Vacuum cleaners

vacuum cleaner

The best vacs for cleaning carpet and removing pet hair.

We’ve tested standard and cordless-stick vacuums to find out which are the best at carpet cleaning and pet-hair removal. Learn about how to choose the right vacuum and the pros and cons of different types: standard, cordless-stick, robot and hand-held. We’ve plotted price vs performance too, so you can see how much you really need to spend to get a good one.

From our test

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About our test

Our tests of standard and cordless vacuums use the same test method, but we calculate overall scores using different criteria for the different types of vac.

Carpet cleaning

We rub a precisely measured quantity of dirt into a test swatch of carpet. The vacuum’s cleaning head (we use the turbo or power head, if there is one) goes over the test swatch a set number of times and the dirt it picks up is weighed. After 4 passes we weight the dirt and calculate our “quick” carpet score. After 10 passes we weigh it again to calculate the “full” carpet score.

Corners-and-edges cleaning

This test is done along the same lines as the carpet-cleaning test … but to test how well each model gets into corners and edges, we put the dirtied carpet swatch in a corner. We measure the size of the strip of dirt left by the front and sides of the cleaning head.

Pet-hair removal

Again, this is done on carpet. The lab distributes a precisely measured quantity of cat hair on a carpet swatch. The vacuum’s cleaning head (we use the turbo or power head, if there is one) goes over the test swatch a set number of times and the hair it picks up is measured. We also inspect the cleaning head to see how much hair became tangled in the brush.

Hard floors

Because all modern vacuum cleaners do a good job on hard floors, we no longer test for this. But we do test to make sure the cleaning head doesn’t scratch hard floors. We still test cordless stick vacs on hard floors, as some of those still struggle with this task. The test is similar to our carpet test – the vac makes a number of passes over the floor and we weigh the dirt it picks up to determine a score.

Ease of use

In our ease of use assessment, we look at how easy it is to push and pull the head across carpet. We also assess how well it can clean under low furniture and get into tight spaces.

It’s good to have a range of tools for cleaning spots such as window sills and upholstery. It’s better if those are stored on the vacuum cleaner so they are easy to access. So vacs with a good range of on-board tools score well.

Then we look at mobility. How heavy is the vac to drag and carry around? Does it tip over easily? How far does it reach from the power point? How easy it is to extend the telescoping wand? Are the controls intuitive and easy to operate?

For cordless models we also assess how easy it is to recharge the battery, and the cleaning time you can expect from a full charge At some point you’ll need to change the dust bag, empty the bin, or replace filters. So we assess how clean and easy those tasks are.

Which type?

Standard vacuum cleaners

Traditional vacuum cleaners are still the best option if you want a deep clean on all surfaces throughout your home. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and prices, and many have multiple head options and other features.

Here’s what you should consider when buying a standard vacuum cleaner.

  • Better cleaning power for getting dirt out of carpets.
  • Available with a variety of features such as variable power, adjustable head height, swivel heads and HEPA filters.
  • Bag or bin options.
  • Connect to the mains - so no limit to the amount of vacuuming you can do.
  • For the money you would spend on a good cordless vacuum you can get one of the best traditional models.
  • Bulkier to store.
  • Heavier than a cordless vacuum.
  • More difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces.

Cordless stick vacuums

Cordless stick vacs are lightweight battery-powered cleaners in the shape of a broom. A rotary brush sweeps dirt into a dust container. The brush is powered by a small electric motor or a turbine (“turbo”) in the cleaner’s airstream. Dirt dislodged by the rotary brush is puffed away by the suction’s draft and deposited in the dust container.

  • Much lighter than a standard vacuum cleaner.
  • Easy to store.
  • Ideal for quick cleaning jobs and awkward places.
  • Some let you detach the power unit from the handle and use the vac as a hand-held.
  • Good for hard floors, removing pet hair and sweeping dirt off carpet.
  • They don’t have the suction of a mains-powered vacuum cleaner.
  • Most don't get dirt out of carpet very well.
  • Running time is limited - generally just enough for a quick clean.

Handheld vacuums

Handhelds aren’t designed to replace a conventional vacuum cleaner. They’re for tidying up spills. They’re surprisingly good – as long as you use them for what they’re intended. That means cleaning up dirt and spills on hard floors or the surface of carpets, and picking up pet hairs. They’re not for getting ingrained dirt out of carpet.

Check out our buying advice and test results for handheld vacs.

  • Small and easy to store
  • Cheap compared to stick vacs
  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Enough power to vacuum surface dirt off carpet or hard floors, or to give furniture a quick going-over to remove pet hair.
  • Not enough power to remove dirt embedded deep within carpets
  • Small nozzle
  • Limited run-time
  • Limited dust bin capacity.
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How much should you spend?

Does paying more for a vacuum cleaner buy better performance? We plotted price vs performance (our overall test score) for all corded vacuum cleaners in our test database.

There is a positive upward trend: on average, as price increases so does performance. However, paying more doesn’t always mean a better vacuum cleaner.

The sweet spot is between about $450 and $750. You are most likely to get better performance for your money in this range, with very few “duds” – models from Miele and Electrolux appear best value. Below about $350, there are a few that punch above their price – notably two Panasonic canister models. However, none reach our cut-off to be recommended.

Generally, you get what you pay for with vacuum cleaners. But you’d have to really value something other than pure cleaning ability to spend more than $750. You could get a bargain for under $350 – just be aware you are more likely to pick up a dud at this price, so it pays to check our test results carefully.


We asked our members about their vacuum cleaners to find out which brand is most reliable.

To see which brands are best, become a paying Consumer member or log in.

Miele, Sebo and Dyson the Top Brands

The Top Brand award recognises brands that perform consistently well across product testing, reliability and customer satisfaction.

Miele and Sebo are the Top Brand for corded vacuums while Dyson was awarded it for cordless models. Consumers can be confident a brand touting this award has delivered top results both in the lab and in our surveys.

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Vacuuming SmartStrand carpets

We’ve fielded multiple questions recently about premium solution-dyed nylon and “SmartStrand” carpets. These synthetic carpets are soft, plush and durable. But members have told us they can’t push their vacuum cleaner over them – it gets stuck fast.

The problem is density of the carpet. The soft, plush feel is because they pack more fibres into every square centimetre than other carpets. But all those fibres make it harder for air to flow through, meaning some vacuums get sucked down and won’t budge.

The first thing to try is turning down the suction. If your vacuum cleaner has power settings, try it on something other than full-suck to see if that makes it easier to move.

It helps if your vacuum cleaner has a power head. This is a motorised brush that rotates inside the head – lifting dirt out of the carpet into the vacuum. They still work effectively even when a vacuum cleaner’s suction power is lowered. If the power head has height adjustment, try raising it to a sweet spot where you can move it easily, but it still sucks up the dirt.

A turbo head brush is spun by air flowing through the cleaning head. If your vacuum cleaner head is air-locked to your carpet, or you’ve turned the power down, they won’t work as well.

If your vacuum cleaner is still hard to move or you get poor dirt removal, you might need a new one. The important feature to look for is an adjustable-height power head with wheels.

If possible, try a vacuum cleaner on your carpet before buying. Be clear with the salesperson that you need a vacuum that’s effective and easy to move on plush nylon or SmartStrand-style carpet. This means if you find it doesn’t work as expected, you at least have recourse under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Power consumption

In September 2014, the European Union (EU) declared vacuum cleaners of more than 1600 watts could not be sold in the EU.

The idea is to encourage manufacturers to design more efficient models. They plan to introduce similar regulations to other household appliances.

Many vacuum cleaners available in New Zealand are around 2000–2200 watts, particularly those that use a bag. Some of these high-power vacuums perform very well in our tests – but not all – and several lower-power models also do a good job at removing dirt from carpets. Our results show that higher power can mean better performance, but there is no direct link between stated power and dirt removal.

It seems likely the EU ruling will eventually have an impact here – although it may take some time for newer models to filter through to our market.

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