best vacuum for shag carpet

Best Vacuum for Shag Carpet

Is your vacuum cleaner capable of cleaning your new shag carpet?

Not all vacuums are.

Shag carpet is defined by its high pile. That’s what gives it the cool shaggy look, but it’s also what gives some vacuums fits. And in some cases, what causes vacuums to damage the carpet.

No worries. I’ll cover everything you need to know when vacuuming your new shag carpet:

  • define what I mean by shag carpet (it can mean different things)
  • challenges of vacuuming shag (if you’re going to battle, need to know what you’re up against)
  • best vacuums for shag carpet
  • what features to look for in shag vacuums

What do I mean by shag (hint: frieze is included)?

Let’s start by making sure we’re on the same page. So what do I mean when I say shag carpet?

Any high pile carpet. This includes the classic 70s shag, but it also includes the more “modern shag” aka frieze carpet. For purposes of this article, I’ll often refer to all of these carpets as “shaggy carpet” or “shag”. Any carpet with a long pile height will have the same challenges. So let’s cover what they are…

Challenges with vacuuming shag

The first step to defeating the enemy is knowing who you’re up against. There are three types of challenges when vacuuming shag:

  1. shaggy fibers block the vacuum suction from the dirt
  2. long strands can catch in vacuum’s beater bar
  3. dense fibers can make it hard to push the vacuum

Let’s dive into each of these 3 challenges in a little more detail…

Challenge 1: It’s no secret that dirt, dust mites, and other debris hide in your carpet. That’s why you buy a vacuum in the first place.

The question is how easy is it to remove that dust. The answer is a little more difficult if the carpet is shag. The reason is shags long fibers “blanket” over the debris. This makes a barrier between your vacuum suction and the dirt.

Challenge 2: What would happen if you set a large piece of yarn on the ground and vacuumed over it? It’s not a trick question… your vacuum would suck it up.

Carpet is basically yarn woven into a backing. The vacuum doesn’t suck it up because it’s firmly attached to the backing. But shag is long enough that the fibers can sometimes be damaged by a vacuum.

This is especially true if the vacuum has an aggressive beater bar. The beater bar is designed to lift up dirt but it can also wear the long shag fibers. In some cases, the fibers could get pulled by the beater bar and sucked on by the vacuum.

Challenge 3: We just talked about how the long fibers can get damaged by the vacuum, but they also can make it difficult to push the vacuum.

Long pile carpets mean they have more surface area of fiber. This can create a problem when you have a high suction vacuum. The vacuum will “stick” to the carpet, making it feel like you’re trying to push your vacuum through wet concrete.

So now that we know what we’re up against with shag, we’re able to pick out the vacuums that meet these challenges. Let’s see what we picked as our top 3 vacuums to take on shag…


Captain’s notice! When I recommend a vacuum, there is a link to a product page (usually Amazon), and I may receive a small commision if you purchase after clicking it. This does not change what you pay or what I recommend. It does help fund the research I put into the site, and I’m grateful for any support!

Top vacuums for shag carpet

#1 Oreck LW100 Magnesium SP Bagged Upright Vacuum

There are many thing we love about the Oreck Magnesium bagged vacuum, but a couple of features that separate it as our #1 vacuum for shag carpet. In two words it can be summarized as lightweight power. People love the Magnesium’s ability to suck up about anything, and this power comes in weighing only 8lbs!

It also has big back wheels. Combine this with the lightweight, and you get an Oreck that pushes through dense shag with ease.

Oh yeah, and it also has 2 brush speeds. You may be able to use the highest speed to get your shag extra clean, but if you feel that is wearing on your carpet, you can turn to the lower speed. People say the lower speed still gets their floors clean and report it is gentle enough to clean rugs and hardwood.

What you’ll love about this vacuum…

  • super suction
  • ease of movement with lightweight and big wheels
  • good with pet hair
  • low brush speed work well on hardwood and fragile flooring
  • cleans any type of flooring
  • handle leans back to get under furniture
  • HEPA filter
  • technology to limit debris when emptying the bag
  • good edge cleaning
  • Oreck warranty

What you should be aware of if buying this vacuum…

  • lacks accessories like tools for upholstery and other surfaces
  • filter needs to be cleared often
  • front LED light is dim
  • some complaints of vacuum getting clogged

Get latest price and more info on Amazon by clicking here

#2. Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional with Dust-Away

This bagless Shark vacuum gives you multiple controls to throttle your vacuum from gentle to deep clean. This is the exact type of customization you need to make sure you’re getting your shag carpet clean without damaging it.

So what are the key controls? It allows you to turn the beater bar on and off. That is the most critical feature to keep from damaging the shag, but it goes a step further and allows you to adjust the suction power. This is great if you find the suction is too high to push the vacuum through your shag.

What you’ll love about this vacuum…

  • super suction
  • easy to maneuver with variable suction and swivel head
  • cheaper than many best performing vacuums
  • cleans all types of flooring
  • upholstery and pet accessories
  • other accessories such as microfiber pads and crevice tools
  • converts from an upright to a canister for stairs
  • HEPA filter with sealed system
  • dust collection bin easy to empty

What you should be aware of if buying this vacuum…

  • overall use of accessories is clumsy and vacuum tips easily
  • stiff hose difficult to use
  • good but not top-of-the-line for pet hair
  • not as “sturdy”/durable feel as Dyson vacuums
  • can miss stuff on the edge of the wall

Get latest price and more info on Amazon by clicking here

#3. Hoover Windtunnel Pet Rewind (Best Budget)

This Hoover vacuum doesn’t have quite the cleaning power of the first two on our list, but for its price of right around $100, people are happy with how clean it gets there homes.

It also won’t have any problem cruising through shaggy carpets when you choose the correct height setting (you get 5 choices). Just remember to set the height as low as you can and still comfortably move the vacuum. Comfortably is the keyword because it isn’t just about whether or not you can move it—if you’re using a lot of force to push the vacuum, there’s a good chance it will damage your shag.

What you’ll love about this vacuum…

  • adequate suction to pick up most debris
  • has a separate tool for upholstery pet hair that seems to work
  • push button cord rewind (so simple but love this)
  • beater bar that can be turned on and off
  • quiet compared to many other vacuums
  • HEPA filter

What you should be aware of if you buy this vacuum…

  • leaves some stuff behind that top-tier vacuums pick up
  • not as light and easy to maneuver as the others on this list
  • other than pet hair tool, accessories not great

Get latest price and more info on Amazon by clicking here

What to look for in vacuums for shag and frieze

We’ve covered the challenges with shag and our top 3 vacuum cleaners for shag. But what things can you look for in a vacuum if you’re out shopping for yourself?

Powerful suction

To be fair, this is most any time you look for a vacuum. But it’s still worth mentioning, especially since shaggy carpets can block some of your suction power. The difficult thing with suction is there isn’t a great “rating” for it. Some people try to use the watts a vacuum has for suction, but that doesn’t work. The power of the motor is only a small part of the equation—it depends more on how the vacuum is designed.

You are best off reading review on what other people think of the vacuum suction.

Beater bar that turns on and off

You want a beater bar that is adjustable. Most of the time you want one that turns on and off, but an adjustable power beater bar can work. A good example, is the Oreck Magnesium vacuum we discussed. It has a low speed setting that is gentle enough for rugs and definitely shag.

If you don’t see this feature, I’d stay away from the vacuum. The last thing you want is a beater bar that is tearing up your carpet, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Excellent mobility

Here’s the tricky part with mobility: A “swivel head” or “lightweight” vacuum are nice features, but they don’t tell you that you can push your vacuum through a thick carpet. The problem usually isn’t how easy it is to move an unplugged vacuum, it’s that the powerful suction and the thick carpet are locking together.

Features to look for are big wheels and adjustable suction. Self-propelled could also be nice.

Other features to keep in mind but not as important

These are features that aren’t required for a shag vacuum, but important enough to mention here. The last thing you want is to do a great job research the perfect vacuum for shag, but then forgetting that you also have dog hair or hardwood flooring that you also need it to clean.

Here are some other things to keep in mind…

Versatility

Realize before you purchase your vacuum what jobs it will need to do. This sounds simple, but sometimes you don’t think of everything. You want it to clean your shag carpet, but would it also be nice if could quickly adjust to vacuum your hardwood floor? What about tools to clean your couch? Some vacuums will even clean blinds. But some high-quality vacuums do none of these things. Make sure to read the features and reviews to see what your vacuum can clean, and what it cleans best.

Bagged or Bagless

The dirt has to be accumulated somewhere, this will be in a replaceable bag or in a fitted removable canister. There are pros and cons to both methods, and which one you choose will depend on how you like to operate. Removing the canister and dumping the dirt can be messier than just replacing a bag, but on the other hand bags cost more, so the decision is yours. Either way most of these vacuum cleaners have a filter system and seal to trap the dirt. We have a whole article on bagged vs bagless vacuums here.

Pet hair capability

An interesting but important thing to be aware of on vacuums is good suction and cleaning ability doesn’t not always equal good ability to pick up pet hair. The technology needed to pick up pet hair is different. Some otherwise great vacuums either get clogged with hair or can’t pick it up in the first place.

Maintenance

Most multi-functional, and versatile vacuum cleaners will require some maintenance. The filter that most of them have needs to be washed regularly and the machine itself should be wiped down with a damp cloth occasionally. The beater brush also has to be cleaned, and the bag or bagless canister will have to be emptied. This is all standard, but make sure to check reviews so that your vacuum isn’t a maintenance hog—some require special care or are just poorly made so need frequent maintenance.

Captain’s parting words!

Long pile carpets like classic shag and frieze require a vacuum that in some ways does the impossible: It needs strong suction to get the debris beneath the blanket of fibers, but if the suction is too strong, it will be too difficult to move. And it also needs a beater brush that can kick up this debris, but the long fibers can also be torn up by a beater brush.

The good news is there are vacuums that are either designed to do exactly “the impossible,” or they have customizable settings that allow you to get the perfect combination of suction and brush agitation that will still go through the carpet without damaging it.

Here’s to these recommendations keeping your new shag carpet clean!

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