Stick vacuum cleaners

Stick vacuum cleaners

Stick vacuums are light, portable and ideal for quick cleaning jobs.

We’ve tested cordless stick vacuums to find which are best at cleaning carpet and hard floors, and removing pet hair. The performance of stick vacuums now rivals corded vacs.

From our test

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Stick vacuums vs. corded vacuums

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. There are slight differences in how we test the two types of vacuum, so, while we can compare their cleaning ability in some areas, we can’t compare their overall performance.

Features Corded vacuums [width=med] Stick vacuums
Quick carpet clean score 7.2/10 7.3/10
Full carpet clean score 7.9/10 7.9/10
Pet hair score 9.3/10 10/10
Price range $100-$1500 $169-$1099
Bin/bag size 2.2L 450ml
Run time (max power) Unlimited 11 minutes
Weight (kg) 7.5 2.7
Noise (dB) 72 75

GUIDE Figures are averages and based on our recommended and worth considering models.

Corded vacuums

Pros
  • Vacuum as long as you need
  • Larger bag or bin means fewer trips to the bin
  • Most have on-board storage for attachments
  • Better suited for cleaning the whole home in one go

Cons
  • Bulky to store
  • Difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces
  • Awkward to vacuum stairs

Stick vacuums

Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • 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

How we test

We’ve run out of our test carpet and the manufacturer doesn’t make it anymore, so we had to source new carpet. This means we’ve had to re-test some previously tested models so all our results are comparable.

Our overall score comprises:

Hard floors (30% of overall score) – uses the power head (or hard floor head if included) to pick up a variety of materials such as cornflakes, potting mix and flour.

Carpet (quick 15% and thorough 10 % of overall score) – for our “quick” carpet clean score, we rub a precise amount of dust into a piece of test carpet and then, using the standard brush head, pass the vacuum over it four times and weigh the collected dirt. For our “full” carpet cleaning score, we make a further six passes and weigh the dirt collected.

Pet hair (15% of overall score) – we rub pet hair into a piece of test carpet, then use the standard brush head to vacuum it up with 10 passes and weigh the collected hair.

Ease of use (30% of overall score) – assesses the movement of the main cleaning head, looking at the vacuum’s ability to clean under low furniture, as well as versatility and mobility, ease of emptying, control use and what on-board tools are provided.

We no longer include corners and edges and handheld performance as part of our overall score, but we do note how well each model performed these tasks by giving them a good, acceptable or poor rating.

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.

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.

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.

Choosing the right handheld vacuum

Here's some advice if you're thinking of buying one.

Handhelds are small battery-powered vacuum cleaners designed as a quick and easy option for tidying up messes. They aren’t suitable for a big clean or getting ingrained dirt out of carpet, but they’re very good at tackling small patches of dirt and grime on hard floors or the surface of carpets.

  • Docking: A wall-mounted docking station keeps the cleaner readily available yet out of the way - but you need to have wall space that's close to a power outlet. The alternative is to leave it sitting on a flat surface (again with a power outlet nearby).
  • Balance and comfort: Try the cleaner in the store. Choose a model with a weight you can manage easily. Make sure it feels comfortable and that its weight doesn't put too much strain on your wrist. See how easy it is to take out from its docking station - and put back.
  • Filter: This should be easy to remove and clean.
  • Accessories: An upholstery brush and crevice nozzle can be handy for cleaning furniture and car seats. It's even handier if the tools are clipped to the cleaner (rather than the docking station).
  • Switch: An On/Off switch is easier for continuous operation than a trigger that needs to be held down.
  • Fallout flap: This prevents dirt falling back out of the vacuum when you carry it with the nozzle facing downwards, such as when moving between cleaning tasks.
  • Charging time: The shorter the charging time, the sooner you can reuse the cleaner.
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