Vacuum cleaners

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Standard, hand-held, cordless and robot vacuums.

A new vacuum cleaner could cost you anywhere from $90 to $2000. How much do you need to spend?

At Consumer we’ve done something that no one else in New Zealand has. We’ve independently tested over 80 vacuums from over 20 brands.

As a member you can access the results of our tests and see the pros and cons of standard, cordless, handheld and robot vacuums. 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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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 vacuums

Cordless 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.

Robot vacuums

Robot vacuums run autonomously, following random or semi-random paths in a room, guided by on-board dirt, bump and stair sensors. Most come with “virtual walls”, infrared emitters or magnetic strips that create a barrier to limit where the robot cleans. They return to their charge dock when the battery runs low.

For more information, see our report on robot vacuums.

  • Small and easy to store.
  • Programmable to run at a certain time.
  • Automatically dock and recharge when required.
  • Fun to watch!
  • Don't clean as well as a regular vacuum.
  • Can't get close to corners and edges.
  • Some models get tangled in rug tassels.
  • Small dust collection bin.

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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Choosing the right standard vacuum

Finding the right vacuum cleaner for your needs is just a matter of asking the right questions.

Find out more

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.

Become a paying Consumer member or log in to find out more.

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Time for a robot?

Everyone hates vacuum cleaning, so a robot that does it for you must be a good thing, right? We've looked at whether robot vacs are worth buying yet.

Learn more

About our test

Our tests of standard and cordless vacuums use the same test method.

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.

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.

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.

Ease of use
Here we assess the movement of the cleaning head, the vacuum’s ability to clean under low furniture, the on-board tools and their versatility, mobility, the ease of emptying the dust bin or bag, and how easy the controls are to use.

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 received information on 3513 vacuum cleaners in our 2017 appliance reliability survey.

To see which brands are trustiest, 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 cordless 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.

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.

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Asthma and allergens

The biggest single cause of an asthma attack is the faeces of house dust mites. There are several things you can do to help control them.

Find out more

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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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