- No matter what kind of flooring or carpet you have, you need a good vacuum cleaner to keep them tidy.
- We like vacuums from Shark, Dyson, and Roborock for their strong suction and long battery life.
- Read more: The best robot vacuums and the best cordless vacuums
Depending on how you feel about it, vacuuming can be the most dreaded chore of all, or a therapeutic ridding of all that dust, dirt, and whatever else might be hiding on and within your floors and carpets.
We’ve tested plenty of vacuum cleaners over the years, and we have written several in-depth guides focused on everything from the best robot vacuums and the best affordable vacuums to the best vacuums for pet hair and the best cordless vacuums. But here, we have our top picks from each of these respective guides for an easily digestible look at the best of the best.
Apart from our testing, we’ve also spoken with experts during our research phases, including former Dyson Optimization Manager and engineer Edward Chudleigh about some common vacuum cleaner pitfalls and how to shop for a reliable appliance, which can be found here.
A good vacuum cleaner should have no trouble tackling both carpeting and hardwood, and the best ones we’ve tested can automatically detect the difference between the two and adjust their suction accordingly. Ease of use, cleaning, and maintenance are all important too – in fact, one of the most common losses of suction in a vacuum is a clogged filter or airway.
Whether you’re more of a set-it-and-forget-it robot vacuum type or you prefer to do it yourself with the ease and mobility of a cordless vacuum, or somewhere in between, you’ll find what you need below.
The best vacuum cleaners in 2021
- Best cordless vacuum cleaner: Shark Anti-Allergen Cordless Vacuum
- Best vacuum cleaner on a budget: Shark Navigator Lift-Away
- Best vacuum cleaner for pet hair: Dyson Ball Animal 2
- Best robot vacuum cleaner: Roborock S6
The Shark Anti-Allergen Cordless Vacuum is a strong performer all around, picking up particles of most sizes on a variety of surfaces in a smooth and efficient fashion. We also love the light that illuminates your cleaning path and the flexible hose that lets you reach under low spaces better than any other cordless vac.
Pros: Versatile, strong suction, cleaning path light, great for under-furniture cleaning, comes with attachments
Cons: Loud and high-pitched noise, thick grip that may be uncomfortable for small hands, weaker on high-pile carpet and rug
This Shark vacuum had the best overall cleaning performance of all the cordless vacuums we tested, picking up every bit of flour, cat litter, ground coffee, and dog hair from hardwood and tile with ease. It also does well with large particles like whole Cheerios. It’s less effective on high-pile rug.
It’s not the lightest cordless vac out there, but it’s really smooth to operate and easy to use. There are distinct settings for hardwood and carpet located near the grip and they’re easy to slide between. There’s also a power boost trigger that you can hold down whenever you need some extra suction power.
Rolling the cleaning head around hardwood and tile feels very smooth and soft, instead of clunky and abrasive. The cleaning head also has two useful features: a light that shows you exactly what you’re cleaning and highlights small particles you might’ve otherwise missed, and a green alert button that turns red when a blockage occurs, so you can address the problem right away.
We also love how it can get lower and flatter than any other cordless vac. The middle of the stick can bend into a flexible hose “elbow,” allowing the entire bottom half of the stick to lay flat and get under beds, couches, chairs, and other tricky spots.
The best on a budget
The Shark Navigator Lift-Away offers solid performance, a useful set of tools, and best of all, a reasonable price tag.
Pros: Low price, superior performance, five-year warranty, lift-off canister and hose
Cons: The hose is a bit short at five feet, the electric cord is also relatively short at 25 feet (but an extension cord will fix that)
A canister vacuum offers powerful suction and versatility while an upright vacuum offers the convenience of easy navigation. The Shark Navigator Lift-Away offers the best of both worlds and its versatility has earned it the top spot in our guide to the best budget vacuum cleaners. It easily operates like an upright vacuum, but when you need to get under low furniture, vacuum the stairs, or even clear high cobwebs from your ceiling, the canister lifts off the base and becomes a much more portable machine.
The hose allows you to reach into tight places and anywhere the broad brush head won’t go, though it’s a bit short at just five feet, so you’ll have to carry the canister with you as you clean. Hose attachments include an eight-inch upholstery tool and two different crevice tools.
The vacuum cleaner has two settings, one for hardwood and one for carpet, which activates the brush roll. The bagless dust bin is quite large at 2.2 quarts and is sealed with a HEPA filter — a requirement of a good vacuum these days — to ensure airborne allergens don’t escape.
While a budget vacuum may not have the longevity offered by some of the more expensive models on the market, Shark offers a five-year limited warranty which all but guarantees you’ll get your money’s worth out of the machine. The filters are also easy to clean, so you’ll be able to maintain your machine’s suction.
The best for pet hair
The Dyson Ball Animal 2 prioritizes maneuverability, but the tangle-free brush setup is really what sets this machine apart for pet owners.
Pros: Powerful suction, great maneuverability, keeps dust and allergens in the machine, tangle-free turbine tool gets into tight spaces
Cons: Rollerball prevents you from getting under furniture, heavy, power cord does not retract
A vacuum specialized for pet hair should boast an easy-to-clean brush head, HEPA filtration to lock in allergens, and a removable hose with an upholstery attachment so you can suck up pet hair wherever it happens to land. The Dyson Ball Animal 2 checks all the boxes.
This upright vacuum easily handles both hardwood and carpet — with a rotating brush head that gets deep into area rugs and low-pile carpet very well. The self-adjusting head helps the vacuum create a tight seal against any type of flooring for a better clean.
The large-capacity bagless dust bin is sealed with a HEPA filter, locking in dust, hair, and pet dander. To empty it, simply lift it off the base and press a button on the canister handle to release the bottom and let the dust fall out. The filter is easily removable and washable.
Where the Ball Animal 2 really stands out is in its wand attachments. Not only does it come with a combination brush for hard-to-reach places and a specialized stair tool, but it also comes with its unique tangle-free turbine tool specifically formulated for pet hair. Chudleigh actually had a hand in developing the design, though we had already selected the vacuum as among the best before we ever reached out to him for this guide. The tool features counter-rotating spinner brushes which sucks up hair without giving it the chance to get tangled. It’s great for furniture, curtains, pet beds, and any other fabric you need to detail.
The Ball Animal 2 has a couple of downsides, the largest of which is that the roller ball makes it difficult to fit under furniture. When pet hair floats around the house and settles in hard-to-reach places like under the couch, the Dyson might have trouble getting there. The wand will be helpful, but you won’t get as thorough a clean you would with the brush head. It’s also a heavy machine at 17.5 pounds.
But overall, the powerful suction, tangle-free brush tool, and deep-cleaning spinning brush head make this the best overall pick in our guide to the best vacuums for pet hair. If you’re looking for other options in this category, check out our full guide here.
The best robot vacuum
The Roborock S6 has excellent suction power, runs quietly, is easily programmable, and comes with a bunch of extras that make cleaning up cat hair, cereal, and dust a breeze.
Pros: Excellent suction, works with Amazon Alexa, extra attachments, mopping capabilities, quiet, one-year warranty
Cons: Loud when on the highest setting, too tall to clean under some furniture
Insider Reviews’ James Brains has tested 25 robot vacuums, putting them through rigorous tests to see how well they pick up coffee grounds, cat litter, flour, and pet hair on both carpet and hardwood floors, and the Roborock S6 tops the list.
Not only does it handle both hardwood and carpeted flooring with ease, but it also gets deepest into the corners of any robot vacuum we tested. It also did a good job navigating its cleaning paths, getting stuck very infrequently.
The Roborock S6 is Alexa compatible and comes with an app that allows you to set your cleaning schedule, determine varying suction levels, and set no-go zones once the vacuum has had a chance to map out your space.
The S6 also comes with a mopping tank attachment that allows you to transform it from a robot vac to a robot mop. According to Brains, the mopping attachment works well and the tank can be set to disperse just enough water, so you won’t have to worry about accidental flooding.
His complaints were minimal and mainly centered around the higher profile of the S6 when compared to other robot vac models. It can be a tight fit under some low-profile furniture which can lead to it getting stuck.
What to look for in a good vacuum
Like any home appliance, there are certain things to watch out for as you shop, certain boxes you should be sure to tick, and a good amount of homework to do before making a decision. Edward Chudleigh, a former Dyson engineer of 11 years, walked us through some of the common pitfalls of vacuum cleaners and how to shop for the best machine for your needs.
Here are some more specifics to look for:
A brushless motor: A vacuum’s motor is, of course, what powers the mechanism, ultimately providing suction and ensuring a clean home. Motors fall into two categories: brushed and brushless. Chudleigh recommends sticking to brushless motors: “Brushless motors are very efficient and translate much more of the available power from the battery to cleaning the floor. The trouble with brushed motors is that there is more friction in the system which in turn eats some of the battery power and, amongst other things, makes the machine less efficient.” He said brushes can also wear down over time and may emit carbon pollution into the air. Both Dyson models and the Roborock we recommend use brushless motors, but we were unable to determine what type of motor the Shark uses.
A well-designed brush head: “It’s all good having efficient motors and batteries, however this only works with a well-designed pick-up head,” said Chudleigh, who was involved in developing Dyson’s Tangle-Free Turbine Tool — a key feature in our recommendation for the best vacuum for pet hair. A well-designed brush head ensures the dirt and dust on your floor is actually making its way into your vacuum. You can see a good example of how we test vacuum pick-up in our guide to the best robot vacuums.
A bagless design: “Bagless every time,” said Chudleigh. Vacuum bags have tiny holes that allow air to pass through them and act almost like a filter, trapping dust and dirt. But over time, those tiny holes get clogged. “The suction of the vacuum then decreases as more holes get blocked. It’s essentially like strangling a vacuum cleaner,” said Chudleigh. Bagless designs employ a cyclonic system that “spins the particles out of the airflow” allowing clean air to pass through the motor without clogging anything or impeding suction. All of the vacuums we recommend are bagless.
A lightweight machine: This one’s pretty simple. You’d want a vacuum somewhere around 10 to 15 pounds that you can easily carry around your home, up and down flights of stairs, and even out to your car.
A strong warranty: Chudleigh said that the most common parts that fail in vacuums are hoses and batteries, so ensure the warranty on any vacuum you buy has a suitable guarantee to replace those parts should issues come up. He also recommends you look for a good money-back guarantee that ensures you can return that machine for any reason if you’re unhappy with its performance.
Types of vacuum cleaners
Robot vacuum: A robot vacuum is an autonomous vacuum cleaner that roams around your house with no effort on your part aside from maybe setting a scheduled cleaning time or freeing it when it gets tangled in a power cord or stuck behind a piece of furniture. They’re not as powerful as other types of vacuum cleaners and need to be emptied regularly, but they can’t be beaten when it comes to convenience.
Canister vacuum: A canister vacuum has its motor and dust bin in a standalone canister with the brush head attached by a long suction hose. The canister is usually on wheels, and it follows you around a bit like a lost puppy. Canister vacuums are known for their superior power and excellent suction, but they don’t offer much versatility and are particularly difficult to move around the house given that you’re tethered to a separate piece that you have to tote around with you.
Upright vacuum: An upright vacuum is what you likely picture when asked to imagine a vacuum — if you’re in the US, that is. (If you’re in the UK, you’ll likely picture a canister vacuum.) Unlike canister vacuums, upright vacuums have the motor, dust bin, and head all aligned in one package. The vacuum stands upright on its own and the body of the machine tilts back when you need to vacuum. Upright vacuums balance power and versatility, but can still be clunky to operate in some cases. They are often equipped with a removable hose to reach places the main brush head can’t go.
Stick vacuum: Stick vacuums prevail when it comes to convenience and portability, but they often do so by sacrificing power. Often rechargeable and cordless, the batteries they’re equipped with simply can’t generate as much power as corded vacuums and they need to be recharged often. The dust bins are often smaller than upright or canister vacuums as well. But it’s the most lightweight category of vacuum, and a low profile makes it easy to slide under almost any furniture.
Handheld vacuum: Just like Jell-O became synonymous with gelatin desserts, so too did Black & Decker’s Dustbuster become synonymous with handheld vacuums. A handheld vacuum is ultra-compact and good for spot cleaning — think of a spilled box of cereal, stray kitty litter, or picking up dust after sweeping. You certainly won’t want to clean your whole house with one, but they’re good to have around for quick messes.
Head: This is the part of the vacuum that moves across your floor and picks up dirt and dust.
Brush roll: The brush roll is situated in the head of the vacuum and should be activated when cleaning carpet. It spins to help agitate the carpet pile to dislodge dust and dirt.
Dust bin: A canister on the main body of the vacuum where trapped dirt and dust is stored.
HEPA filter: A high-efficiency particulate air filter or HEPA filter must filter 99.97% of airborne particles in order to meet HEPA standards. Most high-quality vacuum cleaners contain HEPA filters. Many are washable and reusable and should be cleaned regularly.
Wand: Often featured on upright vacuums, wands detach from the main body to allow you to reach spots the head can’t go. They’re useful for cleaning stairs, corners, and upholstery.
Crevice tool: A long, flat attachment with an angled tip. It’s good for getting into tight corners including baseboards and stairs and between couch cushions.
Dust brush tool: A small attachment with soft bristles. It’s good for blinds, windowsills, and delicate objects.
Upholstery tool: A wide, flat attachment that allows for strong suction. It’s good for furniture with fabric upholstery like mattresses, chairs, and couches.
Lithium ion battery: A type of rechargeable battery that uses lithium ions and can store high amounts of energy and deliver higher voltage than nickel-based batteries. It doesn’t display memory effect, but it is less stable than nickel-based batteries and has a tendency to overheat.
Nickel battery: A type of rechargeable battery that comes in either nickel-cadmium (Ni-Ca) or nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) form. It can store high amounts of energy, is more difficult to damage than Li-ion batteries, and suffers from memory effect.
Check out our other vacuum buying guides