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Vacuums

Bag vs. bagless vacuums—what’s better for you?

It’s all about how to contain the dust

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Deciding between a bag or bagless vacuum cleaner may seem like a trivial affair, but some of your pet peeves about vacuuming can be solved by picking one or the other. Read on as we dive into the differences in cost, cleanliness, and the best available models.

By the end of this article, you’ll know which one is the best for you.

What’s the difference between bag and bagless vacuum cleaners?

When we’re talking about vacuum cleaners that use bags and ones that don’t, we’re referring to how the vacuum cleaner holds the dirt and debris it sucks up.

Bag vacuums, as the name suggests, places all the dirt and debris the vacuum collects into a bag made of paper or cloth. When the bag gets full, you remove it from the vacuum cleaner and just toss it into the trash.

However, bagless vacuum cleaners dump debris into a cup or a tank that you then empty into the garbage.

With the rise in self-emptying vacuum cleaners, there is now a hybrid method, where the vacuum itself is bagless, but it empties itself into a bag located in the charging base.

Which style cleans best?

Based on the vacuums we’ve tested in our labs, bag vacuums tend to have more raw power, while bagless vacuums are more maneuverable.

Interestingly, this has less to do with a choice between bags or dirt cups, and more to do with the companies that make them.

For example, Miele and Kenmore make some great bag vacuums, and these companies put out models that have bigger and more powerful motors. Cordless models are almost always bagless, and thus, the Dysons and LG vacuums of the world are sleek, lightweight, and can easily get into the nooks and crannies of your home or car.

A woman emptying a Dyson vacuum into the trash
Credit: Dyson

When you empty a bagless vacuum's dirt cup, a cloud of dust sometimes escapes.

Bag vacuums have one major advantage: There is no dust plume when you empty, unlike with bagless vacuum cleaners, where there is almost always a dust plume because the dirt and debris is not contained in a bag.

Sometimes, this particle-rich plume can be bad enough to irritate your sinuses. With bagged models, this doesn’t happen, because dirt is contained.

Which one costs more?

The Miele C3 Kona in-situ
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

When it comes to cost, both bagged and bagless versions have really expensive models to offer.

This question is really complicated. When it comes to the cost of the full units, it’s a bit of a wash.

The most affordable bag vacuum we know of is the $60 Bissell Zing and the most expensive Miele runs about $1,600.

This kind of price disparity is pretty much the same for bagless vacuum cleaners. A quick search of Amazon yields an $80 bagless Eureka. A high-end Dyson can run you well over $1,000, if you get all the attachments.

Vacuum bags themselves also cost money. For the average consumer, we estimate you’ll be spending about $20 a year on bags tops. Nowadays, there are plenty of third-party manufacturers that make vacuum bag replacements for almost every brand so you don’t need to spend a fortune.

However, over the course of the lifetime of the machine, the cost of bags can add up.

So, of bag and bagless vacuum cleaners, which one is better?

It all comes down to your personal preference. If you want a light and easy-to-use bagless vacuum, we recommend the Dyson V15 Detect. On the bag vacuum front, we think the Miele C1 Classic is aptly named. It’s powerful and won’t send out a cloud when you empty it.

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Prices are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time.