Best Vacuum Cleaner of 2021
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|Pros||Fantastic cleaning performance, excellent at picking up pet hair||Fantastic cleaning power, easy to use, easy to handle||Inexpensive, cleans carpet very well, picks up pet hair with ease||Great at cleaning carpets and hard floors, nimble, fantastic at picking up pet hair||Best at cleaning carpet, easy to use, exceptional at picking up pet hair|
|Cons||Not the best with stairs, reach is a little short||Falls over easily, average reach||Not particularly impressive at cleaning hard floors||Expensive||Heavy, hard to handle|
|Bottom Line||The best vacuum cleaner you can buy||Delivering a solid performance across our tests, the Rotator is one of the better vacuums we have seen||Delivering a superb performance across the board and retailing for a great price, the Navigator Lift-Away is our favorite when it comes to getting the most bang for the buck||The Ball Animal 2 from Dyson delivered a second-tier performance at a top-tier price||The Kenmore was unmatched when it came to cleaning carpet|
|Rating Categories||Shark APEX...||Shark Rotator with...||Navigator...||Dyson Ball Animal 2||Kenmore Elite Pet...|
|Carpet Cleaning (35%)|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|Hard Surface Cleaning (10%)|
|Pet Hair (10%)|
|Specs||Shark APEX...||Shark Rotator with...||Navigator...||Dyson Ball Animal 2||Kenmore Elite Pet...|
|Model Number||AZ10002 40||NV800W||NV356E||227635-01||31150|
|Cleaning Path Width:||11.75"||10.25"||11.25"||13.5"||13.75"|
|Measured Brush Width||9"||8"||9"||12.25"||12.75"|
|Measured Weight||16.9 lbs.||15.1 lbs.||14.4 lbs.||17.1 lbs.||21.1 lbs.|
|Variable Suction Control||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Brush On/Off Switch:||Slow||Low||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Measured Maximum Reach||32'||32'||31'||32'||37'|
|Measured Power Cord Length:||30'||30'||30'||30'||34'|
|Automatic Cord Rewind:||No||No||No||No||No|
|Noise||72 dBa||75 dBa||73 dBa||76 dBa||72.5 dBa|
Best Overall Vacuum Cleaner
Shark APEX DuoClean Zero-M
After handling all types of messes in our testing on both hard and soft floors, cleaning up everything from rice to flour, the APEX DuoClean with Zero-M by Shark earns the top marks overall. In addition to its killer cleaning capabilities, the APEX is extremely straightforward to use. The swivel head manipulates easily around corners, and a Lift-Away function gets into stubborn corners and tight spots around your home. Also, the new Zero-M makes easy work of collecting pet hair.
It is hard to find much to gripe about on this model. One thing we noted is that the cord is on the shorter side, and the vacuum base can sometimes tip over if you are using the wand attachment. There's not much more to report. The long and short of 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 short on extra features and functions, but it is very hard to top it in terms of carpet cleaning performance. It did well when removing tough messes from carpet and has one of the wider cleaning paths of the test fleet, so efficiently tackling large rooms was a breeze
The trade-off for this strong performance is that this model is hefty and harder to handle. However, it is a great choice for carpeted homes that require a high-powered machine. It also performs great on hard surfaces and floors dirtied by children or furry friends.
Read Full Review: Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly
Best Bang for the Buck
Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional
If you are shopping for a decently-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, it's simple to use, and the swivel head makes handling a breeze.
We were disappointed with this model's performance when cleaning hard floors. It could clean up medium-sized debris reasonably well but struggled when faced with very fine messes like flour or larger debris like Cheerios, requiring several passes to suck everything up. Despite that, this is still our top recommendation for those on a tighter budget. It stands up well against other models that cost substantially more and delivers an above-average performance overall.
Read Full Review: Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional
Best Canister Vacuum
Miele Compact C1 Turbo
The Miele Compact C1 Turbo is a canister style vacuum that is easy to get going out of the box, handles extremely well, and is one of our top choices for spot cleaning messes — especially in cluttered areas. The Miele earned the highest score of all the canister vacuums in our test, making it a great choice if you like this style better than an upright vacuum.
Unfortunately, this bagged vacuum is pretty pricey — one of the more expensive models of the whole test group. Miele vacuums have a solid reputation for longevity and durability, but we feel the price is high for a vacuum that didn't earn the top marks in our tests.
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 lent her expertise to our evaluation and testing results, helping us refine and revise our testing plan and process.
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 sucking up pet hair, oatmeal, cereal, flour, and rice from many styles of carpeting and hard flooring.
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
Leading the pack, both the Shark APEX and the Kenmore Elite will set you back a few hundred dollars, but they deliver unparalleled 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. Despite the increased costs, if you're looking for top-notch performance, one of these might be the value you are looking for. If they are too far out of your price range, 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 putting significantly less stress on your wallet than the top award winners.
Carpet cleaning accounts for 35% of each product's 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, 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 Shark APEX DuoClean and the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly 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. Only one pass was needed to vacuum up the majority of the rice, and after a second pass, the mess was completely gone. It also did great on the medium-pile carpet, although there were a few grains stuck deeper in the fibers. It continued to do well with the flour, easily pulling almost all of it from the flat carpet and leaving only a small bit behind on the softer 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, requiring only 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 oatmeal and cereal. 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 Dyson Ball Animal 2, the Navigator Lift-Away Professional, and the Miele Compact C1.
The Shark Rotator did a formidable job collecting the rice — almost on par with the Kenmore — even getting the vast majority of the rice up from the medium-pile carpet in a single pass.
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 Rotator's performance dropped to third overall when picking up flour from fluffy carpet, and we weren't impressed by its oatmeal test, where ten passes were required to achieve sufficiently clean carpet.
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.
A few extra passes were required to get all of the debris on the fluffier carpet, but this model finished 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 took a few more passes to match the amount of material collected by the Shark Rotator but matched its rice-collecting performance. However, it did poorly at sucking up 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 performed somewhat worse than the Dyson Ball Animal 2 at collecting oatmeal on low-pile carpet but did slightly better on the fluffy carpet, on part with the Kenmore. It performed well on the flat carpet and average on the fluffy carpet, overall doing reasonably well in the rice and cereal tests.
Next came the Shark Navigator Deluxe which did an overall above-average performance at cleaning carpets. It didn't quite match the Rotator when collecting rice — it performed similarly on flat carpet but lagged on the fluffier carpet. Even after completing more passes, the Navigator Deluxe left more rice behind than the Rotator. 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 scored better at collecting cereal from the low-pile carpet, only requiring an extra pass to match the Kenmore or Rotator, 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 very well in the oatmeal test, matching the Rotator's performance.
The Oreck XL finished towards the bottom of the group for our carpet cleaning tests. It performed incredibly poorly when collecting rice, leaving plenty of residual rice behind even after multiple passes. This model also finished at the back of the pack in the flour test. Performance improved slightly with oatmeal and cereal, with the Oreck scoring around average.
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 each vacuum cleaner's noise, 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 Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional and the Kenmore Elite Pet Friendly. 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- and medium-pile carpet.
The Navigator Lift-Away Professional gives you the option to turn the rotating brush on or off but lacks options for different carpet piles or for adjusting the height of the extractor. However, a convenient button right near the top of the vacuum makes it straightforward to turn the brush on or off.
The Kenmore is harder to adjust, 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 an edge or wall, leaving the least amount of 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.
We also looked at how loud each of these vacuum cleaners is. Both the Shark APEX and the Navigator impressed us as incredibly quiet machines, 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 Oreck XL, the Miele Compact C1 Turbo, 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 had 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.
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, so it's exceptionally easy to carry up or down flights of stairs. Its swivel head is also highly maneuverable, taking 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 Dyson Ball Animal 2, and the Navigator Lift-Away Professional 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 could 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 Shark Navigator Deluxe, and the Oreck XL all performed slightly above average in terms of 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 both handled decently, but they 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.
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, which is 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 each model's performance.
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 cleaning flour from the hard floor, even sucking 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. All three of these vacuums received a perfect score.
The Dyson Ball Animal 2 outperformed 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, leaving only a few pieces behind that fell into the cracks between boards. The Miele did alright, though it tended to push stuff around more often than collecting it. The Navigator Lift-Away Professional, the Kenmore Elite, and the Navigator Deluxe also all earned 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.
In 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 performed quite collecting flour, even getting some out of the cracks, 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, this vacuum's clearance is far too low to effectively pick up larger particles like Cheerios, ultimately just pushing them around indefinitely.
It did a slightly above average job at collecting flour, but a noticeable powdery 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 Kenmore Elite, the Dyson Ball Animal 2, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional, the 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 Oreck XL, the AirSwivel Lite, and the Shark Rotator with decent performance. This trio collected between 88% and 89% of the pet hair.
We hope that this review helped you narrow down your options and 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 standard cleaning needs, there is a vacuum cleaner out there for you.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer