a name like Miele can cost $1,000 or more. Vacuum cleaners are close to our hearts at Cheapism: Our founder’s search for a budget vacuum prompted him to start the site. Here are a few things you should know before setting out to find one yourself.

What Is an Upright Vacuum?

An upright vacuum is probably what you picture when you think of a vacuum cleaner. Uprights are more popular than canister vacuums, which drag behind you and suck up debris through a cleaning wand or brush attached to a hose. Canister vacuums are often lighter than uprights, with attachments that can venture under furniture or between couch cushions. However, these days it’s easy to find an upright vacuum — even a cheap vacuum — that comes with a hose for tackling window treatments or tight corners. Uprights also tend to have more cleaning power than canister vacuums, making them better suited to carpet.

Upright Vacuum Features That Matter

There are two primary features of upright vacuums that will affect your experience.

Bagged vs. Bagless

Both upright and canister vacuums offer bagged and bagless vacuums. Vacuum bags keep dust contained but need to be replaced, which adds to a vacuum’s cost. There’s also the matter of finding the right bags. The bagless design is simpler and no longer limited to high-end models. The downside is that emptying the cup can send dust billowing up to settle back on your clean floor — and in your nose.

Width of Cleaning Path

A wide cleaning path allows you to cover a whole floor in fewer passes but makes it more difficult to get into tight spaces and maneuver around furniture. Our favorite upright vacuums have 15-inch cleaning paths. They also have long hoses and cords — upward of 25 feet, so you don’t have to keep plugging into different outlets to complete a job. A lightweight vacuum is ideal, but watch out: Sometimes manufacturers sacrifice cleaning power to shed pounds.

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Upright Vacuum Features That Are Just Hype

Attachments such as an upholstery brush, a crevice tool, and a dusting brush can help make an upright vacuum more versatile. At the same time, there’s no need to pay a premium for a whole arsenal of accessories or fancy features.

Dirt Sensor

Some expensive vacuum cleaners feature dirt sensors to let you know when a surface is clean. But testing by Consumer Reports reveals that a sensor doesn’t necessarily indicate “no dirt,” only that the vacuum isn’t picking it up. You may as well stick with your own standard of cleanliness.

Self-Propelled Motor

This is another unnecessary frill, which can make a bulky upright vacuum easier to maneuver but also heavier. You’re better off just choosing a lightweight model if weight matters to you.

Upright Vacuum Special Features

For some, these two features are important enough to spring for.

HEPA Filter

This high-efficiency particulate air filter may be valuable for those with allergies or asthma. A HEPA filter catches almost all the dust and other particles your vacuum would otherwise expel.

Noise Features

Vacuum cleaners are also notoriously loud, which makes it tempting to spring for one marketed as “ultra-quiet” or even “silent.” Of course, you could always just put in some earplugs.

Best Time to Buy

You'll find the best price for vacuum cleaners in April and May, as retailers try to make room for the latest models rolling out in June.

See our shopping calendar for more tips on the best time to buy anything and our other buying guides.

Recommended Upright Vacuums

Based on features and value, these are our two recommended vacuums.

Best Value Upright Vacuum

Eureka 4879 Boss Smartvac: This bagged model starts at $120 and has a 30-foot power cord, a 15-inch cleaning path, and a HEPA filter. It tips the scale at 21 pounds, but the extra bulk is worth the added cleaning power. One user says this is the quietest vacuum she’s ever had.

Best Special Features Upright Vacuum

Bissell 3950 Velocity Bagless: This bagless upright vacuum starts at $130 and features a HEPA filter, which keeps dust, dander, and microscopic creatures from being released into the air. It also boasts a 15-inch cleaning path and a super-long 35-foot cord, plus a 14-foot hose. It comes with all the standard attachments, as well as a TurboBrush for deep cleaning.

This buying guide comes courtesy of the team at Cheapism, which researches the best available products in the budget price range. For more information, check out Cheapism’s in-depth guide to cheap vacuum cleaners.

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Mary H.

I have serious allergies so in 2003 purchased a Sears bagless vacuum ($350) with a hepa filter. Unfortunately, Sears stopped carrying the hepa filter 4 years after I bought the vacuum, making the vacuum useless since it wouldn't run without the filter. My 2007 replacement was one that takes a hepa bag--and I made sure it was a commonly found bag. Keep this in mind when you're shopping--it's usually easier to find a replacement bag than filter.

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Julia

For those interested in an even more inexpensive option, I'd highly, highly recommend the $40 Dirt Devil "Dynamite" http://www.dirtdevil.com/products/details.aspx?id=M084610RED#parts

I'm not getting paid to say this in the least, but I just had to share since I like it so much! I bought one about a year ago for around $30 because it had great reviews on walmart.com (doesn't look like they carry this model anymore) and it's worked better for me than a lot of the $100-range models I've tried. Some caveats to be aware of: it doesn't have any attachments, no adjustable floor height, and the cord's not very long. BUT for those who are trying to save $$$, it's well-made and does the job great!