Ultimate Guide to Vacuum Types

January 15, 2020
Jayson Mueller

There was a time, not long ago, when you didn’t have to spend hours researching a vacuum cleaner before buying. Most vacuums on the market were pretty much the same.

Maybe you had a brand that you preferred, or one came with more attachments.

Maybe you preferred an upright vacuum over a canister vacuum. Those were your choices, back in the day. Today, buying a vacuum is almost as intensive as shopping for a car.

There are a ton of options on the market, and each has benefits and downfalls.

Fourteen Vacuum Types: Visualized

We’ve compiled a list of the 14 types of vacuums, along with their pros and cons, so that you don’t have to work as hard when you’re shopping for you next vacuum cleaner.

If you'd like to see a graphical breakdown of the vacuums types, we got you covered:

Vacuums Types

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Handheld Vacuum Cleaner Review

These are the smallest of the vacuum options on the market. They are as their name implies, handheld. The entire vacuum is compact and light enough for you to hold in one hand.

The first of the handheld vacuums that became popular on the market and were actually a useful tool was the Black and Decker Dustbuster. This rechargeable and compact vacuum came on the scene in the 1980s and was a big success.

Like many early versions of appliances, there were plenty of kinks to be worked out. Since this early version hit the market, there have been many advances in vacuum technology and like other vacuum types, the handheld has developed into a handy tool.

Pros :

  • Lightweight. Most only weigh a few pounds.
  • Easy to use – One button, one setting, and no attachments. Can’t get easier than this.
  • Tiny – Store this vacuum anywhere. It’s easy to find a space for such a small appliance.
  • Cordless and rechargeable. This makes handheld vacuums super portable.
  • Nice replacement for broom and dustpan.
  • Perfect for – cleaning up small messes, handy for vacuuming cars and other small spaces. Catches messes easily without lugging around a huge vacuum.


  • Tiny – While this is a great feature in some cases, the small size of this vacuum means that you’re limited in how much mess you can pick up.
  • Limited power – These aren’t the most powerful vacuums.
  • Limited battery life – These will only run for so long, before you have to recharge the batter.


Canister Vacuums

The canister vacuum can apply to many different vacuums on the market today.

However, when you think back in time, the canister vacuum was really the first vacuum on the market for home use. Your neighborhood Elextrolux salesman was probably peddling a canister vacuum.

What makes a canister vacuum distinct? Well this vacuum is a collection tank attached to a long hose that attachments are affixed to. Canister vacuums come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some roll along behind you, some, you carry on your back, some are disguised as an upright vacuum.


  • Versatile – If you want a vacuum that can do it all, a canister vacuum is the one for you. With a bunch of attachments, and variable hose lengths a canister vacuum is perfect for carpet, hardwood, curtains, upholstery, and even ceilings and high corners.
  • Limited movement – Clean an entire flight of stairs or multiple rooms without ever moving the canister. Long hoses on these vacuums mean you don’t have to drag it everywhere.
  • Perfect for – just about any vacuuming task. Take your canister vacuum to the garage and use it for your car. Most household vacuuming tasks are great for canister vacuums.


  • Bulky – Unless you have giant closets or an open corner in your basement, you’ll have a hard time storing most canister vacuums. They take up a ton of space.
  • Those attachments – are great for cleaning, and provide versatility, but if you don’t want to change the attachment for every different application, they can be a pain. Oh and that storage thing, too…
  • Heavy – Canister vacuums can be heavy, so for smaller people, the elderly or other individuals with limited strength, these can be a chore to move.


upright vacuum cleaner

For most of us, we associate the word “vacuum” with the upright vacuum.

The upright vacuum became popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an innovative option for the modern housewife. They were originally designed to make vacuuming carpet quicker and easier. Today, they are the standard for most household vacuums.

The upright vacuum is a modification of the canister vacuum. The basic design of an upright vacuum includes a floor cleaning module, with a motorized beater bar with brushes.

The container for storing debris is stacked on top of the floor cleaner. Upright vacuums can be either bagged or bagless, and some even have hoses, allowing them to function in a pseudo-canister manner, with attachments.


  • Portable – While not as portable as the handheld, the upright vacuum is easy to “drive” around your house.
  • Easy to use – plug it in, turn it on, and you’re vacuuming. You might need to adjust the brush height for different floors, but this is still pretty easy.
  • Plenty of capacity – Most upright vacuums have a good amount of capacity.
  • Useful on all flooring – Easily move from carpet to tile to hardwood, with little to no effort.
  • Perfect for – jobs that need powerful suction, especially useful for cleaning carpets, tight budgets.


  • Limited uses – with fewer attachment options, this isn’t going to be a great tool for cleaning your car.
  • Bulky – upright vacuums aren’t exactly small, so they aren’t a great option for small spaces.
  • Heavy – Maybe not as heavy as other vacuums, but you’ll need some arm strength to move these around.
  • Not great for stairs, unless you’ve got great attachments.


Stick Vacuum Cleaners

Stick vacuums are relatively new to the market, as a powered appliance. Its predecessor, the carpet sweeper, was a manual version of the stick vacuum.

The stick vacuum is the answer to a tool that is easy to use, easy to store, and a handy replacement for the old fashioned broom and dust pan.

They are generally cordless, and resemble the upright vacuum, but smaller. It has similar power and use applications to the handheld vacuum. Many people like the stick vacuum for smaller spaces or particular rooms like bathrooms or kitchens.


  • Easy to use – Charge the battery and turn it on. Most stick vacuums only have a power button, and no attachments.
  • Lightweight – Meant to be a replacement for a broom, these vacuums are generally easy to haul around.
  • Cordless – Most, but not all are cordless, so you don’t have to worry about being attached to a wall.
  • Compact – You don’t need a ton of space to store your stick vacuum, and most have wall mounted chargers so they can easily be tucked away.
  • Maneuverable – Easily clean around furniture or in tight spaces.
  • Perfect for – small clean ups, hard surface floors, small houses/apartments.


  • Tiny – Most don’t have a ton of storage capacity, so you’ll empty the canister frequently.
  • Not powerful – good for small messes, but don’t try to clean up a big mess with this one.
  • Short battery life – Since most are cordless, you’ll find that they don’t have a long cleaning life. You’ll be charging frequently.


Robot Vacuum Cleaners

Another newer option on the market is the robot or autonomous vacuum. These have really taken off in the last few years as a solution for the home that wants to vacuum more frequently, but doesn’t have the time.

Robot vacuums plug into a central charging unit and are programmable. The newer versions use Wi-Fi and GPS to communicate with apps on your smartphone and to navigate your home.

Robot vacuums can “learn” the outlay of your home, and can be programed to run at times when you’re not home or when it’s most convenient for your schedule. Some versions even return to their station to empty their canister when it’s full.


  • No effort necessary – Once your vacuum learns your house, and you set a schedule, it will do its job without assistance.
  • Quiet – these tiny vacuums are nearly silent.
  • Compact – Many are small enough to fit under furniture like beds, sofas and chairs.
  • Remote access – link your vacuum to your smart phone or your home ecosystem controls.
  • Perfect for – light cleaning between deep cleaning. Busy families with pets, wide open rooms.


  • Learning curves – it can take a while for your vacuum to “learn” your house.
  • Limited capacity – these small vacuums also have small canisters. If it doesn’t automatically empty at its charger, you’ll have to follow it around and empty periodically.
  • Limited suction – not great for big messes.
  • Doesn’t manage clutter – If you’ve got a lot of furniture or stuff on the floor, this tool won’t work as well.
  • Not a stand-alone – You’ll need another vacuum to deep clean periodically.
  • Expensive – Yes, there are other expensive vacuums, but for the work this little guy does, it may not be worth the price.


Backpack Vacuums

This type of vacuum is generally not seen in residential applications. Backpack vacuums are often preferred by janitorial and cleaning services.

They are a play on the canister vacuum, but instead of dragging the canister along behind, you carry it on your back.


  • Powerful – You’ll get the same suction power in a backpack vacuum that you’ll find in an upright or canister vacuum.
  • Speed – since you don’t have to push or pull an object along with you, you can move through your home quicker.
  • Added safety – you can hold on to banisters and other supports when vacuuming stairs.
  • Maneuverable – work easily around furniture or on stairs.
  • Perfect for – large homes, hardwood floors, short carpets, industrial and commercial applications.


  • Not ideal for all surfaces – good for hard surfaces or short carpet, but these vacuums can struggle with really plush carpet.
  • Hot – You’re carrying the canister and motor on your back. These can make you hot when you sweat.
  • Not great for back problems – If you already have a back injury, avoid this type of vacuum, they can exacerbate back issues.

Central Vacuum

Central Vacuums

This is a great option if you can afford it, or if you’re building a new home. Central vacuum was a fad from years ago, that is really making a comeback.

A canister vacuum in large scale, central vacuum uses tubes run in your walls, connected to large central container. You simply plug in your hose with attachments, and vacuum. You don’t have to lug around a canister, and you aren’t stuck with the limitations of an upright vacuum.


  • Convenient – plug in anywhere in your home and you’re ready to vacuum.
  • Versatile – Lots of attachments means you can vacuum furniture, floors, carpets, and stairs with ease.
  • Maneuverable – You don’t have to drag anything other than a hose with you.
  • Large capacity – the canister for central vacuums is usually fairly large. You can vacuum multiple times before you have to empty.
  • Better air quality – these systems are powerful, so they’ll remove a lot of dust and debris from your floors and surfaces, improving air quality.
  • Perfect for – large homes, pet hair.


  • Installation – If your home wasn’t built with central vacuum, it can be a pain to have it installed.
  • Expensive – See installation above, also, they can be a bit pricey to maintain.


convertible vacuums

This type of vacuum is becoming more popular, and you’ll see more upright vacuums working in this manner.

Convertible vacuums have features from two or more types of vacuums that can be run together or separated for added functionality. One of the most common convertible vacuums that you’ll encounter is the upright vacuum that has a removable canister. This vacuum gives you the benefits of the powerful floor cleaning head of an upright, but allows you to remove the canister for easy cleaning up stairs and around furniture. Convertible vacuums can also be handy if you need to vacuum your car or other small space.

Shop Vacuum

Vacuum for Workshops

The shop vacuum is a heavy duty version of the canister vacuum.

It is intended to be used for big clean-up projects and is capable of picking up large objects that you might not want to run through your standard vacuum.

Shop vacuums are generally very powerful and their ability to suck up objects as heavy as small rocks is often used as a selling point. They also have larger capacity in their canisters than household vacuums.

Shop vacuums are great for big jobs, however they are bulky and don’t store well, especially if you have limited space. You can get them in “smaller” versions, but these come with limitations in suction power. Also, they can be heavy so you might not want to let them get too full.

Wet/Dry Vacuum

Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner

Another take on the shop vacuum and canister vacuum is the wet dry vacuum. Lots of homeowners like to have these on hand, just in case of an emergency.

Like the shop vacuum, the wet/dry vacuum allows you to clean up larger messes, bigger objects, and store more volume in the canister. The added advantage of the wet/dry vacuum, is the “wet” part. These vacuums are made to clean up water and other wet spills, so they are a handy addition to your garage, for cleaning up spill, or for use when you have a problem like a leaking washing machine or a flooded basement.

Wet/dry vacuums are kind of a specialty vacuum, so not every homeowner will need or want one. They are big, and bulky so if you invest in one, make sure you have a place to store it. Also, when filled with water they can be incredibly heavy so be sure you can move and empty safely.

Car Vacuum

Car Vacuum Cleaner

These handy little tools, are starting to become standard on some types of cars and minivans. Car vacuums are intended to be a small, portable version of the shop vacuum.

They can be built into the car, or can be easily stored in your trunk. They allow you to utilize the power from your car’s battery to operate and are great for cleaning up spills and messes when you’re on the go. Moms and dads will love this tool, especially if you don’t want your car to always look like it hauls around kids and pets.

These aren’t the most powerful of vacuums, so don’t expect to use it for big messes. They are great for cereal, pet hair and the regular dirt you find in cars.

Steam Vacuum/Carpet Cleaner

Steam Vacuum Cleaner Review

If you floors need a little extra cleaning, you’ll want to invest in a carpet cleaner or steam vacuum. These two vacuum-like products work like canister or upright vacuums with the added benefits of soap and water.

These tools are great for cleaning up pet messes, kid messes, and for sanitizing your carpets and floors. Steam vacuums are generally designed for steam cleaning hardwood, tile and vinyl flooring.

They can be used as an alternative to mopping. Carpet cleaners on the other hand are really best for shampooing carpets and periodic deep cleaning of your rugs and carpets.


Bag-less Vacuum Cleaner

Maybe not a specific type of vacuum, but more of a feature, bagless vacuums come in a variety of styles and shapes.

These vacuums collect dirt and debris in a container that can be removed from the vacuum and emptied in the trash. These vacuums are becoming more and more common, and many manufacturers only offer bagless options.

While bagless vacuums are great for the environment, since they don’t use an extra bag that has to go in the trash, they can be messy. If you have allergies or just don’t like to deal with dirt once it’s in the vacuum, you might want to consider a bagged vacuum option.


An alternative to the bagless feature is a bagged vacuum. These were the standard for many years, and it is getting more difficult to find vacuums that use bags and to find bags for older vacuums.

As we become more aware of our impacts on the Earth, many people are moving away from bags, since they can contribute more bulk to landfills, and require more resources for manufacturing.

However, vacuum bags do contain the dirt that is removed from your home and can minimize the mess associated with emptying your vacuum. Bagged vacuums also have an added cost, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to skip the bag.

Jayson Mueller
Jayson Mueller loves his house in the Bay Area. Over the last ten years, he's gone from theory to practice – researching the best upgrades and repairs for his house while trying to do as much as he can on his own. He's happy to help you make your house a home as well!

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