What’s the Difference Between All the Types of Vacuums?

By
Jeneva Aaron
Jeneva has over years of passion for home decorating and cleaning. She is the founder and CEO of thehousewire.com where she provides honest and objective reviews on home and cleaning products.
Learn more about The Housewire’s Editorial Process
Updated November 22, 2021

Say goodbye to dust with the right vacuum for your floors.

What’s the Difference Between All the Types of Vacuums?

Shopping for a new vacuum cleaner can feel overwhelming, especially if you have different floor surfaces to clean. With so many models on the market, how do you know which vacuum cleaner to choose?

We can help! We know there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right type of vacuum for your floors. From shape and size to extra features, it’s important to know what to look for before you invest in a vacuum.

We’ll explore the different types of vacuum cleaners and their features. Plus, we’ll also look at their pros and cons so you can find the right choice for your home.

Types of Vacuum Cleaners Comparison Chart

TypeSurfacesSpecial FeaturesFlawsAverage Price
Canister
Hard floors, Stairs, Low pile & small carpeted areas
Flexible hose to clean hard to reach areas (stairs, upholstery, under furniture)
Available bagged and bagless
Two pieces to worry about
Check Price
Upright
Hard floors, Rugs, Low, medium, high pile carpets, Medium to large carpeted areas
Beater brush bar designed to agitate the carpet fibers
Available bagged and bagless
Available corded and cordless
Can't reach under furnitures
Check Price

Stick
Hard floors, Small surfaces
Long handles
Available corded and cordless
Small dust bin
Check Price
Robot
Hard floors, Low pile carpeted areas, Small and medium surfaces
Compatible with smartphones & applications
Sensors able to detect dust and dirt
Unsuitable for medium & high pile carpets
Check Price
Handheld
Small surfaces
Ideal for car cleaning
Less powerful motor
Check Price
Backpack
Hard floors, Carpeted areas
Ergonomic thanks to its lightweight frame
Commercial use
Needs special adjustments to be comfortable
Check Price
Central
Hard floors, Carpeted areas
Installation outside of the house
Big powerful motors
Installation and related costs
Check Price
Wet & Dry
Hard floors, Carpeted areas
Clean liquids
2 different filters: cartridge and foam
Constant filters replacement
Check Price

Types of Vacuum: In-Depth Review

There are a lot of different types of vacuum cleaners to choose from. And each one comes with unique benefits.

1. Canister

canister vacuum

Canister vacuums have a suction head attached to a wheeled body through a flexible plastic hose. This type of vacuum cleaner is pulled behind you as you clean.

A canister vacuum is lighter to maneuver as you move only the hose and powerhead when you’re vacuuming. And the wheels provide easy gliding across different surfaces and floors.

Dust and dirt are suctioned into the powerhead and through the long hose. This makes a canister vacuum a good choice for above-floor cleaning. For example, you can use the hose for cleaning upholstery, stairs, and tall objects. But, their easy maneuverability also makes canister vacuums great for general carpet cleaning as well as hardwood floors.

Canister vacuums can be either bagged or bagless vacuum. Plus, canister models are versatile to use for both household and commercial cleaning. And also across different surfaces.

For an example of a canister vacuum, see this Miele Classic C1.

PROS:
  • Powerful
  • Wide cleaning applications
  • Easy to maneuver
CONS:
  • Bulky
  • Difficult to store
 

2. Upright

upright vacuum

Upright vacuum cleaners are an all-in-one standing unit with a handle attached to a cleaning head. The vacuum cleaner’s motor, filter, dust bags, and powerhead are all part of one body with a cleaning head fixed to the housing.

With an upright vacuum cleaner, you push the whole unit in front of you during cleaning using the upright handle. This can often make an upright vacuum feel heavier than other types of vacuum cleaners. But, the extra weight often carries more suction power.

Upright vacuums also provide a wide cleaning path so you can clean large areas of your floor in less time. But, they aren’t suitable for cleaning upholstery or stairs.

Most upright vacuums come with an agitation device attached to the cleaning head. For example, they often have a rotating bristle power brush that lifts dirt as you vacuum. So they tend to provide powerful suction control for deep cleaning carpets and large areas.

Upright vacuums can also be a bagged or bagless vacuum cleaner. Plus, you can use them for commercial as well as household cleaning.

Lastly, they are often used only for carpet floors because of their powerful suction. However, some models are suitable for hardwood floors too. So an upright vacuum cleaner can be a good compromise if you have different floor surfaces to deep clean.

For example, see this Shark Navigator Lift-Away NNV352.

PROS:
  • Clean large areas
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Versatile
CONS:
  • Heavy
  • Not suitable to clean stairs
 

3. Stick

stick vacuum

A stick vacuum cleaner is a lightweight single unit with a tall body, handle, and powerhead. Stick vacuums feature a small dust canister and vacuum fan that is mounted onto the handle. This makes them a midway option between handheld vacuums and a traditional vacuum.

Although similar to upright vacuums, stick vacuums are often lighter and smaller in design. They also have a smaller dirt cup storage capacity. And unlike uprights, a stick vacuum has a detachable floor-nozzle. But they often don’t have an agitation device or movable brush. So they remove dust through suction power only.

However, according to a 2009 preparatory study for vacuum cleaners from the European Commission, some of the more powerful models on the market today do have rotating brushes.

Stick vacuums have a small vacuum motor that makes the body easy to hold and carry. So they’re convenient for quick clean-ups, and you don’t have to bend over while you’re cleaning. Plus, they are available as corded or cordless stick vacuums.

For example, see this Dyson V11 Outsize.

PROS:
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to store
  • Perfect for quick cleaning sessions
CONS:
  • Less powerful
  • Small dust bin
 

4. Robot

robot vacuum

A robot vacuum is a high-tech battery-operated vacuum that does the work for you. It has a self-driving system that uses sensory feedback to automatically vacuum floor surfaces. The sensors stop them from bumping into obstacles or falling over stair edges.

A robotic vacuum can be set on automatic cleaning schedules so you can enjoy cleaned floors every time you come home. However, they aren’t as powerful as traditional vacuums. They are more suitable for everyday tidying or light cleaning.

Plus, most robotic vacuum cleaners are made only for cleaning bare floors. But, some models come with attachments to make them suitable for carpeted surfaces as well as bare floors.

Some robot vacuums are equipped with cameras and smart features to provide convenient control. For example, models with WIFI connectivity allow you to control robotic vacuums remotely. You can schedule a clean when you’re on the go, so your floors are already clean when you come home.

Robotic vacuums often also have a docking station. This allows the robotic vacuum to return to the dock to automatically recharge as it needs. So you don’t have to worry about a robot vac running out of power in the middle of a clean.

Lastly, depending on the model, robot vacuums can come with dusting or mopping capabilities as well.

PROS:
  • They offer automatic and autonomous cleaning
  • Remote control
CONS:
  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for shag or thick carpets
 

5. Handheld

handheld vacuum

Handheld vacuum cleaners are small cleaning units that can be easily held while cleaning. They feature a cleaning head, dirt container, and fan built into a compact and lightweight body.

This type of vacuum cleaner is gaining popularity in the cleaning industry. This is because handheld vacuums are convenient and easy to use, especially for cleaning pet hair. And they provide practical portability for quick clean-ups and spills.

Some handheld models also have agitation devices built into the cleaning heads to efficiently lift dirt and pet hair as you clean. So they’re great for spot-cleaning small areas. They can also be corded or cordless vacuums, depending on your cleaning needs.

For example, this Black&Decker handheld vacuum is a sleek, cordless handheld vacuum.

PROS:
  • Perfect for small messes
  • Efficient for pet hair cleaning
CONS:
  • Don’t come in replacement of a regular vacuum
 

6. Backpack

backpack vacuum

Backpack vacuums are a tank-style cleaner that you wear on your back as you clean. This can take a lot of strain off your back, especially if you’re vacuuming large areas.

Backpack vacuum cleaners also require low maintenance. This is because they don’t have belts or beater bars to clean.

They often include added wand tools to clean different areas. For example, above-floor, upholstery, and window treatments. So they offer a lot of versatility.

However, because they don’t have a beater bar, backpack vacuums don’t tend to provide an efficient deep clean. This makes them more suitable for light, everyday cleaning tasks.

For example, see this Hoover Commercial backpack cleaner.

PROS:
  • Perfect if you have back pains
  • Easy to maneuver
CONS:
  • Small storage bags
 

7. Central

central vacuum

Central vacuum cleaners are units that are installed as semi-permanent fixtures. For example, they are usually installed in basements, sheds, or storage rooms.

A central vacuum cleaner has 3-parts. These include a filter system, power unit, and dust collection container. They work by suctioning dirt into tubes that are installed inside of your walls.

Central vacuum systems use multiple inlets that attach to hoses throughout the walls of your home. When a vacuum hose is secured into an inlet, the central vacuum cleaner is powered on. It suctions the dust and dirt from your rooms and sends them straight to the collection container through the installed tubes.

One of the main benefits of central vacuums is that there’s no recirculation of dust particles in the air. This is because the dust and dirt are extracted out of the house into the main unit. Then, the particles are expelled outside through the exhaust.

For an example of a central vacuum system, see this Electrolux QC600.

PROS:
  • Powerful vacuum system
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Quiet
CONS:
  • Expensive
 

8. Wet & Dry

shop vacuum

A wet and dry vacuum is a cleaner that can clean both wet spills and dry dirt. They can remove more than 2 liters of liquids from wet spills.

They don’t have a vacuum bag. Instead, wet and dry vacuums use a two-bucket system to separate solid debris from liquids. This also ensures there’s no safety risk. With a separate canister for liquids and dry dirt, there’s no risk of internal damage or electric shock when you’re vacuuming.

To clean liquid spills, it uses a foam filter. And for dry vacuuming, it has a paper cartridge. This makes wet and dry vacuums perfect for use in workshops or to clean outdoor spaces.

Some models also have a blowing function to clean hard-to-reach areas and corners. So no matter where the spill is or what it is, this type of vacuum can handle most cleaning jobs.

For example, this DeWALT Poly Wet/Dry Vacuum is a wet & dry cleaner.

PROS:
  • 2 in 1 tool for dry and wet messes
  • Remove large debris
CONS:
  • Need to change dry/wet filters depending on the usage
 

Additional Vacuum Cleaners Important Features

There are some additional features to consider to find the best vacuum for your cleaning needs.

Corded or Cordless

Both corded vacuums and cordless models have advantages and disadvantages.

For example, with a corded vacuum cleaner, you don’t have to worry about running out of power. This is perfect if you have large areas to clean. However, it does come with limitations such as needing a power outlet close to the vacuum.

However, a cordless vacuum cleaner offers a lot of freedom when vacuuming. You’re not limited by the length of a cord. So you can carry it anywhere around the house to clean. But, they do come with limited battery life. Therefore they can be a hassle to use for large areas.

Bagged or Bagless

Both bagged or bagless vacuums will result in clean floors. However, there are some differences.

For example, a bagged vacuum is the best vacuum cleaner if you have someone in your household with asthma or allergies. There’s less dust exposure when disposing of a sealed vacuum bag. Plus, they provide a guarantee of trapping 99.97% of the dust and allergens in your floors.

However, if you want an eco-friendly option and would prefer not to have the hassle of replacing bags, a bagless model is best. They are also easy to use and empty. Plus, the transparent dirt cup allows you to easily see when the vacuum is full!

HEPA Filters

The best vacuums will have HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. They trap more dirt, dust mites, pollen, bacteria, and allergens from your floor than many others.

These filters remove up to 99.97% of all airborne dirt and dust particles larger than 0.3 microns (1).

However, it’s important to note that not all HEPA filters offer true HEPA filtration.

True HEPA filters have been tested to meet the above filtration standards. A true HEPA filter will have serial numbers printed on them, so you can tell they are certified. Whereas HEPA-type filters or HEPA media filters don’t have serial numbers. And they may trap only 85%to 90% of all dust particles — knowing that this percent can even be reduced for tiny particles of one micron or below.

Attachments

It’s also important to consider the different attachments available for different types of vacuum cleaners. These cleaning tools can provide additional benefits that make vacuuming faster and more efficient for your floor type.

For example, some vacuum cleaners include hose extensions, pet brushes, dusting brushes, or upholstery cleaners. A pet vacuum also has attachments to collect pet hair and minimize pet odors.

Other tools can include edge cleaners for wall to wall carpeting. With an edge cleaner, the vacuum cleans wall to wall carpet without missing any edges.

If you have bare floors, you should consider a vacuum with a bare floor brush. Hard floors need a soft-brush attachment that won’t scratch the hardwood floors. Beater bars can damage hardwood floors. So you should also make sure your vacuum has a feature that can turn the rotating brush off.

If you have carpets, a motorized carpet power brush can help to deep clean and reach into the fibers. Plus, height adjustment can also be helpful if you’re vacuuming across different surfaces.

Time To Vacuum!

Investing in a new vacuum cleaner can be a big decision. With so many different shapes, prices, colors, and sizes to choose from, it’s hard to know which models are right! Especially if you have different surfaces to clean.

But, now you know what each type of vacuum can offer. Consider the different features, benefits, and drawbacks of each model to find the best vacuums for your floors. Think about your floor type, the attachments you need, and the portability options of each type.

Finding the right vacuum cleaner for your floors can keep your home habitat clean and free from dust. An efficient vacuum can also save you time and effort. So you can spend more time enjoying your space instead of cleaning it!

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