Based on a design that hasn’t changed in decades, this vacuum still packs a performance punch in an increasingly crowded field of cleaners. Its outstanding bare floor and low-pile carpet performance is, however, offset by subpar cleaning on high-pile carpets and some aggravating design flaws. The canister design may take some getting used to, but for many users, it’s even more maneuverable than most uprights. The MSRP is $329.99, but wait for a sale — we've seen it as low as $199.

Use these tricks of the trade for a more complete clean.

For a vacuum that was designed in the era of shag carpeting, we were a little disappointed to see that it picked up less than half of the dirt we put down on a high-pile rug. If you’re planning on cleaning up a big mess, we also suggest you read the owner’s manual. It suggests cleaning soiled carpets on the X-LO setting regardless of pile; we tried it on the “HI” setting and more than 75 percent of the dirt remained behind. X-LO worked, but you’ll put a lot more effort into vacuuming: it can get bogged down during the deep cleaning.

On short carpet, the Kenmore was outstanding, picking up 93.5 percent of the dirt we put down. That’s exceptional performance, bested only by the 98.2 percent that it picked up off of hard floors.

The Pet PowerMate did an even better job, offering up some of the best performance we've seen from a portable pet brush.

The Kenmore’s main brush head tackled our pet hair test without any major problems, though some of the dog hair clung to the base of the powerbrush even when the test was over. The Pet PowerMate did an even better job, offering up some of the best performance we’ve seen from a portable pet brush. We inferred that the separate brush motor had a lot to do with its cleaning power.

Performance on the debris test was somewhat odd. On our first try cleaning, absent any instructions in the owner’s manual, we set the brush height to X-LO and found that the vacuum merely pushed all the debris across the floor. We raised the height to medium and the vac cleaned up nearly all the macaroni and rice that we put down, leaving all the coins on the floor. That's the setting we used to get out final numbers, though it's worth noting that the 21514 easily sucked up all the coins once we attached the non-powered floor brush.

This ain't no Dyson, but it's just as user-friendly once you get the hang of it.

A bagged canister vacuum may seem about as current as an episode of Maude, but this one made us long for the days of old, when cars came with chrome bumpers, salads came with Thousand Island dressing, and vacuums came in two parts. It may seem counterintuitive that this Panasonic-built Kenmore is easy on the upper arms, but consider for a moment its weight distribution. Combined with the hose, the powered brushhead only weighs nine pounds. More often than not, that's the only part of it you move back and forth—the motor and bag just drag behind on big wheels. You can rest the canister on a stair, or leave it in the middle of the room while you clean. It offers a lot more flexibility than an upright, which must be lifted in its entirety.

This offers a lot more flexibility than an upright.

The Kenmore’s power controls are all conveniently located on the handle of the hose wand, right at your fingertips. All the other controls—such as the hose release, power cord retract, height adjustment and storage release lever—are at foot level and can be operated with a light kick. We never once had to bend down while using this vacuum.

Every one of its many accessories are stored on board. The crevice tool clicks into place under the handle, the combination brush is installed on the wand, the pet tool and floor brush sit under one hood and the powered Pet PowerMate—a mini turbine brush for upholstery cleaning—sits under a second hood. At 26 feet, the power cord is slightly shorter than some competing vacuums, but it stores on board and automatically recoils with the force of a tape measure.

If you hate to see, smell, or touch dirt, this may be the cleaner for you.

As for the bag, a week of cleaning with this Kenmore makes us wonder why bagless cleaners are so popular. With a bagged vacuum, disposing of the collected dirt is as easy as unclipping a paper bag and throwing it away. It's fully sealed, so there's no Pigpen-like cloud of dust when you open it up to get inside, either. If you hate to see, smell, or touch dirt, this may be the cleaner for you.

A few gripes: Some more expensive vacuums in the Kenmore lineup feature extendable wands, but this unit does not. Still, we got about a three foot reach—enough to get cobwebs off the ceiling. Also, the plastic catch that holds the wand upright when the vacuum is parked is prone to breakage. We suggest buying these in bulk from Sears' parts department, as they're easy to replace. Sears, if you're reading this: Please make that catch out of metal.

A great choice for homes with a variety of flooring types

It's rare to find a vacuum cleaner with adequate performance on nearly all kinds of floors. Most excel at solid surfaces, many do well on berber, and a few are OK on high carpet. The Progressive 21514 ran alongside our top tested vacuums on hardwood and berber, and didn't disappoint on tall carpet, either. It'll definitely get the job done for someone who has one predominant floor type, or a combination of all three. It's an especially good choice for anyone who has mostly wood floors or short-pile carpet, as the lightweight power brush can be turned off and won't scratch floor finishes.

The powered Pet PowerMate mini turbine brush was exceptionally good at getting the fur off our test carpet.

If you've got pets, we've got your vacuum right here: the powered Pet PowerMate mini turbine brush was exceptionally good at getting the fur off our test carpet. When cleaning debris, we recommend taking off the big, powered cleaning head and attaching one of the hardwood floor brushes. It may take a second to swap out, but it's sure easier than picking up every last piece of half-chewed Cheerio.

A variety of noises, and not that efficient

On average, the Kenmore Progressive 21514 puts out 74.6 decibels when cleaning. Depending on how close you are to the powerbrush, that figure can jump to 80 decibels, definitely loud enough to scare pets. The 21514 also draws a whopping 1470 watts while cleaning. Hopefully you’ll never clean for long enough that it’ll affect your electric bill, but it could trip a circuit breaker if you have other appliances plugged in.

Just throw the dirt away.

The Kenmore Progressive 21514 uses an allergen filtration bag that mounts on a plastic holder in the cavity beneath the hose. Change the bag once, and you’ll know how to do it for the rest of your life. If you’re used to emptying a bagless vacuum’s dirt cup, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this setup. The bags are downright cavernous, holding a full gallon of dirt and debris.

There are three levels of filtration on this vacuum. The bag features “allergen filtration.” A debris filter keeps large particles out of the motor, and the paper exhaust filter adds another layer of allergen protection. If you want HEPA filtration, you can replace the standard paper bag with an upgraded cloth one; HEPA exhaust filters are also available. Unfortunately, the filter is not washable and a replacement is $15 at Sears, $5 at online retailers. The owner’s manual recommends changing the filter “regularly,” when it becomes visibly soiled.

An old-fashioned design, but works with almost any floor type

Sometimes, old fashioned designs stick around for a reason: they work. That seems to be the case with the Kenmore Progressive 21514, which is built by Panasonic and sold only at Sears, often for sub-$200 sale prices. Its superior performance on wood floors and short carpets make it an excellent choice for anyone who has a variety of flooring types, and we actually found it easier to maneuver than most bulky uprights.

That’s not to say the Kenmore Progressive 21514 is flawless—a few plastic latches are poorly made, and tall carpet cleaning could be better—but it's an excellent value for a seriously competent vacuum. If you think canisters are old-fashioned, we suggest you think again and give this vacuum a try.

Meet the tester

Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Former Editor in Chief, Reviewed Home

@itskeithbarry

Keith was the Editor in Chief of Reviewed's appliance and automotive sites. His work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Car & Driver, and CityLab.

See all of Keith Barry's reviews

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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.

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