If you're serious about cleaning, you should check out a canister vacuum.
Though most Americans prefer upright vacuums, canisters are easier to lift because they divide their heft across a wand and canister. 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.
Miele 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.
But there are still a lot of choices out there, and we're here to help. We've been testing vacuums in our labs since 2011, and can tell you that these are the best canister vacuums you can buy.
These are the best canister vacuums we tested ranked, in order:
Miele C3 Series
Miele C2 Series
Dyson Cinetic Big Ball
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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. That 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 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 other Miele vacuums. Miele makes several C3 vacuums, ranging from a $650 model with an air-powered brush all the way to a $1,500 model with LED lighting. 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, all those attachments store onboard—even the powered Electro Plus wand slots right into the body. There's even a seven-year warranty on the motor.
The Kenmore 81614 costs half what the least-expensive Miele C3 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 appreciated how many attachments it came 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 upholstery, drapes, and car seats. It was 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.
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.
How We Tested
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.