Most and Least Reliable Vacuum Cleaners

Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Last year when Consumer Reports conducted a survey on vacuum reliability and satisfaction, the news wasn’t good. Some upright vacuums and high-performing stick vacuums in our vacuum tests weren't eligible for a CR recommendation because of unfavorable reliability ratings. The news this time around isn’t much better. In our most recent survey, one more brand of upright vacuum lost its eligibility status, and we removed the recommended distinction from two Kenmore stick vacuums after results showed that stick vacuums from that brand had a higher rate of problems than those from most other brands.

As a result, Consumer Reports can no longer recommend a majority of upright vacuum cleaners we test due to reliability problems. According to the findings from our latest member surveys, 12 of 19 brands of upright vacuums owned by our members have such high problem rates that they earn unfavorable ratings for predicted reliability.

This is the second time that brand reliability and owner satisfaction are being factored into CR’s Overall Scores for vacuums, along with the data collected during our extensive performance testing, which covers everything from a model’s ability to remove Maine Coon cat hair from carpet to how easy a vacuum is to maneuver.

To calculate predicted reliability, we survey our members about the products they own and use that data to make projections about how new models from a given brand will hold up over time. We also ask members how likely they are to recommend their vacuum, with that question serving as the basis for our owner satisfaction rating.

These latest findings come from the Consumer Reports 2018 Summer Survey and 2019 Winter Survey, which include data on 80,210 upright, canister, and stick vacuums that members purchased between 2009 and 2019.

“If you’re considering buying a new vacuum, our brand reliability data offers a clear direction on what to choose,” says Simon Slater, CR’s associate director of survey research. “It’s about giving consumers a more complete picture of product quality.”

Here’s a breakdown of the most and least reliable brands of upright, canister, and stick vacuums. (We don’t yet collect enough data to judge reliability for robotic vacuums, and we don’t ask our members about handheld vacuums because they’re relatively inexpensive.)

Upright Vacuums

Upright vacuums make up almost half of the U.S. vacuum market, and they’re the best at deep cleaning carpet, according to our tests. Yet they’re generally the least reliable among uprights, canisters, and stick vacs.

Only one of the uprights in our ratings, Soniclean, earns an Excellent rating for predicted reliability, although Sebo and Shark both earn a Very Good rating. (We’ve tested Soniclean and Sebo uprights in the past, but there are no current models in our latest upright ratings.) There are more than a dozen Shark uprights in our ratings, and you’ll see that the best clustered near the top 10 make our recommended list.

Three upright brands—Sebo, Shark, and Miele—earn an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction, but Miele earns only a middling mark for reliability. Still, that’s strong enough for Miele to keep its recommended eligibility. In fact, one Miele bagged model makes our top picks list. Other models to consider are Dyson, Kenmore, and Kirby, though Kirby gets a Fair mark for satisfaction.

Of the 12 upright brands that aren't eligible for a recommendation because of Fair or Poor predicted reliability, six get the lowest rating of Poor (Hoover, Panasonic, Bissell, Electrolux, Dirt Devil, and Eureka) and six get a Fair (Fuller Brush, Maytag, Riccar, Simplicity, Oreck, and Black+Decker). Of these dozen brands, three—Black+ Decker, Dirt Devil, and Eureka—also get Poor ratings for owner satisfaction.

There are also differences in reliability among subtypes of uprights. Overall, bagless uprights are considerably less likely to have problems or break than those with bags. Some 37 percent of bagged uprights develop problems compared with 28 percent of bagless, according to our most recent surveys.

Here's a top-performing Shark upright with ratings of Very Good for reliability and Excellent for owner satisfaction. For more choices, see our full upright vacuum ratings.

Canister Vacuums

Canister vacuums are a good choice if you live in a multilevel home because they’re easier to maneuver on stairs, with the powerhead in one hand and the canister on the floor or the stairs. They’re also better at cleaning hardwood floors, according to our lab tests. But with their long hose connecting the powerhead and the canister, they can be bulky and a bit awkward to store.

Canisters have been losing market share in recent years and now account for only 2 percent of the vacuums consumers buy nationally, according to manufacturers. We continue to test them because brands like Miele and Kenmore are popular with our readers. In fact, 12 percent of the members in our survey reported buying a canister vacuum.

In our survey, canisters generally fare much better for reliability than uprights. In fact, only two brands—Hoover and Oreck—aren't eligible for our list of recommended canisters because of unfavorable reliability ratings. Both rate Fair for reliability and Poor for owner satisfaction. There are no Hoover or Oreck canisters in our current canister ratings.

At the other end of the spectrum are two high-end brands—Miele and Rainbow. Both get an Excellent rating for reliability, and Miele is also tops in owner satisfaction. Rainbow earns a Very Good rating for owner satisfaction. There are no Rainbow canisters in our current ratings, but all four Miele canisters that we've tested make our recommended list and have long held lofty positions in our ratings of both bagged and bagless models.

In addition, all nine of the Kenmore canisters we test make our recommended list, earning a Good rating for both reliability and satisfaction. The 80-year-old Kenmore brand, which is sold at Sears and Amazon, has traditionally performed well in our vacuum tests. According to our survey, about a fourth of the canisters purchased by our members in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 were Kenmores.

As for Dyson, its canisters pass muster for reliability, but the three models we test miss the cutoff for recommended products because of their scores in our lab tests. All three get subpar results on carpet cleaning.

Here's a top pick from Miele, a brand that earns an Excellent in both reliability and owner satisfaction. For more choices, see our full canister vacuum ratings.

Stick Vacuums

Unlike canisters, the market for stick vacuums is growing at a fast clip. They represent a 17 percent share of the market, according to manufacturers, and more than a 40 percent share of our vacuum ratings. Many stick vacuums perform well in our tests, although the tests aren’t as tough as our tests for full-sized vacuums. That’s because we don’t expect them to accomplish the deep cleaning that full-sized machines are designed to handle.

Earlier this year Dyson stick vacuums lost their eligibility for a recommendation from CR, and five of the Dyson stick vacuums that had been recommended lost that distinction due to their Poor predicted reliability ratings. In our most recent surveys, that same fate befell Kenmore stick vacuums, and we removed two from our recommended list after their Poor showing for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.

Stick vacuums from Eureka also have unfavorable reliability marks, though this hasn’t affected the ratings because we don’t currently test any Eureka stick vacuums.

Miele and Shark stick vacs stand out for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction, with Miele earning the only Excellent rating for predicted reliability among stick vacuum brands. Shark earns a Very Good rating, which is a notch down from last year’s ratings but is still impressive. The one Miele stick vacuum in our tests doesn't merit a recommendation because of its poor performance scores for cleaning carpet. But 20 of the 22 Shark stick vacuums in our tests make our recommended list, and most rank at or near the top of our ratings.

We also recommend stick vacuums from Bissell, Dirt Devil, Hoover, LG, and Tineco, and three other brands—Oreck, Ryobi, and Black+Decker—fared well enough in our reliability and satisfaction ratings to retain their eligibility to be recommended.

Here's one of our top-performing stick vacuums from Shark. For more choices, see our full stick vacuum ratings.

Problem Areas

The four most common problems members report with their vacuums are broken belts on uprights, dead batteries on cordless models, weak suction (or none at all), and brushes that don’t work properly or at all. Of course, members also complain about problems that don’t have to do with something breaking, such as vacuums that are difficult to maneuver. Here are the most common problems reported by our members, by brand:

Our survey team reports that 89 percent of the vacuums purchased by our members since 2009 are still in use. Seven percent were replaced because of reliability issues.

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  • Belts. About 16 percent of upright owners report problems with broken belts. Of those, Panasonic and Kirby have the highest rate of broken belts, more than 25 percent each. Shark is the best of the lot: Only 1 percent of belts in its uprights break.
  • Batteries. Among cordless vacuum brands, a median of 11 percent experience problems with batteries breaking or not performing as well as they once did.
  • Suction. More than one-fifth of Dirt Devil uprights in our survey had problems with weak or no suction. Upright vacuums from Panasonic, Bissell, and Eureka are also more likely than other brands to have suction problems.

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