Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Canister Vacuums

Tuesday July 26, 2022
canister vacuum
Credit: Abriah Wofford

We spent many hours researching, bought the best canister vacuums on the market, and then put them through a complete series of side-by-side tests to find the best. We then objectively rated each canister vacuum based on the results of our long and rigorous tests so that you can be confident that you have found the best vacuum cleaner suited for your needs and budget.

Carpet Cleaning


Carpets are magnets for dust, dirt, and debris that can nest in your carpet for years if you don't have an effective vacuum. We know carpet cleaning is important for many reasons, so we made this our most heavily weighted metric at 35%.

we put the canister vacuums through stringent tests on short and...
We put the canister vacuums through stringent tests on short and high-pile carpets.
Credit: Chris McNamara

For our carpet cleaning tests, we scattered Cheerios, rice, flour, and oatmeal on both medium-pile and flat carpeting. After we spread out the debris, we pushed it further into the carpet using a laminate floor roller. We then counted how many passes each vacuum took to pick up all the goods.

we pressed debris deeper into the carpeting using a laminate floor...
We pressed debris deeper into the carpeting using a laminate floor roller.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Ease of Use


You could buy the best vacuum out there, but if it's a pain in the neck to use, you've just wasted your money. So we gave Ease of Use 25% of the total score of each canister.

we noted how easily each vacuum is to use.
We noted how easily each vacuum is to use.
Credit: Chris McNamara

We tested edging, reach, furniture access, and surface transition on each canister vacuum and rated them accordingly. Our edging tests determine how well the vacuums clean when up against the wall. Reach is how far away you can get from the electrical plug (cord length) and how far the hose reaches from the canister. Surface transition tests how well the vacuum can go from low-pile carpeting to medium-pile or hard surface to carpeting.

debris can pile up against walls, which highlights the importance of...
Debris can pile up against walls, which highlights the importance of our edging tests.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Handling


For this metric, we tested how easily the vacuums were to turn (both the head and the canister itself), how hard it was to push or pull the vac, and how far the head reached from the canister as well as how heavy it was to drag it up stairs. These tests accounted for 20% of each canister vacuum's final score.

we used cardboard and wood boxes as well as traffic cones to build...
We used cardboard and wood boxes as well as traffic cones to build our vacuum obstacle course.
Credit: Austin Palmer

In our maneuverability tests, we put each canister vacuum inside our hand-made obstacle course. We watched as each model either struggled or swiveled around the different cones and barricades we placed throughout the room.

we swiveled each vacuum through traffic cones to see which was the...
We swiveled each vacuum through traffic cones to see which was the most agile.
Credit: Chris McNamara

We also noted how much each vacuum weighs, pushing and pulling the canisters on carpets and hardwood flooring to see how much effort it took. Next, we carried the canisters up and down the stairs, determining the level of difficulty. We even checked the stability of each vacuum, testing how easily the canisters were prone to tipping over after we set them upright.

Hard Surface


Our four piles of debris (rice, flour, oatmeal, Cheerios) were each tested on a hard surface flooring. We weighted this metric at 10% total and looked at how well the vacuums cleaned on hard flooring and how many passes it took to pick up a myriad of debris. Factors that contribute to our performance assessments include the use of a brush roller and the number of passes to collect everything. We even noted how well each model extracted the debris from the cracks and crevices of our hardwood floors.

we pressed flour into hardwood flooring to make our tests that much...
We pressed flour into hardwood flooring to make our tests that much more difficult.
Credit: Austin Palmer

Pet Hair


We wrapped up our final testing procedures with pet hair and weighted this metric at 10%. In order to test this, we picked up a large bag of hair donated by a local groomer, spread out 50 grams of pet hair over high-pile carpet, and vacuumed over the hair at least four times with each model. We then took the remaining hairs and weighed them, finding the difference and using the percentage remaining to score each vacuums pet hair performance.

our vacuums swept up pet hair on several types of surfaces.
Our vacuums swept up pet hair on several types of surfaces.
Credit: Chris McNamara

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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.

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