The Best Upright and Canister Vacuums. Costco electric dirt bike

The Best Upright and Canister Vacuums

We’ve updated this guide with several new upright and canister vacuums we plan to test in the coming months.

Buying a plug-in vacuum is like saving for retirement or sorting your laundry—a boring but sensible endeavor that should pay off in the long run. Cordless sticks and robot vacuums are convenient, but the best plug-in uprights and canisters clean better and last longer. We’ve tested dozens of plug-in vacuums over the years, and the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 has been our favorite since 2014.

How we tested

We vacuumed a mix of sand and baking powder from medium and high pile rugs and used a scale to measure how much we picked up.

We created a slalom course mimicking the tight layout of a small apartment, then had 22 people run each vacuum through it.

To see how prone each vacuum was to clogs, we tried stopping it up with shredded paper, Cheerios, Lego pieces, and toy dinosaurs.

We used the SPLnFFT app to measure both the volume and frequency of noise from each vacuum when used on different surfaces.

Well-rounded upright vacuum, great value

This reliable, effective, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced bagless upright vacuum cleaner will work well in most homes, and it’s been our pick since 2014.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is a capable, well-rounded cleaner that can pick up all the typical types of debris (dust, crumbs, pet hair, and more) from almost any kind of flooring (including bare floors, and short and long carpets). Handling is smooth and light, the extra tools are useful and conveniently store onboard the vacuum, and it’s easy to empty.

It also needs very little maintenance and has essentially no recurring costs. That’s because its parts are made to last the lifetime of the machine, whereas most affordable vacuums need fresh filters and belts to keep running well.

If something does break, Shark’s customer service is generally good about honoring the five-year warranty. It’s rare to see such an affordable vacuum backed by a policy that basically guarantees this kind of longevity.

Almost identical to our pick for best upright vacuum

If the NV352 is sold out, any model from the NV350, NV360, and NV370 series is essentially the same thing, with very minor differences.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 170.

Any other models in the Shark NV350, NV360, or NV370 series are essentially the same vacuums as the NV352. Performance is nearly identical, and the only differences are minor—their tool sets, bin sizes, colors, and button placements. We’ve found that the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Deluxe V360 is currently the easiest to nab for a good deal, so start there.

A top-notch canister vacuum, built to last

Praised by nearly everyone as excellent, this nimble canister vacuum works on any kind of flooring, runs quiet, and should last for decades. This model is great for those with asthma and allergies, but it requires bags.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 799.

If you’re willing to upgrade to an exceptionally durable vacuum that can clean the heck out of your home, buy a Miele C3 canister vacuum cleaner. Every industry expert we’ve spoken with (even one from a competing brand!) has told us that these are excellent vacuum cleaners, and a few technicians have said they’re simply the best you can buy.

We’ve tested many different Miele canister vacuums, and we recommend the Complete C3 Calima in particular because it comes with an air-powered turbo brush head that works better on rugs than the electric head included with some other Miele models.

The cleaning performance is impressive, and the vacuums feel great to use. The filtration is excellent, which is good for everyone, but especially great for people with asthma or allergies. Miele canisters are also among the quietest vacuums anywhere.

This canister vacuum isn’t cheap, and you’ll also pay for new filters and bags pretty regularly. But a Miele canister can last so long that it works out to be an excellent long-term value.

Well-rounded upright vacuum, great value

This reliable, effective, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced bagless upright vacuum cleaner will work well in most homes, and it’s been our pick since 2014.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

Almost identical to our pick for best upright vacuum

If the NV352 is sold out, any model from the NV350, NV360, and NV370 series is essentially the same thing, with very minor differences.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 170.

best, upright, canister, vacuums, electric

A top-notch canister vacuum, built to last

Praised by nearly everyone as excellent, this nimble canister vacuum works on any kind of flooring, runs quiet, and should last for decades. This model is great for those with asthma and allergies, but it requires bags.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 799.

Why you should trust us

Writers Sarah Bogdan and Liam McCabe conducted research and testing for this guide. They’ve collectively looked at over 1,000 different vacuum models; spent hundreds of hours testing more than 80 contenders, in Wirecutter’s Long Island City test facility and in houses and apartments with different floor layouts; interviewed more than a dozen experts, including engineers, repair technicians, and indoor-air-quality specialists; and talked to regular vacuum owners around the country.

  • Interviewed owners and repair technicians at independent vacuum stores, including Denis Spindler, owner of Mr. Sweeper Sew Vac in Waltham and West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
  • Spoke with brand reps, product managers, and engineers of brands we reviewed, including Dirt Devil, Dyson, Miele, Sebo, and Tacony (manufacturer of Simplicity and Riccar vacuums). Some of these chats were during product demonstrations at trade shows; others were more-formal conversations about particular products.
  • Consulted three separate indoor-air-quality experts.
  • Considered owner-satisfaction info published by J.D. Power and the American Customer Satisfaction Index. We spoke to representatives from both groups about their methods and assumptions in evaluating vacuums and appliances in general.
  • Looked at video reviews from other publications, such as Vacuum Wars, which has excellent reviews and head-to-head comparisons of noteworthy models (more on its editorial strategy here; reviewer Chris White has done paid consulting work for SharkNinja).

Who should get an upright or canister vacuum

The FOCUS of this guide is limited to plug-in upright or canister vacuums that can clean rugs and carpets. A cordless vacuum or robot vacuum can be more convenient to use, but we think plug-in vacuums are a safe bet for most people, and they have several key advantages:

  • Plug-in vacuums cost less and last longer than other types of vacuum cleaners with similar cleaning abilities. For example, our Shark pick costs less than half as much as our favorite Dyson cordless and is under warranty for much longer.
  • Plug-in vacuums have an unlimited run time, so they can work in homes of all sizes. If you have a home that’s larger than 2,200 square feet, a plug-in will almost always be the best choice.
  • The best plug-in vacuum cleaners are almost always stronger cleaners than most other vacuum types. And plug-ins’ tighter filtration makes them the best option for people who have allergies or asthma and need the best possible indoor air quality.

We also have another guide to help you figure out which type of vacuum is the best fit for your home.

Bagged or bagless? Canister or upright vacuum?

Our top pick for a plug-in vacuum is an upright, bagless model because it’s the most convenient design with no recurring costs. But bagged canister vacuums have advantages too, depending on your needs and situation. Bags can help a vacuum last longer. When you change the bag, you’re essentially starting with a fresh vacuum, said Denis Spindler, the vac-shop owner from Massachusetts. Bagless vacuum cleaners, on the other hand, can end up slowly clogging over time as debris builds up in hard-to-clean parts of the cyclonic separators. Bags are also better for people who have allergies or asthma because they’re easier to discard without accidentally spilling a pile of dust or debris back into your home. (And for severe allergies, HEPA filters can also help, though they’re not a magic bullet.) Today’s bagged models don’t have the drawbacks that they did back in the day, either—they work at full suction right up until the bag is totally stuffed, just like bagless vacuums. That said, you’ll need to replace the bags a few times per year, and the non-generic ones can cost more than 5 each. In a post-Dyson world, where bags are optional and many filters are reusable, this additional responsibility seems like kind of a bummer. If you have several long-haired pets, the bags fill up faster—that can be a dealbreaker, and in this case you might want to consider a bagless vacuum cleaner like our main pick or a robot vacuum in addition to your canister vac. (You don’t really need a special vacuum for pets, though.)

We started our research by making a list of every plug-in upright or canister vacuum cleaner we could find—seriously, all of them, from every brand. Over the years, we’ve assembled a spreadsheet of 560 different vacuums (though a chunk of them are now discontinued).

Below, we list the factors that we prioritized.

Crucial, bare-minimum features

These are the features that a vacuum cleaner needs in order to clean your entire home (bare floors, carpets, and some surfaces off of the floor, too) and to work reliably for more than a few months at a time.

  • A brush roll: Suction is not very effective at cleaning carpet on its own, so you need a brush roll to agitate the carpet fibers. Bonus points if the brush roll can be switched on or off, since a spinning brush roll—although great for agitating fibers—can spray large debris on bare floors and choke on lightweight rugs.
  • A geared belt: For a vacuum to clean at its best, you need a taut belt connecting the brush roll to the motor. Flat rubber belts lose tension over time, but a geared belt with interlocking teeth stays tense. “They will eventually wear out, but you’re looking at probably 10 years instead of six months,” said Denis Spindler, owner of Mr. Sweeper Sew Vac, in Waltham and West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
  • A swiveling joint at the cleaning head: This feature makes a vacuum cleaner easier to steer and puts less pressure on your wrists.
  • A hose and attachments: Most of the time you’ll be cleaning your floors. But it’s handy to be able to clean window sills, shelves, curtains, ceilings, upholstery, and tight spaces around furniture and appliances, too. The most useful attachments we’ve found include a crevice tool, combo brush, and handheld motorized tool. It’s even better if these tools can be stored or clipped onto the body of the vacuum so they don’t get lost.

Important, useful features

These traits set the best upright and canister vacuum models apart from the good ones.

  • Strong cleaning performance: This comes from three factors. The most crucial is airflow, which comes from a powerful motor that creates a lot of suction, combined with an efficient intake path. The suction itself is important, too: Higher suction allows the vacuum to pick up heavier particles, like sand. And then there’s agitation, which is a function of the brush roll hitting the carpet fibers in the right spot with the right amount of force. Store owners, repair techs, reviewers, and brand reps have given us lots of different takes on the most important specs that affect performance, like motor watts, water lift, and others. They all sort of matter, but we’ve come to find that it’s a waste of time to worry too much about the numbers. The best way to tell if a vacuum can clean well is to just use it. All that said, the very best performers, like our upgrade pick, include adjustable motor speeds and an adjustable-height cleaning head. They make it easier to clean long, soft carpets and lightweight area rugs.
  • Ease of use: A trapdoor dustbin or self-sealing bags make it much more pleasant to empty a vacuum cleaner when the time comes. Easy-to-clean reusable filters also make it easier to maintain your vacuum and keep it running well. A low weight doesn’t directly affect steering, but it does make carrying the vacuum up the stairs easier. For most people, the maximum comfortable lifting weight for an upright is about 17 pounds. Canister vacuums can be heavier because the weight is divided up between a few parts. Controls on the handle are nice, though not strictly necessary.
  • Quiet operation: Vacuum cleaners are loud, but we looked for the quietest ones, relatively speaking. The volume at which a vacuum starts to be totally annoying is around 80 dBc, we have found. Aside from sheer volume, we also looked for vacuums that operated at lower frequencies, which are easier to tolerate even when they’re louder.
  • Reliability: We favored longer and more comprehensive warranties, as well as brands with good customer service and products with a reputation for having a long lifespan.

Most recently, we tested 13 vacuum cleaners that met or exceeded our specs requirements, or that at least are so popular we knew some readers would want information on how they perform. You can read about some of these, as well as other models we’ve tested in the past, in The competition.

How we tested upright and canister vacuum cleaners

We ran several tough cleaning tests on each vacuum cleaner. But more importantly, we got a feel for how pleasant they were to use in the real world: how smoothly they handled, how quietly they ran, and how easy it was to empty them, use their attachments, and clear out clogs. We tried all of them out at our test space in Long Island City, New York, and have been using some of our longstanding picks in our homes for years.

In our most intense test, we sprinkled a mixture of 30 grams of sand and 15 grams of baking soda onto a midsize area rug, cleaned for two minutes, and then used a kitchen scale to measure how much of the debris the vacuum had collected. We ran this test at least two times for each vacuum to ensure that our results were consistent, on medium-pile and high-pile carpeting.

Some vacuum cleaners are notorious for “snowplowing” (or pushing around) large debris, such as breakfast cereal, on a bare floor. So we used each vacuum to try to suck up a handful of Cheerios and Chex.

We sprinkled some baking soda next to corners and baseboards to test how each vacuum tackled those. Some models got everything out of a corner with no effort, because they had air channels built for that purpose, and others left some debris behind or picked it up only after several passes.

We also measured each vacuum’s raw suction with a specialized gauge and each one’s airflow with an anemometer. Suction allows the vacuum to lift debris off the ground, and airflow helps push the debris to the vacuum’s dustbin. In general, more suction and airflow translate to better cleaning performance, but brush-roll action is also important, especially on carpeting, because you need agitation to get at the debris embedded in carpet fibers.

Think of our test results as a rough, rather than an exact, measurement of cleaning performance, due to real-world limitations. For example, none of the vacuums could pick up all of the debris from the rugs we were testing on. To rid a rug of any leftover sand or baking powder in the fibers, we shook the rug out as hard as we could in between tests. We think our cleaning tests gave us valuable information, but we didn’t draw hard lines between models if their results were within a few grams of each other.

For handling, we had 22 testers run each model through a slalom course, simulating a real-life apartment with a tight floor layout to clue us in on a few frustrations and flaws that might annoy owners. For example, some vacuums can bunch up area rugs, and others are too heavy or clunky to steer around tight corners. Still other vacuums have trouble transitioning from bare floor to carpeting, and some have dustbins that are relatively more difficult to empty. Our testers vacuumed parts of the ceiling and a medium-pile and high-pile carpet, and they maneuvered the machines into corners and tight spots.

To measure noise levels, we used the SPLnFFT app on an iPhone 8. We noticed that we got the same results whether or not we used an external microphone. We held the phone up to our ears (with the vacuum cleaners and brush rolls on at their maximum power mode) while vacuuming medium-pile carpeting and then a concrete floor. The app measured both volume (in decibels) and frequency (in hertz).

To test for ease of maintenance, we tried to clog and tangle each machine with shredded copy paper, Cheerios, Lego pieces, and toy dinosaurs. We also took apart a few of the vacuums to see how difficult it would be to unclog them. The fewer tools and the less time needed, the better. We found that the cheaper vacuums we tested came apart in fewer places, making it harder to access clogs.

We measured each vacuum’s suction using a specialized gauge and each one’s airflow using an anemometer (above). Photo: Michael Murtaugh

To assess how effective a vacuum’s filters were, we sealed each vacuum into a chamber and sucked smoke from lit matches into the intake. We then used a particle counter to measure what remained in the air after it was filtered through the vacuum. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

We measured each vacuum’s suction using a specialized gauge and each one’s airflow using an anemometer (above). Photo: Michael Murtaugh

To check the efficacy of the vacuums’ filters, we needed a test chamber that registered only what was in the air after it had been filtered by the vacuum. That meant isolating the vacuums’ ventilation.

To do that, we sealed the entire vacuum in a box, leaving only the hose outside, so that we could feed the smoke from burning matches into it. The vacuum’s vent faced a second sealed box, to which we attached a particle counter (the same AeroTrak 9306 that we test air purifiers with). We left that second box’s far end open, so that the vacuum’s vented air could pass through, but we covered the opening with a high-MERV furnace filter, so no external particles could pass back into it. That gave us a test chamber that admitted only the particles that the vacuums’ filters let through.

During the tests, we lit five matches and sucked up the smoke with the vacuums’ hoses. If the air coming out of the vacuum vent was measured as clean by the particle counter, we knew that the vacuum’s HEPA filter was working as claimed. If it wasn’t, we knew that the claims were suspect.

This is the most rigorous set of tests we’ve done on vacuum cleaners at Wirecutter, particularly the cleaning tests. In previous versions of this guide (and in our other vacuum guides), we also did a bunch of testing, but we didn’t measure the results as carefully. We think it’s pretty cool that, even though we keep refining our tests, the same vacuums keep coming out on top year after year.

Our pick for the best upright vacuum: Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352

Well-rounded upright vacuum, great value

This reliable, effective, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced bagless upright vacuum cleaner will work well in most homes, and it’s been our pick since 2014.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 bagless upright vacuum cleaner is an effective, reliable vacuum at a great price. Of the hundreds of vacuum cleaners available today, this is the one that we think will make the most people the happiest. It should be reliable, thanks to its durable belt and hard-to-clog yet easy-to-clean design. And the five-year comprehensive warranty almost guarantees that this model will last longer than anything else at the price. In terms of cleaning performance, the NV352 sucks up most kinds of debris (including pet hair) from pretty much any surface, and it picks up significantly more on carpeting, compared with other models we looked at. This upright vacuum cleaner is quieter, lighter, and easier to handle than others we’ve tested, partly due to its flexible swivel head. It also comes with a complete set of attachments for reaching hard-to-clean areas, such as window sills, and getting hair off of upholstery.

It’s not perfect: The Navigator Lift-Away doesn’t do well on shag carpets (though that’s a common problem), and some people have told us that they think it’s really ugly. On balance, though, nothing comes close to beating it for the price. It’s been our pick since 2014, and we’re glad it’s still available.

The best part of the Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is that it doesn’t need much maintenance, and the parts are all designed to last the lifetime of the machine. That’ll save you some frustration, effort, and money compared with a lot of other vacuums. The geared belt in the Navigator Lift-Away won’t stretch out like the traditional flat rubber belt that most vacuum cleaners use, so you shouldn’t see a drop-off in carpet-cleaning performance for many, many years. Filters are another consumable part in many other vacuums; most people don’t bother to replace them, and this can severely affect cleaning performance later on. The Navigator Lift-Away’s filters, however, never need to be replaced: The main pre-motor filter is washable, and the post-motor filter just needs shaking out from time to time. We couldn’t clog the machine with our clogging mixture of shredded paper, Cheerios, Lego pieces, and toy dinosaurs. But even if it had clogged, the vac comes apart in more places than any of its competitors.

The Shark Navigator Lift-Away is also a capable vacuum cleaner. In our testing, it picked up the most common shapes and sizes of debris (from the variety of flooring types that you’d find in most homes) in just a single pass or a few passes. It picked up nearly all of the baking soda–sand mixture we sprinkled onto medium-pile carpet, whereas the next-best performer, the Miele Complete C3 Calima, picked up 84 percent. We repeated this test two more times, and also with a six-month-old model that had seen regular use, and we got similar results. The Navigator Lift-Away’s side-suction performance stood out: It picked up almost all of the lentils and cat litter we scattered into a corner and up against baseboards, outperforming even some high-end vacuum cleaners we’ve tested in that regard.

The cleaning head on the Navigator Lift-Away sits close enough to the ground to work well on bare floors, but it has enough clearance to roll on longer carpets without choking. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The window in the Navigator Lift-Away’s cleaning head makes it easy to locate and identify tangles. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The cleaning head on the Navigator Lift-Away sits close enough to the ground to work well on bare floors, but it has enough clearance to roll on longer carpets without choking. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Owners tend to be happy with the Navigator Lift-Away’s cleaning performance, too. We looked at a couple hundred customer reviews from Amazon and Google Shopping, including those voted to be “most helpful” and some others with the lowest scores, to get an accurate picture of the vacuum cleaner’s strengths and weaknesses. Tons of customer reviews, even a bunch of the negative ones, mention that the Navigator Lift-Away is an excellent cleaner. Pet-hair pickup in particular earns wide praise.

Owners also generally think that the Navigator Lift-Away is relatively quiet compared with other vacuum cleaners. Our in-house testers did too. With the brush roller turned on (its loudest setting), we measured the vacuum’s volume at about 76 decibels. That’s actually pretty loud compared with the best high-end vacuums, but it’s quieter than other cheap vacs we’ve tested, which regularly exceeded 80 decibels. And it operates at more of a midrange hum than a high-pitched whine, so it’s not as grating to listen to over time. Newer Shark models with the anti-wrap brush roll that we tested sounded like a dirt bike with a card pinned to the wheel.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

High-pile carpets, such as shag or cable cuts, pose a problem for the Navigator Lift-Away. Long fibers can sometimes plug up the intake or tangle in the brush roller, and then the vacuum cleaner won’t work. When we tested the vac on a shag rug, the brush roll jammed, but the suction alone still picked up more on the surface than most other vacuums we tested. But many homes don’t have any high-pile rugs, so this may be a non-issue. And every vacuum we tested except for our upgrade pick struggled immensely on the longer-fiber fabric. If you do run into resistance on your thicker carpets when using the Navigator Lift-Away or other Shark models, there’s a workaround: Twist open the release valve on the hose (which is conveniently placed near the handle), and the suction will drop off enough to allow the vacuum cleaner to roll smoothly without choking on the carpet fibers.

If you have trouble using the Navigator Lift-Away on some of your longer carpets or area rugs, open this valve. It reduces the suction, which stops the vacuum from choking on long carpet fibers or pulling an area rug off the ground. Photo: Michael Hession

Some people don’t like the power switch’s placement on the main assembly instead of at the top of the handle. Photo: Michael Hession

If you have trouble using the Navigator Lift-Away on some of your longer carpets or area rugs, open this valve. It reduces the suction, which stops the vacuum from choking on long carpet fibers or pulling an area rug off the ground. Photo: Michael Hession

Another side effect of the fixed-height cleaning head: The Navigator Lift-Away sometimes “snowplows” large particles (think Froot Loops cereal), pushing them around with the cleaning head rather than sucking them up. Snowplowing is an issue with many vacuums. If you have a toddler who likes to toss Cheerios off her high chair, you can always just use the Shark’s open wand.

Since the Navigator Lift-Away is predominantly plastic, some of its parts can get brittle and crack over time. The chief complaint seems to be about the accordion hose on the wand; it’s a little stiff to begin with, and the constant flexing can wear it out. Another complaint regarding the hose is that the stiffness limits its mobility, and it doesn’t extend far enough to reach places that are high up. Other reviewers point out that the clips attaching the dust cup to the rest of the main assembly can break off after a couple years’ use, particularly if you carry the assembly by the handle in lift-away mode.

Some repair technicians don’t like Shark very much, either. In a now-famous Reddit AMA from 2013, vacuum-shop manager and repair technician Brian Driscoll called out the Shark brand as being repair-prone.

But the evidence we’ve seen leads us to believe that the Navigator Lift-Away is actually more reliable than most vacuum cleaners in this price range. Thanks to the long-lasting geared belt and reusable filter, performance shouldn’t decline much over time. This vacuum’s five-year warranty gives us every reason to believe it will last at least that long for most owners.

Keep in mind a few warranty-related caveats: The warranty doesn’t cover replacement filters, the brush roll, or electrical parts, if yours suffer damage, and you’ll have to pay at least 20 in return shipping. In reviews, several owners say that Shark made them pay for shipping costs on motor-related failures (which are uncommon). It’s also a good idea to buy the Navigator Lift-Away from a Shark-authorized retailer to ensure that the company won’t make you jump through hoops if you try to make a warranty claim. We’ve taken pains to make sure that the links in this guide point only to authorized retailers, but you should double-check before you hit the checkout button.

One of the most common design complaints (that is, gripes about a feature that’s present on purpose and not a problem that results from a part breaking) is that the Navigator Lift-Away has a tendency to tip over if you yank the hose too hard. Since the cleaning head is relatively narrow and the body is top-heavy, this machine does fall over more easily than some other vacuum cleaners do. If you find tipping to be a constant problem, you can lift away the main assembly and set it on the floor for a sturdier base. Some of our staff testers disliked having to use the clips to take off the dust cup. Compared with other models we tested—whose dustbins detach with the push of a button placed high up on the handle—unbuckling both clips on the Navigator Lift-Away requires an additional step, and you also need to bend down almost to the ground.

Although the vacuum cleaner is relatively lightweight and easy to steer, we did find that the handle was prone to standing itself back into an upright position while we were pushing the vacuum across bare floors. This was a little annoying to deal with.

Another legitimate gripe is that the cleaning head does not easily disassemble, so if long hair or string tangles around the brush roll, you can’t really pull it out to cut away the hair, as you would with many other models. Some of the more expensive models, like the Shark Rotator Lift-Away, the ZU503AMZ Navigator Lift-Away and the models in the new Stratos series come with a self-cleaning brush roll, a feature that has become somewhat common in vacuum cleaners. We haven’t tested Shark’s self-cleaning brush roll yet but it looks promising. If you don’t want to spend the extra money, there is an easy workaround: Run a razor blade along the roller.

Some owners mention other sources of dissatisfaction.

  • The cord length: It’s 25 feet, which is respectable. But many owners say they had difficulty adjusting from the longer cables (30 feet) that they were used to on their old vacs.
  • The curved shape of the handle: Some owners find the handle uncomfortable to wield while using attachments.
  • The capacity of the dust cup: The recommended maximum capacity is about 1.2 cubic feet, though the dust cup has room for much more—the suction simply drops off gradually. Folks with several hairy pets might have to empty the cup mid-vacuum, which is inconvenient (though less inconvenient than having to replace a bag).
  • The tool holders: They’re really just plastic nubs, and they don’t always do a great job of securing the attachments.
  • The button placement: The three-way switch (off, suction, brush roller) is located on the main assembly, so pressing it to adjust the vacuuming action isn’t as effortless as it would be if the button were located on the handle. On the plus side, that means no wiring is running through the handle, so if the handle gets damaged over time, that won’t affect the power supply.

All vacuum cleaners represent a compromise to some degree, and we think that the Navigator Lift-Away handles those compromises in a way that will make most owners happy.

Long-term test notes

We’ve been using the same NV352 unit since January 2014. It still works well, and so far it hasn’t even needed any new parts. The dustbin got permanently dirty after just a few months of use, sort of like a foggy wine glass that hasn’t been cleaned properly in a while. But that’s mostly cosmetic, and any bagless vac with a clear cup will have that problem.

Several Wirecutter staff members have bought the Navigator Lift-Away since we started recommending it, and everyone is basically happy with it. Senior staff writer Michael Sullivan has owned this model for four years and uses it once a week. “It’s still going strong,” he says. “I’ve never had an issue with it, and it’s easy to empty.” Senior editor Grant Clauser has had the Navigator for at least two years and likes it better than the more expensive Dyson upright it replaced. “The only thing I’d change is a better way to attach the attachments,” he says. Editor Signe Brewster says it picks up cat hair from a shag-like rug in a single pass. Sometimes she has to dig hair out of the dustbin by hand, but we’ve found that’s often the case for all bagless vacs. Senior editor Harry Sawyers mostly uses a cordless vacuum cleaner at home, but he whips out the Shark when he needs a deeper clean on his rugs.

If you’re looking for a more long-term perspective, some Amazon reviewers have been wonderfully diligent about updating their reviews every year—sometimes into the fourth or fifth year of ownership!

Runner-up: Shark Navigator Lift-Away Deluxe NV360 (or any Shark Navigator, actually)

Almost identical to our pick for best upright vacuum

If the NV352 is sold out, any model from the NV350, NV360, and NV370 series is essentially the same thing, with very minor differences.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 170.

All of the Shark Navigator Lift-Away models in the NV350, NV360, or NV370 series are essentially the same vacuum cleaner, just with minor differences in their tool sets, colors, and button placements. We tend to recommend the NV360 because it’s typically the best value at our favorite retailers. We’ve found that the Navigator Lift-Away Deluxe NV360 is the easiest to nab for a good deal these days, and it’s the same as the NV352, except for the shape of the handle and the placement of the power button. The NV351 is the same as the NV352, without the handheld motorized brush. The NV356 is the “pro” model with a slightly larger dust cup, and the NV370 is the “pro” model with the different handle and placement of the power button. The ADV LA322 is a new version of this great vacuum, a little bit lighter and better-looking, but with essentially the same performance in our tests as the classic Navigator Lift-Away models. Other, more expensive vacuum cleaners from the series, like the Shark Rotator Lift-Away and the ZU503AMZ Navigator Lift-Away, which come with a self-cleaning brush roll that promises to put an end to tangled-up hair, are also worth considering.

Upgrade pick: Miele Complete C3 Calima (or any Miele canister vacuum cleaner)

A top-notch canister vacuum, built to last

Praised by nearly everyone as excellent, this nimble canister vacuum works on any kind of flooring, runs quiet, and should last for decades. This model is great for those with asthma and allergies, but it requires bags.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 799.

If you want a vacuum cleaner that will run reliably for decades and keep your home as clean as you can hope for, your best bet is a Miele canister, particularly from the C3 series.

Miele canister vacuum models have a phenomenal reputation. Technicians, salespeople, enthusiasts, testing houses, and regular people who’ve bought one all love these vacuums. Some of the experts we talked to said that if they could recommend just one vacuum, they’d recommend a Miele canister vacuum cleaner. They’re easy to maintain and built to last for a long time, allowing for a great long-term value in spite of the high purchase price. Miele canisters are fantastic vacuum cleaners with excellent filtration and smooth handling, and they run about as quiet as any vacuum. Granted, most Miele models use bags, which are less convenient and incur additional costs over time compared with bagless vacuums. Miele vacs are also canister-style machines, but most people in North America are familiar with uprights. However, this is as sturdy and effective a vacuum as you can get. (Miele’s new Blizzard line is bagless, but we didn’t find the model we tested to be as effective a cleaner as the company’s traditional models.)

The Miele Complete C3 Calima is the model we’d go with because it’s the most affordable canister in the C2 and C3 series, and in our tests, its air-powered turbo brush was better at picking up debris on short-pile rugs than the more expensive electric heads on other Miele models.

The variants come with different combinations of cleaning heads and filters. The bare-floor tool allowed the Calima to suck up more debris from hardwood floors faster than all the other vacuum cleaners we’ve tested, and its soft bristles are gentler on sensitive surfaces than an upright vacuum cleaner’s wheels and spinning brush roll.

If you have high-pile carpeting, you may prefer a Miele model with an electrified cleaning head, such as the Miele Complete C3 Kona. We tested a similar model (now discontinued), and when the vacuum was on the correct setting, with some effort we were able to push it around in our test on higher-pile carpeting, whereas it was nearly impossible to do so with most other vacuums we tested. Miele also makes a slightly more affordable C1 line. The vacuums in this line clean similarly, but the filtration isn’t quite as excellent, they run a little louder, and the hoses aren’t crushproof. We’d buy a C3 model, but a C1 isn’t a bad choice if you want to save the money now.

The main reason we love Miele canister vacuum cleaners is that they’re impressively sturdy, without feeling clunky. Miele reps have told us that the company designs all its products to last 20 years. Brian Driscoll, the Reddit vacuum guy, told us that he has seen 30-year-old Miele canisters. That’s incredible longevity for any kind of electric product these days. Senior staff writer Tim Heffernan’s 12-year-old Miele “still runs like new and has never had a single issue,” even after he mistakenly vacuumed up a lot of plaster dust without a bag in place. Deputy editor Christine Cyr Clisset has used her Miele for nearly a decade.

Some of the experts we talked to said that if they could recommend just one vacuum, they’d recommend a Miele canister vacuum cleaner.

It starts with the parts: The canister casing is a lightweight plastic with a rubberlike anti-cracking quality. The hoses on the C3 models have metal wiring (sort of like a Slinky), which prevents the airway from getting crushed if you accidentally step on it. Miele reps have told us (and also wrote in a 2014 press release) that the company designs its models’ motors to last for 1,000 hours, so that works out to roughly one hour per week for 20 years. The Miele canister vacuums also have a handy auto-rewinding power cord, which is a really convenient feature compared with most upright vacuum cleaners’ manual cord hooks.

Everyday reliability is another upside to the Miele canister vacuums. They don’t need maintenance very often. All of the cleaning heads made for carpets use no-stretch geared belts to drive the brush rolls, so they maintain their spin speed and cleaning ability over time. (The vacuum cleaner should last long enough that you’ll need to replace the belt eventually, but that will probably be only once a decade. Most people can handle the replacement themselves, or you can go to a shop.) Miele canister vacuums are also not especially prone to clogs, because they have wide, straight intake paths. If they do clog (which can happen to any vacuum of any type), Miele vacuums come apart at all the major joints, without needing any tools. That makes it easy to get into the cleaning head, the wand, or the hose to knock any obstructions loose.

Cleaning performance is also top-notch. The suction is strong enough in every model that even the cleaning heads with air-powered, turbine-driven brush rolls outperformed many other brands’ electrically driven brush rolls in our tests. The Calima was second best in our debris-pickup test on short-pile carpeting, vacuuming up 84 percent of the sand–and–baking soda mixture. Although our main pick, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away, picked up nearly all of the debris, we think the difference won’t be noticeable to most people. And the Miele has other features that make it worth the extra money.

One downside to buying a Miele is that you may not have an authorized service center near you. Most large and midsize cities have at least one, but it’s worthwhile to check the service map before you buy a Miele so that you don’t end up having to drive 90 minutes to a vacuum shop if you need service under warranty.

On a similar note, it’s important that you buy your Miele from an authorized dealer. Amazon is an authorized dealer, but third-party Marketplace sellers on that site often are not. Make sure the Miele model you choose is sold by Amazon through Amazon, or by an authorized dealer through Amazon (this may require a little extra sleuthing on your part). Bed Bath Beyond and PC Richards are also authorized dealers. If you’re nervous about buying from the wrong source online, buy your Miele in person.

Other uncommon complaints that we’ve read in :

  • In models with electric cleaning heads, the hose can’t fully rotate at its connection point because the power cord gets in the way. If you circle around while you’re cleaning, the hose can get tangled, and sometimes you might flip over the canister. This annoyance is typical of any canister vacuum with an electric cleaning head.
  • The automatic cord-rewinding mechanism can get stuck in the not-rewound position. We’ve read a couple of accounts of its failing after just a year. This can happen to any vacuum with an auto-rewind feature, but it should not happen to a vacuum cleaner that’s this expensive. The mechanism is covered under warranty for the first year (though the full seven years of coverage would be better). You can still use the vacuum even if the rewinder is stuck, though it will be a pain to deal with a free-swinging 33-foot cord.
  • The plastic latch for the bag door can break, leaving you unable to keep the door closed securely. Most people open the door only a few times per year anyway, so breakage seems unlikely. And in the worst case, you can still use the vacuum cleaner when it has the broken latch; gravity and suction keep the door shut as long as the canister is on its wheels. This repair should be covered under warranty anyway.
  • Some people find the wand to be a little heavy, especially with the variants that have wiring to power electric cleaning heads. If you’re used to handling the plastic accordion hose on your upright vacuum cleaner, this component will seem heavy because it has metal parts.

Several Wirecutter staffers who own or have used Miele canister vacuums note that they can be unwieldy in small apartments, and their bulbous shape can make them difficult to store.

And, finally: Nobody can guarantee that your particular Miele canister vacuum will last as long as other people’s Miele canister vacuum cleaners. We’ve heard stories of these things crapping out beyond the point of easy repair after just three or four years. That could be due to user error, like using the vacuum to suck up bits of metal, construction dust, water, or other things that residential vacuums really aren’t meant to clean—they’re very sturdy vacuums, but they are not invincible. Still, you’d hope that they’d be able to stay in service longer than that, even with improper use. Is it a good idea to pay so much for a vacuum up front and risk a premature breakdown? That’s your choice to make, but based on what we know about these vacuum cleaners, we think they’re worth the asking price.

Do you need a special vacuum for pets?

Any vacuum cleaner is fine for pet owners, but a motorized brush head can be really useful on certain types of carpets and upholstery. You’ll often see brands label certain vacuums as “pet” versions. But they’re often more or less the same as any non-pet vacuum cleaner, just with an additional mini-brush tool for tackling pet hair that’s clinging to upholstery. Plenty of non-pet vacuums have that tool, too, including many variants of the Shark Navigator, so you don’t need to go out of your way to find a vacuum cleaner marketed to pet owners. That said, we have some thoughts on how to stop tufts of pet hair from piling up on your floors.

Do you need a vacuum with HEPA filters?

You probably don’t need HEPA filters—for most people, regular filters are totally fine. HEPA filters are defined as those that remove 99.97 percent or more of airborne particles of 0.3 micron in diameter; nothing captures 100 percent, though, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF). They can be useful for people with severe allergies and asthma. (You can read a lot more about them in our guide to air purifiers.) But HEPA filters are not a magic bullet, according to Caroline Blazovsky, the indoor air quality specialist. The rest of the vacuum cleaner needs to be tightly sealed, too. If the gaskets around the HEPA filter aren’t perfectly tight, the filter itself is pointless—the vacuum is still emitting dust. And even a perfectly sealed bagless vacuum cleaner will eject a bunch of dust whenever you empty it. If you are worried about controlling particle emissions, our upgrade pick is excellent at doing so because it uses self-closing bags and has rubber gaskets throughout the system, plus you can swap in a HEPA filter if you need to.

What about Dyson upright vacuum cleaners?

Dyson makes good plug-in vacuum cleaners that cost way too much money by current standards. We’ve tested several Dyson upright vacuums over the past few years, including the Ball MultiFloor 2, and haven’t found a great reason to recommend one over our other picks.

Sure, a 340 Dyson vacuum won’t need new bags or filters or other replacement parts, its five-year warranty is solid, the customer service is great, and Dysons do a great job of cleaning the most common types of flooring. But you know what else meets those criteria? The 150 Shark Navigator Lift-Away. And compared with a 600 Miele canister vacuum, the Dyson might last half as long (10 years), if you’re lucky.

In general, we found the Ball MultiFloor 2 (and all the other Dyson upright vacuums we’ve tried) to be a strain on our arms and wrists by the end of a cleaning session, something other vacuum reviewers have pointed out too. The Ball Animal 2 is a heavy 18 pounds, and you feel the full weight in your hands when you’re making turns and maneuvering corners. Our Miele pick is heavier overall, but most of the weight sits on the floor in the canister body, not on your wrists. Compared with our main Shark pick and Miele upgrade pick, the Dyson’s swiveling floorhead is hard to control, and the ball joint is enormous, so it can’t fit under most furniture. The Dyson doesn’t work on very-high-pile shag carpet, and it also struggles on some regular high-pile rugs because the super-strong suction chokes on the fibers, and there’s no way to manually turn it down. Also, Dyson uprights are made from plastic that sounds really creaky whenever the vacuums move. For such pricey vacuum cleaners, they feel a little cheap. To their credit, they are powerful machines with tremendous suction.

We also tried out the Big Ball MultiFloor bagless canister vacuum, but it fell short during testing in similar ways to the Ball Animal 2. Although it does have two suction levels, they’re both too strong to work on shag carpeting or very light area rugs without choking. There’s no way to turn the brush roll off, either, and it sent large, crunchy debris scattering around the room on our bare-floor tests. It did not glide across floors as easily as the Simplicity or Miele canister vacuums we tested. Dyson plays up its self-righting feature—it can pick itself up when knocked over. It works, but that’s not a huge problem with canister vacuums anyway.

Though Dyson announced in 2018 that it would stop developing new plug-in vacuum cleaners in order to FOCUS on cordless models, the company appears to have reversed course. In 2022, they released the updated Ball Animal 3 upright vacuum. We plan to test it, but since it is almost identical in weight and appearance, we suspect we’ll run into similar problems as with the Ball 2.

What about a cheaper vacuum?

Most of the cheaper vacuum cleaners we’ve tested (so far) are too compromised in too many ways for us to throw our word behind them. Cheap uprights may work pretty well for cleaning carpets at first. But unlike our main pick, every inexpensive model we’ve come across needs its belts or filters, or both, replaced at regular intervals to maintain the cleaning performance. You’ll need to pay for those replacements and do the maintenance yourself, too. If you don’t take care of a cheap upright vacuum cleaner, it’ll lose most of its cleaning ability in about 12 to 18 months. If you do take care of a cheap upright vacuum, after a few sets of new belts and filters, it will end up costing more than our main pick. With the Shark Navigator Lift-Away guaranteed to last five years on warranty alone, the math proves that paying a little more right now will almost always save you money over time. And meanwhile, you’ll have a vacuum that’s easier to maintain and use.

We came close to recommending the Dirt Devil Razor Vac Plus UD70350B for anyone who wanted to take a chance on a cheap vacuum cleaner, but we decided not to. It cleaned well in our tests, it’s comfortable to use, and it comes with a good set of tools. But like with other cheap vacuum cleaners, the cost of replacement filters (20 per year) makes it a bad deal. Even if you skip those, we read many reviews about it wearing down (or just breaking) after about a year.

With the Shark Navigator Lift-Away guaranteed to last five years on warranty alone, the math proves that paying a little more for a vacuum cleaner will almost always save you money over time.

The Bissell CleanView line is popular on Amazon, and the vacuums aren’t terrible, as far as cheap vacuum cleaners go. We’ve tested the 2252 and several models that have gone out of stock in recent years. They all have great owner ratings and work well on carpets. But again, you’ll have to pay to replace the belts and filters if you want to keep one running well beyond a year. The Bissell models are also heavier and louder than the Shark, and they’re much harder to steer because they have no swiveling joint.

The Eureka PowerSpeed NEU182A is another popular seller on Amazon. We dismissed this model for its poor maneuverability, annoying, high-pitched whine, and noticeably shoddy quality.

The BlackDecker Airswivel Ultra Pet is popular on Amazon, and we like the brand’s handheld vacuums, but its upright vacuums are a disappointment. This vac requires belt replacements after about a year of use, and it has poor maneuverability and a cheap build.

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