Canister vs. Upright Vacuum: Which Is Better?

canister vs. upright vacuum

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If you’re in the market for a new vacuum, the first thing to decide is which type to buy, canister or upright.

Canister-style vacuums are extremely popular in Europe and have been for a while. They are rapidly gaining popularity in the US and other markets due to their versatility and maneuverability.

Upright vacuums have been a staple in homes across the globe for decades and remain the most common type of vacuum today.

Both are excellent choices with unique benefits, but the type that’s best for you depends on your specific needs.

In this article, I provide an in-depth comparison of canister vacuums vs. upright vacuums to help you decide which type of vacuum is best for your cleaning needs.

You’ll learn about their similarities and differences, their pros and cons, and get a clear understanding of which scenarios are more well-suited for each type of vacuum.

Let’s dive right in! Select a link to jump straight to a section.

An Overview of Canister Vacuums

A canister vacuum, also known as a cylinder vacuum, is made up of a canister unit that contains the motor and dirt tank, a wand which has a handle and a metal pole that connects to the vacuum head, and a flexible hose that connects the canister to the wand.

Dyson big ball multi floor canister vacuum dusting attachment
Canister Vacuum

The canister part of the vacuum sits on the floor and has wheels that allow you to pull it as you clean. Most also have a handle that allows to you easily pick up the canister and hold it while you’re vacuuming in tight spaces or on stairs.

Here’s a quick look at the parts that make up a canister vacuum.

Canister vacuum labeled

You can see the canister (or cylinder) body is connected to the wand by the hose. The wand is required for cleaning the floor, but you can remove the wand and connect one of the smaller attachments directly to the hose handle to vacuum the stairs or dust above floor level.

Cleaning stairs with canister vacuum

The main advantages of canister vacuums are their versatility and maneuverability.

Most canister vacuums come with two or more brush heads designed for different types of floor surfaces such as hardwoods and area rugs. You can quickly and easily swap these brush heads, depending on your needs.

Unlike upright vacuums, which are designed primarily to clean floors, canister vacuums come with smaller attachments designed for cleaning vertical surfaces and dusting hard to reach places.

Canister vacuums are smaller and lighter than upright vacuums, which makes them easier to maneuver, especially around corners, underneath furniture, and in tight spaces.

Pros and Cons of Canister Vacuums

Canister vacuums have been popular in Europe for decades, but they’ve recently been gaining popularity in the US.

Canister vacuums are ideal for transitioning from wood to carpet, so part of their recent surge could be because homeowners are doing away with wall-to-wall carpets in favor of hardwood floors and area rugs.

Besides that, many people choose canister vacuums because they have the versatility and maneuverability to handle almost any household job.

Like any product, canister vacuums are not perfect and come with some drawbacks you need to know.

Here’s a look at both the pros and cons of canister vacuums.

Pros of Canister Vacuums

Versatility
The number one advantage of canister vacuums is their versatility. They transition seamlessly from rugs to hard surfaces like wood and tile and come with attachments to clean and dust in small areas and beneath furniture.

Dyson big ball multi floor canister vacuum dusting attachment

Some canister vacuums come with two vacuum heads, one specifically designed for rugs that allow you to adjust the height for different levels of thickness and one specifically for hardwood floors with softer bristles to avoid scratching.

Since the vacuum head is attached to a hose, you can easily pop off the head for floors and pop on the duster to clean stairs and vertical surfaces like walls, curtains, and window sills.

Maneuverability
Besides they’re versatility, the second most significant advantage of canister vacuums is their ease of use and maneuverability.

Canister vacuums are significantly lighter than upright vacuums and often come with handles so you can pick up the canister and hold it while you walk upstairs or around furniture.

canister vacuum cleaning underneath furniture

Their flexible hose allows you to twist and turn the vacuum head in any direction and even stretches a few extra inches. Since the bulk of their weight is in the canister that sits on the ground, it takes little effort to maneuver the handle, wand, and vacuum head.

Less Noisy
In general, canister vacuums are not as loud as upright vacuums. We’ve all been there, you’re watching TV, and someone turns on the vacuum; now your show is ruined. You can’t avoid that situation altogether, but canister vacuums tend to have better sound insulation since their motor is contained in its large canister.

Powerful
Canister vacuum motors are typically larger and provide more suction power than upright vacuum motors.

Since their motors are located in the canister, manufacturers can make them heavier without sacrificing maneuverability.

Power varies by brand and model, and there are undoubtedly upright vacuums that are more powerful than canister vacuums, but the majority of canister vacuums are more powerful.

When you’re evaluating the power of a specific vacuum, look at amps, watts, and voltage. Some manufacturers will tell you all three of those metrics, but others only provide one. Vacuum specs are notoriously confusing, but as a rule of thumb, the higher the amps/watts/voltage, the more powerful the vacuum.

If you’re interested in digging into the details about differences between these specs, check out this article title Understanding Vacuum Cleaner Specifications on bestvacuum.com.

Cons of Canister Vacuums

Storing a Canister Vacuum Is Difficult
Since canister vacuums have separate components, they are much more difficult to store than upright vacuums. You need to roll the hose, which is no simple task, and the wand doesn’t stand up on its own. As you can see in the photo below, my canister vacuum tanks up almost an entire closet on its own.

canister vacuum stored in closet

Of course, you can take the vacuum apart and organize it in a way that takes up less room, but who has time for that?

The Canister Bangs Into Walls
As you clean the floor and push the vacuum head forward, the hose tugs on the canister to pull it along. Most of the time, this doesn’t cause any issues and saves you from having to push a heavy all-in-one upright vacuum, but anyone with a canister vacuum will tell you that they’ve slammed the canister into walls on multiple occasions. As you turn corners, the canister pulls forward but doesn’t take the same angle that you do and often ends up butting heads with the wall.

canister vacuum stored in closet

I’ve even pulled the canister down a few stairs by accident. This is easily avoidable but is something you need to get used to and be aware of when using a canister vacuum.

Assembly Required
Unlike upright vacuums that come out of the box ready to go, canister vacuums require some minor assembly. You’ll need to take inventory of the parts and connect the wand, hose, vacuum head, and canister.

Not a huge undertaking but worth noting that it will take a few minutes to get up and running. If you decide to store your canister vacuum in separate pieces, you’ll have to put it back together every time you need to use it.

Dust/Dirt Tank Is Small
Most canister vacuums have smaller dirt tanks that need to be emptied frequently. Upright vacuums tend to have larger dirt tanks that are incorporated into their design and require fewer trips to the trash bin.

Expensive
The biggest downside to canister vacuums is that they are expensive. Prices for canister vacuums range from as low as $70 up to $500 and more.

All those parts and attachments plus their large motors result in a high price tag.

Fortunately, there are several low-cost options like the Bissell Hard Floor Expert Deluxe Canister Vacuum (see on Amazon), that still provide all the benefits but come with slightly less power or fewer features as the higher-priced options.

You Should Buy a Canister Vacuum If…

You should buy a canister vacuum if you need an all-purpose vacuum that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks, including floor cleaning and dusting.

Canister vacuums are ideal if you have hardwood floors and area rugs because they come with attachments designs specifically for each surface. They also have settings that control the suction power based on which surface your cleaning.

If your home is 2000 sq feet or less and you have a lot of nooks and crannies to maneuver around, a canister vacuum is your best option.

They are more versatile, maneuverable, powerful, and less noisy than upright vacuums.

Which Canister Vacuum Should You Buy?

If you’re convinced that a canister vacuum is best for you, there are dozens of options on the market. So, where do you start?

We recently tested and reviewed over a dozen canister vacuums and determined that the four best options are the following:

The Bissell Hard Floor Expert Deluxe Canister Vacuum is the best value. It’s lightweight, comes with several attachments, is easy to maneuver, and is very affordable. You can see more details and check the current price on Amazon.

Bissell canister vacuum

The Bissell Hard Floor Expert Multi-Cyclonic Bagless Canister Vacuum is one step up from the Deluxe and comes with more power and a larger dirt tank but is a little more expensive. This vacuum is also available on Amazon.

The Kenmore 400 Series Bagged Canister Vacuum Cleaner is even more pricey than the two options from Bissell but has 2 motors, a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, and a large brush head for carpets.

Lastly, the Dyson Ball Multi Floor Canister Vacuum is the best you can buy. It was rated by J.D Power the best canister vacuum in 2015 and 2017 and comes with large wheels that make it easy to maneuver, a huge dirt tank, and a super powerful motor.

Dyson big ball multi floor canister vacuum
Dyson Big Ball Multi-Floor Canister Vacuum

The only complaint with this vacuum is that the suction power is too strong. Oh yeah, and it’s a little pricey, but it is worth it if you have the budget.

An Overview of Upright Vacuums

Upright vacuums, as their name suggests, stand upright with their handle, motor, dirt tank/bag, and vacuum head contained in a single unit.

Upright Vacuum

They are compact, which makes them easy to operate and, since their settings buttons are located near the handle, you don’t have to bend over to turn on/off or adjust the suction power.

upright vacuum labeled

Upright vacuums are best for cleaning dust and dirt from high pile carpets because they have powerful motorized beater brushes. They are ideal for cleaning rooms with sizeable square footage because their brush heads are wide and cover more area with each pass.

Upright vacuums are designed primarily to clean the floor; however, most upright models also come with extended reach hoses, removable cleaning wands, and brush head attachments so you can clean and dust other surfaces too.

In general, upright vacuums are less expensive than canister vacuums, but prices vary significantly depending on what brand and model you buy.

Pros and Cons of Upright Vacuums

Upright vacuums have been the most popular type of vacuum in homes across the US for decades. They are incredibly effective, easy to use, convenient to store, and generally less expensive than canister vacuums.

Despite their obvious advantages, upright vacuums come with a few downsides that you should know.

Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of upright vacuums.

Pros of Upright Vacuums

Simple and Easy to Use
One of the best things about upright vacuums is that they are simple and easy to use. When you take them out of the box, there’s no assembly required. You plug them in, turn them on, and you’re ready to go.

The buttons and settings are located near the handle, so you don’t need to bend over to turn it on and off as you do with a canister vacuum. Upright vacuums have only one competent, so you don’t need to drag around a canister and worry about slamming it into the walls.

Easy to Store
Unlike canister vacuums that are clunky and awkward to store, upright vacuums are easy to store. You don’t need to take them apart, and they lock in a vertical position and stand up on their own. They take up much less room and don’t cause a hassle when it comes to storage.

Excellent at Cleaning High Pile Carpet
Upright vacuums have powerful motorized beater brushes that have the speed and power required to clean deep into high pile carpet. Some canister vacuums rely solely on air suction to pick up dirt, but almost all upright vacuums have motors built into their brush heads that rapidly rotate the brush to loosen and lift dirt.

Powerful
Although the motor of an upright vacuum is usually smaller compared to canister vacuums, the power source is closer to the point of contact with the cleaning surface. This means that the suction power is not lost in the journey from the motor to the brush head. Also, you’re less likely to run into blockages as you might with the long hose and multiple components of a canister vacuum.

Large Dirt Tanks

Upright vacuum dirt tanks are built-in and run vertically along the handle. Some have bag systems, while others have plastic tanks that you can easily detach and empty in the trash. Their dirt tanks are usually much larger than the ones in canister vacuums, which means you can go longer without emptying.

upright vacuum dirt tank
upright vacuum dirt tank

Great for Cleaning Large Rooms
The vacuum head, or cleaning head, of upright vacuums is wide and large, which allows you to cover significant ground with each pass. Some canister vacuums have small vacuum heads that are easy to maneuver but only clean a handful of inches with each pass. Upright vacuums come in all shapes and sizes, but the majority of them have large vacuum heads that make cleaning large rooms quick and easy.

canister vs. upright vacuum heads
canister vacuum head (left). upright vacuum head (right).

Less Expensive
Like canister vacuums, the price of upright vacuums varies drastically between brands and models. When comparing upright and canister vacuums with similar specs, the upright ones are less expensive 9 out of 10 times. Why? Because upright vacuums have simpler functionality and don’t come with all the attachments that canister vacuums do. Also, there are more upright vacuums on the market, so consumers have more choice, and manufacturers have to compete harder on price.

many upright vacuum options in the store

Cons of Upright Vacuums

Lack of Versatility
The biggest downside of upright vacuums is that they are not nearly as versatile as canister vacuums. They are designed primarily to clean floors, and they do that well. However, they are difficult to use on stairs, and most don’t have the capability to dust or clean vertical surfaces. The ones that do usually have a short hose that can’t be stretched high enough to reach everywhere you need to clean.

upright vacuum hose and attachments
upright vacuum hose and attachments

When you use the hose, the vacuum often tips over and slams against the floor. Bottomline—upright vacuums are great for floors and carpets but not so great if you have a wide range of cleaning needs.

Lack of Maneuverability
Advances in technology and engineering have narrowed the gap, but upright vacuums still fall short when it comes to maneuverability. They are easy to maneuver on flat surfaces and can bend and flex in all directions, but their sheer size and make-up don’t allow you to pick them up and navigate into the spaces that you can with a canister vacuum.

Think about a situation where you have a sofa that’s positioned 2 inches off a wall. With an upright vacuum, you need to move the sofa to vacuum behind it. With a canister vacuum, you can connect the small dusting brush head and reach the wand behind the sofa without moving it.

Noisey
Upright vacuums tend to produce significantly more noise than canister vacuums. This is because their motors are not as insulated as they are in canister vacuums. If noise is a concern, do some research to make sure you get one that won’t annoy the rest of your household every time you clean. Consumer Reports tested several vacuums for noise and found this one by Shark to be the quietest upright vacuum.

Heavy
According to CNET.com, the average upright vacuum weighs between 14 and 17 pounds, which is significantly heavier than canister vacuums, which average between 8 and 13 pounds.

This might not seem like a huge difference, but remember that you need to push and occasionally lift the entire weight of an upright vacuum. With canister vacuums, you only have to move the wand and handle while the majority of the weight is in the canister that sits on the ground. The added weight also makes it difficult to use upright vacuums on the stairs.

Although I’ve labeled their weight a ‘con,’ there is one positive that comes with a heavier vacuum. Its weight keeps the vacuum head flat on the ground and doesn’t require you to apply pressure to reach deep within high-pile rugs to suck up dirt.

You Should Buy an Upright Vacuum If…

You should buy an upright vacuum if you live in a large home (>2000 sq. feet) with several rooms that have wall-to-wall carpets.

Upright vacuums have wide brush heads that cover more ground with each pass and make cleaning large rooms much easier. Their powerful motorized brush heads can dig deep into carpet to loosen and lift dirt, dust, and pet hair that has settled deep into the carpet.

If your primary purpose is to clean floors and you have other tools to aid in cleaning stairs and dusting vertical surfaces, an upright vacuum is the best option.

Upright vacuums are also your best bet if you have trouble bending over and need a vacuum that you can control standing straight up.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a vacuum for a price that won’t break the bank, upright vacuums tend to be significantly less expensive than canister vacuums.

Which Upright Vacuum Should You Buy?

If you’re convinced that an upright vacuum is best for you, there are even more choices than there are with canister vacuums.

Every brand makes upright vacuums, including Dyson, Bissell, Hoover, Oreck, etc. So how do you choose? The first thing I would recommend is browsing Amazon and reading reviews. If that sounds too overwhelming, consider the three picks that we’ve curated based on tests conducted by Wirecutter.com, TheSpruce.com, and ConsumerReports.org.

If you’re looking for a low-cost upright vacuum, the Bissell 9595A CleanView Bagless Vacuum is a great option for under $100. It has over 12K reviews on Amazon, and most of them are incredibly positive. It’s lightweight and powerful and comes with a motorized TurboBrush tool to handle furniture, upholstery, car interiors, and more.

The Hoover T-Series WindTunnel Rewind Upright Vacuum is one step up from the Bissell. It comes with a HEPA filter that traps 99.97% of dirt and pollens, a 25-foot retractable cord, 5-positions to adjust for different carpet heights, and an 8-foot hose to clean stairs and other surfaces above the floor. Don’t take my word for it; check out the 10K+ positive reviews it has on Amazon.

If you’re looking for the best of the best and don’t mind spending a little more, the Dyson Ball Multi Floor 2 Upright Vacuum is the way to go. Its patented ball design allows you to steer it in any direction at nearly any angle. It has a self-adjusting head that automation changes the height of the brush based on the surface you are cleaning. It has a high-reach wand, you can empty the dirt tank with one click, and has a HEPA filter that will last a lifetime and is certified asthma and allergy-friendly. Lastly, it’s not nearly as expensive (check current price) as most high-end canister vacuums.

Canister Vacuums vs. Upright Vacuums: Which Should You Choose?

Now that you know the similarities and differences between canister and upright vacuums and understand the pros and cons of each; it’s time to decide which one is right for you.

A decade ago, the difference between canister and upright vacuums were significant. Now, with advances in design and technology, they are becoming much more similar.

Canister vacuums are still more versatile and better for multiple surfaces, but upright vacuums have adjustable settings too.

Upright vacuums are great for digging dirt out of thick carpets, but canister vacuums have the power to do that too.

Canister vacuums are easier to maneuver because of their light handle and flexible hose, but upright vacuums often come with hoses and attachments too. The list goes on.

To decide which type of vacuum to buy, figure out which qualities (versatility, maneuverability, power, ability to clean carpet, noise, price) are most important based on your needs and make the call. If you can afford it, buy both!

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