Suck It Up
We doggedly tested five vacuum cleaners, and one rose to the top
By Phil Higgs

(MONEY Magazine) – If you don't happen to own a vacuum cleaner, you're going to like what's on the next page: a concise analysis of five leading machines, which we examined rigorously by cleaning a white carpet left on an outdoor dog park in Boulder, Colo. Chances are, however, that you already own a vacuum cleaner but are not satisfied with its dust-devouring ability--in which case you're really going to like what's on the next page. The vacuum cleaner, see, is enjoying a sort of design renaissance. The technology is improving, making now a good time to buy--as long as you can see through the hype, of which there is no shortage (check local listings for breathless infomercials). That's where our chart comes in.

Long relegated to the supply closet of boring design, vacuum cleaners even have a few hipsters among them. There's the Dyson, for example, that funky machine flogged on TV by its smooth-talking British creator. Oreck, meanwhile, maker of svelte, high-end hypoallergenic vacuums, has opened a gleaming megastore in Manhattan. But popularity isn't always the best gauge of value, and neither is a price tag. Vacuums range from less than $100 to over $1,000. For our tests, we stuck to a price where you can get power without blowing the college fund: under $400. (Except Dyson, whose models start at $400.) We also tested only uprights, which are typically cheaper and more versatile than drag-along models, thanks to increasing hybridization of canister and upright. All the vacuums come with long-reaching hoses--although Oreck's is on a separate, R2-D2-esque mini-vac.

Choosing a vacuum isn't only about suction. The rotating brushes that kick up dirt need to be powerful. The ability to set the base height--high for carpet, low for wood--is handy. Maneuverability and weight were also key in our tests, as were noise level, overall design and how well the attachments worked. The last (but not least) criterion was price, since some vacuums are good at sucking money out of your wallet but little else.

HOW WE DID IT I took my dogs to a local dirty, furry, pollen-ridden dog park and let them (and about a dozen other dogs) roll around on a couple of clean white rugs of varying pile height. I also left the hardwood floors in my apartment unswept for one week. Then I unleashed each vacuum on a different room or portion of the rugs and compared the results.

TIP Ask the dealer if there's a trial period. Many stores will allow you to take a vacuum cleaner home and use it for up to 30 days before you decide whether to buy it.