Vacuuming is already a chore, so when the cleaner leaves behind debris, it's frustrating.
The problem might not be the vacuum cleaner, but what you're asking it to do. For better results, manufacturers and dealers say buyers need to keep just a few factors in mind.
First consider the home's floor type. Wood and tile floor care is different than wall-to-wall carpeting, which is different still from fine area rugs, said Mark Davis, president of CityHome Vacuums in Chicago, who sells multiple brands. That's why a vacuum that does a great job for a friend might not perform as well in your home.
"A lot of people get distracted by various features/benefits without considering if those features/benefits solve their particular cleaning problems," said Rob Green, senior design engineer at Dyson.
Julien Levesque, senior product marketing manager at Shark, said shoppers need to consider two main points: what's being cleaned and home type. A homeowner with a large suburban abode who wants deep cleanings, needs a different cleaner than a city dweller living in a condo who spot cleans daily.
Davis and Robert Singer, owner of Chicago vacuum dealer Avalon Vacuum said the easiest material to clean is wall-to-wall carpeting, as most upright vacuums are designed for these floors.
"Nothing is going to damage it. ... An upright vacuum with a rotating electric brush will be fine. It's just a matter of personal choice and price point," Davis said.
Both Singer and Davis, who also repair vacuums, say inexpensive vacuums have improved over the years, although they aren't designed to last long. In the budget category, Davis recommends Bissell machines, which start around $70.
Homeowners with area rugs and hardwood should seek machines that can handle both surfaces, the sources said, and use the right setting for the right floor type to avoid damage.
For example, Shark's DuoClean (starting at $155 for the Rocket version, www.sharkclean.com) has a soft brush roller and a bristle brush for wood and carpet.
Green said damage – especially to rugs – usually comes from brush bar bristles agitating the rug too aggressively. Singer recommends setting the vacuum's height level at maximum since that allows the bristles to move the fibers and allows the suction to pull out the dirt.
"Too low, and it will cut off your air flow," he said, and could harm rugs and the cleaner.
Davis said many finer rugs are more delicate, so look to see if the machine has a gentler setting or comes with dedicated tools for these areas. The same goes for high-end wood floors, he said, as aggressive brushes can scratch the finish. Heavyweight uprights can also eventually mar wood, he adds.
Although upright machines are most popular in the U.S., Singer and Davis recommend canister types because they're lighter and have options for different tools. They especially recommend them for wood floors, as they're less likely to scratch. Their top picks are Miele and SEBO, citing longevity and long warranties. Among the top-selling machines are Miele's HomeCare series (starting at $499, www.miele.com for dealers) and SEBO's Airbelt line, (starting at $589, www.sebo.us).
Vacuuming pet hair can be a tricky thing, Davis said. Users will likely need to go over surfaces a few times and may need to vacuum more often. This is where extra tools can come in handy, such as those to clean upholstery. Canisters have these tools, as do uprights like the Dyson Ball Animal 2. ($399, www.dyson.com)
Singer and Levesque said allergy suffers should look for cleaners with HEPA filters, but also ensure the machine itself is sealed completely to avoid dust getting out through crevices. Sealed machines are more expensive.
"Cheaper machines don't have the sealed filtration," Singer said.