Updated 5 December 2021

All about vacuum cleaners

Having a clean and attractive home is something everyone can appreciate, and the fact that the first vacuum cleaner was developed as far back as 150 years ago shows how important they are in your home. The vacuum cleaner was also one of the first household appliances to run on electricity.

All about vacuum cleaners

What is a vacuum cleaner, and how does it work?

Vacuum cleaners work by sucking up dust and other dirt through a hose equipped with a nozzle. The dust is then collected in a bag or dust container, and you empty it when it gets full.

Vacuum cleaners are usually mains powered – they have a power cord that you plug into the wall outlet. But there are also more and more vacuum cleaners that run on battery power.

What different types of vacuum cleaner are there and what distinguishes them from each other? Today, there are many different types of vacuum cleaners, so it's not always easy to know which one is right for you. The type of vacuum cleaner you should buy also depends very much on your budget, where you’ll use it, the battery life, noise level and many other factors. We continuously test new vacuum cleaners and name a best in test to help you know which one is right for you.

The most common type today is still the traditional vacuum cleaner. However, several new types have been developed. Below we list the different types of vacuum cleaner and describe them in more detail.

  • Traditional cylinder vacuum cleaner: The type of vacuum cleaner you'll find in most homes. It’s mains powered, often has a dust bag (there are also models without a bag) and has a machine body that you pull around on the floor as you vacuum.
  • Stick vacuum cleaner: The stick vacuum cleaner is usually battery-powered and bagless and is used both for cleaning floors and as a handheld vacuum cleaner for worktops and other surfaces. You simply remove the extension tube and connect the nozzle directly to the machine body instead.
  • Hand-held vacuum cleaners: Like a stick vacuum cleaner but without an extension tube. In other words, it’s battery-powered and bagless, but is intended for use on worktops and so on. Some models have only one type of nozzle, while on others it’s possible to change the nozzle.
  • Multi-purpose vacuum cleaner (sometimes also called workshop vacuum cleaner): A vacuum cleaner – often with a conical machine body – built to vacuum up tough dirt such as sanding dust, sawdust, wastewater and so on. It’s used in the same way as a traditional floor vacuum cleaner. In other words, the body rolls over the floor while you vacuum.
  • Robotic vacuum cleaner: A self-propelled vacuum cleaner that uses sensors, lasers and algorithms to navigate through your home and vacuum it for you.

Electrolux

Cylinder vacuum cleaner:

Nothing beats a really good traditional vacuum cleaner fingers when it comes to good cleaning results, provided you’ve bought a high performance model. A cylinder vacuum cleaner may be a bit bulky to use and store, but they are very competent and strong.

For example, if you have pets, a traditional vacuum cleaner is essential. Pets shed a lot of hair, and getting it up again is a tough job for a vacuum cleaner. The traditional vacuum cleaners with the strongest suction power are usually the most suitable for tackling dog and cat hair.

Cylinder vacuum cleaners consist of a handle attached to a hose connected to the machine body on one end and a nozzle on the other. The nozzle is passed over the floor and sucks up the dust, which is transported via the hose into a bag (or dust container) in the machine body. Most vacuum cleaners have a control on the nozzle that controls whether or not the nozzle uses small brushes.

Dyson

Stick vacuum cleaners

There are also stick vacuum cleaners and handheld vacuum cleaners, both of which are bagless and cordless. Stick vacuum cleaners are more versatile, allowing you to use them for both floors and worktops.

Stick vacuum cleaners have grown in popularity in the last few years as their battery life and performance has improved. A really good stick vacuum cleaner is now almost on a par with a good cylinder vacuum cleaner. For simple conditions, they’re more than sufficient.

They usually come with different types of nozzles and extensions. For example, you can fit a narrow nozzle to reach into inaccessible areas, or a motorised brush nozzle designed to remove animal hair and the like from fabric-covered furniture.

There are also stick vacuum cleaners with a mop function. Not only is it incredibly convenient and time-saving to have a vacuum cleaner and mop in one, but it also saves a lot of space in the cleaning cabinet. However, it’s important that the vacuum cleaner has good performance, because our tests show that otherwise it won’t get dust up when you move it across the floor. Instead the dust gets stuck in the mop cloth and gets wet, which in turn means that you’re just wiping dirt all over the floor.

handstovsuger

Hand-held vacuum cleaner:

A hand-held vacuum cleaner is similar to a stick vacuum cleaner, but it’s smaller and comes with fewer functions.

Hand-held vacuum cleaners are very useful to have as a supplementary tool, so you can quickly clean chairs, stairs or worktops. You can walk around and use it anywhere, but they aren’t usually as powerful as the other types of vacuum.

A hand-held vacuum cleaner is great for small homes or simply to complement a larger vacuum cleaner for a quick clean. They’re also convenient as in-car vacuum cleaners.

Some hand-held vacuum cleaners include nozzles that you can change, while others have a permanent, fixed nozzle.

robotstovsuger

Robotic vacuum cleaner

Nowadays there are also vacuum cleaners that take convenience to another level – robotic vacuum cleaners, which are becoming more and more popular. These vacuum cleaners are also cordless, but instead of having to do the vacuuming yourself, they go around your home cleaning it on their own

A robotic vacuum cleaner is a very helpful assistant. It keeps the worst of the dirt down and means you need to vacuum much less often. If you leave the robotic vacuum cleaner running 3-5 days a week, you may only need to vacuum once a month in a normal home.

Many models are round and so not very practical in corners. And some get stuck when crossing a threshold between rooms. They may also sometimes have difficulties with deep-pile rugs. Make sure you buy a robotic vacuum cleaner that can cope with your home’s challenges: the size of your home, the height of the thresholds, the amount of dirt (are you single, do you have pets or toddlers?) the complexity of the layout, the free floor height of the furniture and the amount of items left on the floor. For example, a robotic vacuum cleaner that has a camera and AI can avoid wires, socks, Lego and other obstacles. There are also robotic vacuum cleaners that are especially good on mats, dog hair etc. With the right model in the right place, you get an excellent everyday cleaner.

What functions can a normal vacuum cleaner have?

Today you can buy traditional vacuum cleaners with or without a bag. Bagless vacuum cleaners have become very popular. Instead of using a dust bag, they have a removable transparent plastic dust container, which you can empty when it’s full (instead of changing to a new bag). This means you don’t have to think about buying new bags, which is very practical from an economic and environmental point of view, and eliminates the hassle of changing it when the bag gets full. In addition, these vacuums maintain the same suction power throughout the whole vacuum cycle. In other words, the power doesn’t reduce as it gets full.

Of course, a vacuum cleaner with a bag has advantages too. They are more hygienic and easier to keep clean. Because you discard the entire bag, there isn’t the same risk of coming into contact with the dust as when you empty a bagless vacuum cleaner. So vacuum cleaners with bags can be a better option for people with allergies.

The size of the dust bag varies between different vacuum cleaners. How quickly it gets full will depend on how big it is. This is important to bear in mind if you have pets, for example. Cat and dog hair will affect how quickly the bag fills up, so it might be worth buying a vacuum cleaner with larger bags so you don’t have to change it too often.

It’s also important to make sure the operating radius of the vacuum cleaner is big enough – in other words, that the power cord is long enough. You don’t want to have to change the power outlet too many times during a vacuuming session. Today, many vacuum cleaners have up to 12 metres’ operating radius.

The start button on the vacuum cleaner can also now be located in different places. Some vacuum cleaners can still only be started with a button on the machine body, while others have a built-in remote control on the handle. A start button on the handle makes it easier if you need to move something while you’re vacuuming, for example. The remote control also often includes the possibility to adjust the suction power.

What are the parts of a vacuum cleaner?

A normal vacuum cleaner consists of many different parts.

Filters – There are several types of filters in a vacuum cleaner that perform different functions. A motor filter protects the motor in case a dust bag bursts inside the vacuum cleaner. The exhaust filter captures microscopic particles. Having a good exhaust filter is extremely important, as vacuuming can otherwise cause allergy and asthma. HEPA filters pick up even smaller particles than the exhaust filter, so these are more effective and better for allergy sufferers and asthmatics, for example. HEPA filters aren’t found on all vacuum cleaners, but can contribute to better air quality in your home. The final vacuum cleaner filter is the charcoal filter which helps reduce bad smells.

Handle – The handle is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the bit you hold while using the vacuum. A good handle is ergonomic and makes the vacuum cleaner easier to use.

Motor – The motor sits inside the machine body and is what makes the vacuum cleaner able to suck up dust – it’s the part that generates suction power.

Nozzle – Different nozzles perform different functions. There are several types of floor nozzle to suit different floor surfaces, carpets and so on. Many floor nozzles are combination nozzles suitable for both hard surfaces and carpets. They usually work by you pressing a button on the nozzle itself, which extends or retracts small brushes.

Furniture nozzle – Nozzles come in many different shapes and for use in many different places. For example, some are created to work better for upholstery or fabrics objects. Others are designed to reach into narrow areas, for example between the armrest and the sofa cushion. Bags and bag holders – Bags are available in different qualities and sizes to fit your vacuum cleaner and bag holder.

Vacuum cleaner tube and hoses – These are available in different models and sizes. A tube can be extendable (telescopic), which makes it easier to adjust to get the right length for you.

Scent beads – You can buy these to make your home smell nice. You can either suck up the beads or pour them directly into the vacuum cleaner bag.

Wheels and cable winder – The vacuum cleaner needs these to get around your home. Larger wheels make it easier for the vacuum cleaner to move over obstacles. And a longer cable eliminates the need to switch wall sockets so often.

Check list: What should I think about when buying a vacuum cleaner?

  • The price – Is the vacuum cleaner good value for money given its functions, durability and power? A cheap vacuum cleaner rarely performs as well as an expensive one.
  • Loudness – Do you live in an apartment with sensitive neighbours and like to vacuum late at night? This may require a quieter vacuum cleaner. On the other hand, if you live in the countryside and have no neighbours, the noise level of your vacuum cleaner probably won’t be as important.
  • Tough job or minor dirt – Are you going to be vacuuming tough dirt such as dog hair and dried in mud from a country walk, or is it only to pick up the odd crumb from your small flat in town?
  • Functions – Do you want a vacuum cleaner that does everything? Several nozzles and maybe even a mop? Or is a traditional vacuum cleaner enough?
  • Cordless – Do you want a battery-powered vacuum cleaner? How long does the battery need to last? Can you clean the entire apartment, or every room in your house? Can you change the battery so you can always have one recharging?
  • Size – Will the vacuum cleaner fit in your cleaning cupboard? Is it small enough to move easily? If you have lots of stairs in your home, perhaps a lighter vacuum cleaner would be better?
  • Bag or bagless – A vacuum cleaner that uses bags can be seen as the more hygienic option, as less dirt escapes during emptying. It’s also important that the bag is easy to change. However, a bagless vacuum cleaner can be economically advantageous, as you don't have to spend money on new bags. It’s also better for the environment and easier to find that bit of Lego you accidentally vacuumed up.

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