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Vacuum cleaners: green buying guide 11/11
(This article is adapted from Vacuum Cleaners Guide at

A rough-and-tumble market is driving new designs and features as the once humble vacuum cleaner goes high-tech. Some brands now claim to kill germs and clean their own filters. In Consumer Reports latest tests, several models did well removing pet hair, as well as deep cleaning carpets. High-priced, feature-laden machines didn't necessarily clean better. Watch the video buying guide.

You may see some brands with energy-saving claims. But with typical use, vacuum cleaners don’t have significant energy-saving potential.

Do you need a HEPA filter?

A growing number of vacuum-cleaner makers claim their machines do a better-than-standard job of filtering out fine particles that may pass through the machine and escape into the air through the exhaust, either through the bag or a separate filter.

Micron filters can provide a higher level of filtration than standard models, but possibly not as high as high-efficiency, particulate-air (HEPA) filtration. HEPA filtration might benefit someone with asthma. It provides the highest level of vacuum-cleaner filtration.

In the tests on emissions, models with a HEPA filter have been very effective at reducing emissions. However, some models that don't have HEPA filters have performed just as well in the tests, and they can cost less than HEPA models. (Emission scores and other ratings factors for models tested are available to Consumer Reports subscribers.)

Bags vs. bagless

Bag-type vacuums tend to hold more dirt, and emptying them releases less dust into the air. An indicator that tells you when the bag or bin is full reminds you to empty the dirt before it impairs cleaning.

With bagless vacuums you can save money by not having to buy bags, but they still use filters that need to be periodically cleaned and replaced. And to capture the fine-dirt particles, these models must use a filter (such as a HEPA filter), which can need regular cleaning or replacement.

Replacement filters tend to be significantly more expensive than bags. Another caveat: Emptying the dustbin and cleaning a filter can be messy, and handling it can expose you to dust and other allergens.

Protect your ears

The noisiest vacuums we tested produced 85 decibels or more, the level at which we recommend hearing protection. Canister vacuums as a group tend to be quieter.

Green recommendations

For light cleaning chores at low cost, avoid robotic vacuums and cordless stick vacuums, which didn’t do well in tests. Cordless sweepers are the best choice for light surface cleaning. Recommended models include: Dirt Devil Broom Vac MBV2030 ($55) and Swivel Sweeper ($35).

For thorough cleaning, you need a canister or an upright model. The best canister-type vacuums nowadays can clean carpets just about as well as uprights.

To find the best model, you really need to consider your own individual needs and preferences, and be sure to try out different products before you buy. If you have pets, you need to consider models that do well picking up pet hair.

Pet owners note: The uprights and canisters that did best at regular cleaning also tended to excel at picking up pet hair. Watch video of pet-hair removal tests.

In general, uprights provide a wider cleaning swath than canisters, and they tend to be better at deep-cleaning carpets where mold and mildew might grow. But uprights can be heavy and hard to maneuver when cleaning stairs.

High-scoring uprights with bags and HEPA filtration include the Hoover WindTunnel Anniversary Edition ($230), and the Miele S7210 Twist ($475).

Two lower-priced uprights with bags, but without HEPA filtration, also did well in the tests. They are: Hoover Tempo Widepath U514-900 ($100) and Hoover Wind Tunnel UH 3600 Max ($180).

Among canisters with bags, the Kenmore Intuition 28014 ($500) with HEPA filtration was top-rated in the tests. It had impressive carpet cleaning and superb pet-hair pick-up, plus it was quieter than many other models. But a Hoover Wind Tunnel S3670, without HEPA filtration, did almost as well overall, and at $250 cost much less.

Among bagless canisters, the Hoover Platinum Bagless Canister S3865 ($300) with HEPA filtration was recommended in the tests. It had capable cleaning and superb pet hair pick-up.

Related links

Vacuum cleaners: Overview. 11/11

Vacuum cleaner brands and marketing. 11/11

Our pet hair test gets tough. 10/10

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