Best Vacuum Cleaner of 2020
Best Overall Vacuum Cleaner
Shark APEX DuoClean Zero-M
The APEX DuoClean with Zero-M by Shark earns the highest score in the category, after handling all types of messes in our testing on both hard and soft floors, cleaning up everything from rice to flour. On top of excellent cleaning performance, the APEX is amazingly easy to use. The swivel head is exceptionally maneuverable, and a Lift-Away function gets into the hard-to-reach places around your home. Also, the new Zero-M does a great job of collecting pet hair.
Drawbacks with this model are few and far between. The cord is on the shorter side, and the base of the vacuum is prone to falling over when using the wand attachment. That's about it. We highly recommend the Shark APEX.
Read Full Review: Shark APEX DuoClean Zero-M
Best for Carpet
Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly
The Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly is a bulkier bagged vacuum cleaner that is short on extra features and functions, but it really can't be beaten for carpet cleaning performance. It did a great job of removing even hard to clean messes from soft floors and has one of the larger cleaning paths of the group, making it a breeze to tackle large rooms efficiently.
However, this performance comes at a price; it's hefty and a little less maneuverable. However, it is a great choice for carpeted homes that require a heavy-duty machine. It also does a solid job cleaning hard floors and that were dirtied by messy pets or kids.
Read Full Review: Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly
Best Bang for the Buck
Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional
If you are shopping for a well-performing vacuum cleaner on a budget, then we highly recommend the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional. In our testing, it was able to remove all types of debris from carpet, including pet hair. It isn't too heavy or cumbersome, is overall easy to use, and is highly maneuverable, primarily as a result of its swivel head.
However, we weren't impressed with its performance on hard floors. It cleans up medium-sized debris reasonably well but struggles with very fine messes like flour and larger debris such as Cheerios. It required a few extra passes to get the job done. All in all, this is our favorite vacuum when shopping on a budget. It holds its own with other models that cost significantly more and delivers an above-average performance across the board.
Read Full Review: Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional
Best Canister Vacuum
Miele Compact C1 Turbo
The Miele Compact C1 Turbo doesn't merit an award, but we felt it still deserved recognition. This canister vacuum is easy to use and set up, has high maneuverability, and it is one of our favorite models for quick cleanup — especially in cluttered areas. The Miele earned the highest score of all the canister vacuums in our test, making it a solid choice for those with a strong preference for this style over an upright model.
Unfortunately, this bagged vacuum is quite expensive — one of the pricier models of the entire group. Miele vacuums have a solid reputation for longevity and durability, but this one costs a lot for a vacuum that didn't post the top score.
Read Full Review: Miele Compact C1 Turbo
Why You Should Trust Us
Our in-house vacuum testers, Austin Palmer and David Wise , have tested dozens of upright, canister, stick, handheld, and robot vacuums over the past three years, so they have notched long hours on the vacuum reviewing circuit.
We also consulted with Lindsey Schultz, co-owner of Mighty Tidy Tahoe, a professional cleaning service that cleans close to 1000 rental homes, residences, and offices each year. Lindsey helped us refine and revise our testing plan and process, and lent her expertise to our evaluation process and testing results.
To rate these products, we put them through a series of challenging tests designed to push them to their limits. We conducted over 20 different tests for each vacuum, equating to hours and hours sucking up pet hair, oatmeal, flour, cereal, and rice from different types of carpet and hard floors.
Related: How We Tested Vacuum Cleaners
Analysis and Test Results
We split our various assessments into five weighted rating metrics — Carpet Cleaning, Ease of Use, Handling, Hard Surface Cleaning, and Pet Hair — with each metric weighted relative to its significance on overall performance.
Related: Buying Advice for Vacuum Cleaners
Both of our top scorers, the Shark APEX and the Kenmore Elite, cost at least a few hundred dollars, but offer unmatched performance. The former is the best all-around model that we tested, and the latter is by far the best vacuum in our lineup for carpets. Even with higher price tags, they could provide the right kind of value for those looking for top-notch performance. If spending that much isn't in your budget, consider the high-value Shark Navigator Professional. This vac makes only minor concessions, struggling slightly at cleaning hard floors compared to the top models, but scores very well in every other aspect, all while costing quite a bit less than the top award winners.
Carpet cleaning accounts for 35% of each score — the largest of any metric. We used oatmeal, cereal, rice, and flour as our sample debris, spreading out a measured amount on low and medium-pile carpet and pressing it in with a floor roller, then running each vacuum over it. We compared the results, counting the number of passes to get the floor visually clean, as well as comparing the amount of debris picked up in a single pass.
The Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly and the Shark APEX DuoClean take home the top ratings with their exceptional performance. The APEX did a fantastic job cleaning up the rice, doing exceptionally well at getting all of the rice off of the low-pile carpet. It got most of it with a single pass and didn't leave a single grain behind after a second rollover. It also did very well with the medium-pile carpet, although there were a few grains deep in the fibers that eluded it. It did equally well with the flour, easily getting practically all of it from the flat carpet and only leaving a bit behind on the fluffier carpet.
It finished out with two more excellent sets of results, doing a great job in our cereal and oat collection tests. The APEX sucked up all of the Cheerios with ease on both types of carpets and only left trace amounts of oats behind.
The Kenmore did a fantastic job collecting rice, only requiring two passes to clean up everything on both low and medium-pile carpet. It even outperformed the APEX in this test. This vacuum continued its excellent run when it came to cereal and oatmeal. However, it did take a few more passes (six to eight in total) to get the oatmeal out of the fluffy, medium-pile carpet satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the performance dropped when it came to flour. Though it still maintained its top spot when cleaning the flour out of the medium-pile carpet, the Kenmore dropped to the middle of the pack on the low-pile carpet. All three of the Shark vacuums and the Hoover WindTunnel outperformed it.
Following the Kenmore and the APEX was a quartet of vacuums with superb carpet cleaning performance, including the Shark Rotator with DuoClean, the Navigator Lift-Away Professional, the Dyson Ball Animal 2, and the Miele Compact C1.
The Shark Rotator did an excellent job at collecting the rice — almost on par with the Kenmore — even getting the vast majority of the rice in a single pass on the medium-pile carpet.
The Shark Rotator performed on par with the Kenmore for cereal, requiring two or fewer passes to sufficiently clean the carpet, and even did well at collecting flour from low-pile carpet, tying with the Shark APEX. However, the performance of the Rotator dropped to third overall when picking up flour from fluffy carpet and didn't impress when put to the oatmeal test, requiring 10 passes to sufficiently clean it.
The Navigator Lift-Away Professional also did very well at collecting rice, matching the Rotator when it came to cleaning low-pile carpet. However, it required a few extra passes to catch the residual grains, ultimately not performing as well on the fluffier carpet. It also struggled a little with the flour on the flat carpet, but did an excellent job on the fluffier carpet, significantly outperforming the Rotator.
It did take a few extra passes to get all of the debris on the fluffier carpet but finished out with a strong performance in our cereal and oat collection assessments on low-pile carpet. The Navigator Lift-Away Professional tended to push the debris around before collecting it, which we noticed most with the Cheerios.
The Dyson Ball Animal 2 did take a few more passes to match the amount of material collected by the Shark Rotator but more or less matched its performance at rice collection. However, it did poorly at collecting flour — dropping to the middle and the lower half of the pack for this test — tying with the Hoover on the flat carpet and performing second-worst in the fluffy carpet test, only beating the Oreck.
It performed on par with the Rotator and the APEX for collecting cereal and oatmeal on low-pile carpet, but slightly worse on the fluffier, medium-pile tests.
The Miele did quite well at collecting flour, tying for the overall runner-up position in both of the tests.
However, its performance dropped slightly in the remaining three tests — delivering an above-average but not exceptional performance. It did somewhat worse than the Dyson Ball Animal 2 at collecting oatmeal on low-pile carpet but slightly better on the fluffy carpet, doing as well as the Kenmore. It performed well on the flat carpet and average on the fluffy carpet, overall doing reasonably well in the cereal and rice tests.
Next is the Shark Navigator Deluxe with an overall above-average performance at cleaning carpets. It didn't quite match the Rotator when it came to collecting rice, performing similarly on flat carpet, but lagging on the fluffy carpet. The Navigator Deluxe left more rice behind than the Rotator after completing more passes. The same pattern emerged in the flour test, with the Navigator Deluxe finishing just behind the Rotator on the low-pile carpet, but finishing in the middle of the pack in the fluffy carpet.
Once again, the Navigator Deluxe did better at collecting cereal from the low-pile carpet, only requiring an extra pass to match the Rotator or Kenmore, but requiring multiple passes to clean sufficiently, as it tended to "snowplow" the Cheerios around, rather than sucking them up. However, the Navigator Deluxe did do very well in the oatmeal test, matching the performance of the Rotator.
Finishing towards the bottom of the group for our carpet cleaning tests were the Oreck XL and the Bissell 9595A. The 9595A did very poorly at collecting rice, with the Oreck performing even worse, leaving plenty of residual rice after multiple passes. These two also finished at the back of the pack in the flour test. Performance improved slightly with cereal and oatmeal, with both models scoring average, or just below.
The BLACK+DECKER AirSwivel Lite ended up with the lowest performance of the entire group. It was okay at collecting rice and oats but failed at picking up Cheerios due to its low clearance.
Ease of Use
The Ease of Use metric accounts for 25% of each model's final score. We compared the noise of each vacuum cleaner, its maximum reach, the ease of cleaning close to edges and under furniture, and how each vacuum handled transitioning between different surfaces.
Next is a handful of models with respectable performance, including the Shark APEX DuoClean with Zero-M, the Shark Rotator DuoClean, the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly, and the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional. The Shark APEX and the Shark Rotator both handle surface transitions exceptionally well — though not quite on par with the Dyson Ball Animal 2, which automatically adjusts to different types of floors and lets you turn the rotating brush head on or off. The Rotator and the APEX both have a button on the handle, with a hard floor option that will slow down the rotating brush, as well as options to select between low-pile and medium-pile carpet.
The Navigator Lift-Away Professional only gives you the option to turn the rotating brush on or off but lacks options for different piles of carpet or for adjusting the height of the extractor. However, it is straightforward to turn the brush on or off with a convenient button right near the top of the vacuum.
It is a little hard to adjust the Kenmore, requiring you to turn a knob on the front of the vacuum. However, it was the best of the entire group at cleaning close to a wall or edge, leaving the least residual debris.
The Navigator Lift-Away Professional also did a great job at cleaning along the edges of a room and left only a small amount of mess behind, outperforming the Shark Rotator.
The APEX did well along the edges of a room but left some mess behind in the corners, particularly in the space right in front of the vacuum when you push it into a corner.
When it came to cleaning under furniture, both the APEX and the Rotator earned top marks. Both of these vacuums reached a little over 10 inches under our test "sofa" without the Lift-Away function, and thoroughly cleaned underneath when using it. The Navigator Lift-Away Professional and Kenmore only made it about nine inches and seven inches under our test "sofa," respectively.
Next, we looked at the maximum reach of each vacuum. We measured both the cord and the reach to determine how far you could effectively clean from the outlet. The Kenmore has one of the longest reaches overall, with the rest of the products falling in behind it.
Next, we looked at how loud each of these vacuum cleaners is. Both the Shark APEX and the Navigator impressed us by how quiet they are, only registering 72 dBa and 73 dBa on our SPL meter. Unfortunately, the remaining vacuums generate significantly more noise and are much more distracting, especially the Miele, which had a very high-pitched whine.
Following the top-tier models, the majority of the pack all were about the same to use, with the Dyson Ball Animal 2, the Miele Compact C1 Turbo, the Oreck XL, and the Shark Navigator Deluxe all rating well with their above-average performance. The Dyson was the best at switching between flooring types, automatically transitioning, with the option to turn off the brush.
The Navigator Deluxe doesn't adjust for different floors but allows you to turn the brush on or off. The Miele requires you to swap heads for hard floors, while the Oreck lacks all adjustability.
The Dyson Ball Animal 2 did the best of this group at edging, just barely being outperformed by the Kenmore. Next, the Navigator Deluxe and the Oreck got the next-closest to the edge, both leaving a small amount of debris in the tight corners.
The Miele did exceptionally well at reaching under furniture, thoroughly cleaning the area under our test "sofa." The Oreck also did very well, especially for an upright model, reaching between 10 to 11 inches under the furniture. The Navigator Deluxe and the Dyson Ball Animal 2 did alright, reaching under about six inches.
The Oreck XL had the longest reach of the group at 37 feet and the Navigator Deluxe having the shortest at 27 feet. The Miele and Dyson models were in the middle, ranging from 30 to 32 feet.
The Navigator Deluxe and Miele were both on the quiet side — on par or just slightly louder than the Kenmore. The Dyson was about average, similar to the Eureka, and the Oreck XL was a bit loud.
Next, the AirSwivel Lite has a slightly better reach than some vacuums, able to clean about an inch further under furniture than others, but has a shorter power cord, offering you about three feet less reach. This vacuum does a solid job cleaning along the walls of the room. Still, its overall cleaning ability is hampered by the fact that its clearance is not adjustable to accommodate different floor types.
Finishing out the bottom of this metric is once again the Bissell 9595A with its wanting performance. This vacuum has a dial in the front to adjust the height for different floors, but you can't stop the rotating brush for when you are cleaning hard floors. It also did somewhat poorly in the edge test, leaving a small strip of rice behind. The 9595A only made it about five inches under our test "sofa" — the worst of the entire group.
Comprising 20% of the total score, our Handling metric encompasses maneuvering each vacuum around common obstacles, cleaning stairs, and the pushing/pulling effort required from each model to clean.
The BLACK+DECKER AirSwivel Lite merited the top spot with its exceptional performance. Its hose only has enough reach to clean about six stairs, but it is one of the lightest upright vacuums, making it exceptionally easy to carry up or down flights of stairs. It also is highly maneuverable with its swivel head and takes minimal effort to push across carpeted floors, though the wheels on some of the best Shark or Dyson vacuums rolled a bit better over soft floors.
The Shark APEX, the Shark Rotator, the Navigator Lift-Away Professional, and the Dyson Ball Animal 2 each earned respectable scores for their excellent performance in our Handling metric. The Animal 2 is one of the best in this group at cleaning stairs. It was able to clean our entire flight of stairs with its accessory hose, negating the need to carry the vacuum up to complete the cleaning.
The Shark Rotator, the Shark APEX, and the Navigator Lift-Away Professional were able to reach about six steps, but are a bit heavy to carry up and down. However, these three and the Dyson Ball Animal 2 earned stellar marks overall in our test course, maneuvering through it flawlessly.
The Miele, the Oreck XL, and the Shark Navigator Deluxe all performed slightly above average when it comes to handling and maneuverability. The Shark Navigator Deluxe impressed us with its exceptional reach, having a hose long enough to be able to clean the entire flight of stairs from the bottom. However, it doesn't glide as easily as some of the other products and seems less nimble, pushing it out of the top tier when it comes to handling.
The Miele performed slightly above average at cleaning stairs, while the Oreck was the worst, lacking a cleaning hose.
The Miele maneuvered very well through our test course, on par with the Eureka Mighty Mite. The Oreck XL and the Navigator Deluxe handled alright, but are substantially clunkier than the Shark Rotator or Dyson Ball Animal 2. The Oreck took a little less effort to push or pull than the Navigator Deluxe or Miele.
The Bissell 9595A once again scored near the bottom of the ranks with its medicore performance. It has a decently long reach, making it up eight stairs and wasn't overly heavy. However, it wasn't the most maneuverable and was a bit clunkier and more cumbersome to steer than the Oreck XL and the Navigator Deluxe.
Finishing out the bottom of our Handling metric is the Kenmore Elite. This model only reached up six and a half stairs before you needed to move it — a pain, as it is exceptionally heavy. This model is big and clunky, making it hard to maneuver through our obstacle course, and requires significant effort to push or pull.
Hard Surface Cleaning
Making up 10% of the total score, our Hard Surface Cleaning test is practically identical to our carpet cleaning tests, with hardwood floor swapped for carpet. Once again, we spread oatmeal, flour, cereal, and rice on the floor and vacuumed it up, evaluating the performance of each model.
The Shark Rotator DuoClean and the Shark APEX tied for the top spot in this metric with almost identical performance. Using the hard floor setting on both vacuums, they collected practically all of the rice in a single pass — even sucking in rice that was wider than the brush head. This pair also did a fantastic job at cleaning flour from the hard floor, even cleaning it out of the cracks and crevices — though it took the Rotator about 10 passes, it only took the APEX two.
This pair of vacuums carried their excellent performance over to our cereal and oatmeal tests, delivering the best results after only a single pass.
After the Shark APEX and Rotator come the Miele and the Dyson Ball Animal 2. The Ball Animal 2 picked up all the rice on the first pass, similar to the Rotator, while the Miele required two passes to match its performance. However, the Miele did match the performance of the Ball Animal 2 and the Rotator in our flour test, with all three of these vacuums receiving a perfect score.
The Dyson Ball Animal 2 did outperform the Miele at collecting Cheerios, once again only needing a single pass to the Miele's two. However, the Dyson would occasionally push the Cheerios around and pile them up, rather than sucking them up. It finished this metric with a reasonably good score in our oatmeal test, only leaving a few pieces behind that fell into the cracks between boards. The Miele did alright, tending to push stuff around more often than collecting it.
The bulk of the vacuums came next, with the Navigator Lift-Away Professional, the Kenmore Elite, and the Navigator Deluxe all earning respectable scores for their hard floor cleaning abilities.
The Navigator Deluxe and the Navigator Lift-Away Professional did a great job in the rice cleanup test, only needing a single pass to collect everything, compared to the two passes it took most of the other vacuums. However, their performances both dropped in the flour test. These products couldn't clean up any flour that had fallen in the cracks between boards, and plenty of flour became stuck on the wheels throughout the test. The Kenmore also suffered from a similar problem, tracking the flour around as you are cleaning.
The Kenmore led this group in the Cheerio collection test, doing a fine job. This vacuum was closely followed by the Navigator Deluxe, which would get some Cheerios trapped in its brush, while the Navigator Lift-Away Professional would push the cereal around, rather than collecting it when moving the brush forward. These vacuums would all collect the cereal when you pulled the head towards you, leaving enough of a gap to suck up the Cheerios.
Moving on to our oatmeal pickup test, the Navigator Lift-Away Professional did the best of the group, collecting the bulk of the oats in a single pass, with only a quick cleanup pass necessary to render the floor completely clean.
The Kenmore and the Shark did reasonably well, performing similarly to the Dyson Ball Animal 2.
Ending up in the third to last position in this metric, the Oreck XL struggled somewhat with its mediocre hard floor cleaning efforts. The Oreck did about average at collecting rice, though it did fling some around. It also did quite well at collecting flour, even getting some out of the cracks, performing on par with the Eureka. However, it did terrible at managing cereal and oatmeal. It just pushed around the Cheerios, while the oatmeal test ended in mild catastrophe, with it flinging oats everywhere, rather than collecting them.
Next, the BLACK+DECKER AirSwivel Lite had a lackluster performance and did quite poorly in three out of four tests in this metric. It flung rice and oats everywhere, significantly increasing the overall size of the mess with which we started. Furthermore, the clearance on this vacuum is far too low to effectively pick up larger particles like Cheerios, ultimately just pushing them around indefinitely.
It did do a slightly above average job at collecting flour, but there was a noticeable film stubbornly clinging to the floor after it passed over an area repeatedly.
The Pet Hair metric is responsible for the remaining 10% of the final score. We spread five grams of pet hair on medium-pile carpet, then pressed it in. We ran each vacuum over it, calculating the percentage of hair collected to determine final scores.
The Shark APEX, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional, the Dyson Ball Animal 2, the Kenmore Elite, Miele, and the Navigator Deluxe all received top marks when it came to cleaning up after Fido or Fluffy. These top-tier vacuums all collected 90% or more of the pet hair, with the Navigator Lift-Away Professional doing the best job overall, containing over 99% of the hair that we spread out on the test carpet, followed closely by the APEX, which picked up 97% of the hair.
Finishing just behind these top models were the Bissell 9595A, the Oreck XL, the AirSwivel Lite, and the Shark Rotator with their good performance. This trio collected most of the pet hair, but left just a little more, getting 86%, 89%, 89%, and 88% of the hair respectively.
We hope that this review helped you narrow down your options to help you find the best vacuum cleaner. Whether you are looking for a top-tier model that can handle heavy-duty use or a budget option for typical cleaning needs, there is a vacuum cleaner out there for you.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer