Vacuum cleaners aren’t the bulky, heavy appliances they once were. They’ve now become cordless, lightweight and are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Many can handle different types of flooring, from carpets to hardwood. They often come with useful attachments too to help with chores around the house.
One company, in particular, saw this sea change coming. Dyson was the first to pioneer this field with a series of capable — and pricey — Cyclone V series stick vacs. Other companies have since followed suit and now sell cordless vacuums of their own. Some have even shamelessly cloned Dyson products. Others are distinctive new riffs on the cordless vacuum, with innovative features all their own.
We then put them all through a rigorous battery of floor-care tests on hard flooring, carpet and other surfaces. The process took over 150 hours to complete. It also consumed multiple pounds of sand and rice, plus hundreds of handfuls of pet hair. After that, we’ve determined that these products are our picks for the best cordless vacuum for 2020.
The V11 is Dyson’s latest and greatest stick vac. It’s also the most expensive machine in our test group. That said, this flagship model delivered a best-in-class performance to match its steep price. On hardwood floor surfaces, this Dyson vacuum literally wiped the bare floors clean from dust and dirt. The vacuum, which has a lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, demonstrated near-flawless pickup of both sand and black rice test samples (99.6 and 100%, respectively).
Pet owners will also appreciate the V11’s prowess at eliminating pet hair. During anecdotal tests, the vacuum completely removed hair fibres and dust from mid-pile and low-pile carpets. Pet hair pickup across hardwood flooring went almost as well. The only detractors were a stray clump the vacuum missed at the top of our test area. That and a few strands ended up wrapped around the V11’s brush roll.
I certainly like how easy the V11’s dust bin is to empty. Just aim the vacuum into the trash, and push a release tab to open the dust bin’s lid. To close it, pull the tab in the opposite direction. Other models we tested were a nightmare in this regard. The Hoover BladeMax gave us the most trouble. Hair and dust typically became trapped deep inside its dirt cup. I found its bin tricky to open too. Worse, it isn’t always clear that the dirt bin is securely attached.
Dyson also bundles numerous attachments in the box. Among them are a crevice tool for cleaning tight spaces, a motorized tool for upholstery, a soft dusting brush and a stubborn dirt brush head for pulling ground-in dirt from a carpet with strong suction. All this makes the Dyson V11 the clear choice for the best cordless vacuum money can buy.
Read more about the Dyson V11.
The second-best performer in our group of cordless vacuums was the Shark Rocket Pet Pro Cordless. It came very close to cleaning floors as well as the Dyson V11 but cost hundreds less. The Rocket cordless and bagless vacuum removed just as much sand from both midpile carpet and hardwood floors. In fact, the only area where the Shark trailed the V11 as the best cordless vacuum was over a low-pile carpet. There, the cordless cleaner pulled away from an overage of 67.6% of our test sand. By contrast, the Dyson V11 removed a greater amount of sand from our low-pile carpeting (78.4% on average).
The Rocket didn’t have trouble handling pet hair either. On both low-pile carpet and hardwood, this handheld cordless vacuum wiped away all traces of animal dander. Results were favourable across midpile carpet, too. Only a small tuft of hair remained after the vacuum passed over the thicker, more challenging surface.
Design is another of the Rocket Pet Pro’s strengths. Its dust cup is almost as easy to empty as the Dyson V11. The dust cup typically remains clear of dirt and debris as well, not stuck inside even after emptying. I also appreciate how the Rocket Pet Pro’s wand and upholstery tool can stand upright on its own (disconnected from the main vacuum unit). LED lights on the nozzle help you see dirt and debris around your home, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery makes for easy charging. So, if you seek a solid midrange cordless upright stick vac, Shark’s Rocket Pro is an outstanding option.
If you’d like to own a Dyson but would rather not spend top dollar, consider the $300 Dyson V8 Absolute hand vac. This step-down cordless model is a few years old yet still has powerful suction and performs like a champ. On our floor-cleaning tests, the V8 came in a respectable third. Only the Dyson V11 and Shark Rocket Pet Pro scoured floors are better than the V8 in our test group.
On a hard floor, the vacuum managed to pick up an average of 98% of the sand we dropped. For low-pile carpet, that average fell to 68.3%. The average slipped further across midpile carpet, though it remained at a respectable 52%.
Pet hair didn’t faze the V8 hand vacuum much, either. It pulled the hair away from midpile and low-pile carpets completely. It did fail to remove a small amount of dander on the hardwood. Additionally, some fibres became wrapped around the vacuum’s brush roll. But the washable filter was handy.
And similar to the V11 Torque Drive, the V8 Absolute upright vacuum comes with a generous assortment of add-ons. That includes gadgets for dusting, a crevice tool for reaching into a tight crevice, a soft cleaning head for bare floors, a motorized brush roll for grabbing ground-in dirt and debris, and a docking station for charging the battery. So for those who’d like to own a Dyson brand stick vac a little less cash, the V8 Absolute is worth a look.
Read more about the Dyson V8.
Moose isn’t exactly a household name. Nevertheless, the Moosoo M X6 cordless vacuum packs a respectable punch, considering its low price. Despite costing much less than competing vacuums, the M X6 was the fourth-best performer in our test group of eight models.
The stick vac picked up 99% (on average) of our test sand from hardwood. On low-pile carpet, that figure sank to 41.3%. The M X6 fared better across thicker midpile carpet, earning a higher sand pickup average of 52.2%.
Black rice, our large particle test soil, was a breeze for the Moosoo vacuum. It managed pickup averages above 90% on hardwood, low-pile and midpile carpet (95.4, 96.8 and 94%, respectively).
Don’t buy the Moosoo M X6, though, if you’re a pet owner. Cons are that at least some visible dander remained after vacuuming, no matter the test surface. The brush roll tends to wrap strands of hair around itself as well.
If you want cordless vacuuming on a tight budget, however, consider the Moosoo M X6. It just might fit the bill and for much less cash.
How we test cordless vacuums
Putting cordless vacuums through their paces isn’t as complicated ascleaner, but it still takes lots of time and careful effort to find the best cordless vacuum. We run each vacuum straight line across three different surfaces (hardwood, low-pile carpet, midpile carpet). On all three testbeds, the test area is the same length (30.25 inches).
The width of the testbed is proportional to the vacuum’s nozzle width. We measure this width ourselves. We also use nozzle width, plus the flooring type, to calculate the soil density for each test, per International Electrotechnical Commission guidelines. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers.
We use three types of soil. To simulate small particle size, we use a mix of play sand and landscaping sand. To emulate larger dirt particles, we use uncooked black rice. We use our mixture of clippings sourced to us through our local pet groomer to see how vacuums deal with pet hair.
We run tests in a straight line across all three-floor types. Brian Bennett/CNET
We perform three runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also test with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per vacuum. We weigh the vacuum’s dust bin both before and after each run.
From there, we can calculate the percentage of dirt and debris pickup for every run and the average amount of soil a vacuum manages to remove. Additionally, we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each vacuum on all three-floor types to help us select the best cordless vacuum.
Want more cordless vacuum options? Here’s a list of the other stick vacs we tested besides the models listed above:
More cleaning tips
You may have heard the terms “cordless vacuum cleaner” or “heater” when deciding which vacuum is best for you home. Cordless vacuums run on batteries, so getting one that is powerful enough to do the job is important, but what else should you look for in a vacuum? It will not be easy to find the right vacuum for you, but these tips can help.
When shopping for cordless vacuums, there are two things you should consider. Which one is best for cleaning your hardwood floors? Although most cordless vacuums can be used on any surface, some models are better suited for hardwood floors. One of the most important features to look for is battery life. Good cordless vacuums have a long battery life, so you won’t have to worry about buying another one after you’re through cleaning. The cordless vacuum cleaners made for hardwood floors also have their own pumps to make sure that there is no moisture left behind after vacuuming.
Next, you need to decide whether you want a brush or bagged vacuum. Brush vacuums use suction to remove dirt and debris from carpet fibers. Bagless vacuums use an electric compressor to power a rotating brush to collect the debris. If you are trying to vacuum a large area with a rug or carpet, bagged vacuums can cause flapping problems. Bagless vacuum cleaners don’t use suction to move dust. Instead, they use vibrating action to move dust from one place to the next. If you don’t have a rug that has a hook or loop to hang your bag, this can cause some inconvenience. This can be very handy if you have a bagless with a loop or attachment.
Consider whether you need to have more power in your cordless vacuum cleaner. Most cordless vacuum models come with three different power settings: light, medium, and high. Each setting has its positive and negative sides. If you frequently vacuum for high traffic areas, consider purchasing one with a higher power setting, as this can get you to clean much faster.
You should also consider whether you need an attachments. There are many available accessories that can help you get the job done quicker. There are many tools that will make your job easier, such as powerful suction and head brushes, power boost adapters, and extensions for carpet sweepers. Some people prefer not to purchase these accessories, but if you vacuum frequently and your carpets have tough stains, you may want them for convenience.
You should ensure that the vacuum you’re looking at is suitable for both tough carpeting and dirtier surfaces. There are many cordless vacuums that are not designed for soft carpets. This can cause problems. The best vacs will have a brush designed for tough dirt, well-built wheels, and even robotic arms that can pick up and maneuver tough dander and hair. Be sure to check the suction ratings and the weight. You don’t want to be bending over backwards just to move your vacuum cleaner from one location to another. A well designed vacuum will weigh as little as a few pounds, which will allow you to operate it easily.
The best cordless vacuum cleaners will be rechargeable and have long battery life. A good design will allow you to plug in the unit and take it with you wherever you go, even to the gym. Many of the best models have an automatic shutoff feature so you don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty. To keep the weight down, look for models with extra handles or wheels. It will also be easier on your back to have a lightweight design.
You will love to use your cordless hand-held vacuum for tasks that require pushing and pulling, so you should look for one with multiple motors. The majority of models come with two motors. However, the best models have four. This will enable you to use your cleaner to do both wet and dry floor cleaning jobs. This will allow you to push and pull the cleaner more easily than if you had two batteries.