If you're serious about cleaning, you should check out a canister vacuum. We've been testing vacuums in our labs since 2011, and we're here to help you sort through the myriad choices out there on the market.
Though most Americans prefer upright vacuums, canister vacuums are easier to lift because they divide their heft across a wand and the vacuum's main unit. They're also not as bulky as an upright, which you'll definitely notice when it's time to vacuum stairs, reach corners, or clean furniture.
There are a few brands that stand out in the canister vacuum market, among them Miele, Kenmore, Dyson, Electrolux, and Bissell. Miele canister vacuums are well-represented in our list because they're quiet, powerful, and well-built. Kenmore makes some great affordable canisters, and Dyson is worth checking out if you hate changing bags.
The Miele C3 Series(available at Amazon) takes the cake on this list of best canister vacuums. We love the Miele Complete C3 Kona, because it simply captured more dirt than its competitors, whether on thick carpet or bare floors.
These are the best canister vacuums we've tested ranked, in order:
Miele C3 Series
Miele C2 Series
Miele C1 Series
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball
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Miele C3 Series
How We Tested Canister Vacuums
What You Should Know About Buying a Canister Vacuum
Yes, the German-made Miele Complete C3 Kona might be expensive, but after extensive testing in our vacuum cleaner lab, we think it is the best vacuum you can buy.
This bagged canister vacuum is lightweight and quiet, but it's also quite powerful. In our tests, the Kona simply captured more dirt than its competitors. This was true whether we measured how much dust it got out of thick carpet, or how much debris it cleaned off bare floors.
Every Miele we've ever tested feels well designed and sturdily built, and the Kona is no exception. Nothing feels cheap or wobbly, and it glides across floors with ease. We especially like how its wand is weighted, so it doesn't tip over when you walk away from vacuuming.
Still, we prefer the Kona to the other models in Miele's C3 series, ranging from an $800 Complete C3 Calima model with an air-powered brush (available at Amazon) all the way to the $1,600 Complete C3 Brilliant model with LED lighting (available at Amazon).
The Kona sits in the middle of the lineup, but includes a powered brush for rooting dirt out of thick carpets, a telescoping wand for cleaning hard-to-reach corners, a hardwood floor brush, and a combination dusting brush, upholstery tool, and crevice nozzle.
When cleaning is done, these attachments store onboard—even the powered Electro Plus wand slots right into the body. There's also a 7-year warranty on the motor.
The Kenmore 81614 costs half what the least-expensive Miele C3 model sells for, but still cleans almost as well. In our tests, it had no problem with getting debris off floors, or scaring up dirt from the darkest corners of a thick carpet. We appreciate how many attachments it comes with, and the height-adjustable powered floor brush will work on any kind of carpet.
The 81614’s Pet PowerMate attachment is unique to Kenmore. It's a tiny, powered brush meant for cleaning pet hair off of upholstery, drapes, and car seats. It is the only vacuum attachment we tested that reliably got the wiry fur of a Great Pyrenees dog out of floor mats.
The main difference between this inexpensive Kenmore and pricier canister vacuums is fit and finish. You'll immediately notice that the Kenmore is a lot louder than our top pick—16.3 dBA louder, to be exact. While the Miele C3 and Kenmore 81614 weigh about the same, the Kenmore's wand frequently topples over, and its attachments feel cheap and clunky.
Hi, I’m Jon Chan, the senior manager of lab operations at Reviewed. If there's a product you use to clean something, it’s likely I oversee its testing in our labs. This includes everything from detergents to robot vacuums.
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.
When it comes to performance, a good vacuum cleaner should be able to remove both fine dirt or dust and larger debris from your floor surfaces. In our lab, we push each vacuum cleaner—from cordless to upright—to its limit by making it clean up four types of messes: our homemade “dirt” (sieved sand and baby powder), pet hair, rice grains, and raw macaroni. 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 canister vacuum 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.
We also consider the canister vacuum’s noise level, attachments, cord length, weight, dirt capacity, warranty, mobility, and overall user experience. If a vacuum can both clean up a lot of dirt and debris and make the cleaning process easy and hassle-free, it will make its way towards the top of our ranking system.
What You Should Know About Buying a Canister Vacuum
What Is a Canister Vacuum?
A canister vacuum is made up of two connected parts. A hose and a wand separate the motor and dirt container—also known as the canister—from the brush head or cleaning nozzle, which is located at the bottom of the wand. Typically, the motor is on wheels and follows behind the user while they clean.
When it comes to storing canister vacuums, they take up more space than an upright or a cordless vacuum, but the trade off is that they run more quietly and do a better job on bare floors than upright vacuums.
How Do You Open a Canister Vacuum?
The bag or dirt cup is typically located inside the canister. Usually, the canister body is opened via a lip or latch near its center-mass. If there is none, look for a button or lever labeled, "Open".
How Often Should You Vacuum?
We get asked this question often. Your cleaning style and frequency should match your lifestyle.
If you live in a small apartment and spend lots of time in your car, you should shift your budget and your efforts toward a cordless vacuum. But, if you have a multi-level home with mostly hardwood floors, then a canister vacuum is going to serve you the best.
As far as how often you should vacuum, that depends. If you have two dogs and three kids you're probably looking at once or twice a week. People living alone can probably stand to vacuum once a week or every other week. However, no matter what, you can cut down on the number of times you need to vacuum by investing in a robot vacuum.
When It Comes to Canister Vacuums, What Does Paying More Get Me?
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.
Other Canister Vacuums We Tested
Miele C2 Series
Got dirty floors, but not a lot of space? Consider the Miele Compact C2 Onyx or Electro+. Smaller, lighter, and less expensive than Miele's C3 series, the C2 still has the same superb fit and finish that Miele is known for.
This quiet, bagged canister vacuum rid both carpet and hardwood floors of everything from pet hair to dust. The best part? The C2 cleans well at the edges of a room, too. That means no more dusty baseboards.
If you have mostly hardwood and tile floors, the Onyx's air-powered brush will suffice. If you have deeper carpets, you should upgrade to the C2 Electro+, which features a motorized brush for stirring up long-dormant dirt and dust.
No matter which model you choose, the Miele C2 Series is an affordable luxury that takes some of the effort out of housecleaning.
The Miele C1 series gives you all the advantages of a German-engineered vacuum at a more affordable price. This series comes in a number of configurations that come with different sets of brush heads and attachments. However, no matter what version you get, the C1 will have great handling, powerful suction, and specialized settings to clean everything from delicate drapes to hardwood floors.
Yes, it costs a lot, and similarly priced bagged vacuums outpace it on cleaning. But, if you hate buying bags, the Cinetic Big Ball more than meets expectations. It rides on a large ball, which is both easy to maneuver and impossible to tip over. We also like that its air-cleaning system doesn't rely on a disposable filter.
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.