Easy to Steer and No Dirt Left Behind: We Tested the Best Canister Vacuums
One could be mistaken for a chic suitcase.
Published May 24, 2022 3:25 AM
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Everyone has their preferred household chore—washing the dishes, watering the plants, taking out the garbage. For those of you who sit squarely on #TeamVacuuming, you’re probably already aware of the many benefits that come with gliding a lightweight, powerful vacuum cleaner across your hardwood floors. And if you’re not a fan of vacuuming, we’d wager you just haven’t met the right one yet.
The best canister vacuums have retractable cords, breezy maneuverability, powerful suction, and a quieter sound than their upright counterparts. But if you’re still not sure what the whole canister silhouette is all about, read on, below, to find out what happened when we put five industry-favorite models to the test in our own homes. (Hint: Things got a whole lot cleaner.)
- Best overall: Miele Complete C3 Calima Powerline
- Best design: Airsign HEPA Vacuum
- Best suction power: Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor
- Best bells and whistles: Shark Vertex Canister Vacuum
- Best for hard floors: Bissell Hard Floor Expert Canister Vacuum
Best Overall: Miele Complete C3 Calima PowerLine
Bagged vs. bagless: Bagged | Weight: 20 pounds | Cord length: 24 feet | Surfaces: All
What we like:
- HEPA filter
- Tools and attachments stored internally
- Powerful suction
- Doesn’t come with electric brush head
Why we chose it: A thoughtfully designed, powerful vacuum that‘s fun to use and will last for decades.
We like to be realistic when it comes to finding the “perfect” version of a product. It’s a tough feat to have all of your requirements met in one machine, so we were delighted to discover that Miele’s Complete C3 Calima PowerLine model checked off most of our boxes. To begin with, the HEPA filter is a big selling point, particularly for those with allergies to even the finest of house dust. The canister is another highlight, as it rolls around with ease and the attachments can be conveniently stored right inside the canister. Other handy features include foot pedals that control the power settings, as well as a retractable cord.
The Calima comes with a parquet twister floor head, a turbo brush floor head, an upholstery nozzle, crevice nozzle, and a dusting brush with synthetic bristles—in other words, if you have a surface to vacuum, this model can accommodate in spades. It also has a strong suction power of 1,200 watts. It does come with a high up-front cost, but these Miele vacuums have been proven to last for roughly 20 years, which makes a big difference when it comes to cost per use. Its main drawback, if we’re being picky (which we are), is that it doesn’t come with an electric brush head, so you can only toggle between suction powers from the canister, not the handle. However, you can purchase an attachment if this is a feature you’re really after, so it still earns our top spot. Overall, gliding Miele’s Calima across the floor made vacuuming feel efficient and—dare we say—rather fun.
Best Design: Airsign HEPA Vacuum
Bagged vs. bagless: Bagged | Weight: 10.8 pounds | Cord length: 26-foot radius | Surfaces: All
What we like:
- HEPA filter
- Made from recycled and biodegradable materials
- Sleek, streamlined design
- Strong suction, but less powerful as some others in side-by-side test
Why we chose it: A powerful, eco-friendly vacuum with a stylish millennial aesthetic.
Domino’s deputy editor, Julie Vadnal, recently took the Airsign vacuum for a spin and was initially struck by the millennial-style marketing coming from this new DTC company. “I’d never felt targeted by a product more,” she says. Her everyday vacuum at home is a Dyson upright cordless model, but she notes that Airsign’s canister style is a tempting alternative for a few reasons. Setup was easy thanks to the neatly labeled packaging, and the vacuum is made from 20 percent recycled plastic—and can be disassembled for recycling. She also enjoyed the 25-foot radius and HEPA filter, and notes that the suction was strong (250 air watts). “The suction power of the highest setting is so strong that I at one point worried the Airsign would catch a corner of my flat-weave rug and inhale the entire thing, like in a cartoon,” she says. However, when compared to the Dyson, the latter performed better on her hardwood floors. Though Vadnal depends on the storage convenience of an upright vacuum, she notes that if she lived in a house (rather than a smaller apartment), she’d go for the Airsign without question.
Best Suction: Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor
Bagged vs. bagless: Bagless | Weight: 17.64 pounds | Cord length: 21 feet | Surfaces: All
What we like:
- Impressively powerful suction
- Unique ball-shaped design
- Long-reach wand stretches to 50 inches
- On the heavier side
Why we chose it: The highest caliber suction, plus a clever ball-shaped design for comfortable steering.
We had a hunch that Dyson’s canister vacuum would deliver on powerful suction (the brand is known for it, after all), and after testing its Big Ball model, our expectations were pleasantly exceeded. This vacuum has what Dyson refers to as Radial Root Cyclone technology, which basically means there are 19 tiny tornadoes inside that do an extremely effective job at capturing dust and dirt particles. The turbine head works for all floor types, and there’s a suction release trigger on the handle for vacuuming more delicate flooring. (One small note: We would have liked if this feature could be locked in, rather than having to hold the trigger the entire time.)
The canister itself is designed around a ball, which helps with steering and self-corrects when it tips over. We especially appreciated the long-reach wand, which stretches to 50 inches and was handy for getting cobwebs out of ceiling corners and crown molding; plus it didn’t feel heavy or clunky to point around the room. This vacuum isn’t super-lightweight, though, so if that’s your preference, this may not be your cup of tea. But if you’re looking for impressively powerful suction, this one’s a winner.
Best Bells and Whistles: Shark Vertex Canister Vacuum
Bagged vs. bagless: Bagless | Weight: 17.8 pounds | Cord length: 25 feet | Surfaces: All
What we like:
- LED headlight
- Can control speed and floor settings on handle
- Flexible wand to clean under furniture
- Wand isn’t lightweight
Why we chose it: A vacuum with useful design features that go above and beyond.
Sometimes extra design features are just that—extra. But in the case of Shark’s Vertex canister vacuum, they take the experience above and beyond. Starting from the beginning, setup for this model was remarkably quick and easy, and once we switched the vacuum on (achieved via a convenient foot pedal or the handle’s smart display), the LED light illuminated dust and debris that was swept up with powerful suction. The canister only weighs 9 pounds, so it’s pretty effortless to roll around a room, plus Shark included its MultiFLEX technology with this canister model, and it’s quite satisfying to bend the wand in half to reach under a sofa or coffee table.
Perhaps our favorite feature of this vacuum is the LED smart display on the handle, which lets you turn the vacuum on and off, as well as adjust the suction strength for the specific surface you’re cleaning. The simple trash release and cord retractor were minor but much appreciated finishing touches, too. We did notice that while the canister is very lightweight, when we were using the wand to clean higher hard-to-reach surfaces, it felt slightly heavier than expected—not a deal breaker but worth noting if those biceps are out of practice.
Best for Hard Floors: Bissell Hard Floor Expert Canister Vacuum
Bagged vs. bagless: Bagless | Weight: 9.1 pounds | Cord length: 15 feet | Surfaces: Low-pile carpet, stairs, sealed wood floors
What we like:
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- Digital fingertip controls
- Small size good for storage
- Dirt capacity on the smaller side
- Cord is 15 feet
Why we chose it: A budget-friendly vacuum that’s easy to maneuver and won’t scratch your floors.
The Bissell canister vacuum we tested for this story is the lightest and most affordable pick of the bunch. (Though extreme budget seekers might want to check out this model.) We were initially struck by the ease of assembly and how lightweight and effortless it was to maneuver the Bissel around the room. Another enjoyable feature is the battery-powered digital fingertip controls (batteries included) that let you flip the vacuum on and off and adjust the suction power. It’s also on the smaller size, which is great for storing in smaller spaces, but less so for cord length (15 feet) and the receptacle capacity (1 liter). The wheels are designed in rubber to avoid scratching, and the brush’s bristles are extra-soft, which makes this one of the best canister vacuums for hardwood floors and delicate rugs. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly vacuum for a smaller space that can keep your floors tidy, this is a solid pick.
Miele Classic C1 Cat & Dog Canister Vacuum Cleaner
Self-proclaimed cleaning-obsessed writer Gregory Han shared that his favorite model (which he has owned for more than 10 years) is Miele’s Classic C1. It starts at $749, but “if you want to buy a vacuum once and never again, get a Miele,” Han says. The 1,200-watt motor is powerful, and this model is especially good with pet hair.
How We Chose These Products
When coming up with a list of canister vacuums to test, we looked at well-regarded brands in a range of price points, skipping models that have a track record of unreliable performance or shifty quality issues. After weeks of research, we came up with a group of vacuums—all of which have historically elicited stamps of approval from industry experts. Once they arrived at our front door, we ran each one through a series of tests on hardwood, bathroom tile, and rugs. We clocked how easy the setup process was and how effectively they managed to pick up dust, debris, and hair. We also observed different features that made vacuuming a more enjoyable, efficient experience, including attachments, suction power variation, and dirt disposal.
Our Shopping Checklist
Bagged vs. Bagless
Within the category of canister vacuums, there are bagged and bagless models. Bagless canisters are useful because they eliminate the need to buy replacements, which is helpful from both a financial and waste perspective. However, disposing of dirt can be messier and can also release dust particles into the air that you’ve just vacuumed up. Furthermore, some users argue that bagged vacuums (though often heavier) are better at suctioning up dirt and cleaning the air, particularly those with HEPA filtration. We tapped Miele’s product manager, George Tjoumakaris, for advice on these kinds of technicalities (the brand uses AirClean 3D Efficiency GN filter bags). “Bags ensure that dust is picked up and securely captured inside the machine,” he says. “This filters more than 99.9 percent of all dust particles and automatically closes for hygienic replacement, ensuring no debris escapes.”
Ultimately, choosing between the two is a matter of personal preference and where your priorities lie. We found it satisfying to empty out the dirt and dust we just sucked up, but can also see the benefits of a bagged system.
Size and Weight
The vacuums we tested weighed between 9 and 20 pounds. We noticed that with most of the models, the weight was concentrated in the canister, which means that when you’re in the process of vacuuming, the handle and hose are what you’ll be using, and these are generally more lightweight than upright models. However, in terms of size, canister vacuums are less compact, and this requires more storage space. If you live in a small apartment, that is definitely worth taking into consideration.
If you live in a spacious home with shedding pets and a steady flow of dirt, dust, and debris, a larger canister capacity is going to be a game changer. While upright models tend to feature the largest capacity, canister vacuums are also designed with this in mind.
Cord Length and Handling
One of our favorite features of canister vacuums is the retractable cord. Long gone are the days of winding an unwieldy cord around two plastic knobs—nay, with these models all you have to do is tap a button and it’s out of sight in a flash. As for length, we tested vacuums between 15 and 25 feet and noted that with the shorter cords, we had to unplug and replug more often when switching rooms.
Canister vacuums are typically regarded as quieter than upright models, so they’re worth considering if you’re someone who is sensitive to sound or simply prefers a less noisy cleaning experience. If this is a subject that’s especially important in your vacuum decision-making process, look for brands that list their sound output, like Airsign, which has a max of 75 decibels.
It’s all too easy to neglect the attachments that come with your vacuum, which is why models that clip them onto the handle or—even better—store them in the canister (like Miele’s Calima model) make the process of switching to different brushes and hoses a bit more effortless.
Q: How do I clean a canister vacuum?
Staying on top of changing filters and bags (when applicable) is the number-one way you can prolong the life span of your vacuum and keep it clean. If you have a bagless model, clean the dirt receptacle by wiping it down with a microfiber cloth and washing it with water and soap.
Q: How can I tell if a canister vacuum has high suction power?
Look at the air watts (AW) a vacuum has to determine the suction power. For reference, the more powerful models we tested measured around 1,200 AW.
Q: Do canister vacuums work on carpet?
Tjoumakaris notes that canister vacuums work as well on carpet as they do on hardwood floors. We noticed that when switching from our hardwood floors to carpet or rugs, the suction power needed to be reduced quite a bit, otherwise it was too difficult to glide across. Another solution? Switching floor heads. “There is a great deal of flexibility with these when utilizing different floor heads,” Tjoumakaris says. “There are a few different floor head options with Miele’s canister vacuums, including the Turbobrush, which works well on low- to medium-pile carpets, and the Electrobrush for intensive deep cleaning and optimal care of carpets.”
Q: Are canister vacuums good with pet hair?
If you’re looking for a vacuum that can suck up a lot of pet hair, Tjoumakaris says to go the bagged route. “Vacuum cleaners with dust bags are always the best choice in regards to hygiene, since it’s a closed system and the dirt is captured and removed entirely via the bag,” he says.
The Last Word
Cleaning is an unavoidable fact of life, but when you invest in tools that make the experience more efficient and effective—like a canister vacuum—keeping your home tidy can feel like a breeze. For spotless floors and cleaner air, upgrade to a canister vacuum with powerful suction, innovative features, and easy-to-use attachments.
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