We like the automatically retracting cord and the titular swivel joint, which makes it easy to maneuver this vacuum around furniture. However, we find that this vacuum lacks powerful dirt pickup relative to its price.
We've evaluated more than 100 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 a fraction of the cost.
We are focusing on affordable bagless upright vacuums that retail for between $50 and $200, because they're the most popular style of vacuum in the U.S.—instead of handheld vacuums, robot vacuums, or cordless stick vacuums. While bagless uprights may be a bit louder and heavier than their more expensive counterparts, they tend to come with all the essential attachments and features to clean your carpet.
We tested five of the best-selling and affordable upright bagless vacuums in our labs, and determined the best is the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 (available at Amazon for $179.99) .
We put each through the same rigorous tests that more expensive models also go through, and then evaluated the vacuum cleaners for overall dirt and debris pickup, ease of use, weight, and sound. We 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.
Shark NV352 Navigator Lift-Away
The popular Shark Navigator Lift-Away had a strong showing in our cleaning tests, picking up 38% of the testing dirt we laid out on average. Any vacuum that performs over the 33% mark, gets a thumbs up in our book.
It 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.
Its Lift-Away feature means that users can detach the motor from the handle, which turns the unit into a pseudo-canister, making it easier to clean furniture and stairs. Unfortunately, you cannot use attachments unless the motor is detached, and you have to lug the "canister" around because it doesn't have wheels.
Thankfully, that’s the only downfall we can see with this Shark. Its other features don't come with as many trade offs. For instance, automatic height adjustment means you can go from cleaning a thick area rug to short-pile carpet without skipping a beat.
I’m Jon Chan, the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. It’s my job to test and write about products ranging from coolers to laundry detergents. Along with my colleague Kyle Hamilton, we tested all the vacuums in this guide.
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” made from sieved sand and baby powder; piles of pet hair; rice grains; and raw macaroni.
To get a feel for how each vacuum performs on different floor surfaces, 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 performs 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 wood. Ideally, the vacuum should pick up all of the baby powder without leaving a strip of white dust next to the wood.
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, 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 Upright Vacuum Cleaners
Should I Get A Bagged or Bagless Vacuum Cleaner?
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.
What Type Of Floor Does An Upright Vacuum Do Best?
Carpeting is 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 (shag). 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 For A Vacuum Get Me?
Considering our experience, 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 vacuum. Do you have a multi-level home with mostly hardwood floors? A canister vacuum is going to serve you the best.
Other Affordable Bagless Uprights We Tested
Hoover Whole House Rewind
Hoover is a name synonymous with vacuuming. The Hoover Whole House Rewind is a great example. It’s a pretty heavy unit, tipping the scales at 18 pounds, but it packs tons of features. It comes with a pet turbo tool, pivoting dusting tool, and crevice tool, all of which can be carried onboard. Best of all, the titular rewind feature automatically retracts that 25-foot cord with just a touch of a lever.
During our cleaning tests, the Whole House Rewind picked up about 50% of the testing dirt per pass. That’s really good. However, this vacuum dropped the ball on two counts: noise and edge cleaning. On average, our sound meter picked up over 78 decibels—more than enough to wake up the whole house. The second issue is that if you want to clean right up to the wall, you’re going to have to bust out the crevice tool.
Overall, this is a great vacuum for anyone who lives in a one-story house and has no small children.
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, like Bissell’s dog-washing vacuum.
Unfortunately, the Bissell Swivel Rewind Pet was more of a miss than a hit. We like the automatically retracting cord, and the swivel joint that makes it easy to maneuver this vacuum around furniture.
However, we found that this vacuum lacked powerful dirt pickup relative to its price. During testing, we found 41% of the testing detritus in the dirt cup. That’s enough to give the thumbs up from us; however, it’s outdone by other vacuums like the Hoover Whole House Rewind.
The Hoover WindTunnel Pet Rewind UH70210 scored in the middle of this pack, and it is average in almost every regard: pickup performance, unremarkable attachments, and OK maneuverability. We like its foldable handle that makes it easy to store. However, the vacuum itself weighs in at about 18 pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side.
The Pet Rewind is very similar to Hoover’s House Whole Rewind, but the Pet Rewind has LED lights on the brush head to help let you know when your floors are sparkling and your carpets are dirt-free.
We are ranking the Pet Rewind lower than the Whole House because its dirt pickup results averaged 44.2%—about six percent less than the Whole House.
If weight is an important factor in a vacuum you’re looking for, then the Black & Decker BDASV102 is worth checking out. Fully loaded, it weighs in at about 10 pounds, which places it in the very lightweight category. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to vacuum multiple floors. It also has a 30-foot cord, 20% longer than average, so the BDASV102 needs to be repositioned less often.
It’s also super powerful for its size, collecting a whopping 70% of the testing dirt in a single pass.
The reason this vacuum is not winning this list is because its construction feels flimsy, and we’re not the only reviewers saying so. Analyzing a large number of user reviews across multiple retailers, we found a significant number of complaints about the unit’s longevity.
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.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.