How to Choose a Stick Vacuum

Article By:
David Wise


Last Updated:
Thursday
September 21, 2017

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Stumbling when searching for a new stick vacuum? Wondering what these products are even used for or why you should get one? We break down the best applications for these little vacuums, what to look for when shopping for one, and why you would even consider them in the following sections. Alternatively, you can check out our comprehensive, side-by-side stick vacuum review to see which are the top models on the market today.

A robot vacuum  upright vacuum  and a stick vacuum.
A robot vacuum, upright vacuum, and a stick vacuum.

Why Should You Get a Stick Vacuum?


First off, you may be wondering what a stick vacuum even and why in the world you would want one. Weren't regular vacuums plenty good enough? The answer is yes….and no. While a traditional vacuum, whether it is an upright or canister model, will undeniably have substantially superior cleaning performance, with a larger motor, better suction, and a larger collection bin, a stick vacuum is leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to convenience and ease of use.

The Dyson V8 was one of the easiest models to use.
The Dyson V8 was one of the easiest models to use.

A stick vacuum's main purpose is for cleaning up lighter duty or smaller messes conveniently and easily, allowing you to leave the bulky traditional vacuum in the closet while you clean up that cup of flour or rice that you spilled. These products aren't really meant to supplant a traditional vacuum, instead allow you a readily available option for a quick spot clean, an easy way to freshen up your house in between deep cleans, or if you live in a very small house or apartment, even clean your entire home. In addition, many of these models transform into a handheld, Dustbuster-style vacuum or have plenty of included attachments to clean hard to reach places in your home, ranging from your upholstery to under appliances.

The handheld mode of the V6 makes it easy to clean all parts of your home  even the ceilings!
The handheld mode of the V6 makes it easy to clean all parts of your home, even the ceilings!

Now, if you have kids or pets that generate plenty of mess, that might be enough to overwhelm even the most powerful stick vacuum, but if the idea of replacing your broom and dustpan with a slightly more modern option appeals to you, then read on as we start to narrow down which flavor of stick vacuum would be the best for you.

Some of the top models in our test.
Some of the top models in our test.

Step 1: Light Cleanup or Frequent Use?


The first thing to think about when starting the process of selecting a new stick vacuum is whether you are looking for something that will just be used for small, intermittent messes — the typical use of these products — or if you are going to attempt to supplant a standard vacuum with a stick one and use it for deeper cleans.

If you are looking for a product to supplement your existing cleaning solution, you should look for a vacuum that is compact, convenient to use, and scored highly in our Ease of Use metric.

The Dyson V8 in handheld mode.
The Dyson V8 in handheld mode.

You would be best served by a model that is capable of cleaning non-floor areas of your home, whether it's a handheld vacuum that is separated from the main base or by switching the floor attachment for a different one.

The BLACK+DECKER converts into a handheld vacuum.
The BLACK+DECKER converts into a handheld vacuum.

Those that are looking primarily for a supplemental cleaning option shouldn't be overly concerned with cleaning power, as all of the models that we looked at should handle lighter duty messes with ease, leaving your standard vacuum to handle the heavy messes. However, you should instead place a higher weight on different cleaning modes available, the ability to turn the rotating brush head on and off, and the number of included accessories. The ability to turn the rotating brush head on and off is a surprisingly critical element, as this can make all the difference between cleaning up rice with ease or creating a rice-pocalypse, with the rotating brush flinging rice everywhere and generating even more mess than you started with.

If you are looking to use a stick vacuum as your primary cleaning utensil or generally have more intense messes to clean up, then you will want to focus on cleaning prowess over convenience. For those that live in a smaller studio or one bedroom apartment, a standard vacuum may be overkill, while a high-performance stick vacuum may be the perfect fit.

The Shark Rocket has superior cleaning power  helped by the fact that it is a corded model.
The Shark Rocket has superior cleaning power, helped by the fact that it is a corded model.

You will want to be sure that you select a model with a rotating brush head, as this drastically improves the cleaning performance of the product. You will also probably have better luck with a corded, rather than a cordless model, bringing us to our next point.

The Shark Navigator Freestyle scored about average in our Ease of Use metric.
The Shark Navigator Freestyle scored about average in our Ease of Use metric.

Step 2: To Cut the Cord, or Not?


With the advent of smaller, more powerful motors and compact lithium batteries, cordless stick vacuums have been rapidly gaining in popularity. These cordless products offer significantly less hassle, increased agility, and maneuverability, and are easier to use, all without sacrificing too much in terms of cleaning performance. However, while you might initially think these are obviously superior to corded models, there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to both.

A cordless vacuum should definitely be at the top of your list if you are primarily looking for a product that can augment your existing vacuum and will mainly be used for light cleans in between deep cleans. This is the situation where a cordless vacuum will shine. It's convenient to grab, use briefly, and easy to maneuver without worrying about a cord tangling up. The reduced cleaning power shouldn't be an issue, as it is a relatively light mess between deep cleans and the entire cleanup should be easily accomplished before the battery depletes.

A cordless vacuum is usually best suited for light messes.
A cordless vacuum is usually best suited for light messes.

In some cases, a cordless vacuum can even match the cleaning power of a corded model — though you can expect to shell out a decent amount of cash and don't expect it to have a long battery life.

The Dyson V8 was one of the easiest models to use.
The Dyson V8 was one of the easiest models to use.

A cordless model, especially a cordless model that converts into a handheld vacuum, is also a great option for venturing outside of your home. This is the perfect tool for cleaning your car, boat, or RV, allowing you to finish the job quickly and easily without ever tripping over a cord.

The handheld option of the BLACK+DECKER does expand the area that you can clean considerably.
The handheld option of the BLACK+DECKER does expand the area that you can clean considerably.

While these points may lead you to believe that there is no point in getting a corded, model, there are some distinct disadvantages to them. These products usually cost more than their corded counterparts, have a much shorter lifespan due to their batteries aging over time, and can't match the cleaning power of the corded models, bringing us to why you might want to consider sticking with a cord.

Corded stick vacuums are a fantastic option if you live somewhere where there are constant sources of mess — Kids? Dogs? Cats? All Three? — and you are going to place more reliance on your stick vacuum for your routine. In this case, you need a vacuum that won't die on you after 10 minutes and that won't become flummoxed by larger messes. While there are cordless models that fulfill these requirements, the comparable corded model will usually cost about a third as much.


All of the included accessories with the Shark Rocket.
All of the included accessories with the Shark Rocket.

Step 3: Time to Accessorize?


Now that you have made the decision about what you are going to use your stick vacuum for and whether or not to cut the cord, you are probably down to just a few models and are looking for something to make your final determination. It's now a good time to think about any particularly difficult areas of your home to clean and to see if any of the models you are considering have a dedicated attachment or accessory.

The included accessories with the Dyson V8.
The included accessories with the Dyson V8.

Theis a myriad of accessories for every conceivable cleaning use, either included or available for purchase with these products. Having a hard time cleaning under your stove or washer/dryer? Look for a model with an under-appliance cleaning brush. Trying to get pet hair off your couch or armchair? Look for a pet hair or upholstery brush? While the available or included accessories aren't usually enough merit or utility on their own to drive your purchase decision, it can be a great way to make your decision, after you have narrowed down the pool of products to a handful of finalists.

Conclusion


Hopefully, you have found some use from this article when trying to decide if you should purchase a stick vacuum and what model. You can also consult our How We Test article for a detailed breakdown of our testing plans and processes or our comprehensive, head-to-head review of specific models for detailed information about how each of the top brands stacks up.

David Wise
About the Author
Born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, David Wise earned his B.S. in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at MIT, where he participated on the marine robotics team and interactive STEAM education in the community. After graduation, David went on to work for a startup company building underwater autonomous robots used for seafloor mapping and ocean exploration. Unable to resist the mountains' calling, he returned to Tahoe in 2015 to join TechGearLab as a senior review editor. When he's not testing the latest and greatest tech gear, David enjoys skiing, mountain biking, baking amazing bread, building silly electric vehicles, and spending time with his amazing girlfriend and extremely large dog.

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