5 On Your Side

100 Years Later, Vacuums Still Need to Clean

Posted April 21, 2008 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2008 6:18 p.m. EDT

Vacuums have gotten new features, high-tech designs and bright colors since they first became widely available 100 years ago. But their most important function is still the same: They need to clean well.

Consumer Reports tested more than 60 vacuums, including 37 uprights, with prices ranging from $60 to $1,900. Testers worked with models from Kenmore, Hoover and Dirt Devil, along with lesser-known brands Halo and Riccar.

"A lot of new vacuums have unique folding and storing features designed to make them easier to use" and store, Consumer Reports tester Bob Markovich said.

Other vacuums feature removable handles that can be used as canister-style wands. One vacuum has a special filtering system designed to keep the filter clean and running smoothly.

"The problem is that some of the vacuums with the fanciest features are not the best at cleaning," Markovich said. "And if you're like most people, you want a vacuum that does a great job on carpets."

The most important test through which Consumer Reports put vacuums was exactly that: cleaning a carpet with 100 grams of sand and talcum powder sprinkled on and pushed into it.

Testers ran the vacuums back and forth 16 times to see how much dirt they picked up.

Staffers also used a sound meter to measure a vacuum's noise level and a device that determined the force needed to push and pull a vacuum.

The top-rated upright was the Kenmore Progressive #35922 model, with direct drive. Its price of $300 also earned a mention as a Best Buy by Consumer Reports.

A Kenmore Progressive canister model #27514 was also rated as a Best Buy. It retails around $300.

In general, uprights work better on carpets and are easier to store than canister vacuums. Canisters tend to be better for tool use and hard-to-reach places but can be awkward to store.