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7 Things to Ask Before You Buy a Vacuum

Dust bunnies and pet hair, beware! Vacuuming will cease to suck when you buy one of these high-tech machines. We’ve got the dirt on finding the perfect one.

What’s My Budget?
Vacuums cost anywhere from $50 to $1,500. Why the huge price gap? Most vacuum motors have about the same amp power (8 to 12 amps), so the extra dough goes into the details -- from filtration quality (the best filters trap the smallest particles and dust) to how tightly sealed the body is around the motor, which determines the amount of suction.

Pricier vacs are made with more durable materials and are covered by a longer warranty (up to 15 years). Cheaper models may only last a few years, but it makes sense to go low-end if you’ll be moving around and don’t know what type of floors or vacuum you’ll need later on.

What Type of Flooring Do I Have?
Most vacuums have the settings or attachments to clean any floor, but if there’s a majority of one type of surface in your house, consider this:

Mostly carpet: Uprights work better for cleaning carpet because they have a built-in gizmo called a “beater bar” on the revolving brush. It vibrates deep-down dirt loose from carpet fibers.

Mostly hard floors: A canister is often recommended for bare floors because it’s easier to pull around the house and hard surfaces get better suction from the hose and nozzle setup.

Do I Have Stairs or High, Hard-to-Reach Zones?
The hose and wand on a canister give it better reach and agility for attacking nooks and stairs. But when the slinky accessory hose on an upright is stretched out for cleaning, the appliance gets tipsy.

Do I Have Allergies?
The air that circulates inside a vacuum blows micro-sized dust all over the place (read: sneeze city). Vacuums with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters catch at least 99.97 percent of all particles. Look for “Certified,” “True” or “Absolute” HEPA. Some vacuums claim “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like” filtration, but it’s not the same.

Do I Have Pets?
Look for vacuums equipped with attachments and brushes designed for grabbing pet hair. Or invest in extras: The Bissell Pet Pack vacuum tool kit ($37, is compatible with major vacuum brands.

Can I Test-Drive It?
If you’d rather test before you buy, go to Sears or Bed, Bath & Beyond for a test-drive (Target and Wal-Mart don’t offer this). See how comfy a vacuum feels when you push or pull it, and check out how much direct suction it has on carpet or hard floors. Stretch the hose—it should reach at least 10 feet without tipping or lifting the vacuum.

What’s the Warranty?
Expensive vacuums should have at least a five-year warranty on the motor and a one-year warranty on other parts. A one-year motor and 90-day parts warranty is standard for cheaper vacuums. Ask about warranties and never settle for less.

Nestperts: Mark Davis of Best Vacuum; Pete Duncanson of ServiceMaster Clean

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-- Colleen Rush

See More: Buying Appliances , Buying Guides , Cleaning & Organizing