I do a lot of vacuuming around my house – and it’s not because my home is dirtier than the average, honest. Nope, Realhomes.com has me on the case testing vacuum cleaners from brands such as Dyson, Shark and Vax to find out which are the best vacuum cleaners, so you can buy them with confidence online (I know how I prefer to spend our Saturdays and it's not battling the crowds to buy a vacuum cleaner, that's for sure...).
When I test vacuum cleaners, I do it in my house rather than a lab (that's not me in the picture, in case you're wondering). Why not in laboratory conditions like other reviewers? Because that’s not where you’re going to be using your vacuum. Of course, that doesn’t mean the cleaners escape rigorous testing. Just as in the lab, they’re tested on mud, spilled cereal, human hair and pet hair – in my home that’s the cats’ fur – plus the general dust, cobwebs, and who knows what else a normal, busy home accumulates.
It’s real world testing. The mud often comes courtesy of my running shoes and walking boots. I like the outside and I want a vacuum that can cope with what gets brought in – and so do you whether it’s from sport, play or city streets.
My cereal of choice when it comes to testing is Rice Krispies. The reason? They’re light and instead of sucking them straight up and off the floor, some vacuums merely scatter them further. Annoying – but these are the things you want to know about, and which I can report back on honestly, having chased them around my kitchen floor.
Many of us share our homes with pets, and although they are more than worth it, extra cleaning is required. When you're looking to buy the best vacuum for pet hair, you want to be confident in its ability to deal with the loose fur that spreads tumbleweed-like across hard flooring, but also the stuff that’s got itself knitted into the upholstery in their favourite snoozing spots – and that you won’t end up with a clogged-up cleaning tool when you’re done. In case you're interested, in my tests, the bagless cylinder Dyson Big Ball Animal 2 came out top for tackling pet hair.
Like many people, I have a home with both hard flooring and carpet, so the vacuums are challenged with both. But, as a buyer, you also want to find out how much of a palaver it is moving from one type to the other so you can opt for a cleaner that will get round the house efficiently in one session. Again, it’s all about real homes, not laboratory conditions.
Cordless vacs are a popular choice now, but talking about vacuuming sessions brings me to the issue with these. Is the charge in the battery sufficient to finish in one go, or are you going to be stopped short? And how long will you have to pause while the battery recharges? A home rather than the lab is the place to test this out. The top cordless vacuum cleaner in my tests? The Vax Blade 2 Max with a battery life of 45 minutes and a charging time of three hours. Take a look at the other best cordless vacuums in our list of the best.
And while we’re on the subject of moving around the house, how much of a challenge is the vacuum to carry up and down stairs? I often hear from people who have one machine upstairs and another down so they don’t have to do the lifting. Of course, if two vacs are your preference, that’s fine. But if you don’t like the idea of shelling out twice, nor making storage room for two machines, you do need to know which cleaners are heavy, but also which are bulky and awkward to lift, and that’s why I cart them up and down rather than just telling you the weight. One of my top vacuum cleaners for manoeuvrability? The Shark DuoClean Powered Lift-Away and TruePet.
Storage is another real life issue that lab tests aren’t concerned with. Are you going to have to dedicate a huge amount of cupboard space to the machine? You need to find out before you splash out, not regret your buy, and that’s why I assess it, and consider the shape of the machine and not just its dimensions.
Of course, there’s a final chore that comes along with vacuuming: emptying what’s been sucked up. If bagless is your preference, discovering whether taking the dust container out of the vacuum and emptying it into the bin is awkward is essential.
A good vacuum cleaner should make your life easier, and our testing is here to make choosing the one that does that easy, too.
About our vacuum cleaner reviewer
Sarah Warwick has specialised in homes and interiors for over 20 years. She was Executive Editor of Ideal Home magazine, and has written for nationals, magazines and websites including Real Homes, Homebuilding & Renovating, Grand Designs, Homes & Gardens, Houzz, The Guardian, House Beautiful and Country Homes & Interiors. She tests our best coffee machines, too.