After putting in hundreds of hours of research on 330 different vacuums, and testing dozens of them over the past three years, we’ve found that the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is by far the most effective, reliable vacuum for the price, and will be a great fit for most people in most homes.
In all our years of covering vacuums, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away is far and away the most well-rounded vacuum we’ve come across at its price. It’s an effective, versatile cleaner, able to suck up most kinds of debris (including pet hair) from bare floors and most carpets, with a lightweight frame, easy handling, and a complete set of attachments that can reach hard-to-clean areas. The key distinction is that this vacuum lasts longer than others in its price range. Not only are the parts superior and the maintenance minimal (apart from the need to clean the filters and clear occasional clogs and tangles), but the vacuum is also covered by a five-year comprehensive warranty, complete with flexible and responsive customer service. Having that guarantee makes the Navigator Lift-Away an excellent value in addition to being a stronger performer than its competitors (and even some pricier vacs, too).
If the Shark NV352 is sold out or the price rises, get the NV360, or any other models in the NV350, NV360, or NV370 series. They’re essentially the same vacuum, with nearly identical performance and only minor differences in their tool sets, bin sizes, colors, and button placements. We’ve found that the NV360 is currently the easiest to nab for a good deal, so start there.
If you’re willing to upgrade to a vacuum that can clean the heck out of your home and last for decades, buy one of the models from the Miele C2 or C3 canister series. Every industry expert we’ve spoken to (even some from competing brands!) has told us that these are excellent vacuum cleaners, and a few technicians said that they’re simply the best you can buy. The filtration is also about as good as it gets, and these are among the quietest vacuums anywhere. The models we picked are two of the most popular configurations (out of about a dozen versions). These aren’t cheap, but they can last so long—20 years, in some cases—that each one is an excellent long-term value for a machine that’s an impressive performer and a pleasure to use.
I’ve covered vacuums for The Sweethome for more than three years, logging hundreds of hours of vacuum research and testing in that time. I’ve personally tested at least 50 vacuums (that I can remember) of all types (cordless, robots, handhelds, and the traditional plug-ins covered here) in several homes with varied floor plans. And I have at least passing knowledge of hundreds more vacuums.
Other trivia: At the time of writing, I counted 17 vacuums in my condo, and I might have forgotten a couple. I once took a suitcase filled with small vacuums from Boston to New York. The superintendent at my old apartment building used to greet me as “Ayyyy, the vac guy.”
This update covers new vacuums released since mid-2015, which was the last time we fully updated this guide. Based on reader feedback, we’ve also decided to combine our old “best cheap vacuums” guide into this one, so it now encompasses all plug-in vacuums at all prices. For this particular update, I put in an additional 15 hours of research into about 50 new models, plus dozens of additional hours of using our favorite vacuums to clean my own home. (And other Sweethome staff members have used them at home, as well.)
Although we do our own testing, we also think it’s important to keep our ears to the ground for what other people have to say about a category. So we’ve interviewed a bunch of vacuum experts over the years, including:
I’ve also made a point to listen to as many of our readers as possible, through comments on our guides, emails, Twitter exchanges, and message-board posts.
And I also like to read other reviews of products that I cover, including customer reviews (I’ve easily read more than 1,000) as well as reviews by other editorial sources such as Consumer Reports, CNET, Good Housekeeping, and Reviewed.com.
This focus of this guide is limited to plug-in vacuums. A cordless vacuum or robot vacuum might be a better fit for you, but we think plug-in vacuums are a safe bet for most people and have several key advantages:
If your place is small enough and cords get hung up on every corner, however, a cordless vacuum can be a life-changer. Since the prices and owner expectations are so different, we maintain a separate guide to the best cordless vacuums.
If you’re a regular reader of The Sweethome and you’re wondering why our former “best cheap vacuum” is now just our “best vacuum,” it’s because we figured out—based on lots of feedback—that it makes more sense for us to combine two guides so that it’s easier for readers to see all the choices in context. The way we used to have things set up, most readers would come only to our “best vacuum” guide, where we focused exclusively on models that cost $400 and up—and that’s a lot of money. Many readers never noticed that we recommended the $150 Shark somewhere else, so we ended up giving the impression that we were not in touch with what most people would pay for a vacuum cleaner. The current version of this guide is arranged like other Sweethome guides: The main pick is a strong all-arounder for most people, and the upgrade pick is a great step-up option if you can afford it.
We started by making a list of every plug-in upright or canister vacuum we could find—seriously, all of them, from every brand. Over the years we’ve assembled a spreadsheet with 330 different vacuum models (though a chunk of them are now discontinued).
For our main pick, we aimed to find a plug-in vacuum that could work well on almost any kind of bare floor and carpet. We wanted a model that could pick up pet hair or just about any other kind of noticeable debris in a couple of passes—and preferably some of the less-noticeable fine dust and hair that collects deep in carpets. We wanted a vacuum that offered strong cleaning performance over a long life span, without much maintenance or ongoing costs of ownership. Most vacuums work fine when they’re brand-new, but loads of them lose their cleaning ability after a year unless their owners maintain them (and most people do not).
We also favored upright, bagless vacuums, because they’re convenient and familiar to most people in North America, and market research tells us that’s the style most people here prefer. Canister vacuums can be great, too, though. Canisters and uprights are not inherently better or worse than each other, and we think most people can get used to either type.
We further narrowed in on models by looking for several other criteria.
We also favored longer and more comprehensive warranties, brands with a good customer service reputation, and versatility-adding features such as a lift-away option or extra attachments.
When it comes to pricing, we’ve found that the sweet spot for a reliable, effective plug-in vacuum is around $150. Once we got down to a short list of contenders in that price range, we checked for reviews at CNET, Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Reviewed.com, and a few smaller websites, just to winnow out any obvious clunkers. And then we did some testing of our own.
As for other prices: Plug-in vacuums that cost less than our main pick usually work well for a couple of months, but the performance drops off sharply after that and isn’t easy to recover. We’re also not excited about vacuums that regularly cost between $200 and $400, because they’re in a sort of no-man’s land, with extra features that don’t do much to improve cleaning, reliability, or longevity. But if you’re willing to step up above $400, you can get a plug-in vacuum that will clean the hell out of your house and last for decades.
For this particular update, which covers vacuums released between May 2015 and November 2016, we did not find any new models that had the specs to seriously challenge our long-standing favorites, so we didn’t end up doing a whole lot of testing (aside from testing and dismissing a new budget-pick candidate).
In previous versions of this guide (and in our other vacuum guides), we’ve used a set of ever-evolving in-house tests to measure cleaning performance, handling, and ease of maintenance. These include cleaning trials using cat litter, baby powder, cat hair, steel-cut oatmeal, and lentils, testing the machines’ performance on wood floors, laminate floors, tile floors, low-pile area rugs, low-pile knit carpets, and medium-pile rugs. We gauge side-suction cleaning by tossing debris into corners and against baseboards, and we try to measure the strength of a vacuum’s airflow by seeing how much debris the machine can clean up without actually driving over it. We also make sure to use each vac, when we can, for “above-floor” cleaning—upholstery, countertops, windowsills and curtains, stairs, and even the ceiling.
For handling, we run each model through a timed slalom course to get a feel for steering and maneuverability. We drive through a few rooms, around and under a bunch of furniture, and over a mix of bare floors and rugs. The point is to gauge how each vacuum handles in a real-world apartment with a tight floor layout. Racing a vacuum through an obstacle course isn’t exactly how you would use one of these, naturally, but it clues us in on a few frustrations and flaws that might annoy vacuum owners, like how certain models can bunch up area rugs or struggle to get around corners.
Our favorite tests are the stress tests, which give us the best idea of how each vacuum stands up to the dumbest operator errors (we’ve all made them). Basically, we try to clog and tangle each machine with tough debris like shredded copy paper, balls of cat hair, sawdust, and socks. And if we succeed in jamming them up, we figure out how to unclog them. The fewer tools and the less time needed, the better.
The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 bagless upright is an effective, reliable vacuum at a great price. Of the 300-plus vacuums available today, this is the one that we think will make the most people the happiest.
The Navigator Lift-Away is a strong all-around vacuum, but the reliability and durability are what put this model above its competitors (and some pricier options). It needs less maintenance than other vacuums at this price, and it has essentially no ongoing costs of ownership thanks in part to a nearly comprehensive five-year warranty that’s easy to make a claim on. That near-guaranteed longevity alone puts the Navigator Lift-Away ahead of most cheap vacs. It’s a very capable cleaner, too, able to pick up any debris (including pet hair) from almost all kinds of flooring. Handling is smooth and light, emptying it is easy, and its owners tend to love it, often comparing it favorably to their old vacuums—even models that were much more expensive.
The Navigator Lift-Away’s longevity and low maintenance come from a belt and filters designed to last the life of the vacuum. Most other vacuums at this price use flat rubber belts, which stretch out and need to be replaced at least once a year. Many use disposable filters, which have to be swapped out a few times per year. Most people don’t replace those worn-out parts, so cleaning performance takes a nosedive after about a year. The Navigator Lift-Away is different: It uses a geared belt, which doesn’t lose tension and should last about 10 years (before it gets brittle and cracks). The vacuum’s main pre-motor filter is washable, and the post-motor filter just needs shaking out from time to time. In all likelihood, you won’t have to buy and install new belts or filters as long as you own this vacuum.
Another reason you’ll be able to use the Navigator Lift-Away longer than other vacuums at this price is its five-year warranty. That’s an incredible warranty period for a vacuum with such a reasonable cost. And it’s not some lip-service coverage, either: Shark makes (most) claims very easy. You say what’s broken, Shark sends you the replacement part, no BS. In a May 2015 review, Amazon customer NikNak says that after four and a half years of regular use, several important components of the Navigator Lift-Away gave up the ghost—but all it took was one call to Shark, and the company shipped all the necessary replacement parts.
We had a good experience with Shark customer service, too. When we first reviewed the Navigator Lift-Away in early 2014, we cold-called the company’s hotline a few times to make a claim on a cracked hose. Each time the representative readily offered a replacement hose and handle for free, including shipping.
Keep in mind a few warranty-related caveats: The warranty doesn’t cover replacement filters if yours suffer damage. In reviews, several owners say that Shark made them pay for shipping costs on motor-related failures (which are uncommon). It’s a good idea to buy the Navigator Lift-Away from a Shark-authorized retailer, to ensure that the company won’t make you jump through hoops if you try to make a warranty claim. We’ve taken pains to make sure that the links in this guide point only to authorized retailers, but you should double-check before you hit the checkout button. Also, note that accessories such as the mini motor brush (for stairs and furniture) are not covered under the warranty.
If your vacuum is outside of warranty coverage, Shark sells replacements for every part and accessory on the Navigator Lift-Away. You won’t even need tools to swap the new parts in. And for what it’s worth, Consumer Reports (subscription required) ranks Shark as one of the least repair-prone brands of upright vacuums.
All vacuums can clog, but the Navigator Lift-Away is easier to unclog than most. It comes apart in more places than any of its competitors—dirt cup, cleaning head, handle, hose, pretty much every joint—so finding and clearing are quick and painless, and usually involve no tools. For what it’s worth, we couldn’t even clog the machine with our clogging mixture in the first place.
The Shark Navigator Lift-Away is also a capable cleaner. In our testing, it performed well above its price tag by picking up the most common shapes and sizes of debris in just a few passes, from the variety of flooring types that you’d find in most homes. We were impressed by how quickly and completely it picked up cat litter from a bare floor (in a single back-and-forth pass) and from plush carpet (two and a half passes). It picked up more pet hair than we expected to find in our short-knit area rug. Its side-suction performance stood out: It picked up almost all of the lentils and cat litter we scattered into a corner and up against baseboards, outperforming even some high-end vacuums we’ve tested in that regard. It didn’t beat every similarly priced vacuum in each of our tests every time, but it was consistently good at all of the common tasks.
Consumer Reports (subscription required) rated the Navigator Lift-Away as Very Good for carpet cleaning and Excellent for floor cleaning. The testing house also determined that this vacuum was merely Fair in pet-hair pickup, though in our experience (and that of many owners) it’s a solid pet-hair cleaner. All told, in the Consumer Reports assessment the Navigator Lift-Away earned an overall score of 63 and Recommended status—a great outcome, beating out several models that cost $400 or more.
Owners tend to be very happy with the Navigator Lift-Away’s cleaning performance, too. We looked at a couple hundred customer reviews from Amazon and Google Shopping, including those voted to be “most helpful” and some others with the lowest scores, to get an accurate picture of the vacuum’s strengths and weaknesses.
Tons of customer reviews, even a bunch of the negative ones, mention that the Navigator Lift-Away is an excellent cleaner. (Reviewers often write that it has “great suction,” which doesn’t technically translate to great cleaning power, but based on the context we understand the wording to mean that the reviewers are happy with how much debris the vacuum picks up from their floors.) Pet-hair pickup in particular earns wide praise. Amazon reviewer Cambria says, “I cannot believe how much dog hair it picked up.” Another review is titled “Crazy cat lady approved!” and reviewer Cosmo says that it does a “fine job” picking up after three dogs.
Several reviewers mention that when they first bought the Navigator Lift-Away, they were surprised by how much debris it picked up compared with their previous vacuums. Among them is Amazon reviewer Gary A. Blomquist, who writes that “the Lift-Away again sucked up tons of dirt/sand/dust/hair that the Kirby couldn’t.” (Kirby makes expensive upright vacuums that should outperform anything in the Shark’s price range, though the reviewer’s unit may have needed maintenance.) B. Anderson writes that an old vacuum had left behind so much debris over the years that picking all of it up took three months’ worth of weekend vacuuming with the Shark. Since then, B. Anderson says, the Shark’s dust bin no longer gets so full, and less dust is settling on furniture around the house.
What makes the Navigator Lift-Away clean better than other vacuums at this price? We’re pretty sure that the secret ingredient is the cleaning head. It sits at a fixed distance from the floor, but right at the happy medium where the airflow is strong enough to suck up small, static-clinging particles from a bare floor yet the brush roller still has enough clearance to agitate a carpet without getting blocked by the fibers. Ideally, you’d like to see an adjustable height setting to handle thicker carpets. But Amazon reviewer LILass, in the customer-voted “most helpful” review of the Navigator Lift-Away, says that “I haven’t missed [adjustable height] on the varied height rugs I have, and it’s not beating up my taller piles.” LILass says it even rolls across a shag carpet as long as the beater is turned off and the suction vent is open. If you have lots of high-pile carpet in your home, you might want to consider a different vacuum. But it’s good to know that the Navigator Lift-Away can at least avoid choking on a shag carpet if you need to deal with that in only one small room.
Handling and maneuverability are another bright spot for the Navigator Lift-Away. It weighs about 12 pounds, which is much lighter than most full-size upright vacuums (17 pounds is pretty typical). Combined with a swiveling joint at the cleaning head, that relatively light weight makes it easy to steer around corners or to haul up the stairs. The lift-away feature helps it get under furniture that many other uprights will just bash into, and although the cleaning head is narrower than that of your typical upright (more on that topic later), that design proves to be helpful for getting the vac in between chairs. It ran our slalom course in about 1 minute, 30 seconds, which is on the quick side of typical for a plug-in upright. Hundreds of Amazon and Google Shopping reviewers praise it for its lightweight frame and easy handling.
As for air quality, the Navigator Lift-Away does a decent job of filtering out dust and other allergens. Not only does it have three filters (four if you count the mesh cone in the dust cup), including a post-motor HEPA filter, but the transfer points are also sealed with rubber gaskets. This very thorough review (on an air-purifier-enthusiast website) found a similar Shark to be sealed pretty well, releasing less than 2,000 particles sized 0.5 micron or larger per cubic foot (0.5 micron is about the size of a single grain of talcum powder). For most people, that’s good-enough filtration. If you’re sensitive to dust and other allergens, you may want to consider a high-end bagged vacuum like one that we recommend later in this guide.
Emptying the Navigator Lift-Away’s dust cup is easy: You just hold it over the garbage can and press a button, and the debris falls out of the bottom of the bin. Sometimes pet hair can get a bit wedged around the edges, but usually you have no need to get your hands dirty, and the risk of spills is minimal. Unlike with some other vacs, the Shark’s dust cup can open at the top as well as the bottom, so you can easily free hair or debris caught deep in the chamber.
The Navigator Lift-Away comes with an ample set of accessories, all of which attach to the pull-out wand. The most important one is the mini turbo brush, which is helpful for cleaning stairs and upholstery, especially if you have pets. (Some versions of the NV352 and other Navigator Lift-Away models don’t come with this brush for reasons we can’t figure out—double-check to make sure you’re getting one.) Also included are a long crevice tool, a short crevice tool, and a utility-brush tool for cleaning windowsills, ceilings, or anywhere else the open-ended hose won’t quite work. Some versions of the NV352 come with a dusting tool, but the unit we received for testing did not. Other configurations of the NV350 series come with different tool bundles as well, so confirm that you’re buying the model with the tools you want.
Owners also generally think that the Navigator Lift-Away is relatively quiet compared with other vacuums. With the brush roller turned on, we measured it at about 79 decibels—that’s actually pretty loud compared with the best high-end vacuums, but quieter than other cheap vacs we’ve tested, which regularly break 80 decibels. And it operates at more of a midrange hum than a high-pitched whine, so it’s not as grating.
All vacuums have to find a way to balance cleaning performance, durability, weight, and price. Among all the sub-$200 vacuums out there, the Navigator Lift-Away makes the wisest set of compromises.
High-pile carpets, such as shag or cable cuts, pose a problem for the Navigator Lift-Away. Long fibers can sometimes plug up the intake or tangle in the brush roller, and the vacuum won’t work. But most homes don’t have any high-pile rugs, so this is a nonissue for most people. And if you do run into resistance on your thicker carpets, you have a workaround: Twist open the release valve on the hose, and the suction will drop off enough to allow the vacuum to roll smoothly without choking on the carpet fibers.
Another side effect of the fixed-height cleaning head: The Navigator Lift-Away sometimes “snowplows” large particles (as in the size of Froot Loops cereal), pushing them around with the cleaning head rather than sucking them up. Snowplowing is an issue with many vacuums —even the top-of-the-line, $600 Dyson upright does this sometimes. But If you have a toddler who likes to toss Cheerios off the high chair, you can always just use the Shark’s open wand (or a handheld vacuum or dust pan).
Since the Navigator Lift-Away is predominantly plastic, some of its parts can get brittle and crack over time. The chief complaint seems to be the accordion hose; it’s a little stiff to begin with, and the constant flexing can wear it out. Other reviewers point out that the clips attaching the dust cup to the rest of the main assembly can break off after a couple of years of use, particularly if you carry the assembly by the handle in lift-away mode.
Some repair technicians don’t like Shark very much, either. In a now-famous Reddit AMA from 2013, vac-shop manager and repair technician Brian Driscoll called out the Shark brand as repair-prone.
But the evidence we’ve seen leads us to believe that the Navigator Lift-Away is actually more reliable than most vacuums in this price range. A Consumer Reports reader survey suggests that Shark is one of the most reliable brands. Thanks to the lifetime belt and reusable filter, performance shouldn’t decline much over time. The five-year, easy-to-claim warranty gives us every reason to believe this vacuum will last at least that long for most people who own it.
Like any product, the Navigator Lift-Away has some bad owner reviews. Some of the complaints refer to stubborn customer service, but most of those come from reviews posted prior to 2013—Shark seems to have worked out those issues. The rest of the bad reviews are from owners who don’t seem to realize that they can just call Shark and get the replacement parts sent at no cost.
One of the most common design complaints (that is, gripes about a feature that’s present on purpose and not a problem that results from a part breaking) is that the Navigator Lift-Away has a tendency to tip over if you yank the hose too hard. Since the cleaning head is relatively narrow and the body is top heavy, this machine does fall over more easily than some other vacuums do. If you find tipping to be a constant problem, you can lift away the main assembly and set in on the floor for a sturdier base.
The narrow cleaning head also means you’ll need to make more passes than you would with a wider cleaning head. But on the flip side, it can get into corners and between chair legs more easily.
Another legitimate gripe is that the cleaning head does not easily disassemble, so if long hair or string tangles around the brush roll (and it will, because that’s a natural thing that happens with a vacuum), you can’t really pull it out to cut away the hair as you would with many other models. An easy workaround: Run a razor blade along the roller.
Some owners mention other sources of dissatisfaction.
Your mileage may vary on all of the above points. All vacuums represent a compromise to some degree, and we think that the Navigator Lift-Away makes those compromises in a way that’ll make most owners happy.
When I wasn’t actively testing it, I used the Shark Navigator Lift-Away occasionally between January 2014 and September 2015. (I was living in a small apartment at the time, so I favored cordless models when it was time to clean up.)
I didn’t put too much strain on the Shark, but it did hold up well. The only sign of wear I noticed was that the dirt cup got perma-dirty after a couple of months, similar to a foggy wine glass that no one has cleaned properly in a while. But that’s mostly cosmetic, and any bagless vac with a clear cup will have that problem.
We shipped the Navigator Lift-Away to Sweethome editor Harry Sawyers for long-term testing in late 2015. At first it felt heavier and more difficult to get under furniture than the cordless vacs Harry’s family had gotten used to, but over the course of a year it has proved itself many times, cleaning several rugs clearly deeper than the cordless vac could manage. Now they find it maneuverable and easy to empty, and they also like how easily it transitions between floors and carpets.
If you’re looking for a more long-term perspective, some Amazon reviewers have been wonderfully diligent about updating their reviews every year—sometimes into the fourth or fifth year of ownership! Bless those folks.
All of the Shark Navigator Lift-Away models in the NV350, NV360, or NV370 series are essentially the same vacuum, just with minor differences in their tool sets, colors, and button placements. We tend to recommend the NV352 because it’s typically the best value at our favorite retailers. But any of the other models are good choices, as well. We’ve found that the Navigator Lift-Away Deluxe NV360 is the easiest to nab for a good deal these days, and it’s the same as the NV352 except for the shape of the handle and the placement of the power button. The NV350 and NV351 are the same as the NV352, with different accessories. The NV355 and NV356 are the “pro” models, with slightly larger dust cups, and the NV370 is the “pro” model with the different handle and placement of the power button. Go wild, and pick whichever one you can get for the best deal with all the tools you need.
If you want a vacuum that will run reliably for decades and keep your home as clean as any vacuum can hope to, your best bet is a Miele canister, especially from the C2 or C3 series.
Miele canister models have a phenomenal reputation throughout Vacuumland. Technicians, salespeople, enthusiasts, testing houses, people who bought and own them—there’s a lot of love for these cleaners. Some of the experts we talked to said that if they could recommend just one vacuum, they’d recommend a Miele canister. A Miele model is special because it’s easy to maintain and built to last for decades—20 years is not uncommon—making it a great value in spite of the high price. They ride smoothly, and run about as quiet as any vacuum can get. They’re fantastic cleaners and have excellent filtration, too.
The most affordable model that we think will work for most people is the Miele Compact C2 Electro+. It can deep-clean just about any kind of debris (yes, including pet hair) from any kind of flooring because it comes with both a height-adjustable, electric-powered cleaning head that can work on short, medium, and long carpets, and a bare-floor tool. It’ll be as reliable and durable as any of the models in the C3 series (all of which are more expensive). It’s also smaller and lighter, so it’s easier to carry up and down the stairs, and takes up less storage space. The downside is that is uses a smaller bag, so you’ll need to change it more frequently.
That said, you might find that one of the C3 variants is a better fit for you. They use larger bags, and their hoses are less likely to get tangled up while you’re cleaning. The variants come with different combinations of cleaning heads and filters.
Here’s a cheat sheet for all the Miele C2 and C3 vacuums, in a rough descending order of how likely it is that you’ll choose it.
Reason to buy
|Miele Compact C2 Electro+||$600||Medium and short
carpet, bare floors
|Works in most homes. Our pick.|
|Miele Complete C3 SoftCarpet||$800||Medium and short carpet, bare floors||Works in most larger homes. Larger bag, heavier vac.|
|Miele Complete C3 Calima||$650||Short carpet, bare floors||For thin carpeting.|
|Miele Complete C3 Cat & Dog||$950||Medium and short carpet, bare floors||Comes with odor-snuffing filter and mini turbo tool for pet-hair cleanup.|
|Miele Complete C3 Kona||$900||Medium and short carpet, bare floors||SoftCarpet or Cat & Dog model are very similar, better deals.|
|Miele Complete C3 Marin||$1,050||All floor types*||Necessary upgrade for tall carpets. Has a headlight.|
|Miele Complete C3 Alize||$650||Bare floors, allergies||Suction-only, not for carpets.|
|Miele Complete C3 Brilliant||$1,500||All floor types||Top of the line. Similar to the Marin, with extra features. The best, if not the best value.|
The main reason we love the Miele canister vacuums is that they’re impressively sturdy without feeling clunky. Miele advertises the life span at around 20 years. Brian Driscoll, the vacuum king of Reddit, told us that he has seen 30-year-old Miele canisters. That’s incredible longevity for any kind of electric product these days.
It starts with the parts: The C2 and C3 casing is made out of ABS plastic, which is lightweight but has a rubberlike anticracking quality. The hose is reinforced with metal wiring sort of like a Slinky, which prevents the airway from getting crushed if you accidentally step on it. Miele claims that it tests its models’ motors to last for 1,000 hours, so that works out to roughly one hour per week for 20 years.
A handful of other high-end vacuums (from brands such as Riccar and Sebo) are similarly durable, but Miele has a wider service network than any of them, so you’re more likely to find a place to patch up your vacuum once it needs an inevitable midlife tune-up. The seven-year warranty is also one of the best in the industry—only the first year is comprehensive, but the body casing and motor are covered the whole time.
Another highlight is that the Miele C2 and C3 are totally sealed systems. Just about every little bit of debris that enters the vacuum gets filtered out of the airstream before it reenters your home, and the air comes out cleaner than it went in. The bags are self-sealing, too: When you swap the old one out, it closes its own rubber flap as you remove it from the vacuum, so dust and allergens can’t escape that way.
So if somebody in your household has asthma, allergies, or any other condition that’s affected by indoor air quality, Miele canisters can be a major quality-of-life improvement. This Amazon reviewer writes that her son would have allergy attacks whenever he visited her house, but after she started using the Miele, he could stay as long as he wanted without any trouble. Jeffrey May, an indoor-air-quality consultant and former Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America board member, told us that he personally owns a Miele. Even if you don’t have severe reactions to airborne irritants, it’s a good idea to keep your indoor air fresh (evidence is building that small, airborne particles cause negative outcomes for health). Ultimately, some other vacuums match or nearly match the Miele models’ filtration, but we’re not aware of any that outperform it.
The Miele canisters are among the quietest vacuums you can buy. We measured the older Compact C2 Topaz—running with the power head attached and the brush roll spinning at the maximum suction setting—at just 66 dBC. That’s barely louder than an indoor speaking voice. With the brush roll turned off, it fell below 60 dBC. At either setting, it’s dramatically quieter than a typical vacuum, which operates in a dBC range from the upper 70s to the low 80s. The motor is also a slow starter, meaning that it gradually revs up to maximum power over a few seconds rather than turning on at full blast. It’s not as jarring. You might be able to get away with vacuuming while somebody is sleeping nearby, something we can’t say about many other vacuums.
Everyday reliability is another upside to the Miele C2 and C3 canisters. They don’t need maintenance very often. Any of the cleaning heads made for carpets all use no-stretch geared belts to drive the brush rolls, so they maintain their spin speed and cleaning ability over time. They’re also not especially prone to clogs, because they have wide, straight intake paths. If they do clog (it can happen to any vacuum of any type), they come apart—with no tools—at all the major joints, so you can easily get into the cleaning head, the wand, or the hose to knock the obstructions loose.
Cleaning performance is top-notch, too. The suction is strong in every model—strong enough that even the cleaning heads with air-powered, turbine-driven brush rolls seem to outperform many motor-driven vacuums. And the technicians we spoke with said that Miele models that do have electric cleaning heads may be the very best cleaners you can buy, period.
The relative downsides: The C2 and C3 are bagged vacuums, as well as canister vacuums, neither of which are very popular in North America circa 2017. But both features can also be advantages, depending on your perspective.
Bagged vacuums such as the C2 and C3 have recurring costs. You’ll need to pay for bags and filters every year (and remember to order them). In a post-Dyson world, where bags are optional and many filters are reusable, this additional responsibility seems like kind of a bummer. The cost will vary depending on how quickly you fill up the bags, but with average use and genuine parts, you’re looking at about $20 or $25 per year. If you have several long-haired pets, the bags fill up faster—that can be a dealbreaker, and in this case you might want to consider a bagless vacuum like our main pick (or a Dyson Ball, if you can find it for a discount).
However, according to all of the independent technicians we spoke with, if you want a vacuum that will last for ages, bags are an asset. That’s because a bagged system prevents debris from building up within the vacuum itself. When you change the bag, you’re essentially starting with a fresh vacuum, as Denis Spindler, owner of Mr. Sweeper Sew & Vac, put it to us. Bagless vacuums, on the other hand, can end up slowly clogging over time as debris builds up in hard-to-clean parts of the cyclonic separators and otherwise just get really grimy. Today’s bagged models don’t have the drawbacks that they did back in the day, either—they work at full suction right up until the bag is totally stuffed, just like bagless vacuums. Bags are also easy to discard without spilling a pile of dust and debris in your home, as you might accidentally do emptying a bagless vac. That’s a very big deal for people with asthma or allergies.
Canister-style vacuums are unfamiliar to most upright-vac owners in the US and Canada. It can feel weird to use one at first, since you’re pulling a little pod around behind you, with a long hose connected to it. But most people seem to get accustomed to it after a couple of weeks. And canisters really do have a few advantages over uprights of comparable quality. Canisters usually feel lighter to steer because most of the weight is on the ground, not in your hand. Canister designs are easier to carry up stairs, too, because the heft is split. The Miele C2 and C3 in particular have auto-rewinding power cords, which most comparable uprights do not. Canister-style vacuums also tend to clog less often than uprights, and are easier to unclog as well.
The last big downside to buying a Miele is that you may not have an authorized service center near you. Most large and midsize cities have at least one, but it’s worthwhile to check the service map before you buy a Miele so that you don’t end up having to drive 90 minutes to a vacuum shop in case you need service under warranty.
On a similar note, it’s very important that you buy your Miele from an authorized dealer. Amazon is an authorized dealer, but third-party Marketplace sellers on that site often are not. Make sure the Miele model you choose is sold by Amazon through Amazon, or by an authorized dealer through Amazon. Bed Bath & Beyond is another authorized dealer. If you’re nervous about buying from the wrong source online, buy your Miele in person. Also remember that the first year of the warranty is all-inclusive for the entire vacuum and its accessories, but in years two through seven, coverage is limited to the body casing and motors—the expensive parts that really shouldn’t break anyway.
Other uncommon issues that we’ve come across in reading owner reviews:
And finally: Nobody can guarantee that your particular Miele canister will last as long as other people’s Miele canisters. We’ve heard stories of these things crapping out beyond the point of easy repair after just three or four years. That may be due to user error—they’re very sturdy vacuums, but not invincible. Still, you’d hope that they’d be able to stay in service longer than that even with improper use. Is it a good idea to pay so much for a vacuum up front and risk a premature breakdown? That’s your choice to make, but based on what we know about these vacuums, we think they’re worth the asking price.
In April 2017, Miele shuffled their canister lineup. The vacuums themselves are basically unchanged, but a few of the kits—that is, the cleaning heads and filters that come with the vacuum—have changed or disappeared. Most of the old C2 models are gone, including the Complete C2 Limited Edition, which was the variant that we had recommend in an earlier version of this guide. It was relatively affordable, at $400, and came with an air-powered cleaning head that worked well on short carpets. Now the most affordable C2 model is the Electro+ for $600. It’s a little disappointing that the base price has risen so much. However, the Electro+ does come with a stronger, more versatile cleaning head than the Limited Edition model did. We’re confident recommending the Electro+ as a great vacuum and a great long-term value, but we recognize that the upfront cost is even more intimidating than it used to be.
Miele also has a more-affordable C1 line, but we’re not recommending it at this time because they aren’t built quite as sturdy as the C2 and C3 models. The hose is not crushproof, and the system isn’t fully sealed, so it’ll run a little louder and may have slightly higher emissions of dust and other small particles. That said, the C1 models are backed by the same seven-year warranty as the pricier Miele canisters, and the prices are much easier to stomach. We’ll keep an eye on user reviews, and try to test one of these out sometime in 2017.
We’d like to suggest a very cheap vacuum for people on tight budgets, but after researching dozens and testing a few new contenders, we haven’t found anything that we’re comfortable recommending. All the vacuums we’ve tested (so far) in the lower price ranges are too compromised in too many ways for us to throw our word behind them.
Cheap uprights may work pretty well for cleaning carpets at first. But unlike our main pick, every inexpensive model we’ve come across needs its belts or filters or both replaced at regular intervals to maintain the cleaning performance. You need to pay for those replacements and do the maintenance yourself, too. If you don’t take care of a cheap upright, it’ll lose most of its cleaning ability in about 12 to 18 months. If you do take care of a cheap upright, it’ll end up costing more than our main pick after a few sets of new belts and filters—that is, if the brittle plastic body parts even last that long. With the Shark Navigator Lift-Away guaranteed to last five years on warranty alone, the math proves that paying a little more for it will almost always save you money over time, and meanwhile, you’ll have a vacuum that’s easier to maintain and use.
Another low-cost option is a suction-only vacuum—that is, one with no brush roll. Such vacuums are simple machines that work fine on bare floors. But they can’t really clean carpets or rugs effectively, which to us is a major reason to use a vacuum (if you’re cleaning only bare floors on a budget, use a broom or a dust mop).
However, if you still think you want to take a chance on a very cheap vacuum, here are two models that came the closest to getting our recommendation.
For carpets, an okay option that could work for some people is the Bissell CleanView 1330. It usually costs around $80, and as of this writing it has one of the best overall customer ratings for the money at Amazon, 4.4 out of five stars based on 940 reviews. (Its predecessor, the Bissell 9595A, is still one of the best-selling vacuums at Amazon, too.) The Bissell 1330 is actually a very strong cleaner when it’s new, and it comes with a bunch of useful tools, including a mini turbo tool that can brush hair off upholstery.
But the Bissell 1330 has all same the drawbacks we laid out for cheap uprights above, and the cleaning performance, at its peak, is almost too strong in some ways. The brush roll, for starters, is always on, which means it can scatter midsize debris on bare floors. In our testing, the Bissell 1330 bunched up every area rug we used it on and even stripped some fibers out of one rug (and we’re not the only ones that has happened to). This model is also a heavy vacuum, with no swiveling joint, so it handles with all the finesse of a brick on wheels. The warranty is good for only two years, and owner reviews suggest that customer service is not so helpful. And we managed to crack the plastic base plate on the first day of use as we were trying to go in for a closer look at the brush roll. Our conclusion: Buyer beware, though we don’t see any obviously better options at this price, either.
For nothing but bare floors, the Eureka Mighty Mite is an option we’ve tested that works fine. This bagged canister vacuum can suck up crumbs, pet hair, and whatever else is on your floors. The other popular option is the Bissell Zing line, which comes in bagless and bagged versions. We have not tested these models, but they’re so similar in design to the Mighty Mite that we’d expect them to perform at about the same level.
We’ve looked into 330 vacuums over the past three years, from brands including Aerus, Bissell, Dirt Devil, Dyson, Eureka, Electrolux, Hoover, Kenmore, Kirby, Miele, Panasonic, Rainbow, Riccar/Simplicity, Sebo, and even the now-discontinued lines from LG and Samsung. For the money, nothing can out-Shark the Shark Navigator Lift-Away. It’s been our top pick in one form or another for nearly three years now, and no other vacuum has come close to beating it for the price.
One exception is another Shark, the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV500 (and NV501 and NV502—same vacuum, different retailers). We like it for the most of the same reasons as we do the Navigator Lift-Away NV352. The NV500 has a sleeker design that some people prefer, and it has a little rolling base for the lift-away component (that none of us have been able to find a good use for). It tends to cost more than the Navigator models, but if you find a deal, go for it.
If you have a patch of long, thick carpet in your home (or if you just prefer bagged vacuums or canister vacuums), the Panasonic MC-CG902 (also known as the Kenmore Progressive 21514) can be a good alternative to our favorite Shark vacuums for about the same price. Its adjustable-height cleaning head can handle shag, saxony, and other long-fiber rugs without choking or tangling, unlike most vacuums at this price. Some other canister models hit the same marks for similar money, but the MC-CG902 has a strong reputation after years of availability, and it tends to cost less, too. We used to recommend it as a runner-up in our (now-retired) guide to cheap vacuums, and we still think it’s solid. But we have space here for only so many recommendations, and the canister style is just not popular anymore.
Readers ask us about Oreck vacuums pretty regularly, particularly the Oreck XL2100RHS. These vacuums are durable, affordable machines that may have been the best option back in the 1990s when Mr. Oreck himself was hawking them during every cable-TV commercial break. But as solid as they are, they aren’t as versatile or effective as our main pick. They’re bagged, for one thing, so you have ongoing costs that make them more expensive to own than a Shark. Repair technicians consider Oreck models to be easily repairable, but you’ll still need to take your Oreck into a shop, whereas a Shark model is easy to fix at home since all the parts pop in and out with no tools required. And Oreck models work only on carpets and floors—no hose, no lift-away feature, so you can’t vacuum your sofa or ceiling. But if you want something light and simple, an Oreck is a fine choice.
For previous versions of this guide, we tested the Samsung VU3000 and Eureka Boss Smart-Vac 4870MZ (the latter of which was our top affordable recommendation prior to the Shark). The Samsung looked a lot like our Shark pick on paper but was a hassle to use. The Eureka was a powerful vacuum in our tests, but it uses bags, stretchy belts, and disposable filters—we just don’t think you should have to do all that maintenance.
Among high-end vacuums, you have plenty of good choices. We think the Miele C2 and C3 canisters are the very best, but we can also list some other models to consider.
If you want an upright Miele, the Dynamic U1 Twist has been a wonderful vacuum in our experience, and for many years it was our pick for a high-end vacuum. The self-adjusting cleaning head is the neatest bit of engineering we’ve seen in a vacuum cleaner, too. But we’ve been following the Twist closely for several years now, and we’ve watched its overall owner rating plummet from 4.2 way down to 3.7 (out of five). Such a mediocre rating is usually a sign of real problems with the vacuum, not just user error or misplaced expectations. (Ratings have dipped for other models in the Dynamic U1 line over the past few years, as well, though not as dramatically.) Pet-hair clogs were always the Achilles’ heel for the Dynamic U1, but they seem to be much more common now. We’ve also seen a higher incidence of complaints about factory defects in new units.
We’re not sure exactly what happened. The drop in customer ratings seems to have started around the time that Miele rebranded this vacuum line as the Dynamic U1 in late 2014. (It had been known as the S7210 for several years before that.) Our best guess is that some production tweak resulted in weaker suction, leaving debris more prone to getting caught somewhere in the intake before the bag. But Miele representatives told us that, apart from a change the company made to the power switch a few years back to protect the vacuum from power surges, Miele hasn’t changed anything about the vacuum at all, and hasn’t noticed any significant uptick in warranty claims. Maybe nothing about the machine changed, but owners’ expectations did. We’re still puzzled. It really sucks, so to speak, when we have to pull a recommendation, and the U1 is still a great vacuum in most ways. But it may prove to be too frustrating to deal with for people with medium- or long-haired pets.
The Sebo Felix is another high-end upright we love, and a former runner-up pick. It’s much lighter than most other full-powered uprights, capable of cleaning pretty much any kind of floor, and equipped with excellent air filtration. However, the service network is very narrow, so chances are good that you don’t live near an authorized service center for warranty work. On top of that, the price has risen from $600 to $700, making it quite expensive for an upright. But this vacuum doesn’t really have any performance flaws, and I’ve personally seen a Sebo Felix that has lasted for more than a decade (my parents own one). So if you like the sound of this thing, and you have a Sebo service center near you, it’s worth considering.
Riccar and Simplicity uprights have a cult following in the US—they’re American-made, which is rare now, and they’re strong, durable products. In our tests, though, they lagged a bit behind the best models we’ve tested in cleaning performance. Most Riccar/Simplicity models weigh more and cost more than their close competitors, and even the lightweight models feel a little clunky to steer. The service network is relatively limited, as well. Some people love these vacuums, and if you want that old-school, tank-like feel, one of these is the way to go. But they’re not for most people.
Let’s talk about Dyson: This company’s plug-in uprights are very good vacuums that cost too much. It’s really an issue of longevity. We’ve heard of Dyson uprights that have lasted 10 or 12 years, which is great, but those are the outliers; a more typical life span is five to seven years. Miele canister vacuums, in contrast, are known to last for a couple of decades. The odds say that a Dyson will have a noticeably shorter lifespan than a Miele canister, even though they offer similar abilities for a similar price.
Sure, a Dyson vacuum has no ongoing costs of ownership, because the design is bagless and the filters are reusable. (The top-of-the-line Cinetic model doesn’t have any filters at all.) Dysons are very effective cleaners on most surfaces, with just about any kind of debris. The five-year warranty is solid, too, and customer service is easy to deal with. But you wanna know what else meets those criteria? The $160 Shark Navigator Lift-Away. The Shark won’t pick up quite as much fine dust, and it feels like it’s built cheaper. For most people, however, a Dyson plug-in will feel like a modest step up over the Shark yet cost a lot more money. (And for what it’s worth, the Dyson ball joint makes slipping the vacuum under furniture difficult—the Shark Navigator Lift-Away and other vacuums use regular swivel joints that do the same work and allow at least some clearance under short couches and beds.)
If you have your heart set on a Dyson plug-in, we think the best model in the lineup is the Dyson Ball Multi Floor 2 upright. It’s a slimmer, lighter, but otherwise similar update of the old Ball Multi Floor, which we tested and found to be a hell of a cleaner. This new model still costs hundreds less than the top-end Dyson Cinetic Big Ball yet cleans similarly, according to controlled testing we’ve seen from other editorial sources. We also know that the regular Ball design holds up pretty well, because it hasn’t changed much since 2012 and most of those machines are still cranking. We’re still not sure one way or the other how the filterless Cinetic Big Ball will hold up after a few years—it could be exceptionally durable, we just don’t know.
Price matters: We’ve seen occasional deals on the Ball for $250 brand-new, or the older DC41 for as little as $230. If the decision came down to one of those Dyson sales or the Shark Navigator Lift-Away at a regular price, we’d grab the Dyson. (We would not take the deal for a refurbished unit, however, because the warranty coverage is shorter.)
We’ll have a more thorough article on this topic, covering a wider variety of vacuums, coming soon. But in a nutshell: Keep your filters clean according to manufacturer directions. Empty the bag or dust bin when it’s full. Check for clogs and tangles if the vacuum is having trouble cleaning.
Oh, and if your pet pees on the carpet, never try to clean it with a vacuum.
Light a match.