All About Canister Vacuums

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Up until a few years ago, there was a clear distinction between upright vacuums and canister vacuums. Generally speaking, for heavily-carpeted areas, upright vacuums worked best, while hard-surfaces such as wood floors called for canister vacuums. However, as vacuum cleaner manufacturers are now designing vacuums to be more multipurpose, this distinction has become increasingly blurry. Nevertheless, canister vacuums are still considered to be most effective on hard surfaces, as upright vacuum cleaners may cause dirt scattering on these types of areas.

Canister (or cylinder) vacuums have the motor and bag housed in a separate canister unit that is usually mounted on wheels and connected to the vacuum head via a flexible plastic hose with nozzle. This canister is usually outfitted with a tool caddy and has some sort of head and agitator similar to an upright vacuum. Not only are they ideal for hard surfaces, they are also quite popular because they often feature maneuverable heads and are lighter in weight, also making them a great option for cleaning stairs and other hard-to-reach areas that may not be accessible by a traditional upright vacuum. In addition, most canister vacuums come with a variety of tools that will work well on different types of surfaces in a home, including dusting tools, upholstery tools, and even crevice tools.

Two major criteria to keep in mind when choosing a canister vacuum is the floor surface that is to be cleaned and the power of the vacuum itself. Canister vacuums commonly offer three types of tools for floors:

  1. A 10 inch - 12 inch hard plastic brush with soft bristles for bare floors and smooth surfaces without rugs or carpeting.
  2. A turbo brush with bristles and a spinning drum roller best suited for low pile carpeting and scatter rugs.
  3. A power head brush that is very similar to the turbo brush, but is powered by a separate motor, which is ideal for wall-to-wall carpeting or carpeted surfaces with pet hair.

Canister vacuum cleaners with turbo or power head brushes utilize spinning drum rollers similar to those used in traditional upright vacuums, and can be typically switched off for safe operation on bare floors. Although both types of brushes may look and perform similarly, the power head brush's separate motor is more powerful than the turbo brush variety. When shopping for a canister vacuum with a power head or turbo brush, remember to carefully examine the brush roll and keep in mind what type of area you will be primarily vacuuming. Canister vacuums with independent motors will work best for thick-pile carpet, but turbo or suction driven brush tools, which are slightly weaker, can also be adequate for your needs.

Vacuum Cleaner Buying Tip:

In addition to being outfitted with a variety of tools, most canister vacuums also have some type of filtration system, as well as retractable power cords. Canister vacuums mostly feature collection bags, but there are a few bagless varieties on the market as well.

When choosing a canister vacuum, also look for additional features that may suit your needs. If you suffer from any type of allergy or respiratory disorder, a HEPA canister vacuum may prove to be invaluable. HEPA systems involve sealed filtration systems that retain up to 99.97% of particulates up to 0.3 microns from the floor. These filtration systems are some of the most powerful, and HEPA technology has recently become quite popular in medical settings as well.

Other canister vacuum features can include specialized tools to handle furniture or drapes; long cords and hoses if you need to clean a larger living space; and lightweight bodies to accommodate staircases. Dirt sensors are also a great feature, as they are indicator systems designed to let you know when the vacuum has stopped picking up dirt (though not necessarily whether there is still dirt in the rug).

Although canister vacuums are not quite as common as upright vacuums, because they are multipurpose, lightweight, and easy to maneuver, they are quickly gaining popularity. 

Canister Vacuum Cleaners at a Glance

  • Ideal for homes with a mix of hard and carpeted floors, as well as stairs and upholstery
  • Cleaning path of 12" to 15" (based on the model)
  • Allows for instant carpet to bare floor cleaning
  • Often comes with attachments such as a dusting brush, crevice tool, and parquet brush
  • Lightweight and usually easy to maneuver
Additional Features to Consider:
  • Edge cleaning for corners
  • HEPA filtration for allergy sufferers
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