When it comes to choosing a vacuum, you have two main choices; you can choose a canister vacuum or an upright vacuum. There are actually more types of vacuum but these are the main two. Choosing between the two may not be a life-altering decision, but there are some factors to consider which can make your life a little easier.

When it comes to choosing between a canister and an upright, there are some things to think about. We are here to take you through those points so that you can arrive at an educated decision. Here we go.

What is an Upright Vacuum Cleaner?

An upright vacuum cleaner is the classic vacuum design that we all know and love (not that we do not also love the canister design).

The design is more traditional, with a handle at the top and the motor and suction head at the bottom. There is most commonly a compartment in the middle where the debris is deposited when it is picked up.

You grasp the vacuum by the handle and manipulate the motion of the vacuum cleaner around your home. It is tried and tested, and it works.

Upright or Stick?


Canister vs Upright Vacuums

Full sized upright vacuums should not be confused with stick vacuums.

A stick vacuum is like a smaller lightweight version of an upright, can be corded or cordless and also converts into a handheld vacuum.

So although they are similar in that they stand upright, full size upright vacuum cleaners are much heavier and more powerful.

That being said, Dyson claim that their V10 Cordless stick is so powerful that they are no longer making full sized uprights. 

We expect to see stick vacuums take more market share from both uprights and canister vacuums in the coming years.

What is a Canister Vacuum Cleaner?

canister vs upright

Canister vacuums come in many different shapes and sizes but they typically look like this

A canister vacuum cleaner differs in style to the upright vacuum cleaner.

There is a canister, usually on wheels, which contains the container or dust bag for the debris when it is picked up and also contains the motor for the vacuum cleaner.

Attached to the container is a flexible hose which leads to a wand (a rigid tube, usually). At the end of the wand is the vacuum head. You usually grasp hold of the opposite end of the wand and use it to manipulate the movement of the vacuum cleaner.

Canister vs Upright popularity contest


Whilst writing one of our early articles about the different types of vacuum cleaners we discovered that upright vacuums are more commonly used in the US, UK and Commonwealth countries. However sales of canister vacuums in these countries has outpaced uprights in more recent times.

In continental Europe, canister vacuums, where they are known as cylinder vacuums have always been the most popular choice.

Canister Vs Upright: Pros

Firstly let's start with the positives and look at some of the benefits of both canisters and uprights.

CANISTER VACUUMS - Pros

Canister vacuum cleaner

SUCTION POWER OPTIONS

There is no limitation to the size of the motor with a canister vacuum. If you are looking for a lot of power in your vacuum, then you will want a full-sized model such as the Miele C3.

However, if you have a smaller home then there are many compact canisters available that still pack a punch, such as the Miele C1. Canisters are as powerful as upright cleaners and often have a better suction and flow rate.

LIGHTWEIGHT & EASY TO MOVE AROUND YOUR HOME

Canister vacuums are lighter than their counterparts, making them easier to manipulate and transport around your home. The best canister vacuums feature swivel castor wheels that are rubberized to protect your flooring whilst allowing the vacuum to move around silently. They can also be used to vacuum stairs easily and are a good option for multi-storey homes.

As the suction head is on a more flexible hose, you have better maneuverability when compared to an upright cleaner, which can be more rigid. You can also use it more easily to clean furniture and other fabric due to the ease of motion.

LOW NOISE

The motors are more powerful, but they are also quieter. If you are looking for something which does not make too much noise, then choose a canister over an upright. We also find that bagged canisters are also quieter than their bagless counterparts.

VARIETY OF FLOOR CLEANING HEAD AND TOOL CHOICES

The suction heads can be replaced with a variety of tools, giving you more options with what you can do with your canister vacuum. Some models of premium canisters such as Miele and Sebo also come with a “Power cleaning head” which has an additional motor in it for driving a the rotating floor brush. These models can be used effectively on carpets.

Canister vacuums are best suited to homes with mainly hard flooring or low pile carpets. Their maneuverability on such flooring is a breeze making vacuuming a quick and effortless task if you choose one of the best canister vacuum models.

Upright VACUUMS - Pros

MOTORIZED BRUSH BEST CHOICE FOR CARPETS

The brushes in an upright vacuum cleaner are motorized.

What does this mean for you?

Motorized brushes are efficient at cleaning thick pile carpets and rugs. Have thick carpets throughout your home? Think about getting an upright.

Upright vacuum cleaners excel on carpeted flooring and this is the main reason to choose one over a canister. The rotating brush, commonly referred to as a beater bar provides a combination of agitation as well as sweeping of the carpet to release any dirt and debris trapped deep within the carpet fibers.

You generally don’t see motor powered brushes on canister cleaners unless you are choosing a premium model at the top end of the market.

Carpets to Hard Floor Versatility

Moving from carpet to wood and back again? If you are transitioning a lot throughout your home, then an upright vacuum cleaner allows you to change the settings on your vacuum cleaner easily and with your foot.

Maneuverability Preferences

An upright vacuum cleaner comes as one rigid piece, so you never have to worry about bending, and possibly injuring your back.

Storage Considerations

Once you are done, click the vacuum cleaner into place and storage is easy. There are no flexible hoses to worry about or separate parts. That is, unless you choose an upright with onboard flexible hose, telescopic wand and tools. Even then, the hoses are shorter on uprights and are stored neatly within the vacuum’s housing.

Cleaning Path

In addition, upright vacuum cleaners have a wider path. You can clean a wider area than you would be able to with a canister vacuum. As a result you will get your vacuuming done much quicker as you cover a larger area in a shorter space of time.

Canister Vs Upright: Cons

Canister VACUUMS - Cons

canister vs upright vacuums

Storage Considerations

You may find that canisters are harder to store than rigid upright vacuum cleaners since they can take up more space. The separate parts and flexible hose can be hard to manipulate into smaller storage areas. However, they are easy to store when disassembled and the best canister vacuums like Miele feature the ability to “park” the floorhead and telescopic wands conveniently on the side of the vacuum.

Drag or Push?

If you are not watching what you are doing, you can bump into furniture and other objects. While you are pushing an upright vacuum cleaner in front of you, you are dragging a canister vacuum behind you. Essentially, this comes down to personal preference.

Ergonomics

You may need to bend over more when you are using a canister cleaner, although the best models are designed with comfort and ergonomics in mind. If you have back problems, then be sure to try out a canister first to make sure it doesn’t cause discomfort.

Upright VACUUMS - Cons

Floor Type

The main drawback of uprights is that they are generally not best suited to homes with lots of hard floors. If you have mainly hard flooring, whether tiled floor, hardwood or laminate surfaces then a canister is your best option rather than an upright. The rotating brush on an upright may even damage your hard flooring, although some models do have an option to turn off the brush.

Noise

Upright cleaners have less space for sound insulation around the motor; this leads to them being noisier than canister vacuum cleaners. If low noise is important to you, we’ve found the quietest upright vacuums you can buy.

Weight

Upright cleaners are generally heavier than canister cleaners, although you can find lightweight upright models. In order to trim the weight, lightweight uprights have less features such as onboard tools.

Since uprights are all in one piece, you cannot distribute the vacuum’s weight between both of your arms.

Multi-Level Homes

It is generally more difficult to carry an upright up and down stairs compared to a canister. Cleaning stairs with an upright can also be problematic.

Room SHape and Size

It is harder to get into corners and smaller areas with an upright vacuum cleaner. Do you have a large open plan space or smaller rooms with tighter spaces to move around.

So, Which Should I Choose?

Most of the choice rests on what you are going to use your vacuum cleaner for and what you are looking for in a vacuum cleaner.

If you have lots of carpeted flooring in your home, then more often than not an upright will be your best option. You should choose an upright vacuum cleaner that is designed specifically for carpets.

If you are looking for something which can do a professional job on hard flooring and low pile carpets, then a canister vacuum is what you want. They have excellent suction power without being noisy. They also have the capability to switch vacuum heads, allowing you to go from vacuuming carpets one second to vacuuming curtains and furniture the next.

Of course, the choice of canister or upright is not the only choice you will need to make in choosing a vacuum cleaner that is right for you.

Other options that you should consider include: bagged vs bagless; filtration; on board tools; and noise rating to name a few. Choices here will depend on your circumstances and budget. Check out our Ultimate Vacuum Buying Guide if you want to learn more.

In the end, the vacuum you choose will come down to personal preference. There are clear differences between both types of vacuum, but both will clean the dirt from floors in your home.