Stick vacuums are light, portable and ideal for quick cleaning jobs. Their performance now rivals corded vacs, but which model is right for you?
Stick vacuum pros and cons
There’s little separating stick vacuums from their corded counterparts – there was almost no difference in how they performed in our tests for cleaning carpet and picking up pet hair. But that doesn't mean a stick vacuum is the right choice for every home.
- Easier to use in tight spaces
- Smaller and less difficult to store
- Easier to manoeuvre, especially on stairs
- Some allow the wand to be detached
– ideal for cleaning the car
- Smaller dustbins mean more frequent emptying
- Long charge times (average five hours)
- Minimal to no on-board storage for attachments
- Can struggle to clean larger homes in one go
Looking for a standard vacuum instead?
Check out our buying advice and test results for standard corded vacuums.
What to consider
Weight and balance: some stick vacuums have the motor down by the head, which generates better suction power, while others have the motor up by the handle – this allows for better manoeuvrability. The weight and centre of gravity, and therefore balance, for each model is different so, to find your ideal stick vacuum, we recommend visiting a shop and trying out a few different models.
Charging/runtime: stick vacuum battery life isn’t great: they run for an average of 15 minutes and take about 5 hours to charge. Weigh up the charge time compared to runtime for models you like. A way to get the most out of your stick vacuum is buying one that has a charging dock.
Variable power: most stick vacuums come with 2 or 3 power settings. If you regularly clean your home, you don’t need to always run your stick vac at maximum power. Utilising lower speeds extends battery life and helps reduce noise.
Accessories/heads: like standard corded vacuums, many stick vacs have interchangeable heads for different jobs. However, unlike standard vacuums, the stick vac’s compact size means there often isn’t space to store them on the machine, though some models come with a dock that can store attachments.
Handheld mode: many (but not all) stick vacs can convert into a handheld for awkward cleaning jobs, such as cleaning the car.
Filters: high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, also known in Europe as an S-class, are designed to filter out very small invisible particles while you vacuum (to be technical, they trap 99.97 percent of particle emissions down to 0.3 microns in size – that’s small enough to remove cigarette smoke and bacteria). If you have asthma or breathing difficulties, strongly consider a vacuum with a HEPA filter. HEPA filters become less efficient as they clog with dust, so need to be replaced each year.
Noise: vacuum cleaners are one of the noisiest household appliances – stick or corded. If your stick vac has variable power, a lower power setting will likely be quieter, though you might need a few extra passes to make up for the weaker suction.
Usability: items to check are reach, weight, comfort of carrying and ease of emptying the bin. Check the on/off switch or trigger is easy to operate and that the head is easy to manoeuvre and, if applicable, switch the heads.
Dustbin: designs vary between manufacturers, so make sure you can easily remove and empty the bin before buying. Some bins have a flap that stops any dust from falling out the nozzle when facing down, like a one-way valve. Emptying the bin after every use also ensures it’s ready to go next time you need it.
Battery: Lithium-ion (Li-ion) are the most common type of batteries used in stick vacs. Some models have nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which are cheaper, but heavier.
Three things to keep in mind
A stick vacuum with a built-in battery will have a limited life. The battery in these units can’t be replaced easily, so when the battery dies it’s often cheaper and more practical to buy a new vacuum than repair it.
Another issue with some stick vacs, such as those with non-interchangeable cleaning heads, it’s often easier and cheaper to replace than repair. For example, if you drop your stick vac and break the head, repair could cost as much as a new vacuum.
It’s a common assumption that all stick vacs can convert into a handheld unit for cleaning small, awkward spaces areas such as the car, but this isn’t the case. If this is important to you, check the model you’re buying has this feature.
The latest trend in carpets is for synthetic strands made of nylon, such as SmartStrand carpets, which are plush, durable and spill-resistant. However, as their fibres are more densely packed to achieve that soft feel, it’s harder for air to flow through them, causing vacuum cleaners to become stuck as it’s harder to push them. This is when vacuum cleaners with variable power are useful as you can turn down the power to make pushing it easier. If you have this type of carpet, or plan on buying it, make sure to try the stick vac out on it first.
Our expert's advice
Filters – we recommend cleaning your vacuum cleaner’s filters once a month, but they’re not easy to access with some models. Before buying, check where and how many filters the vacuum has, and if they are easy to remove and clean.
Sore trigger finger – if your stick vac has an on/off trigger, only hold it down when you’re vacuuming and release it when moving between areas.
Rapunzel effect – long hair can often get tangled in the vacuum head. On most power brush heads there is a gap in the bristles around the head. You can run a pair of scissors along this gap, cutting the hair so it’s easy to pull off.
Get access to Consumer to view this premium content
- Thousands of expert product/service reviews
- Personal support through our Consumer Rights Advice Line
- Premium articles and in-depth buying advice
- Add a Consumer magazine for even more exclusive content
Which brand is most reliable?
We've tested 38 stick vacuum cleaners.
Find the right one for you.