We researched over 50 canister vacuums and bought the best 8 for our stringent hands-on, side-by-side testing. Our system of evaluating products and performance is designed to give you the most detailed information to find a canister vacuum that is custom-tailored to your unique needs and budget. To find this information, we've tested each vacuum's ability to collect debris, ease of use, maneuverability, and much more. We ran each model through every real-world scenario it might face and found which ones are worth the investment. Read on to see which vacuum takes the top, which is best for your wallet, and which outperforms each testing metric.
If you want one of the best canister vacuums at a great price point, the Eureka WhirlWind comes highly recommended by our vacuum analysts. The WhirlWind exceeded our expectations when it came to hard surfaces — plowing through cereal, oatmeal, and even flour that had been pressed into the floorboards using a laminate floor roller. We were also impressed with how lightweight this model is at 11 pounds, making it easier to carry up and down stairs. This vacuum may be small, but it rose through the ranks when it came to cleaning, ease of use, and handling.
Unfortunately, we would not recommend this vacuum to pet owners, as the WhirlWind had a relatively poor performance when removing animal hair from our fluffy and shallow carpets. This seems to be a common issue amongst vacuums that lack a brush roller, which helps to capture hair, and the Eureka is no exception. Still, we were able to pick up all pet hair with three passes.
The Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor canister vacuum is one of our best performers across the board in every test metric. The Dyson particularly impressed us with its superb performance against pet hair. It picked up a stunning 98.20% of the pet hair from medium pile carpeting and sucked up the vast majority of flour on both carpet and hard flooring. We also enjoyed the additional features, such as control over the brush roller speed. Overall, we recommend this model if you are looking to clean multiple types of flooring and want something that will easily maneuver around obstacles.
Be prepared to lay out some serious cash for this vacuum if you want the best overall performance. This is our chief complaint, following the fact that the head of the Dyson is rather close to the floor. Although this can be good for picking up smaller debris, it makes things difficult when picking up larger debris like Cheerios.
The Miele C1 Turbo earned high marks for its stellar carpet cleaning performance. This model will do exceptionally well regardless of whether or not you have short or high pile carpets. We also enjoyed this vacuum for its ease of use, effectiveness, and ability to get all the large pieces of debris on the first couple of passes. We were also delighted by its ability to pick up pet hair. It also didn't hurt that this model is slightly less audible than others at 67 decibels — making it better for a household with pets. We highly recommend the C1 Turbo for those with a lot of hair to clean out of their carpets.
If you're interested in mostly cleaning hard surfaces, the Miele will be a disappointment. We experienced several failures with this vacuum, especially when it came to cleaning flour pressed into the hardwood floor. When we put it up against larger debris on hardwood floors, it seems to plow the debris around rather than picking it up. Plus, this vacuum sprayed the dirt out the sides and back. If you have mostly hard surfaces, invest your money in a different canister vacuum.
We spend tens of hours of research into the products we select and purchased every single one of the canister vacuums at full price. Our research analysts put each and every canister vacuum through a series of tests in a 15-foot-tall room so that the vacuums can be adequately tested for edging, maneuvering, and floor cleaning. We climbed up and down dozens of flights of stairs dragging the vacuums behind them to test the suction on steps, reach of the wand, and length of cord — then vacuumed up hundreds of pounds of oatmeal, flour, Cheerios, and rice.
Our testing of canister vacuums is divided across five different metrics:
Carpet Cleaning (35% of overall score weighting)
Ease of Use (25% weighting)
Handling (20% weighting)
Hard Surface (10% weighting)
Pet Hair (10% weighting)
Our vacuum tester and guru Jessica Riconscente went to work, helping you find the best canister vacuum by putting all eight through stringent side-by-side testing. Making piles of Cheerios, flour, oatmeal, and rice on different carpeting and flooring, she rated each and every canister vacuum on Carpet Cleaning, Ease of Use, Handling, Hard Surface Cleaning, and Pet Hair. Jessica has tested every sort of vacuum you could imagine, including upright vacuums, stick vacs, and handheld vacuums. Our writer, Ruth Bruckbauer, has many decades of experience vacuuming in her own right. After raising a family of five children, she is now a reviewer and tester for GearLab. Ruth has vacuumed up many, many piles of Cheerios (among other things) and is truly an expert at using a vacuum.
Analysis and Test Results
We believe that all good canister vacuums can be effectively assessed using five key traits. We developed a scoring system based on weighted metrics to rate each vacuum objectively. We took diligent and comprehensive testing notes during our countless hours vacuuming up Cheerios and flour, running up and down dozens of sets of stairs dragging the canisters behind us, and creating furniture to use as our vacuum obstacle course. After that, we had excellent feedback about each model's performance. We then tallied up the scores to give you a clear understanding of each model's performance. Vacuums that score well across all metrics are given top awards, while others may do admirably in one or two categories and are recognized for their specialized performance.
Value is an important aspect to consider since you want to purchase a vacuum that will best suit your needs for a fair price. We think of value in terms of how much performance you get for each dollar spent. There are some very competitively-priced canister vacuums in our review as well as some rather expensive ones. As you'll see, a higher price tag does not necessarily mean a better canister vacuum. In fact, we were quite surprised by some of the results, as some affordable vacuums outperform the most expensive.
The true test of a vacuum's performance is its ability to clean carpets effectively. That's why carpet cleaning is the most heavily weighted metric, accounting for up to 35% of each vacuums score. In order to test each model's carpet cleaning abilities, we spread out flour, Cheerios, rice, and oats across short and high-pile carpets of differing textures and vacuumed up the debris. We then took note of how much was left behind, what sizes of debris were picked up effectively, and how many passes it took to clean up 100% of the remnants.
After many hours of testing, we found the overall best carpet cleaning performance with the Miele Compact C1 Turbo. It barely edged out its sister, the Miele Complete C3 Calima PowerLine for the top spot in our testing, but the Miele consistently picked up everything we threw in its wake in the least amount of passes. That does not mean that the Miele C3 was a slacker in the least. Its performance was just a little lower than the Miele C1 due to a slim deficiency in picking up flour that kept it from our top spot as it took around 10 passes to pick up 100% of the particles. Both Miele models are a bit pricey, so if top-notch carpet cleaning is what you want, be prepared for an investment.
Next up in our lineup of top carpet cleaning vacuums is the more affordable Eureka Mighty Mite. It was neck and neck with the Eureka WhirlWind except that it fell just short when it came to our flour tests. Otherwise, the Eureka WhirlWind did a fabulous job with carpet cleaning, especially when picking up cereal and larger debris. Either one of the Eurekas would be a nice canister vacuum to have, and the price is hard to beat.
We were somewhat surprised to see the results of the Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor vacuum and the Bissell Zing Bagless — as big-name brands, we were expecting better results than we got. The Bissell actually performed poorly in our carpeting cleaning tests, and was especially bad in picking up the cereal, taking too many passes to count in order to pick it up. The Dyson wasn't much better, performing slightly better than the Bissell, but still not so hot.
Ease of Use
The reason why we test and rate these items for you is so that you don't buy something only to find that it doesn't meet your needs. That can be said for any of our categories, but especially for Ease of Use. If you can't maneuver your canister vacuum around the way you want, or if it tips over every time you move it, it'll just sit in the closet, which is why we give this category 25% of the total score.
We put these canister vacuums together and took them apart many, many times, rating how easy it was to get set up and start vacuuming. We tested reach, floor surface transition, edging, ability to maneuver through obstacles, and how easily each model worked overall. We even scored based on how easy it was to replace the bag, cup, and filters. Continue reading to find out which vacuums were the easiest to assemble and use.
The best performing canister vacuum in this category was the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly, which just barely edged out the Kenmore 600 Series Pet PowerMate as well as the Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor and Miele Complete C3 Calima PowerLine. All models had very similar performances and come recommended if you're just looking for a simple and easy-to-use canister.
Both Kenmore models impressed us when it came to Surface Transition (otherwise, how easy or difficult it is to switch from floors to carpet and back again) and Reach (how far can you vacuum before needing to unplug and plug in somewhere else). Edging is one of our more difficult tests. This consists of each vacuum's ability to sweep up debris against the wall, which is often hard to reach. The Elite and Kenmmore 600 Series both did exceptionally well with the Surface Transition and Reach, but both performed significantly worse than the others in our Edging tests due to a lack of reach.
Lastly, the Miele Complete C3 Calima PowerLine had an overall good edging performance, managing to pick up all of the rice with relative ease. The Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor impressed us when it came to surface transitioning with its nifty feature that allows its user to adjust the brush roll speed.
Lugging a vacuum up and down the stairs, getting in hard-to-reach places, and general heavy lifting are truly what make vacuuming a chore. Investing in a vacuum that can handle easily will make vacuuming a more enjoyable and satisfying experience. That's why we gave this metric a 20% weighting and tested each canister vacuum on its maneuverability, level of effort, and how easily we could take them up the stairs. Keep reading to see which vacuums will make your floor-cleaning days a breeze.
Those with stairs will especially appreciate a lightweight canister vacuum, and we found several that made the journey up and down painless. Our highest recommendation for a canister vacuum in this metric is the Eureka WhirlWind, just 11 pounds, followed closely by the Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor, an even lighter nine pounds. The Dyson actually performed best when maneuvering, while the Eureka was much easier to use in the other two metrics — pulling and pushing effort as well as stairs.
With wood, tile, or other hard surface floors becoming more popular, how a canister vacuum cleans on hard surfaces is important. In this metric, we compared the performance of each vacuum on our four piles of debris — oats, Cheerios, and flour. For this, we used a laminate floor roller which pressed the debris into the cracks and crevices of the floorboards, making the tests that much more challenging. We weighted this metric 10% overall for each product we tested.
The two best hard surface canister vacuums were the Eureka WhirlWind and Eureka Mighty Mite, followed by the Bissell Zing Bagless Canister. The Eurekas were consistent with picking up each of the different piles of debris, with the WhirlWind ranking just a bit higher than the Mighty Mite on the flour, but the Mighty Mite rated just a bit higher than the WhirlWind when sweeping up rice.
The Bissell Zing Bagless vacuum performed respectably in our rice, oatmeal, and flour tests, but our reviewers were incredibly frustrated with its suctioning of the Cheerios. The opening on the head was too small to get the Cheerios, so it clogged right away, meaning you had to shut off the unit, remove the debris from the head, and try again. The tools on the Mighty Mite didn't work with Cheerios either, so if this is the canister vacuum you want, plan on sweeping up Cheerios and other larger-sized cereal with a different device.
And herein lies the true test of any vacuum cleaner — can it pick up Fluffy's hair? We know this question is important to those of you with pets, so we gave this metric a 10% overall weighting of each canister vacuum's score. In order to test this, we used pet hair that was donated generously by a local groomer and spread exactly 5 grams across high pile carpet, passed each vacuum over the hair four times, and then calculated the percentage removed for the most accurate results by plucking the hairs out of the carpet and re-weighing them.
If you want a canister vacuum specifically for Fluffy's hair, then the Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor or Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly both come highly recommended for pet hair pickup. Generally, vacuums that come with brush rollers tend to pick up pet hair better than those without. Both the Dyson and Kenmore have brush rollers, which contributed to the vacuum's outstanding results. The Dyson managed to pick up 98.20% of pet hair, and the Kenmore 95.60%. Both left a few strands of Fluffy's hair behind, and both could challenge a good upright vacuum in this category.
Living up to its name, the Kenmore 600 Series Pet PowerMate was also a high-performing machine in our pet hair tests. The results were similar to the Dyson and could also give an upright a run for its money. What we really liked about this vacuum was that it was the only one that did not have a lot of static, which causes hair to cling when vacuuming. Perhaps that's because it has a motor in its head, which is similar to an upright.
The Miele Compact C1 Turbo and the Miele Complete C3 Calima PowerLine brought a somewhat middling performance. The Miele Compact C1 did a better job with pet hair than the Miele Complete C3. Both had some issues with static causing a build-up in the head, and while neither one left behind big piles of Fluffy's hair, they consistently missed hair across the whole carpet.
Our goal in these reviews is always to provide you, the consumer, with as much information as possible to make an informed decision when purchasing a canister vacuum that will live with you for years to come. A lot of careful thought goes into the test metrics we've chosen — carpet cleaning, ease of use, handling, hard surface, and pet hair. If your budget is tight, but you don't want to sacrifice performance, the Eureka WhirlWind and its sister, the Eureka Mighty Mite are great options. For those who are looking to make a major investment, look no further than the Dyson Big Ball Multi Floor for a stellar pet hair performance and our favorite carpet cleaner, the Miele Compact C1 Turbo. No matter what you choose, we hope this review has assisted you in narrowing your search to find the best canister vacuum.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.