How We Tested Vacuum Cleaners

By:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Tuesday
October 17, 2017

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How do we test vacuums? We bought the top models available on the market today and tested them side-by-side.
How do we test vacuums? We bought the top models available on the market today and tested them side-by-side.

We bought the best vacuum cleaners currently available on the market and put them through an exhaustive series of side-by-side tests to find out which model really was the best. We put these products through a grueling series of challenges, objectively comparing their performance to determine final scores and award winners. The following sections explain the details of our testing process — what we did, what we looked for, and how we scored it.

Carpet Cleaning


The first thing that comes to mind for most people when comparing vacuums if how well they clean carpet. Consequently, this set of tests carried the most weight in the overall scores, comprising 35% of it. We conducted 8 tests in total, 4 different debris types each on a low-pile test carpet, as well as on a section of medium-pile carpet.

The first sample mess item we used was rice. We spread a predetermined amount of rice over a marked our area, then used a floor roller to really press the rice into the carpet. We then counted how many passes it took for each vacuum to get the floor to appear clean, as well as noting how much rice was picked up on the first pass.

The Bissell Zing did a decent job at cleaning carpet  especially when considering that it is a budget canister vacuum.
The Bissell Zing did a decent job at cleaning carpet, especially when considering that it is a budget canister vacuum.

We thoroughly cleaned the section of carpet between each test with a dedicated vacuum — not part of the test, to avoid unequal wear on one of the competing vacuums. This identical test was then performed on a section of fluffier, medium-pile carpet.

This same pair of tests was repeated with cereal.

The Cheerios proved too much for the Cinetic Big Ball  clogging it almost immediately.
The Cheerios proved too much for the Cinetic Big Ball, clogging it almost immediately.

And again with oatmeal, and finally, one more time with flour, to complete our set of carpet cleaning tests.

Some of the results from our flour collection test on low-pile carpet.
Some of the results from our flour collection test on low-pile carpet.

We conducted the first three test in succession, then stopped and cleaned out each vacuum cleaner thoroughly before the flour, as it was somewhat of a torture test for these products and the vacuums were full from the first three types of debris.

Our Editors' Choice award  the Shark Rotator in use.
Our Editors' Choice award, the Shark Rotator in use.

Ease of Use


The set of tests for ease of use carried the second-highest weighting in the review, accounting for 25% of the overall score. This metric basically assessed how easy it was to clean a home with each vacuum, with a series of simulated scenarios to compare the performance of each product. One of the first things we looked at was the edge cleaning abilities of each vacuum. We spread rice along a wall, then ran each vacuum right up against the edge. We scored based on the thickness of the stripe of leftover materials.

The Kenmore did exceptionally well in this test  leaving practically no debris behind.
The Kenmore did exceptionally well in this test, leaving practically no debris behind.

Next, we evaluated the reach of each vacuum under furniture. We created a simulated sofa out of boxes, matching the gap to the average sofa. After spreading the rice out, we measured how far each vacuum could reach and basing scores off of that.

The Rotator did very well at cleaning under our simulated sofa without using the Lift -Away feature (top right photo) and amazing when using it (bottom photo).
The Rotator did very well at cleaning under our simulated sofa without using the Lift -Away feature (top right photo) and amazing when using it (bottom photo).

Then, we ranked how each vacuum handles transitioning between flooring types, whether it was automatic or manual and if you had the option to turn the brush off. Then we looked at and rated the maximum reach for normal floor cleaning use, including the cord.


Finally, we looked at the noise of each level, having someone rate the level and tone, as well as using an SPL meter to take a reading of the decibels produced by each vacuum while in operation.

The Rotator reached almost the entire flight of stairs  but had to be moved to clean the top landing.
The Rotator reached almost the entire flight of stairs, but had to be moved to clean the top landing.

Handling


Handling was the next highest weighted metric, measuring in at 20% of the total score. This metric consisted of ranking the maneuverability of each model, the pushing and pulling effort, as well as the prowess of each product at cleaning stairs.

To assess maneuverability, we used each vacuum to clean a test course filled with various obstacles. We noted any areas that were difficult to clean, regions that tripped up the vacuums, or obstacles that they became caught on.

We then assessed the effort it took to push or pull each vacuum, ranking each vacuum side-by-side on a hard floor, low-pile carpet, and medium-pile carpet. Next, we tested the performance of each vacuum at cleaning stairs. We did this by comparing the maximum number of stairs reached, this time using the hose attachment on the upright vacuums. We also took the weight of each product into account, as well as if the base was prone to tipping over.

The Shark Rotator did an excellent job in our flour test.
The Shark Rotator did an excellent job in our flour test.

Hard Surface Cleaning


Cleaning hard surfaces is a relatively small portion of the final score, only accounting for 10% of the total score for each vacuum. This is primarily because these products are designed and mainly used for carpet. We conducted a similar series of tests to carpet cleaning, once again using rice, cereal, oatmeal, and flour as our test debris particles. We also paid particular attention to the cracks in our test hardwood floor, noting if the vacuums extracted all of the debris, particularly flour.

One of the pet hair donors for our tests. He only agreed to pose for a photo with his mortal enemies after plenty of coaxing and treats.
One of the pet hair donors for our tests. He only agreed to pose for a photo with his mortal enemies after plenty of coaxing and treats.

Pet Hair


Finishing out our tests, the Pet Hair metric accounts for the remaining 10% of the total score. Conveniently, a nearby pet groomer was more than happy to give us an excess of pet hair for this test, allowing us to weigh out a constant amount of hair for each vacuum. We spread out this measured amount of hair, then used the floor roller once again to grind the hair into the carpet.

Our lead tester spreading fur out for our test. This was then pressed in with a linoleum roller.
Our lead tester spreading fur out for our test. This was then pressed in with a linoleum roller.

We ran a vacuum for five minutes over the pet hair covered passes, meaning that each section of the carpet had at least 10 passes.

We then went over again with our fresh cleanup vacuum and weighed the hair it picked up, subtracting this from the measured amount to calculate how much pet hair the tested vacuum collected. We repeated this somewhat arduous process for each vacuum in our review.

Conclusion


Hopefully, this article has shed some light on our testing process and given more background information on where the scores came from. Take a look at our complete vacuum cleaner review here for a look at how specific model performed, or check out this guide that breaks down the ins and outs of shopping for a new vacuum.

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