Shopping for vacuum cleaners.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Aug. 8 2003 12:58 PM

Suck It! Suck It Good! Suck It All, Baby!

Which vacuum cleaner is best?

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

You knew the unavoidable "suck" joke was coming. I'd hoped to hold off until the second paragraph, but, as you see, I couldn't make it past the headline. It sang to me—so base, so facile—and I was weak. Let's just move on.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

To find out which vacuum cleaner is best, I tested eight different models that varied widely in cost and design. Which should you buy? First off, any vacuum purchase requires a few big decisions, which include:

Upright or Canister?


Uprights are the tall, vertical, one-piece vacuums you push with a handle. Canisters consist of a little module you pull around on wheels behind you. Uprights excel on wide tundras of open carpet. Canisters, with their myriad nozzle attachments, do their best work high up in a jungle of bookshelves and drapes. ("Above-floor cleaning," they call this in the biz.)

Both types will do a fine all-around job. But personally, I'm an upright fan. Dragging around a canister makes me feel like I've been harnessed—like I'm a husky hauling a teeny little sled across my carpet.

Bagged or Bagless?

The current industry schism. Both systems suck air the same way—the difference is just a matter of whether the dirt inside that air gets trapped in a disposable bag or (with bagless) in a reusable container.

Bags have ruled the market for decades, but their days may be numbered; bagless seems to be rapidly gaining ground. Even Hoover, for years an old-guard bagged stalwart, has recently rushed to meet rising demand with a new line of bagless models. Ultimately, bagged-to-bagless may be among the great consumer paradigm shifts of our age—up there with wired-to-wireless and granny-panties-to-thongs.

So, how to choose? Well, a thong leaves no visible lines under your dress. As for bagless vacuums, the advantages are:

1) The containers are see-through, which means you can easily see when a bagless vacuum has had its fill of dirt and needs to be dumped. With a bag you have to check all the time, opening up the vacuum and kneading the bag with your hands, and you often feel like you're guessing.