Portable Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Portable Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Portable Canister Vacuum Appliances

With to many brands and to many models, it is kind of hard to know where to start. With models ranging from 99$ to 2000$, there is a vacuum for every budget.  Here is a complete guide of all features available on canister vacuum cleaners. From a brand to an other, you will find mostly the same features and technologies but under different names.


Here are some important features and options to consider when buying a vacuum:

Bag or Bagless

A bagged vacuum will collect the dust and debris inside a disposable bag. Most of the time easy to remove, this bag is usually thrown in the garbage. This avoid being in direct contact with the allergens when servicing the canister. 

Pros: Extra layer of filtration, no direct contact with dust and allergens

Cons: Have to buy bags once in a while, some bags can be expensive

The bagless vac instead, uses a dust cup or a container to collect the dust and debris. Once in a while, you have to empty the dust cup in the garbage. The bagless technology helps keeping a steady flow of air through the system, so you rarelly feel a decrease in suction power.

Pros: steady air flow, no decrease in suction power

Cons: filters are often very expensive to replace

Filter System

Motor filter, primary filter, secondary filter, exhaust filter, number of filtration stages, these are all terms you will ear. Motor and primary both refer to the filter protecting the motor. Secondary and exhaust filters, both refer to the filter that prevents particules, allergens and dust that went through the first filter to be vented outside in your living environment.  The number of stages, refers to the number of ply or the number of layers that the main filter is made of.

Coal activated filters destroy odors. They are often used to destroy pet odors before they come out of the vacuum. The HEPA filter is the most recognized term of the industry when it comes to quality filtration, HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arresting and is not a trademark, nor a certification. Dacron filters are most of the time used in commercial, industrial vacuum cleaners for specialized task like decontamination, remove moisture, ultra fine dust or chemicals.

Sound Level

The more you pay, the quieter the machine is. This is usually true. But some models below 300$ are pretty interesting when it comes to silence and noise operation level.



The smaller the lighter, but small portable vacuum cleaners don't always fit with larger homes, multiple pets, cats and dogs, simply because they cannot contain enough dust, dirt and debris. At least in 2015, plastic extrusion and moulding technologies have produced new materials lighter than steel and metal.

There are 3 different categories of canisters when it comes to size: small, medium and full size. 

The quality of components and the choice of building materials are the key here. Heavy and light is a relative concept depending on who is lifting the weight, so we encourage you to take a look at the weight in the technical data chart when it is available to compare.

Powerbrush Features

Headlight: LED or standard light bulb. LED have 50x more lifetime and needs less maintenance and uses less electricity

Belt: Tooth belt, geared belt, kevlar belt, V shape belts, flat belt

Blockage sensor: Some powerbrush feature automatic blockage detection to shut down the roll and avoid damage to belt

Dirt Sensor: Some powerbrush feature dirt sensors that detect dust and debris inside carpets. The sensor indicates when the carpet is clean.

Height adjustment: Brushroll height adjustment is an important feature as it allows to clean different types of carpet. Of course, on entry level carpet beater this feature is most of the time not included. On other mid range and high-end models, this adjustment can either be selected manually with a pedal-button selector or be fully automatic. 

Wall and protection: Bumpers, wheels and overall added protection to the powerbrush to protect walls and furniture

Brushroll On-Off switch: On-Off switch to shut down the brushroll and use the powerbrush on bare floors. Roll is shut down to prevent damages to floors.

Brushroll overall quality: metal brushroll? wooden brushrool? stainless steel anti corrosion brushroll? How many hair strips? Brush width is also something important to look at. Some carpet beaters are available in 10", 12", 14" and 15". 

Accessories and Attachments General Quality

Primary brush :  If you have a mix of bare floors and some carpet but don't want to pay the big bucks for a powerbrush, choose a vacuum with a dual function tool brush with a switch to change from a surface to an other. If you have only hard floors, a standard brush is often all you need.

Secondary tools and brushes : First thing you want to know is if the tools are stored on-board the canister. The best designs offer you the chance to store the tools and brushes in a hidden compartment. Some other canisters have a wand tool caddy to carry the attachments. Crevice tool brush, upholstery tools and dusting tool brush are a must when it comes to use the vacuum on furniture and other surfaces, make sure all the tools are included. We often see tools with dual functions to save space on-board the vacuum. 

Hair bristles quality : Horsehair is still the best out there. Most canisters feature synthetic nylon bristles. 

Wand : Telescopic or sectional? Plastic or metal? Telescopic wands can adjust to the desired height. Telescopic cordless electric wand is the best option out there for canisters featuring power nozzles. Metal wands are more resistent than plastic ones but a little bit heavier

Hose : On-off switch on handle is very convenient but only available on more expensive models. 360 swivel adapters is a very important feature to avoid kinks and it is easier to carry the vacuum around. 

Turbo brush : Good intermediary in between bare floor standard brush and powerbrush, the turbo brush is powered by suction from the motor and a fan. This is a very convenient tool when it comes to carpets and it is often offered with budget friendly vacuum cleaners.

On-Board Technology and Sensors

Full bag indicator : Indicates when the bag is full and needs to be serviced. 

Suction power dimmer : Reduces the suction of the motor to adapts to different surfaces

Surface selector : Very similar to suction power dimmer, the selector offers you different pre configured settings for different surfaces


Automatic Rewind Cord

The automatic cord retrieving system is one of the most popular feature on a vacuum as it allows to retract the cord faster and to store the unit rapidly after use.

Prices of Bags, Filters and Aftermarket Replacement Parts

Aftermarket bags and filters can be pricey over years. This can be an argument to buy or not to buy a model in particular. Different aftermarket bags are available, original bags, paper bags, aftermarket vacuum cloth bags. Make sure the size of the canister is enough for your type of cleaning, dust capacity and how often you change the bags are closely related.


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