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

By Jeneva Aaron Updated February 24, 2021

Learn what different types of vacuum cleaners are for.

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

Let’s be honest. Vacuum cleaners, though they make life more relaxed, are confusing. From colors to functions to prices, there are so many out there. How are you to know which one to buy?

Don’t worry. If you don’t know anything about vacuum cleaners, you’re not alone.

First things first, though. You need to figure out what your priorities are.

Think about it. Do you want a vacuum cleaner for cleaning large areas? Or would you prefer something light and easy to maneuver?

Different types of vacuums bring a different set of pros and cons. That’s why it’s essential to know your priorities.

To help you better understand how vacuum cleaners work, I’ll go over the following:

Through this guide, you can identify your priorities and learn what kind of vacuum matches them best.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Table of Contents

Canister Vacuums

If you’re looking for something with powerful suction, canister vacuums won’t let you down. Canister vacuum cleaners are highly versatile, ideal for multi-surface use.

What Is It?

As the name implies, canister vacuums come with a separate canister. The cleaning nozzle is at the end of the wand, which, in turn, connects to the canister.

The canister contains the motor, engine, filters, and dust bag/bin. Also, this type of vacuum is usually corded, so there’s also a long retractable wire.

What Is It Best For?

Again, if you want something with deep cleaning capabilities, this is the vacuum type for you. Since the canister is separate from the wand, the engine is much bigger. Therefore, you get more suction strength.

Canister vacuums are also pretty versatile. Many canister vacuums come with interchangeable parts, so you can easily clean stairs, ceilings, and upholstery.


But—all vacuums have limitations. Canister vacuums are very bulky. They’re not suitable for people with chronic back pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Also, you have to drag the canister back-and-forth while you’re cleaning, which is highly impractical and frustrating.

Upright Vacuums

These are significantly less bulky than canister vacuums. Instead, upright vacuums are some of the best vacuums in the market, in terms of maneuverability and user-friendliness.

What Is It?

An upright vacuum cleaner has a tilt-and-push design. These vacuums are similar to stick vacuum in looks, but the motor is much bigger.

Upright vacuums have a wide cleaning path, which consists of a sturdy hose and beater brush—the suction motor powers both.

If you want to clean furniture or upholstery, some come with different height adjustments and attachments. These features make lift-away more convenient.

What Is It Best For?

With the beater brush, it’s easier to loosen and extract dirt and debris from carpets and area rugs. Carpets require this feature because carpet fibers trap dirt and other debris.

If you have pets and children, you’ll especially like it because it helps remove stains and odors.

Moreover, since upright vacuums have wide cleaning paths, they’re excellent choices for those with wall-to-wall carpets and large rooms.

The wide cleaning path allows you to complete each room with less effort and time.

However, upright vacuums are generally multi-surface cleaners. The hose and wand designs allow for a seamless transition between different surfaces.


There are two main problems with upright vacuums. Firstly, they’re too loud. The motor, while ultra-powerful, is very bulky. The upright design makes masking the noise a bit difficult.

Secondly, these vacuums are too bulky to clean stairs and ceilings. With some models, it’s challenging to clean between narrow crevices and around obstacles.

Stick Vacuums

If you have back pain or shoulder problems, you should get a stick vacuum. While stick vacuums don’t do heavy-duty cleaning jobs, they’re perfect for surface pick-ups and gentle cleaning.

What Is It?

As the name suggests, stick vacuums look like sticks. Similar to upright vacuums, they have tall, vertical designs.

You operate the vacuum by pressing the buttons on the handle and pushing back and forth.

You can find both cord and cordless models. If it’s a cordless model, the vacuum will have a battery and charging port.

However, the motor isn’t very big, which compromises the suction quality.

What Is It Best For?

You don’t want to put in too much effort for a simple cleanup. Stick vacuums help with this problem.

In this way, stick vacuums are best for everyday cleaning. (For deep cleaning jobs, you may want to use another vacuum.)

Moreover, stick vacuums are perfect for those with back pain. Why?

Well, stick vacs are incredibly lightweight. They’re sturdy yet flexible enough that you don’t need to bend down to clean a surface.


Again, the suction quality is the weakest of all types of vacuums. This doesn’t mean stick vacuums aren’t effective in cleaning. On the contrary, you can find efficient models in the market.

But—if you compare stick vacuums to other types of vacuums, the suction strength is undoubtedly the least.

Robotic Vacuums

If you’re too busy with everyday cleaning, investing in robot vacuum cleaners is a smart choice. Robot vacuums are perhaps the most convenient out of all types of vacuums.

What Is It?

Robotic vacuums, also known as Roombas (like the brand), are vacuums with artificial intelligence. Most robot vacuums are controlled by Alexa, Google Assistant, or mobile apps. You can schedule cleaning sessions and map sensor boundaries.

However, some models have self-navigation, which allows the vacuum to navigate and memorize the layout of your home. Robot vacuums even have sensors to avoid obstacles and furniture.

In terms of shape, most robot vacuums are round and low-profile. Inside the vacuum, there are usually rotating brushes (to extract dirt), small suction paths, and a battery port.

What Is It Best For?

Robot vacuums are perfect for cleaning large rooms with lots of furniture. As they’re low-profile, they can readily clean under sofas and tables as long as they’re not too low.

However, the best part about robot vacuums is undoubtedly the convenience. As I said, robot vacuums have self-navigation. Therefore, once you’ve set it up, you don’t have to bother with it.

Also, robot vacuums have an ultra-quiet operation, which is excellent if you’re prone to headaches.


There are only a couple of downsides to having a robot vacuum. Firstly, because they’re small, they’re only useful for small messes. For large messes, you’ll either have to clean manually or have the robot vacuum go over it multiple times.

Secondly, robot vacuums get stuck on high-pile carpets such as shag carpets. If you have lots of shag carpets, you may prefer another type of vacuum.

Handheld Vacuums

Are you looking for something to clean hard-to-reach places? If yes, handheld vacuums may prove very useful.

What Is It?

Unlike other types of vacuums, handheld vacuums aren’t full-size. Instead, they’re small enough to hold in your hand. They come with a sturdy handle, so you get a firm grip.

Handheld vacuums are usually compact and battery-powered. Therefore, they’re both portable and easy-to-store.

Also, most models have a simple operation. You just have to press the trigger, and it’ll start working.

What Is It Best For?

As mentioned, handheld vacuums, thanks to their size, are best for cleaning hard-to-reach places.

With a handheld vac, you can clean under furniture, couch cushions, mattresses, narrow corners, and crevices. You can even use it to clean your car.

Also, handheld vacs are excellent for cleaning pet messes. You can find models that specifically cater to pet owners.


While a handheld vacuum is highly convenient, it’s not practical for everyday cleaning. It’s far too taxing to do floor cleaning with handheld vacuums.

Therefore, handheld vacuums aren’t as versatile as full-sized vacuums.

Deep Cleaner Or Carpet Cleaner

Those with wall-to-wall carpeting know how challenging it is to deep clean carpets. However, with deep cleaners, the task becomes much more straightforward.

What Is It?

Deep cleaners or carpet cleaners are wet and dry vacuums. Carpet cleaners look like standard vacuums. However, they usually come with a dual water tank. You have to fill one side of the tank with warm water.

Carpet cleaners also come with carpet shampoo or cleaning solutions. You have to pour the solution (the amount is usually specified in the user manual) into the shampoo nozzle, which is typically near the top.

Apart from these two steps, you just use carpet cleaners like regular vacuums, operating them with the handle’s trigger.

What Is It Best For?

Of course, carpet cleaners are best for cleaning carpets. You can use carpet cleaners for demanding tasks such as spot treatment and removal.

Carpet cleaners also fix discoloration and odor problems from carpets. It doesn’t matter what type of carpet you have. Carpet cleaners are compatible with all types, no matter the amount of carpet pile.

If you have expensive carpets, you can use carpet cleaners for maintenance and deep cleaning.


What’s the downside? Well, carpet cleaners are expensive and not ideal for everyday use. Since they’re very powerful, using them every day could cause damage to your carpets.

Unless you have wall-to-wall carpets, it’s better to rent carpet cleaners than buy them.

Bag Vs. Bagless Vacuums

Now, I’ve gone through all the main types of vacuums. However, there are still some things you should know. For one, all vacuums, no matter the type, can come with or without bags.

What are the pros and cons of both?

Firstly, let’s talk about bagless vacuums. If you’ve got allergies or inflammatory conditions such as asthma, you should stay away from bagless vacuums. When you open a bagless vacuum, some of the allergens are released into the air, which can trigger a reaction.

But—it’s easier to tell when the canister needs emptying in bagless vacuums. Unless you get a model with an indicator light, you can’t tell when a bagged vacuum is full.

Moreover, bagless vacuums are more economical and environmentally-friendly than bagged vacuums. With bagged vacuums, you have to spend more money in the long run as the vacuum bags are single-use.

However, bagged vacuums are more hygienic than bagless vacuums. You don’t have to touch anything inside the bag when you’re disposing of it.

Also, some bagged vacuums come with HEPA seals, which ensure all allergens stay trapped. In this way, bagged vacuums are better for allergy and asthma sufferers.

As you can see, both types have upsides and downsides. Therefore, it’s entirely up to your preference and needs.

Vacuum Brands + Popular Vacuum Cleaners

If you’re on the lookout for the right vacuum cleaner, you should know the most popular brands and their most popular vacuum cleaners.


Currently, Shark is perhaps the most popular brand in the market. Founded in 1998, Shark is a relatively new brand. It started in Montreal, Canada, but the headquarters have shifted to Needham, Massachusetts.

The company is a home care brand, prioritizing user-friendliness and efficiency in its products. The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV356E is a highly sought-after upright vacuum.


Unlike Shark, Bissell has been around for more than a century. Established in 1876, the brand is famous for its budget-friendly yet highly efficient models. The Bissell PowerForce Helix Bagless Upright Vacuum is a good example.

While it’s based in the US, the company caters to customers worldwide.


Founded in 1907, Hoover created one of the first models of the canister vacuum. Today, it’s a well-established company, producing some of the best vacuums, carpet cleaners, and hard floor cleaners in the market.

The Hoover Linx Stick Vacuum Cleaner is excellent for lightweight, multi-floor cleaning.


Also founded in the late nineteenth century, Miele is a German home appliance brand. Apart from vacuums, the company also produces high-end dishwashers and washing machines.

The brand is primarily famous for its canister and robot vacs. The Miele Electro+ Compact C2 is an ultra-powerful canister vacuum.


Like Shark, iRobot is a relatively new brand. Established in 1990, the brand has emphasized the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in home appliances.

With AI, the company creates innovative and convenient autonomous vacuums. The iRobot Roomba 630 is their most popular product.

Vacuum Parts

It’s not enough to know the different types of vacuums. To understand how vacuums work, it’s essential to know the different parts.

Intake Port & Exhaust Port

Firstly, there are the intake and exhaust ports, both of which are highly essential components. Located at the front-end, the intake port provides smooth and unbreaking airflow to the vacuum. This ensures there’s continuous suction.

The exhaust port releases air from the vacuum so that it doesn’t overheat.

Motor & Internal Fan

Along with the ports, these two make the basic skeleton of the vacuum. The motor uses electrical power (either through the battery or the extension cord) to produce suction.

The motor also operates the fan, which creates air pressure. This pressure builds airflow, ensuring smooth and powerful suction.

Geared Belt

The geared belt connects the motor with the brush rolls. In most cases, the belt is rubber, which is highly durable. However, the belt requires changing every few years or so.

HEPA Filters

With the airflow and suction, there’s a lot of gunk that’s sucked inside the vacuum. Through the hose, the gunk is led to the HEPA filters.

These filters prevent the gunk (mix of dirt, debris, and dust) from leaving the vacuum through the exhaust port.

Brush Roll

These are located in the front-end. The brush rolls rotate to loosen dirt on the surface of the floor. When the dirt is loose, it’s sucked inside the vac through the suction hose.

Vacuum Term Glossary

Here are standard vacuum cleaner terms. By looking at their meanings, you can better understand vacuum cleaner reviews.


Airflow indicates air movement from one place to another. It’s measured in Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM). Also, it’s different from suction strength. With smooth airflow, HEPA filters better absorb dirt and allergens.

Breaks in the hose and internal resistance such as clogging diminish airflow quality, so always make sure the hose is clean and fully sealed.

Air Watts

This measurement refers to how much suction and airflow a vacuum produces. However, it’s mostly used for commercial vacuums.

S-Class Filter

This is another name for HEPA filters.

Pet Hair Vacuums

These vacuums have features that cater to pet owners. For example, these vacuums may have advanced HEPA filtration systems to trap pet hair and dander.

They may also have rotating brush rolls to extract urine or feces stains.

Vacuums Comparison Chart

Type of Vacuum Best Surface Advantages Disadvantages
Canister Vacuums Multi-surface floors and stairs – Strong suction

– Can tackle stairs, ceilings, and upholstery

– Difficult to maneuver
Upright Vacuums Large carpet areas, rugs, and hardwood floors – Wide cleaning path reduces effort and clean time

– Powerful cleaning capabilities

– Difficult to maneuver under small surfaces
Stick Vacuums Multi-surface but only for medium to small floor areas – Flexible and easy to maneuver

– Most are cordless

– Not suitable for deep cleaning
Robotic Vacuums Medium-sized hard floors and carpets – Automatic cleaning

– Handless functioning

– Self-navigation

– Isn’t as effective on shag carpets
Handheld Vacuums Small-sized floors – Lightweight

– Perfect for cleaning car interiors

– The suction isn’t as strong as other types of vacuums
Carpet Cleaners Carpets and upholstery – Effective in deep cleans

– Removes odors and mold

– Very bulky

Now It’s Your Turn

To sum it up, vacuum cleaners, no matter the type, have both pros and cons.

Again, I emphasize how important it is to know your priorities. If you know what you want, the search becomes far more straightforward.

Through this guide, I hope to have answered all your questions.

Now, I’d like to hear from you:

Either way, let me know in the comments below.

About the Author

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.

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