Vacuum Cleaner Types

Vacuum cleaners differ in terms of suction power, power source, types of dirt to be cleaned, unit's size etc. Most popular vacuums include upright vacuums with or without cleaning hoses, corded and more commonly cordless convertible stick vacuums, canister vacuums, robot vacuums and similar.

Getting the best vacuum cleaner often includes personal needs and preferences of the user - while some people prefer canister vacuums, other people like convertible stick vacuums, etc.

Here is our list of various vacuum cleaners and other cleaning aids that can help one keep the home clean.

Air Purifiers

germguardian ac4825 mAir purifiers filter air only and as such, they don't 'vacuum' the floors.

Nonetheless, air purifiers are very important for keeping the air quality high, especially in the area with large air pollution and in the allergies season.

Air purifiers are stationary units and during their operation they filter air from small particles that can cause various issues, including asthma and allergies.

Models with air filters based on activated carbon layer are even able to capture odors and certain household gasses, while models with UV lamps are able to sanitize the air.

If You plan on getting an air purifier, go for 'true HEPA' air purifier, which is able to capture at least 99.97% of 0.3 microns or larger particles.

Ash Vacuum Cleaners

ash vacuumAsh vacuum cleaners are designed for vacuuming ash, hence the name.

As type of dirt, ash features large percentage of very fine particles that are very abrasive and can damage and go through air filters and can damage the suction motors of common domestic vacuums.

Hence, ash vacuums are generally powered by bypass motors and they feature steel hose and canister, resistant to abrasive ash particles and even heat and air filters designed to deal with such dirt.

Most ash vacuums are shaped like a drum and are commonly used no only as ash vacuum but as shop or construction site vacuums.

Note: some ash vacuums are designed for warm and cold ash, while others are intended for vacuuming of cold ash only.

Backpack Vacuum Cleaners

backpack vacuum mBackpack vacuum cleaners are carried by the user like backpacks (hence the name) or for quick cleanups on the shoulder.

Backpack vacuums help the user cover larger area quickly, and are often used in commercial applications in hotels, offices, and similar.

Cordless backpack vacuums allow the user to clean usually hard to reach surfaces and are often used for cleaning homes with several floors, but also cars, boats, yachts, planes etc.

For more about backpacks, feel free to check our Best Backpack Vacuum Cleaners article.

Bagged vs Bagless Vacuum Cleaners

miele fjm vacuum bag mBagless vacuums store vacuumed dirt directly in the dirt/dust cups/bins. When the dirt bins are filled up to the Max Fill Line or when the user feels that it is time to empty the dirt bin, vacuumed dirt is emptied directly into the trashcan - during this process, dirt is exposed to the air and some of the dust may escape.

Bagged vacuums store vacuumed dirt in the vacuum bag and when the bag gets full (or its pores get clogged), it is time to replace the vacuum bag. Disposable vacuum bags are simply thrown in the trash, while reusable vacuum bags may be used many times.

Personally, it is much easier and cleaner to empty the dirt bin of the bagless vacuum than to empty and reuse again reusable vacuum bag. Thus, it is highly recommended to use disposable vacuum bags, regardless slightly increased maintenance costs.

Bare Floor Vacuums

hard floor vacuumBare floor vacuums or hard floor vacuums are designed for vacuuming various types of bare floors like laminate, hardwood, glazed and unglazed tiles and granite, marble, linoleum, etc.

Main features of bare floors include brushroll (if present) that can be turned off in order not to damage the sensitive bare floors, a strip of natural and/or artificial bristles that sweep the surface of the floor and agitate the dirt, which is than vacuumed into the unit via strong suction.

Vacuum cleaners intended for cleaning various floor types commonly feature brushroll that may be stopped during vacuuming of the bare floors, or the brushroll may be elevated above the floor in order to avoid the brushrolls' bristles from scratching the floors.

Vacuum cleaners without adjustable brushrolls may be used on low-pile carpets, too. However, they are not so good when vacuuming medium- and high-pile carpets.

Canister Vacuum Cleaners

canister vacuumCanister vacuums are very popular type of home vacuums, although they are more popular in Europe than in United States.

Canister vacuums have most parts like motor, air filters, vacuum bag or dirt bin and similar in the canister with the transport wheels.

Vacuuming is done via long and flexible suction hose and the cleaning wand which is often telescopic and features cleaning tool on its end.

This cleaning tool may be in the form of floor cleaning nozzle, but it may also be a specialized cleaning tool like Crevice Tool, Upholstery Tool, Dusting Brush and similar.

Thanks to the hose and wand, most canisters are suitable for cleaning both floors and elevated surfaces.

Car Vacuum Cleaners

car vacuum mCar vacuum cleaners are optimized for detail cleaning of hard to reach areas, typically found in cars, trucks, boats, but also at homes.

Car vacuums feature several cleaning tools, including crevice tools, dusting brushes, flexible cleaning hoses and similar, allowing the user to clean various types of dirt from the multitude of surfaces, like car seats, dashboards, trunks etc.

For more about car vacuums, feel free to check our Best Car Vacuum Cleaners - Types and Cleaning Tools article.

Carpet Sweepers

carpet sweeperCarpet sweepers are not vacuums, but they are often used for quick and quiet cleanups of everyday messes like crumbs, pet hair, cereal, dirt etc.

Carpet sweepers don't create vacuum that sucks in the dirt - carpet sweepers feature brushrolls that pick up dirt and store it onboard.

Most carpet sweepers are manual units, although there are several cordless units with enhanced picking up features - they can pick up dirt even while standing still.

Carpet Vacuum Cleaners

carpet vacuumCarpet vacuum cleaners must be able to clean not only dirt from the surface of the carpet, but also from within the carpet.

By combining strong suction and the spinning brushroll, carpet vacuums clean both surface dirt and deeply embedded dirt, including crumbs, dust, lint, fibers, pet and human hair, etc.

In order to decrease the maintenance tasks, some carpet vacuums feature tangle-free brushroll designs or they come with automatic hair removal systems.

To increase the suction in the carpet itself, main cleaner heads of carpet vacuums feature either manual or automatic main cleaner head height adjustment system, ensuring optimal cleaning conditions.

Also, to be able to vacuum bare floors, especially sensitive wooden floors, best carpet vacuums have an option of turning the brushrolls off.

Carpet Washers/Shampooers

carpet washersCarpet washers/shampooers clean carpets using clean water mixed with the liquid detergent in order to clean the carpet.

As the cleaning solution is sprayed over the cleaned area, rotating brushes scrub the surface, removing even the most stubborn dirt, with the dirty liquid being sucked into the dirty liquid tank, leaving the carpet moist.

Drying time depends on many factors, including the air temperature, draft, but also the temperature of the cleaning solution and the strength of suction when removing dirty liquids. Also, some models even feature warm air fans to speed up the drying time.

To avoid leaving carpet surfaces sticky, some models even have third tank for cleaning detergent, allowing the user to adjust the amount of the detergent while cleaning.

In order to clean different types of dirt from various surfaces, most brands producing carpet washers also manufacture cleaning formulas/detergents optimized for different types of dirt.

Note: cleaning detergents should be used only according to the instructions.

Central Vacuum Cleaners

central vacuumCentral vacuum cleaners are large and powerful units, permanently fixed on their position. In order to clean required area, suction inlets are distributed wherever vacuuming must be done.

Central vacuums for smaller areas, like garages and workshops may have suction inlets on the vacuum canister directly.

In order to clean certain area, user plugs in the long flexible cleaning hose and using cleaning wand and the appropriate cleaning tools, cleans reachable area.

When another area must be cleaned, user has to connect the cleaning hose into another suction inlet.

Since they are fixed to permanent positions, central vacuums usually feature large dirt bins and/or large vacuum bags, combined with suction strength of 500 or even more Air Watts.

Construction/Workshop Vacuum Cleaners

construction site vacuumConstruction site or workshop vacuums are mostly drum-shaped, wet and dry vacuums, featuring large capacity, strong suction, though construction and various cleaning tools required for cleaning in different situations.

Also, small canister vacuums are sometimes designed as construction/workshop vacuums, intended for detailed cleaning in certain situations. Such compact units may be even used with shoulder/back straps, helping the users clean areas even from ladders.

Regardless if they are large drum-shaped or compact canister vacuums, construction/workshop vacuums must have very good air filtration to prevent the dirt escaping the vacuums and (usually) bypass suction motors to prevent the dirt from damaging the motors.

Cordless Vacuum Cleaners

cordless vacuumsCordless vacuum cleaners rely on the energy stored in onboard battery for powering suction motor and other, if present, motors, LED headlights and electronics.

Since they don't have power cords to pull around, cordless vacuums feature great autonomy and often can be used at the moment notice.

On the other hand, their operating time on the single battery charge is limited by the amount of energy in the battery. Thanks to advances in chemistry and electronics, cordless vacuums powered by lightweight but powerful lithium ion batteries, featuring several cleaning modes, come very close in terms of performances to corded units.

Top of the line cordless units feature performances that mach (at least) performances of corded units, but such performances come at higher unit price. Nonetheless, cordless units are very popular, especially as second home vacuums or as a main vacuum cleaner in smaller to medium homes and apartments.

Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaners

cyclonic vacuumCyclonic vacuum cleaners use cyclonic action to separate vacuumed dirt from the air.

Cyclonic vacuum cleaners are bagless vacuums with cyclonic systems being just one layer of the air filtration system - cyclonic action is usually combined with one or more air filters in order to achieve high air filtration levels, including true HEPA air filtration (capturing at least 99.97% of 0.3 microns or larger particles).

Cyclonic action is used in various vacuum cleaner types, including upright vacuums, canister vacuums, stick vacuums etc.

Drum Vacuum Cleaners

drum vacuum cleanerDrum vacuum cleaners are mostly wet-dry vacuum cleaners shaped as drums, hence the name.

Drum vacuums feature large capacity and strong suction, combined with water air filters and other fine-particle filters, allowing them to be used as workshop vacuums, construction site vacuums and similar.

In order to avoid potential damage to the suction motors, most durable units feature bypass design - vacuumed air doesn't flow through the suction motors in order to cool them.

Workshop drum vacuums often feature 4 caster wheels for enhanced stability and mobility. In order to quickly remove vacuumed (sucked!) liquids, drain ports are present as well.

When liquids are vacuumed, drum vacuums are used almost exclusively as bagless vacuums, with some models featuring vacuum bags when being used for vacuuming dry-only dirt, helping the user easier get rid of vacuumed dirt.

Dust Extractors

dust extractorDust extractors are used to remove dust either while being created or by filtering air (stationary dust extractors).

Stationary dust extractors are practically air purifiers optimized for removing dust and other very fine harmful particles from the air. During operation, they are usually placed on the permanent spot.

Dust extractors that are connected to various tools (saws, drills, etc.) directly or using dust extractor attachments, extract the dust while it is being created, keeping the air quality in the workshop at acceptable level.

Also, such units may be used as ordinary vacuums for vacuuming fine dust and other dirt.

Garden Leaf Vacuums

garden leaf vacuum mGarden leaf vacuums are usually 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 units, designed to be used as garden leaf blowers, mulchers and vacuums.

Garden leaf blowers, mulchers and vacuums are versatile units and can come very handy in keeping the yard clean, especially in the autumn and even winter.

During vacuuming, leaves and even smaller branches pass through the metal impeller that shreds vacuumed debris in smaller chunks, greatly reducing the volume of vacuumed dirt - some models feature even 1:16 shredding ration.

For more about these units, feel free to check our Best Garden Leaf Vacuums, Mulchers and Blowers article.

Handheld Vacuum Cleaners

handheld vacuumHandheld vacuums are lightweight and compact vacuums designed to be held in hand (hence the name) while being used.

Handheld vacuums may be designed as handheld-only models or as convertible 2-in-1 units, that may be used as stick and handheld vacuums.

Most handheld units are cordless vacuums designed for quick cleaning at home, in the car, on the boat, while camping and in other similar situations. Due to their small size, handheld vacuums may be permanently stored in the kitchen, on the countertops and at similar locations, where they can be quickly grabbed and used at the moment notice.

Since their price depends on the motor strength, battery capacity, available cleaning attachments, etc. the price of handheld units vary significantly, so choose according to your own needs and preferences.

Hard Floor Mops

hard floor mopHard floor mops are actually not 'vacuums'. Hard floor mops are cleaning units that are optimized for cleaning bare floors, including hardwood, tiles, linoleum, laminate and similar.

In order to clean such surfaces, hard floor mops feature scrubbing or spinning mechanism that clean the surface using hard floor mop pads, with the floor cleaning solution being optional.

For cleaning sensitive floors and for everyday cleaning soft cleaning pads are used, while for cleaning stubborn messes on the glazed tiles and similar surface resistant floors, scrubby pads are used.

Depending on the cleaned surface and dirt, user may choose cleaning formula which significantly can help in cleaning even the most stubborn dirt.

Hard Floor Washers

hard floor washerHard floor washers clean hard/bare floors by combining cleaning solution (water + cleaning formula/detergent), brushroll designed for wet cleaning of bare floors and suction that picks up dirty liquids.

Hard floor washers come with two tanks, one intended for clean water/cleaning solution and another tank intended only for dirty liquids.

Cleaning formulas come in various types, depending on the exact floor type and expected type of dirt.

Similarly, some hard floor washer offer different brushrolls, again depending on the cleaned floor.

HEPA Vacuum Cleaners

HEPA vacuum cleaners are able to capture certain amount of vacuumed small particles, usually 0.3 microns or larger in size. This amount of particles is usually given as the percentage of all vacuumed particles.

The following chart lists various classifications of EPA/HEPA/ULPA air filters according to the EN 1822 standard:

Filter Group Filter Class Filtration Efficiency Penetration
Efficiency Particulate Air (EPA) Filters E10 85 % 15 % 
E11 95 % 5 % 
E12 99.5 %  0.5 % 
High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filters H13 99.95 %  0.05 % 
H14 99.995 %  0.005 % 
Ultra Low Penetration Air (ULPA) Filters U15 99.9995 %  0.0005 % 
U16 99.99995 %  0.00005 % 
U17 99.999995 %  0.000005 % 

Commonly used 'true HEPA' label means that the vacuum cleaner is able to capture 99.97% of 0.3 microns or larger particles - this means that 'true HEPA' vacuums are somewhere between H13 and H14 HEPA filter groups.

When manufacturers describe their units as HEPA vacuums, be sure to check the actual air filtration level, since some models capture 99%, or 99.9%, or 99.97% and some even 99.99% of 0.3 microns or larger particles.

Mattress Vacuum Cleaners

mattress vacuums mMattress vacuum cleaners are usually oddly shaped vacuums, optimized for cleaning and often sanitizing of mattresses, smaller carpets and rugs, sofas, pet beds, car seats and other surfaces that may have issues with mattress bugs, bacteria, viruses, allergens etc.

People having allergies, asthma, pets and similar should consider having mattress vacuum as second or even third vacuum cleaner at home - it can make home more pleasant and safer place to live in.

For more about mattress vacuums, feel free to check our Best Mattress Vacuum Cleaners - How to Choose the Best One? article.

Nasal Aspirators

nasal aspiratorNasal aspirators are type of vacuum cleaners that are used for nose cleaning and as snot sucker. Obviously, nasal aspirators are used for babies and children and thus, it is of upmost importance to used them as instructed.

Nasal aspirators are cordless units, very quiet during operation in order to avoid waking up or scaring the babies. Variable speed ensures optimum suction strength for every cleaning task, while reusable soft tips help gentle use and low maintenance costs.

Note: Nasal bulb syringes are used for the same purpose, but these cleaning aids are powered by the users themselves by pressing the bulb and manually creating the vacuum the cleans mucus, snot and similar 'debris'.

Pet Hair Vacuums

pet hair vacuumPet hair vacuums feature main cleaner heads and cleaning attachments optimized for cleaning pet and human hair, lint, fibers and similar debris from different floor types and elevated surfaces like bare floors, low-, medium- and high-pile carpets and area rugs, carpeted stairs, upholstery, beds, sofas, pet beds etc.

Main cleaner heads feature rotating brushrolls that are used to pull out hair, fibers and other deeply embedded stubborn dirt from within the carpet or from the surface of the bare floors.

Also, such vacuums come usually with several cleaning tools designed for cleaning hair from elevated surfaces, including at least one with small brushroll powered by builtin air turbine.

In order to decrease the maintenance tasks and save time and effort, best models come with the self-cleaning main brushrolls.

For more about pet hair vacuums, feel free to check our Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Hair guide.

Pool Vacuum Cleaners

pool vacuum cleanerPool vacuum cleaners are used for cleaning debris on the bottom of swimming pools and debris that may be attached to the walls of such pools.

Pool vacuum cleaners are powered by turbines run by water suction pumps that are also used for creating water suction, with the variable speed pumps being preferred choice.

In order to firmly grip the pool bottom and walls, pool vacuum cleaners have specially designed 2 or 4 wheels or even tracks.

Other accessories that may come with pool vacuum cleaner include long cleaning hoses, hose floats and protectors etc. But in most cases, it doesn't include water pumps.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

robot vacuum cleanerRobot vacuum cleaners are compact, autonomous vacuum cleaners, suitable for cleaning mostly bare floors and low-pile carpets.

These cordless units feature task schedulers, allowing them to clean automatically at specific time, for example, when nobody is at home.

Other common features, not always available, include WiFi connectivity, automatic recharge and sometimes even automatic resume in models featuring advanced mapping and navigation systems, support for Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant, etc.

Some advanced models even feature automatic dirt disposal.

Anyway, while robot vacuum cleaners may be of great help in keeping home clean and pleasant to live, they cannot replace the main vacuum cleaner and its features.

For more about robot vacuums, feel free to check our Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Hair guide.

Spot Cleaners

bissell 3624 spotclean mSpot cleaners are a type of floor wet-dry vacuums optimized for quick cleanups of small areas, including spots - hence the name.

Spot cleaners usually feature a two-tank design, with one tank intended for clean water/cleaning solution and another tank intended for dirty liquids. In order to improve the cleaning effect, they may use warm water, although not many of them feature water heaters.

Entry-level spot cleaners feature manual brush, requiring the user to manually rub in the water/cleaning solution and to manually clean the dirty spot. More advanced units feature motorized brushrolls, allowing much quicker and more thorough cleaning, but also feature more intensive maintenance.

Cordless spot cleaners are very popular units, especially in homes with pets and kids - they can be used for regular cleaning, but also for cleaning in emergencies.

For more about spot cleaners, feel free to check our Best Spot Cleaner for Stairs, Carpets and Area Rugs article.

Stationary Vacuum Cleaners

stationary vacuum cleanerStationary vacuum cleaners are placed on permanent position, with the user collecting and pushing the dirt toward the vacuum's inlet using ordinary broom.

Stationary vacuums are designed for bare floors and are often used in kitchens, offices, workshops, garages and similar.

Standard features of these vacuums usually include automatic sensors, strong suction, good air filtration, high capacity of the dirt cup, sleek and even stylish design etc.

Stationary vacuums are great for quick and often cleanups, especially for people with pets and small children.

Steam Vacuums and Mops

steam mopsSteam vacuums and mops are cleaning tools that clean floors with the power of steam in combination with the steam mop pads that may be soft for everyday cleaning or for cleaning of sensitive surfaces and 'scrubby' for cleaning of stubborn messes from glazed ceramic, granite and similar hard surfaces.

Steam vacuums clean using both hot steam/steam mop pads and by vacuuming the floors at the same time - since heavily soiled floors must be vacuumed first and only then cleaned with the steam mops, steam vacuums save time by doing two cleaning tasks at the same time.

Regardless if you use steam mop or steam vacuum, these units can kill 99.9% or even more bacteria, viruses and other germs on the floor - practically, they sanitize the floors.

For more information about steam mops, feel free to check our Best Steam Mops for Laminate Floors article.

Stick Vacuum Cleaners

stick vacuumStick vacuum cleaners are lightweight and often convertible units, suitable for many cleaning tasks. Stick vacuums are commonly used as the main vacuums in smaller homes and apartments, since they are light, powerful, simple to use and maintain and often come with enough cleaning tools to be able to thoroughly clean from the floor to the ceiling.

Stick vacuums are often designed as 2-in-1 units, with quick transition from stick to handheld unit and back, with no tools required.

While corded stick vacuums offer excellent features considering the price, cordless stick vacuums powered with lightweight and strong lithium ion batteries offer great freedom and autonomy but at the somewhat higher price and dependency on the battery charge and condition.

Upright Vacuum Cleaners

upright vacuumUpright vacuums are the most common vacuum type, at least in the States (like canisters in Europe).

Upright vacuums come in numerous sizes and shapes, often offering additional features like additional flexible cleaning hose and cleaning tools specialized for vacuuming various elevated surfaces, practically deleting any 'advantage' that canister vacuums head due to their cleaning hose and wand combination.

Also, some units feature detachable pod that contains suction motor, filters and dirt bin, allowing the user to carry the vacuum up and down the stairs and clean areas with cleaning hose/wand combination, just like with the canister vacuum.

Upright vacuums offer great value for the money, helping the user thoroughly clean rather large areas of home.

Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaners

wet dry vacuumWet-dry vacuum cleaners are designed for picking up both dry and wet/moist dirt.

Commonly, wet and dry vacuums come in the form of small handheld units often used at homes or cars for picking up smaller messes and spills, or construction site vacuums designed for picking various industrial dirt including very fine dirt both wet and dry, or as workshop drum vacuums, being able to clean large amounts of various types of dirt, including liquid spills.

Wet and dry vacuums are commonly bagless units when picking both dry and wet dirt, with some models offering disposable vacuums bags for picking dry dirt only.

Window Vacuum Cleaners

window vacuumWindow vacuum cleaners are highly specialized type of vacuum cleaners, designed for cleaning large flat surfaces, like windows (hence the name), mirrors and other glass surfaces, vertical tiles, and similar.

Window vacuum cleaners combine rubber squeegee for collecting surface moisture, suction inlet for picking up collected moisture and (dirty) water tank for storage of collected liquids.

Window vacuums are commonly combined (either in one unit or two independent units) with spray bottle and washable microfiber pad, for more thorough cleaning.

Since power requirements are relatively low, window vacuums are generally designed as cordless vacuums, offering great operating freedom to the user.

Long Story Short: there are many vacuums that combine two or more types into one unit, offering users the best features of both (or more) types.

When choosing the right vacuum cleaner, choose according to your own needs and personal preferences.

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