It all depends on individual habits and preferences, but good vacuum cleaner should have disposable dust bag or dirt bin with some sort of easy dirt disposable system, one replaceable 'classic' mechanical filter, HEPA filter and scent container. I would also add UV lamp if possible, but not necessary.
Choosing 'the best' vacuum cleaner requires explaining few things about vacuums - for example, what is the difference between disposable dirt bags and reusable dirt bags, why some models don't have dirt bags at all, why is HEPA filter so important, vacuum cleaner types etc.
Disposable dust bag – when dust bag is full (your vacuum cleaner has 'dust bag full' sensor, right?), you simply replace it with new one. Ever tried to clean or just empty reusable dust bag? Did you make a mess? I did several times and never again ... Since disposable dust bags are very cheap, why bother. If you prefer bagless vacuum cleaners, be sure that vacuum cleaner of your choice has an easy dirt eject system (with or without compressor), otherwise, you could make a mess when emptying your dirt bin.
Replaceable mechanical filter – air filters can be cleaned, with much less mess than reusable bags. Clean filters only according to directions provided with vacuum cleaner. Change them from time to time as recommended. Such mechanical filters are usually positioned in front of HEPA filter.
HEPA filter removes at least 99.97% of particles 0.3 micrometer in size. It is usually positioned after dirt bag or dirt bin and after first mechanical filter (if such filter is present at all). It must be cleaned and/or replaced from time to time. Good HEPA filters are not cheap, but they get their job done. Air quality is much better when there is HEPA filter in vacuum cleaner and if you are prone to allergies or have any respiratory problems, HEPA filter is a MUST.
UV lamp is not necessary, but for people prone to allergies and respiratory problems, HEPA filter in combination with UV lamp can make a real change in air quality.
Also, there are high-end vacuum cleaners that use activated carbon as part of air filtration system. Such systems provide practically clean and sterile exhaust air. But they can be really costly...
Scent container - after the exhaust air is filtered, before being released, a scent can be added to the air flow. Pleasant scent of cleaned area enhance the feeling of cleanness and freshness, but too strong scent can cause issues to people having respiratory problems or to people who simply don't like that particular scent. Fortunately, most vacuums having scent containers have means for dosing the amount of released scent into the air.
Easy-to-change attachments are important for adjusting vacuums to various cleaning surfaces and situations.
Cylinder vacuum cleaner with long hose and different attachments can reach places where upright vacuum cleaners can't. Also with different attachments it can clean different surfaces as good as or even better than uprights. Although upright vacuum cleaners are more energy efficient, difference in electric bill will not be significant, since this is home vacuum cleaner which is not going to work 24/7, right? :o)
On the other hand, upright vacuum cleaners often come with cleaning hose as an optional attachment, so when need it, it is simply plugged in. When not in use, it is stored either on-board or away from upright vacuum cleaner itself.
Also, when compared with cylinder vacuums with long(er) hoses, upright vacuum cleaners are easier to maneuver around. However, even them can't be compared with stick vacuums, especially with cordless stick vacuum cleaners in terms of maneuverability and reaching hard to get places. Further more, cordless stick vacuums are heavier and larger than handheld vacuums, which are great for small surfaces, as emergency vacuums and similar, but such vacuums have relatively weak suction and short operating time.
Vacuum Cleaner Recommendations
As one can see, deciding what is the best vacuum cleaner to buy is very individual and depends on many things, but mainly on your personal preferences and needs. For example:
- If you have a pet like a dog, more dogs or other pets and plenty of carpets, I would consider buying shampoo vacuum cleaner with rotating brush inside powered cleaning head or classic carpet shampooer. Shampoo vacuums clean more thoroughly than other devices that rely only on mechanical force from air suction and mechanical attachments. Also, such high-end vacuums often combine shampoo cleaning with hot steam. Be very careful when cleaning surfaces with shampoo and especially with hot steam - such cleaning methods can damage cleaning surface. However, if your surfaces tolerate such cleaning methods, combining shampoo and steam with mechanical brushes will make your surfaces brand-new clean. If you have pets with long hair or you have issues with pets hair in general, vacuum cleaners with specialized pet hair attachments are required to clean hair from carpets and other surfaces.
Also, HEPA filter is highly recommended for pet hair vacuums.
- if you have different surfaces at home or office that need to be cleaned, like carpets, hardwood floors, tiles, stairs and similar, it is very important to have a vacuum cleaner that adjust easily to the new surface. For example, easily reachable on/off button for carpet brush tool enables one to easily transition from carpet to hard floors and vice versa. Transitioning from floor to stairs require long hose on cylinder vacuums, or light enough upright vacuums (ordinary or stick vacuum cleaner). Also, stairs usually have tight corners, so power-heads for such areas must be specially designed to reach such places AND to clean that area regardless of the surface (hardwood, carpet etc).
- people with pets and/or small children will know importance of good emergency vacuum cleaner. Such cleaners are usually cordless handheld vacuum cleaners that are small and light and can be used without any preparations on various surfaces to clean various types of debris, often water and other liquids included. They have reduced operating time and lack of strong suction when compared with vacuums powered with mains electricity, but lithium ion powered cordless vacuums, although sometimes pricey, can have performaces that closely match performances of larger, mains powered, vacuum cleaners.
- car vacuums can be powered by batteries or using cigaret lighter adapter. Battery operated vacuums don't depend on cables and cords, but vacuums operated using cigaret lighter adapters usually have stronger suction, longer operating time and are little bit lighter due to lack of batteries. However, if you really want to thoroughly vacuum your car, strong cylinder vacuum cleaner or upright vacuum cleaner with long hose and various cleaning attachments is required.
Long story short - it is very hard to determine what is the best vacuum cleaner for everybody in every situation. Most homes these days usually have two or even three vacuums - one big vacuum cleaner for regular cleaning of large surfaces and one handheld, battery operated small vacuum cleaner for various emergencies. If you have small home or if you need to clean smaller rooms more often, but big cylinder and/or upright vacuums are overkill, then consider cordless stick vacuums.
Price of good vacuums - what you pay is 'usually' what you get. Regardless of vacuum cleaner type, good vacuums cost between 100 and 200 dollars/euros. Some high-end vacuums cost much more and usually they are worth every cent, IF you actually need them. Cheap vacuums are good for occasional cleaning in certain situations and are usually small and weak, but they will do the job they are designed to do - just don't expect that 30$ handheld vacuum can be compared with 600$ cylinder/upright vacuum cleaner ...