Review: Vacuums

Fire up one of these powerful suckers to rid your floors of dust and grime, even zap bacteria and bed bugs.

The Basics

What happened to the bags?
For manufacturers, vacuum bags were a simple solution that guaranteed follow-up sales: Once you had a Hoover, you had to pony up for Hoover bags. The problem is that sacks can weaken a cleaner’s suction power from the start and only get worse as they fill up. James Dyson invented a workaround: a cyclone mechanism that uses centrifugal force to spin dirt out of the airstream.

So is it all about Dyson?
Not at all. That brand is just the most visible example of recent innovations. New vacuums have durable, lightweight bodies made from the same stuff as some motorcycle helmets (ABS plastic). They’re also better for you, with HEPA filters that eliminate dust and allergens — no more sneezing fits and musty odors — and UV lights that kill pests and germs.

Do robot vacs really work?
Early models were like errant hockey pucks that bounced around the room, but today’s robotic floor cleaners use sensors, IR, and lasers to navigate obstacles and track their progress, making sure every nook gets cleaned. They’re still no substitute for a thorough manual vacuuming, but they’re great at keeping daily dirt and dust bunnies under control.

Buying Advice

Wattage labels correlate to the amount of electricity consumed, not sucking power. That depends on other variables like the distance from cleaning head to motor. But in general, if you’ve got deep shag rugs, look for machines over 1,000 watts or 8 amps. Uprights are convenient, but they require more storage space. Apartment dwellers are better off with canisters (the motor is housed in a separate, wheeled unit), which are more portable (hello, grubby car mats!) and easy to disassemble. Pets? Make sure you’ve got a flexible hose, rotating brushes, and a wand for pulling fur off upholstery.

How We Tested

We tried these out in a high-traffic office, where food debris and street grime accumulate quickly on the concrete floors and carpet tiles. We also used them at home, where we dumped coffee grounds on our rugs and wood floors.

Dyson DC41 Animal

The Animal represents the best of Dyson’s evolving technology. The machine packs 12 cyclones (the parts that generate the particle-extracting centrifugal force) and a washable filter into a relatively light 17.4-pound body. The oversize ball hinge works as advertised, allowing the vac to move nimbly in any direction. Befitting its name, the Animal fights pet hair with a motorized cleaner head, and the elongated wand lets you reach up to clean the dust off that old stuffed moose head.

$600, Dyson

Rating: 8 out of 10

1. Verilux CleanWave Furniture and Bed Vac

If you’ve got hardwood floors with just a few area rugs, a hand vac may be all you need. This bagless unit’s 400-watt motor can suck up fine dust and heavier stuff (like wet coffee grounds), and it includes a UV-C light that promises to kill bacteria, viruses, and even the eggs of bed bugs and dust mites. We shined the light in an infant’s crib. No telling if it really worked, but we definitely felt better afterward.

get-gadget Nice price makes it a low-commitment gadget. Compact 5-pound unit is good for tiny spaces.

TIRED Long unretractable cord. Awkward hammer-head shape.

$129, Verilux

Rating: 5 out of 10

2. iRobot Roomba 780

Hate pushing a wand? Robotic cleaners offer an alternative. The Roomba uses optical and acoustic sensors to detect debris. Want to ensure the kitchen is spotless? Set up the pod-like Virtual Wall Lighthouse to beam an IR ray at the doorway and it’ll keep the unit confined until the job is done, then let it go to the next room. An onboard touchpad allows you to schedule automatic sweeps, but the vac may need help getting unstuck.

get-gadgetDual HEPA filters, instructional DVD, and remote. Returns automatically to its charger.

TIRED Noisy. Less effective on carpets than hard floors. Avoids black (thinks it’s a cliff).

$600, iRobot

Rating: 7 out of 10

3. Miele S 2121 Olympus

When it comes to traditional designs, Miele is hard to beat. Its machines are small and elegant yet boast the performance typical of German engineering. The Olympus uses bags, but it ably handled fine coffee grounds even toward the end of a session. Miele keeps its notoriously high prices low on this unit by stripping down the wands and floor tools, but it’s still powerful, with a 1,200-watt motor and six settings — lower for curtains, higher for rugs.

get-gadget Very light. Electrostatic bags trap dust and allergens. Intuitive controls.

TIRED Bags add waste and cost. The hard plastic head can scrape wood surfaces.

$330, Miele

Rating: 8 out of 10
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