What to look for in a vacuum under $100?
But first, what sets expensive vacuums apart from their budget competitors that sell for less than $100? The main difference is technology and quality – newer vacuums have typically had more research and development poured into creating patented technology, while budget vacuums are taking advantage of that same technology years later. As a result, budget vacuums typically fall short of expensive models in recent areas of development, for example in high-powered cordless vacuum designs. Budget vacuums also tend to be made with less durable components than more expensive models – the wand and vacuum body may be made with flimsier plastic materials, or the wheels may not glide as smoothly over carpet. While performance ranges between all vacuum models, it’s also doubly important to be sure that a budget vacuum will have the suction you need since these are often less powerful than top-of-the-line vacuum models.
Given these limitations, it is typically best to stick with tried-and-true vacuum designs when opting for a vacuum under $100 or a slightly more expensive vacuum under $200. Corded vacuums are more likely to provide adequate suction than budget cordless models, and a less-is-more approach typically results in a vacuum that is better at its primary function than poor at a range of auxiliary functions.
Most of all, be sure to purchase a budget vacuum that is well-designed and provides adequate cleaning power for the situation you are most likely to use it in, whether that is cleaning floors, edge cleaning, or cleaning furniture.
Vacuums are made with a couple different foundational designs. The first major distinction is between upright and canister vacuums. Most people are used to using upright vacuums, which have the wand and suction unit integrated into a single standing tool. Canister vacuums, on the other hand, separate the suction unit from the vacuum wand. Canister vacuums are typically smaller than upright vacuums, which makes for easy storage, and the wand is more versatile for reaching under furniture since it is not connected to the vacuum itself. However, canister vacuums also require you to frequently bend down and pull the canister along with you as you vacuum, which can make vacuuming a large house tedious.
Another design split is between bagged and bagless vacuums. All but one of our top 10 budget vacuums are bagless because of the convenience and ease of use. Bagless vacuums simply pull the debris into a canister, which can then be cleaned by simply ejecting the canister off the vacuum body and shaking it out into the trash. Bag vacuums, on the other hand, use a liner bag inside the debris collection area of the vacuum. Although this offers convenience in that it is easy to throw out and replace the dirty bag, it does require you to have a ready supply of spare bags around the house in order to use the vacuum.
The brush that is built into a vacuum head can make a significant difference in its cleaning power on different surfaces. Many brushes are designed to be constantly on and offer a compromise of specificity for hardwood and carpet flooring, although these often perform poorly on deep carpet or leave scratches on hardwood flooring. Other brushes are height adjustable, allowing you to optimize for different carpet thicknesses, or allow you to turn the brush motor on or off depending on whether you are cleaning on hardwood or plush carpet. Consider what floor types you will be cleaning with your vacuum when deciding what type of brush flexibility you will need.
Suction power is critical to a vacuum’s usefulness, but it can be tricky to measure since more wattage does not necessarily mean more suction. Information about a vacuum’s water lift and air flow capacities describe how powerfully and quickly air moves through the vacuum, but these can be difficult to compare between vacuums. Suction power also depends in part on the ability of the brush head to loosen debris, particularly on rug floors, and on the size of the head opening. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to increase the suction power of a new vacuum. However, you can maintain the maximum suction power over time by cleaning out the canister, filters, and brush heads on occasion.
Different vacuums come with different capacities, ranging anywhere from 0.5L to 3L or more. The capacity will determine how frequently you will need to stop cleaning and empty out the canister into the trash, or in the case of a bag vacuum to replace the bag. Most upright vacuums offer a 2L capacity, which is plenty for cleaning an entire house without emptying the canister.
The filtration system built into a vacuum is extremely important since it prevents the dust that is sucked into the canister from being re-released into the air. Many high-end and some budget vacuums use replaceable HEPA filters, which do an excellent job of collecting dust particles. More common on budget vacuums are foam filters, which are not as effective as HEPA filters but have the added ability to be washed in the sink, which means you can go months to years without having to replace the filter.
If you are particularly sensitive to airborne dust, look for budget vacuums designed with multiple filters to more effectively prevent dust from escaping from the vacuum.
If you have to go up and down the stairs when cleaning, you’ll quickly notice whether your vacuum is light or heavy. If weight is a concern, look for upright stick vacuums that offer a minimal and lightweight design. On the other hand, if you will not be carrying the vacuum, a heavy-duty canister vacuum may serve your needs just fine.
The number one thing that will force you to repeatedly pause and restart your vacuuming is changing the power cord from outlet to outlet as you move through the house. Although cordless vacuums solve this problem, they are uncommon at a price under $100 and typically lack the suction power of their corded competitors. Cord lengths of 25 feet or more are excellent for moving through multiple rooms without stopping, although shorter cords can be okay for smaller houses. In addition, look for retractable cords to make putting the vacuum away easy and fast.
Vacuums are universally loud, but some produce enough noise to alarm the neighbors. If you live in an apartment with thin walls or frequently vacuum early in the morning or at night, look for a vacuum that is somewhat on the quieter side. Unfortunately, budget vacuums typically do not have the noise reduction features found in more expensive vacuums, and noise tends to scale with suction power.
While you don’t want to plan on something going wrong with your new vacuum, having protection from a warranty if there is a mechanical issue can provide peace of mind when you make the purchase. Look for vacuums with at least a one-year warranty, since most common manufacturing issues will become evident soon after the vacuum is broken in.