Canister vs Upright Vacuum Cleaners

90% of vacuum shoppers want a canister or an upright vacuum but which one is right for you?

Both types of vacuums come in any price range, but there are performance differences. The purpose of this article is to not just give you the difference between canister and uprights, but more importantly, let you know what the pros and cons of each so you can make a buying decision.

What is the difference between a canister and upright vacuum?

The difference between canister and upright vacuums is how the motor is attached. Upright vacuums have the motor attached to the vacuum whereas uprights have the motor separate from the vacuum attached by a hose. This creates performance advantages for each vacuum that you can find below.

I’m going to take the political answer here: it depends. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages. More on those in the remainder of this article. In general, canister vacuums can be easier to maneuver, while upright vacuums may be more powerful. This isn’t always the case though, and you can read more about the differences below. First, let’s start with a brief description and picture of upright and canisters.

Vacuuming stairs: winner by a large margin is canister

Hauling an upright vacuum up the stairs isn’t easy, and maneuvering it to clean the stairs is even more difficult (if not impossible on some sections). An upright on the other hand is much easier since you carry the motor in one hand, and you can use the more slender vacuum to get around all crevices of the stairs. Easy win here for a canister, although attachments may make an upright easier especially for small sets of stairs where the attachment can reach all steps without moving the vacuum.

Vacuuming tight spots: winner by a small margin is canister

Canisters could have won this by a larger margin, but upright vacuums now have many attachments to make them more versatile. You may not be able to clean your couch, or under it for that matter, with your main upright unit, but it likely will come with an attachment that works perfectly. canisters naturally have a smaller profile (since the motor isn’t attached to the vacuum) making it no problem and no attachments needed to get under hard to reach areas.

Overall carpet cleaning ability: winner by a small margin is upright

Both vacuums can range from poor to excellent at vacuuming your carpet. I give the slight edge to uprights because the motor being attached to the unit allows for a heavier and more powerful motor that is still mobile versus canisters where the motor is being dragged behind with the vacuum hose or by the user carrying it by the handle.

Ease of vacuuming open areas: winner by a small margin is upright

When it comes to open areas, vacuums are easier to push around. This is true whether or not they are self-propelled, but self-propelled makes the advantage even greater for uprights. Dragging a canister behind you just isn’t as easy, but most owners don’t have many complaints.

Best vacuum for non-carpeted areas: winner by a small margin is canister

Canisters generally work better for hardwood, tile, and other non-carpet surfaces. They often have special cleaning wands specifically for hardwood and other objects. With that in mind, uprights (especially higher-end uprights) have features that make them great on hard floor as well. Some of the features are beater bars that can be turned off for vacuum suction only and ability to lower the vacuum to get as close as possible to floor surface.

Cost of the vacuum: no winner

If price is a concern, upright vs canister won’t make much of a difference.

Best for allergies: no winner

There’s a definite difference between vacuums for those who suffer from asthma and allergies. HEPA filters and sealed systems are the critical aspects for allergy sufferers, and you can find these features in both uprights and canisters.

Which is better upright or canister vacuum?

The final verdict in upright vs canister is a tie. You can see from our performance categories that canister vacuums tend to be better for difficult to access areas, but upright vacuums are slightly better performing on open rooms. They tie in multiple categories including cost and allergies.

Captain’s parting words!

The debate of upright vs canister is one of those that truly has no winner. Our breakdown should help you decide which is best for you. My preference is usually an upright for general carpet use but a canister if you need to vacuum stairs and other non-carpeted areas. But this is just a rule of thumb because with today’s technology you can find a great upright or canister for any job. Anything I didn’t cover? Feel free to contact me.

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