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Stick vacuums are lightweight cleaning tools that fit into tight spots and suck up small messes. Many stick vacuums are cordless, battery-powered, and rechargeable, which makes them more convenient to use than a conventional vacuum, which needs to be tethered to an outlet at all times. These smaller versions of a traditional upright vacuum also weigh a fraction of their full-size counterparts, and some models can be used to clean both hard (wood or tile) and soft (carpet) surfaces. You can even find stick vacuums that double as a mop. The best stick vacuums will make cleaning easier for people with mobility issues or living in multi-story dwellings.
When judging a stick vacuum’s technical features, we primarily considered dustbin size, suction power, and head design. Battery power was also an important factor in the models we chose because breaking up a big cleaning job into multiple sections can get tiring.
Ultimately, choosing the best stick vac for you comes down to finding one that feels good in your hand, provides enough suction power to eliminate messes, and fits in your storage space. Keep reading to see which models stand out on performance and a few tips to help you decide.
Brandt Ranj / Popular Science
If you’ve ever wondered what a technically advanced, high-powered stick vacuum could do, Dyson’s Gen5outsize can show you. The vacuum is equipped with a screen to show you which mode (Eco, Auto, Boost) is currently enabled and a single button to switch between them and turn them on. We’ve tested a handful of stick vacuums in the past, but none could compete with this one on performance.
One of the Gen5outsize’s best features is a “dust illumination” light, which shines down on your floors to show you how dirty they really are. Our hardwood floor and carpets looked clean, but we were shocked at how much dust, dirt, and debris was stuck onto them. Once you see how dirty your floors are, you’ll clean them much more frequently.
These frequent cleanings won’t be a burden, though, because using the Gen5outsize is a comfortable experience. It was light enough to carry—even up stairs—and could clean exceptionally dirty spaces in one or two passes. The dust illumination light shone the path, and the vacuum’s motor, which can spin at up to 100,000 rotations per minute, did the work.
We mostly left the Gen5outsize on the “Auto” setting, which uses sensors to detect how much dirt is present and adjusts its motor speed accordingly. Kicking it into “Boost” mode keeps the vacuum’s power level elevated, which cuts battery life significantly for the sake of power. Choosing “Eco” mode will increase the vacuum’s battery life at the expense of power. We switched between all three in our tests and found “Boost” mode to be overkill, and “Eco” mode to be perfectly acceptable for smaller spills.
In our experience, there was no mess too big or small for the Gen5outsize. It could suck up hair, dust, cereal, and anything else that fell onto hardwood or carpeting. Similarly, we had no problem with the vacuum getting tangled when cleaning a particularly dense area where debris had accumulated—think under the couch. Once we were done cleaning, it was easy to disconnect the vacuum from its motor to empty its dust chamber.
We’re recommending the Gen5outsize so highly because of its cleaning performance, but its tech features were also very impressive. Its LED screen will show you how much time you can clean on a given mode before the battery dies and it breaks down the size of the debris it’s picking up. The vacuum is capable of sucking up particles that are .1 microns in size, invisible to the naked eye. Whether you’re worried about pet hair or pollen, germs or fallen gummy bears, we’re convinced Dyson’s Gen5outsize is the best vacuum at any price and the best splurge you can gift yourself or others.
We chose the Shark Anti-Allergen Pet Power Cordless Lightweight Stick Vacuum as the best choice for pet hair in our guide to the best cordless vacuums, and it’s earned a slot here, too. Its silicone powerfins were designed to pick up hair by keeping constant contact with the floor, so hair can’t escape, and creating a slight charge that attracts pet hair that can then get sucked into the vacuum.
Silicone can be gentle on hardwoods, but the vacuum’s head also has bristles, which are soft and work well on most hard floor. Many are surprised the vacuum’s silicone fins have bristled helpers. This brush design also self-cleans, making it easier to manage pet hair that accumulates around the brushroll. That doesn’t mean the system is totally tangle-proof, but you’ll deal with fewer tangles than with other stick vacuums. The Shark IZ363HT also comes with useful accessories, like an eight-inch crevice tool, dusting brush, and pet multi-tool.
The entire unit converts to a handheld vac that fits all of the included accessories. Our only complaint regards this vacuum’s weight distribution, which doesn’t always work quite right. Some users find that when they pull it backward, the lightweight head lifts off the ground. This is a minor nitpick, though, and anyone with pets looking to keep their floors hair-free should grab this vacuum now. Looking for other form factors to clean up after your fur baby? We have robot recommendations.
If you put off cleaning because of the aches and pains associated with lugging around a vacuum cleaner, Eureka’s NEC185 is an excellent choice. This stick vacuum weighs in at 5.5 pounds, which is roughly two to three pounds lighter than most of our recommendations. We felt the difference when carrying the NEC185 up a flight of stairs and even when pushing it around. The light weight really made a difference in how comfortable it was to vacuum, which made the NEC185 easier to reach for.
This vacuum may not be able to compete with some of our larger and more expensive recommendations on price and peak cleaning power, but it did a surprisingly good job cleaning up hair and dirt from hardwood and carpets. Its vacuum has a locking mechanism halfway down, which, when unlocked, allows the bottom half to be bent at a 90-degree angle. This was invaluable when trying to clean under a couch, coffee table, or any other heavy furniture that’s low to the ground. This feature was especially helpful when cleaning under the bed.
Overall, we found the NEC185 to be perfectly reasonable as far as power was concerned. It took us a couple of extra passes to clean up extra dirty areas compared to more premium picks, but not so much so that it made cleaning a big chore. Once our cleaning was done, the vacuum’s container could be easily emptied into a trash bag with a couple of button presses. You even have the option to fully remove the container from the vacuum while emptying it out.
The NEC185’s lightness and flexibility helped it compete with more lux vacuums with LCD screens, docking mechanisms, and other genuinely useful but ultimately unnecessary features. In terms of core functionality, the NEC185 stacked up well. If weight is the most important feature when selecting the best stick vacuum, look no further than Eureka’s NEC185.
Brandt Ranj / Popular Science
We love Shark vacuums because they can handle whatever we throw at them or throw them at. OK, maybe don’t throw your vacuum, but you get it—they’re packed with versatility and some of the best designs. Shark sought to bring some of the modern conveniences of robot vacuums to a stick vac, and it succeeded with the IW3511 Detect Pro. This cordless stick vacuum comes with a docking station, which will charge the vacuum and empty the contents of its dust collection container into a different chamber. Shark says that studies conducted with this vacuum have resulted in 1000x less dust exposure when compared to dumping the contents of a vacuum chamber directly into the trash. We can’t speak to that, but the system works surprisingly well, even if it is a little loud when transferring dirt between the two pieces.
On a performance level, we found Shark’s vacuum to perform better than average. Its grooved rollers had no problem picking up large and small debris off the floor. It has multiple power settings, which can be activated by pushing a button with a fan glyph on top of the vacuum. We kept the vacuum at its default setting because a feature called “DirtDetect” would increase and decrease its power based on how dirty the surface was.
A similar feature called FloorDetect also made adjustments based on whether we cleaned hardwood or carpeting. We found we could vacuum two or three times before unloading the docking station’s dust chamber into the trash. A lift-up lever made removing and dumping out easy without getting our hands dirty. You may have to empty this chamber more or less frequently based on how often you clean and the size of your home.
One of the seemingly small features that made a big difference in this stick vacuum’s usability was the power cord built into Shark’s docking station. We knew this vacuum would be charged when we grabbed it because the base kept the battery topped up. Never having to hunt for a power cord is a big advantage of using this vacuum. The only downside to this stick vacuum’s docking station is that it’s relatively big, so you’ll need to allocate more space to your stick vacuum than you may have thought. That’s a small price to pay for having a vacuum this performant.
Brandt Ranj / Popular Science
Tinaco fit a lot of features into its modestly-priced Pure ONE S11, a stick vacuum that punches above its weight in overall performance. The stick vacuum’s most unexpected feature is its LCD screen, which displays its current battery status and glyphs depicting whether it’s time to clean your brush roller, clean filter, air channel, and dust sensor. It’s easy to forget you must clean your vacuum every once in a while until something goes wrong. A button just below the screen lets you switch between Auto and Max cleaning modes.
In our tests, the Pure ONE S11 vacuum was better than average at collecting dust and dirt without more than a couple of passes. Its built-in LED light strip didn’t do as good of a job at identifying grime as the one built into Dyson’s Gen5outsize, but it did make cleaning in dark rooms easier. We typically left this stick vacuum in Auto mode because it would change its cleaning intensity when hitting a particularly dirty area in real time. Max mode was specifically reserved for times when we knew we were headed into an area that hadn’t been cleaned in a long while.
We used the Pure ONE S11 to clean both hardwood and carpeted surfaces, and while it did a good job at both it did struggle a bit with the latter. The suction power, both on Auto and Max modes, was too intense for some low-pile carpets, which made it tough to move the vacuum around to clean. If you have a lot of this carpet style in your house, this stick vacuum may not be for you. Beyond that hiccup, we have no qualms with recommending Tineco’s Pure One S11 to anyone looking for a powerful, technically advanced stick vacuum—especially in its price range.
If you need an inexpensive upgrade from a big, clunky vacuum to a svelte coreless model, Bissell’s 3061 should be the first one you check out. The 5.8-pound vacuum costs just under $100 and articulates like Eureka’s NEC185, so you can easily clean under couches and beds. A removable hand vacuum is built right into this vacuum’s front side, so you can grab it and go when you want to clean upholstery or a table-top mess. This does add to the stick vacuum’s bulk, but its lite weight (and the ability to bend its body backward, cutting its height in half) more than makes up for this.
While Bissell’s 3061 is a good buy for its price, it’s let down a little by its 20-minute runtime. This is sufficient cleaning time for smaller messes but not for multi-floor houses. Of course, you likely won’t face this issue if you live in a one- or two-bedroom apartment. Bissell says the 3061 will fully recharge in about four-and-a-half hours, so you can get two cleanings in per day if you plug it in overnight. If this stick vacuum’s modest battery doesn’t bother you, we can recommend it without reservation.
The best stick vacuums typically have a good blend of features, including suction control, dustbin design, and battery life. The right mix gives you portable cleaning power, making it easier to keep a neat, tidy home.
A vacuum’s power type significantly influences the reliability of the suction and how easy it is to maneuver. A cordless vacuum cleaner lets you clean around furniture and move upstairs without tripping over a cord. You’re also not tethered to an electrical outlet while you clean. Unfortunately, you must give up some power when choosing a cordless over a corded model. Corded models provide weaker power that may fade as the battery dies, though some models are designed to provide full suction up until the battery runs out.
The best stick vacuums typically have a 12 to 40-volt lithium-ion battery. However, the vacuum needs at least 18 volts to provide decent power. The battery’s run time corresponds with the number of volts. Higher voltages mean longer run times. Run times range from 15 minutes to over an hour per charge. Remember that different settings and control features will use up power faster than a model with a single suction setting. Conditions like extreme cold or hot temperatures can also prematurely use up power.
It can take anywhere from two to six hours for the vacuum to recharge. Something to think about—a model with a short run time and long recharge time could be more of a hassle than a help.
Stick vacuums may not offer the same power as a full-size upright or canister vacuum cleaner, but their suction and brush action can still do a great job of removing allergens, pet hair, and general debris. Some models rely solely on suction, requiring at least 18 volts to remove regular dust.
Others bring suction and brush action to the cleaning game. Models with both will do a better job cleaning pet hair from different flooring types. To protect delicate hardwood, look for a model that lets you turn off the brush or has specially designed soft bristles. If you’ve got pets, a pet hair vacuum with extra suction settings and brush will remove more of your fur baby’s leftover fluff.
Stick vacuums are almost always lighter than a full-size model. However, their weight can range from ten to around three pounds. Lightweight models are easier to maneuver and carry around the house. They’re an excellent option for people with limited strength or mobility.
Cordless vacuums are often heavier than corded models, so if weight is a big issue for you, opt for a corded model. Remember that lighter stick vacuums may not have a brush or provide as much power as a heftier model. However, they provide light, portable cleaning power for places where large vacuums dare not tread.
Some vacuums are better at cleaning hard floors, while others are at their best on the carpet. However, the best stick vacuums often work on both because of special attachments or conversion options. Attachments like pet cleaning heads, crevice tools, and extension tubes or hoses add versatility and help the vacuum work on varied surfaces.
Many models convert into a hand vacuum, while a few convert to a stair vacuum as well. Extra conversions expand the vacuum’s uses and reduce the number of cleaning tools needed in the home.
If you’re wondering how to clean hardwood floors without scratching them, a stick vacuum with adjustable power and brush control offers one option. Brushrolls can scratch hardwoods with their stiff bristles. These models let you turn the brush off, using suction only on hardwood floors. Another option is a model with extra soft bristles or silicone “fins” that clean without scratching. These models stir up dust and debris with the bristles or fins and suck it into the vacuum cleaner. They’re safe for use on hardwood floors, even though you cannot turn off the brushroll.
Some of the best stick vacuums can cost as much or more than a full-size vacuum—with more power, capacity, and features. These stick vacuums perform beautifully and offer lightweight cleaning power, but don’t fret if you’re on a budget. Best value stick vacuums exist and are great for small messes and light use. Will they clean thick carpets like an upright? No. But as long as they have adequate power above 18 volts, they work well for the jobs they were designed to do, namely small-scale cleaning.
The difference between a stick vacuum and an upright vacuum comes down to power, weight, and size. Uprights, particularly corded models that can maintain higher continuous voltage, have more power and larger, heavier designs. With more power comes better suction, larger bags or dustbins, and a larger vacuum to store away. Stick vacuums are lightweight, designed for small messes, and may reconfigure into hand or stair vacuums.
A stick vacuum battery, even a high-quality one, only lasts 15-45 minutes, depending on engine power and activated features. So they’re not really designed for a whole-house deep clean unless done in segments. And that battery’s total life lasts anywhere from two to five years. At the end of the battery life, models with a built-in battery are kaput. However, those with a replaceable battery option can work for many more years with a fresh battery.
Remember the purpose of these models when determining how to use a stick vacuum. They’re meant for light, spot cleaning rather than whole-house vacuuming like a traditional vacuum. Stick vacuums are great for tidying up between deep-cleaning vacuum sessions, vacuuming small spills, and cleaning hard-to-reach areas like stairs.
This depends on its features; our recommendations come in between $100 and $1,025.
The best stick vacuum for you depends on the flooring in your home and how you want to use the vacuum. Lightweight, battery-powered stick vacuums offer enhanced portability, while heavier models can run for up to 50 minutes. For greater versatility, models that offer several configurations provide a wider range of convenient cleaning options. Regardless, any of our best stick vacuums will be a noticeable upgrade for anyone using a bulky corded model.
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