Consumer Reports: These Vacuums Suck

Consumer Reports tests show several brands should pay more attention to the product's purpose.  Latest tests of more than 60 upright and canister vacuums reveal that several brands have included innovative features in new models-including germ-killing claims-but several fell short in their overall purpose - plain old cleaning.

The new Panasonic AeroBlast [MC-UL975], $700, includes a unique feature that promises to stretch filter life, among other things. But CR test results showed these claims were overstated.  Halo Technologies says its uprights, including the $400 UVX, kill dust mites, flea eggs, and germs using UV light.  CR didn't test those claims because the UVX was only so-so at the more primary tasks of cleaning carpets and picking up pet hair. What's more, it has no hose or tools.

For homes with pet hair, the Electrolux's $300 Harmony [EL6985B] canister is the latest to flub CR's grueling pet-hair test, which gauges how well vacuums remove Maine Coon cat fur from carpet. As with the brand's TwinClean model, cat hair wound itself around the brush and stopped it-partly because the brush is driven by airflow, rather than a motor.

"We tell shoppers to look at performance first and to choose a vacuum that meets their cleaning needs," said Bob Markovich, Home & Yard editor at Consumer Reports.  "With so many vacuums on the market and every manufacturer trying to stand out, it's especially important for consumers to choose function over hype."

The Best Vacs for Every Need
The best uprights for most were the CR Best Buy Kenmore Progressive with Direct Drive [35922], $300 and [36932], $350.  Be sure to also consider the lower-priced Hoover WindTunnel Bagless [U5753-900], $160, which is worth considering for consumers willing to accept less airflow, more noise, lower brand reliability for uprights, and emptying a bin.

If less weight is worth some trade-offs, the 9-pound Riccar SupraLite [RSL3], $330, is the lightest. Its cousin, the SupraLite [RSL4], $450, is more expensive, but provides superb carpet cleaning.  Three models from Hoover, including the Tempo Widepath [U5140-900], $60,  the Wind Tunnel Supreme [U5458-900], $130, and the EmPower [U5262-910], $100, all offer the most value and performance.  The Hoover EmPower even folds, however, there are more reliable upright brands that consumers should consider.

The best canister vacuum with superb carpet cleaning is the Electrolux Oxygen [EL6988D], $400.  This vacuum sets its self apart from the rest of the canister vacs.  The less expensive CR Best Buy Kenmore Progressive [27514], $300, performs nearly as well overall.  However, if picking up pet hair isn't a top priority, Consumer Reports suggests the slightly lower-priced Hoover WindTunnel Bagless [S3765-040], $250.

How to Choose the Best Vacuum for Your Needs
CR offers quick tips in choosing the best vacuum that cleans the most effectively for based on consumers' needs.

* Choose the right kind - Most perform well on bare floors. But uprights tend to do better on carpets. Canisters are easier to push, pull, and use on stairs because people move mostly the hose and power head.

* Check the features - A brush on/off switch helps prevent scattering dirt and protects bare floors, while manual pile height adjustments let people match brush and carpet height more precisely than they can with automatic systems.

* Think carefully about bagless - CR Quick Picks include models with and without bags. But many will probably prefer a bag if they have allergy concerns, because emptying a bagless vac's bin is a frequent and dusty task. And although HEPA bags and filters can provide added filtration, they don't guarantee that a vacuum won't spew dust. Models that scored high in CR emissions tests should do well in homes if they use the same bags or filters that came with the machine.

CR's full report on vacuums is part of the March 2008 issue of Consumer Reports, which is available wherever magazines are sold. The full story is also available online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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