We've evaluated over a hundred bagless vacuums in the Reviewed labs over the past six years, and expensive models have generally tested well. But if you think it's crazy to drop $500 on a high-end Miele or Dyson, you can still get great carpet cleaning performance, powerful suction and convenient features, like easy-to-empty bins and crevice tools for just a fraction of the cost.
Because they're the most popular style of vacuum in the U.S., we decided to focus on bagless upright vacuums that retail for between $50 and $200. While they may be a bit louder and heavier than their more expensive counterparts, they tend to come with all the essential attachments and features.
So, we bought six of the best-selling upright vacuums at major retailers and brought them into our labs. There, we put each bagless vacuum through the same rigorous tests that more expensive models also go through and found the best affordable vacuum cleaner is the Bissell CleanView(available at Amazon for $99.99). We evaluated the vacuum cleaners for overall dirt and debris pickup, ease of use, weight, and sound—and then analyzed the results to find out which are the best cheap vacuums you should buy to help keep your floors clean, and which ones you should skip.
These are the best affordable vacuum cleaners we tested ranked, in order:
Hoover WindTunnel UH70120
Shark NV352 Navigator Lift-Away
Hoover Windtunnel Pet Rewind
Bissell Swivel Rewind Pet
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The Bissell CleanView 9595A is our overall winner. Our tests showed that the CleanView offered the perfect balance of performance and price. While this Bissell didn't excel in any one test, it did well across the board. Other vacuums on our list are better suited for a certain type of household—say, pet owners—but the CleanView is a great carpet cleaning generalist.
In our tests, we create a special dirt mixture that's representative of the dust and debris that gets tracked through most households. Then, we embed it into a normal carpet—the same way your feet would push dirt into your carpets at home. The CleanView picked up 43.5 percent of that dirt—which is about average. By comparison, the best vacuum we've ever tested only cleaned at about 75 percent in a single pass.
We also felt that the included crevice, dusting, and turbo brush accessories are also going to satisfy the needs of most households. At 77 dBa, it was louder than more expensive models, but one of the quietest vacuums we tested at its price.
The overall best does have a few flaws: The Bissell CleanView does not have a retractable cord, nor can it carry most of its attachments on board. It also struggled with pet hair and deep pile carpet.
However, it cleaned well across every other flooring type, had no problem with picking up debris, gets good user reviews for reliability and robustness, and costs ten percent less than its closest competitor. That's exactly how it got to be our number one choice.
Hi, I’m Jon Chan, the senior lab technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it’s likely I oversee it’s testing in our labs. That includes everything from detergents to wet/dry vacuums. When it comes to vacuum cleaners, I like models that provide excellent cleaning performance and value.
Even though vacuum cleaners aren’t the big metal boxes that we usually test in our appliance lab—such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, dishwashers, or ranges—we still test them in such a way so that we can have both reproducible performance data and information that will be useful to our readers. We assess on the performance, features, and usability of each vacuum cleaner.
A good vacuum cleaner should be able to remove both fine dirt/dust and larger debris from your floor surfaces. We push each vacuum cleaner to its limit by making it clean up four types of messes: our homemade “dirt” that is made from sieved sand and baby powder, pet hair, rice grains, and raw macaroni.
To get a feel for how each vacuum would perform on a different type of floor surface, we test these vacuums out on two swaths of carpet (high pile carpet and low pile carpet) and on a linoleum floor surface.
We also think it’s important to see how a vacuum cleaner will do in circumstances that are more difficult than a bare floor. For edge cleaning, we place a 2” x 4” piece of wood along the edge of our test carpet area, sprinkle baby powder on the carpet, and run the vacuum cleaner with one side of the vacuum head pressed against the 2” x 4”. Ideally, the vacuum should pick up all of the baby powder without leaving a strip of white dust next to the 2” x 4”.
Additionally, we also test how easy it is for the vacuum cleaner to clean dirt or dust bunnies that have collected under furniture. Using a wooden dowel suspended at different heights, we push the vacuum forward until the top of the vacuum hits the dowel to determine how far a given vacuum can extend under a piece of furniture.
With these performance tests, we can determine how well a vacuum cleaner will perform when it comes to cleaning all of the surfaces, nooks, and crannies in your home.
Features and Usability
If you’ve ever used a vacuum cleaner, though, you know that the overall experience of vacuuming is more than just how much dirt it removes. When we score these vacuum cleaners, we also consider the vacuum’s noise level, attachments, cord length, weight, dirt capacity, warranty, mobility, battery life (if it’s a cordless or hand vacuum), and overall user experience. If a vacuum can both clean up a lot of dirt/debris and make the cleaning process easy and hassle-free, it will make its way towards the top of our ranking system.
What You Need to Know About Vacuum Cleaners
Bagged vs. Bagless
Bagged vacuums often offer better filtration and dust management. When you empty a dirt cup from a bagless vacuum, a percentage of the dirt gets back into the air. However, bagged vacuums get emptied less and can develop a bad odor.
Types of Floors
Carpet can be divided into low-pile, high-pile, and ultra-plush categories. Most vacuums can deal with high and low-pile carpets, but only a select few are designed to deal with ultra-plush. This special type of carpet feels super-soft because it’s so dense, causing some vacuums to get stuck on it.
For bare floors, cordless vacuums with soft rollers are your best bet. Pine and other softwoods can get scratched and dinged by heavy vacuum use. When in doubt, use a broom and dustpan.
What Does Paying More Get Me?
After testing vacuums for the past five years, we have an understanding of what you get for your money. In the sub-$100 category, every extra dollar you spend usually goes towards more power. Of the models we tested at this price range, all of them carry the same bare-minimum array of attachments. When you spend a bit more, around $100 to $300, you start to see stratification in usability and features. We’re talking about more attachments, better joints so the vacuum moves with you, and better warranties. Anything above the $300 range is showing for a premium market. When we test these vacuums, we’re looking for brush heads that won’t scratch delicate flooring, designs that won’t tip over, and motors with enough power to tackle the thickest of carpets.
Your cleaning style should also match your lifestyle. For example, if you live in a small apartment and spend lots of time in your car, you should shift your budget toward a cordless. Do you have a multi-level home with mostly hardwood floors? A canister is going to serve you the best.
Other Affordable Vacuums We Tested
Hoover WindTunnel UH70120
If the thought of wrapping up a cord when you're done cleaning fills you with dread, you may want to check out the Hoover WindTunnel Rewind Plus, which comes with a retractable cord.
In our carpet tests, the WindTunnel picked up almost the exact same amount of dirt as the CleanView. While it costs a little more, that higher price tag gets you a cord that winds up automatically with the touch of a lever.
There's also onboard storage for all the Hoover's attachments, so they'll always be at hand when you need them—instead of lost in the back of a closet.
The downside? All these features keep the WindTunnel from breezing through rooms. With everything onboard, this Hoover tips the scales at 17.3 pounds. That's a full two pounds heavier than the Bissell. Even worse, there's no carrying handle on the back, which means it's a huge pain to lug up and down stairs. It also struggled with pet hair.
The popular Shark Navigator Lift-Away was the most unusual vacuum we tested. Its Lift-Away feature means that users can detach the motor from the handle, which turns the unit into a pseudo-canister. Unfortunately, you cannot use attachments unless the motor is detached, and you have to lug the "canister" around because it doesn't have wheels.
Other features don't come with as many tradeoffs. For instance, automatic height adjustment means you can go from cleaning a thick area rug to short-pile carpet without skipping a beat. This Shark is also the only vacuum in the running that has a swivel joint in the brush head, which allows the Shark to pivot around furniture and other obstacles. The Shark's small brush head also helps you reach tight spaces.
However, we feel that the Shark isn't as good a value as other vacuums on the list. Even though it's the most expensive cleaner we included, it only picked up 38 percent of testing dirt we put down on a normal carpet. Other vacuums cleaned better and cost less.
Given all the trade-offs, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away is a fine choice for small apartments that feature a variety of floor types. But given its quirks and high price, it falls into fourth place in our tests.
The Eureka PowerSpeed has the unique distinction of being one of the lightest uprights in this roundup. It tips the scales around 10 pounds and doesn’t really punch above its weight limit. In our testing, it picked up only around 18% of the available dirt. Aside from having weak suction, it is very loud, producing over 80dBA.
We did find a silver lining. Its lightweight body means that it can easily be carried upstairs and it’s easy to push around.
In many parts of the world, Hoover is synonymous with vacuuming. The Hoover WindTunnel Pet Rewind UH70210 scored in the middle of the pack. We found it to be average in almost every regard. It has an average pickup performance, unremarkable attachments, and OK maneuverability. It does have a foldable handle so it’s easy to store. However, it’s about 18 pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side.
Bissell is not only a company well known for making vacuums, but also for advocacy on behalf of animal welfare. So it’s no surprise that the company makes a wide variety of products catering to pet owners. We have plenty of experience testing Bissell products. The CleanView is our favorite affordable upright, and we loved Bissell’s dog-washing vacuum.
The Bissell Swivel Rewind Pet was more of a miss than a hit. We liked the automatically retracting cord, and the titular swivel joint made it easy to maneuver this vacuum around furniture. However, we found that this vacuum lacked powerful dirt pickup relative to its price. During testing it picked up around 41% of dirt per run. That’s not a terrible score, but it’s not enough to justify a top spot.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.