Upright vacuums are the most common, traditional style of vacuum. In fact, they’re probably what immediately comes to mind if you were asked to imagine a vacuum.
Their history goes back as far as the early 1900s, to the turn of the 20th century. There’s a pretty good chance an upright vacuum revolutionized the way your grandmother (or great grandmother) cleaned and they’ve continued to evolve ever since.
Now, the high-powered, multi-functioning stick units in stores today have evolved beyond your grandma’s wildest dreams.
How Upright (Stick) Vacuums Work
Like all vacuums, upright models work by using a motor to draw air through the unit, causing small particles to become trapped in the bags, canisters and filters.
Upright vacuums are frequently used to pick up everything from food crumbs to carpet allergens like pet dander, dust mites and pollen. While vacuums are generally associated as dry suctioning units, wet vacuums (which can clean liquid messes as well) also exist.
Because vacuums generally use a series of spinning brushes and an airflow system to remove loose, dry particles, they’re not the ideal home appliance for stain or mold removal. These are jobs best served for the best carpet stain remover or steam cleaner.
However, upright vacuums are exceptional at removing pet hair from furniture and carpets and cleaning messes like food that may otherwise turn into mold spots or stains if left to set.
Types of Upright Vacuums
If you’ve considered options like handheld vacuums and canister vacuums and you’ve decided full-heartedly that an upright vacuum is your perfect fit, you still have a couple of decisions to make.
Here are the defining types of upright models, their pros, cons and to whom they might appeal:
Bagged vs Bagless
Whether a vacuum has a bag or is bagless refers to how the unit stores the debris it has collected.
Bagged units collect dirt and other particles before concealing it in a bag. When the bag is full, it must be either replaced or cleaned out. Sometimes, this requires the continuous purchasing of replacement bags.
Meanwhile, bagless units have the advantage of lower cost and long-term use – a luxury which comes at the price of a cleaning process that’s often a messy nuisance.
Plug-in vs Cordless
All vacuums need a power source. Upright vacuums are either cordless or plug-in, depending on how they acquire and maintain electricity.
Cordless units are generally run on a rechargeable battery that must be charged before use. They eliminate all of the hassle and struggle of wrangling a cord and are typically more portable than their plug-in competitors.
The downfall of cordless units is that they can be unreliable. Often, these units come with shorter-than-desired battery lives that hold charges poorly or run flat quickly. With time, rechargeable batteries are also known to lose their effectiveness, rendering the vacuum useless.
Because they rely on a stand-alone battery, rechargeable vacuums also tend to be lower-powered than plug-in units that have a comparatively unlimited source of electricity.
Plug-in units, on the other hand, must be tethered to a wall outlet at all times. Although they’re reliable and great for extended use, they’re not portable.
What a plug-in vacuum lacks in these areas, however, it sometimes makes up for this with higher power output and increased suctioning.
Carpet vs Hardwood
Upright vacuums intended for carpet will often contain rotating brushes that are used to agitate dust with their bristles, making it easier for the vacuum to collect.
These brushes also make it easier for the unit to remove pet hair and other fine particles from the fibers of the carpet. Generally, carpet vacuums are also sat slightly higher on their wheels, allowing more room for the thick carpet.
Meanwhile, hardwood vacuums require a lower vacuum, which helps increase suctioning power for removing dust from cracks and crevices.
While carpets benefit from units equipped with agitating brushes, hardwood floors will only be scratched and damaged by them. If you’re looking for a double-duty vacuum that cleans both hard surfaces and carpet, you do have some options.
New models will sometimes include versatile options such as height adjustment and optional brush rotation that makes a vacuum compatible with both hardwood and carpeted flooring.
What Makes a Quality Upright Vacuum Cleaner
Here’s what to consider when shopping around for a high-quality upright machine that’ll fit your personal cleaning routine:
Height refers to the distance between the suctioning apparatus of the vacuum and the floor. On hardwood floors, the vacuum must sit lower than it does on high-pile carpets.
If you have a home that’s entirely hardwood or entirely carpet, you’re safe to go with a vacuum height that matches your flooring — for example, low height for carpet and a higher one for tile and wood.
If your home is a mix of both hard flooring and either low or high-pile carpeting, you’ll want to invest in a unit with height adjustment.
Not to be mistaken with a machine’s overall suctioning and cleaning abilities, power mostly refers to the input power required to run the vacuum. Generally measured in watts, vacuums range from as little as 15-20 watts up to well over 1,000.
Never fall into the trap of believing that higher wattage means a more powerful machine. While it’s true that high-powered, heavy-duty vacuums will generally have higher motor intakes, wattage is only an indicator of how much electricity is required to run a vacuum, not how much power it puts out.
Be wary especially of battery-powered and rechargeable units that boast high power specs. This usually indicates a product that’ll charge slowly and drain a battery quickly.
Suctioning power is the pinnacle of an effective vacuum product. The stronger the unit’s suctioning abilities, the better it’ll be at cleaning both carpet and hardwood surfaces.
Not to be mistaken with input power or motor size, there’s no single, defining factor that dictates a product’s suctioning abilities because this is determined by a varying set of factors.
A few of the essential factors that play into the suction power of a vacuum include its overall design, the quality of its assembly, its motor power and airflow.
Suction power becomes especially crucial if you’re looking to clean surfaces that have indentures, gaps or cracks. Flooring like interlocking rubber tiles will collect dust and dirt in crevices that are difficult to reach without powerful suctioning abilities.
A wide array of attachments allows users to turn their vacuums into multi-faceted cleaning tools. Some of the most popular include crevice tools, extension wands, upholstery brushes and long-reach extendable hoses.
While attachments are in no way necessary, they can sometimes simplify your cleaning routine and make your life a little simpler. Bear in mind, also, that attachments are often what drive up a unit’s overall price.
In some cases, it isn’t worth it to spend more money on additional attachments. For others, the higher price tag is absolutely worth it.
If you want an upright vacuum that does it all, you probably plan on using it on wood floors or some other type of hard flooring.
If you’re redoing your kitchen and you’re deciding between vinyl plank vs laminate flooring then you’re probably already concerned about purchasing a vacuum that won’t dent, scratch or damage.
If you have any type of hard floors, you’ll need to make sure the vacuum you select has a generous amount of padding as well as soft rubber wheels. This helps to ensure that no damage occurs when you run your unit across your new flooring.
The air your vacuum draws into its filtration has to go somewhere – that’s where exhaust systems come in.
An effective exhaust system is what keeps dirt and other nasty particles inside the vacuum unit. Without them, animal dander, dust mites and pollen are released back into your home’s air to spread further.
Whether or not an exhaust system does the trick or makes matters worse will depend almost entirely on the unit’s filtration system and canister/bag.
If you invest in a quality filter that weeds out small particles and a bag that holds dirt and other debris, your exhaust will filter out clean and safe.
HEPA filters are an excellent feature of any vacuum and an absolute necessity for anyone who battles allergies or is sensitive to dust.
As the acronym for high-efficiency particulate air filters, HEPA systems work to filter tiny, harmful particles out of the air. It traps allergens like dust mites, pet dander and pollen which makes for a cleaner, healthier home.
When it comes to bags, vacuums will either utilize a disposable bag or reusable canister. Canisters have the long term advantage of saving money but require extra cleaning and maintenance.
Disposable bags cost more and have a bigger environmental impact, but they make bag changes quick and easy.
Cordless vs Plug-in
There’s no clear winner when it comes to cordless vs plug-in models of vacuums as they each have their own pros and cons.
Vacuums which operate by cord are generally more powerful and reliable. You can never get halfway through your cleaning routine and run out of battery power if your power source is your home’s outlet.
Unfortunately, corded models are significantly less portable. In addition to forcing the user to be tethered to the wall, they also limit mobility and creates a bit of a hassle.
Cordless models have the added advantages of flexibility and portability, but not at a price. Because they rely on battery power, they require frequent recharges.
With time, the batteries on rechargeable units are also liable to slowly lose power and become ineffective. Which option you decide to go for will depend largely on whether you prioritize portability and flexibility or reliability and power.
Wet vs Dry Vacuuming
Standard vacuums are generally intended for cleaning up dry messes like spilled cereal, animal hair or crumbs rather than any wet messes like spilled liquid.
If you’re after a vacuum that can tackle both, you do have choices. Wet and dry vacuums are similar to standard dry-suction units except they’re capable of cleaning up wet messes as well.
Instead of having a single vacuum bag, they generally utilize two separate compartments that serve to separate the liquids from the solids. While having a vacuum you can use on both wet and dry messes does seem ideal, they also tend to be heftier and more expensive.
Does a Higher Price Mean Higher Quality
To a degree, it’s true that you get what you pay for. However, buyers should never fall into the trap of believing that a higher priced vacuum will unquestionably outperform its budget and mid-range competitors.
Often, the differentiating factor between a mid-range and top-line vacuuming unit isn’t the product’s functionality or effectiveness, it’s the additional bells and whistles.
If you do your research and you’re willing to forgo the frills for a solid suctioning system, sufficiently-powered motor and decent airflow, it’s definitely possible to find a quality upright vacuum with a modest price tag.
In fact, many of the best vacuums on the market have prices that are extremely affordable, such as quality vacuum cleaners under $100.
Upright Stick Vacuum Cleaner on Different Surfaces
Most upright vacuums work exceptionally on both low-pile and high-pile carpeting as well as rugs.
The best upright candidates for cleaning fibrous flooring will have automated rotating brushes. These improve the vacuum cleaner’s ability to pick up dust, pollen and other small particles by agitating them so they can be suctioned into the canister.
Rotating brushes will also help pick up animal hair, which can otherwise hide away and cling to carpet fibers.
Upright vacuums are also quite effective at cleaning hard surfaces from wood flooring and tile to laminate and everything in between.
Keep in mind that with hard flooring, you’ll either want to exclusively use a vacuum without rotating brushes, or a unit which allows you to turn off the brush rotation. Otherwise, you’ll further spread debris with each pass over and risk scratching or scuffing your floor.
If your vacuum has adjustable height functions, you’ll need to lower the unit closer to the floor in order to optimize the vacuum cleaner’s suction power.
All in all, upright vacuums are incredibly effective in picking up debris and dust off hard flooring. However, if your tile or wood has dried stains or other residues, you may find a steaming mop helpful as well.
Upright Vacuum vs Steam Cleaner
Upright vacuums and steam cleaners often look quite similar, but their functions do vary slightly.
While upright vacuums use suctioning power to trap and remove dry particles such as dust, pollen and pet dander, a steam cleaner is focused on a deeper, sanitizing clean.
Much like steaming mops, steam cleaners use extremely hot pressurized water to work stains and grime from carpet and hard flooring. With a series of bristled scrubbing brushes, these machines scrub out residue that vacuums leave behind.
It should be noted, however, that steam cleaners are only to be used after a floor area has been thoroughly vacuumed. Steam cleaners aren’t intended to pick up debris or other particles.
In this sense, upright vacuums and steam cleaners shouldn’t be seen as competing cleaning devices, but rather two separate components to an effective home cleaning routine.
How to Clean and Maintain an Upright Vacuum Cleaner
When it comes to cleaning and maintaining your upright vacuum, the areas that’ll require the most attention are the filter, the brush bristles and the bag or canister.
Step 1 – Cleaning the Filter
Regardless of whether your filter is a screen, cylinder or bag, you’ll need to clean it frequently. In most cases, you’ll want to check it before each use.
Much like a dryer’s lint trap, a vacuum filter becomes caked with grime that prevents airflow. If permitted to collect, a clogged filter will cause overheating, restricted airflow and even breakage.
Because it’s the filter’s job to remove allergens like dander and dust mites, not cleaning it regularly may also allow these dangerous and disgusting particles to be released back into your home.
The method to clean a filter varies slightly from one brand and model to the next. Some require gentle rinsing and reuse while others will require frequent changing. Either way, take care to follow the directions included with your specific product.
Step 2 – Emptying or Replacing the Bag
Canisters and bags are the final resting place of your home’s dirt, debris and other unwanted particles. Keeping your vacuum in top-notch running condition will entail emptying the units waste storage department regularly.
If your vacuum uses a bag, you’ll be required to remove and replace it once it’s full. Alternatively, if your vacuum contains a canister instead of a bag, you must empty and clean it frequently.
Failing to do so will reduce the overall efficiency of the machine and sometimes lead to dangerous overheating.
Step 3 – Cleaning the Brush Bristles
If your upright vacuum has rotating brushes meant to agitate dirt for collection, it may periodically become caked with hair, string or other miscellaneous fibers.
To keep the vacuum performing optimally, you’ll want to periodically clear any hindrances to your brush bristle’s functioning with your hands, a pair of scissors or a toothbrush. While failing to do this will not result in the vacuum breaking, it’ll make the machine less effective over time if left unattended to.
How to Use Upright Vacuums
For all intents and purposes, upright vacuums may be used with the same methods as most other vacuum models.
Step 1 – Clear Away All the Clutter
Small items like children’s toys, wires and all clothing should be removed from the floor and put in their places. This ensures the vacuum has a full reach and that it doesn’t accidentally suck up an object unintentionally.
Step 2 – Remove Any Large Debris by Hand
Larger trash items like coins, paper clips, pieces of mulch or other larger debris shouldn’t be left to your vacuum cleaner as it can clog your unit. A good rule of thumb is that if you can pick it up comfortably, you should.
Step 3 – Empty the Vacuum Bag or Canister
If you left the debris storage compartment full after your last cleaning session, you’d want to empty it before using it again. Vacuuming with a full bag reduces suction and may lead to your machine overheating.
Step 4 – Work Strategically From Top to Bottom
First, vacuum upholstery then work your way through the room in a dedicated, concise pattern. Cover as much area as possible and be sure to navigate underneath furniture and other fixtures as much as possible.
Step 5 – Repeat the Process
Don’t expect the first pass to pick up all the dirt, especially with extra small particles like dust mites and pollen. Cover an area at least twice before concluding your vacuuming routine.
Do’s and Don’ts to Do With an Upright Vacuum Cleaner
- Go over an area several times, even if you’ve picked up all visible debris.
- Periodically move furniture to vacuum underneath.
- Turn your rotating brush off before cleaning hardwood floors.
- Vacuum furniture first and then the floor.
- Remember to charge battery-operated units before use.
- Attempt to clean up a glass or other sharp objects with your vacuum.
- Vacuum over your unit’s cord.
- Try to clean up the liquid with a dry-suction unit.
- Attempt to pick up large or heavy debris with your vacuum.
- Neglect your filter and allow it to collect dust.
- Vacuum with a full bag or canister.
Are there any scenarios where a broom outperforms an upright vacuum?
Vacuums are generally best for all types of indoor flooring, but brooms are sometimes more ideal for outdoor flooring. If you’re trying to clear off the cement, outdoor rubber flooring or other exterior surfaces, you may opt to use a broom.
Can I use my home vacuum to clean my car?
Some types of home vacuums such as canisters and handheld units are quite suitable for cleaning car interiors. Upright vacuums, however, have a design that limits mobility and makes it difficult to clean in a car’s tight spaces.
How frequently should I change my vacuum filter?
How often you change your vacuum filter will depend on your home, how often you use the vacuum and what kind of filter you have.
You’ll want to replace the filter as frequently as your product’s instruction manual dictates. However, it’s a good rule to check and clean your vacuum filter either before or after each use, just to maximize the unit’s efficiency.
There’s a reason that upright vacuums are one of the oldest, most traditional vacuum styles. They’re efficient, reliable and easy to use.
With so much variation on the market, there’s a product to meet your specific home cleaning needs, at a price that won’t break the bank.
If you do your research and read a few reviews, it’s easy to find a quality upright vacuum that ticks all your boxes for a price that suits your budget.
Photos from: grigvovan / depositphotos.com, senkaya / depositphotos.com, diego_cervo / depositphotos.com and AndreyPopov / depositphotos.com.