What Is the Best Suction Power for a Vacuum Cleaner?

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The suction power of a vacuum cleaner is one of the best ways to measure its efficiency and ability to suck dirt, dust, mold and other pollutants in your house. High suction power is essential if you wish to clean dust and debris from carpets, sofas, and under the bed. 

A vacuum cleaner with low suction power can clean the top layer of dust but will have trouble cleaning dust from deeper. Let us look at some of the measures of suction power for vacuum cleaners.

Vacuum Cleaner Suction Power


One of the crudest ways to determine the suction power of a vacuum cleaner is the airspeed. Simply put, it is the speed at which air is sucked into the hose of the vacuum cleaner. It can be measured in mph (miles per hour), kmph (kilometers per hour), or mps (meters per second). 

Having a higher airspeed leads to the vacuum cleaner having better suction power. However, a higher airspeed needs a stronger motor and thus requires more energy. Manufacturers sometimes add different attachment tools for cleaning, which increases the overall efficiency of a vacuum without increasing its airspeed.

Airflow measured in CFM

One of the ways to measure the suction power of a vacuum cleaner is airflow. It is often measured in ft3/m (cubic feet per minute), m3/m (cubic meters per minute), or L/s (liters per second), with the correlation between all three units being as such:

One cubic foot = 0.0283 cubic meters = 28.3 cubic liters.

Airflow is the measurement of the volume (length x breadth x height) of air sucked in by the vacuum cleaner in one minute. It denotes the airflow power from the surface the vacuum cleaner is operating on to the bin. 

Even though airflow is one of the few correct ways to measure the suction power of a vacuum cleaner, more often than not, manufacturers don’t use this indicator. While looking for a vacuum cleaner, it is for the best if you find one with an airflow indicator. 

cordless vacuum

This measurement takes the motor power and the exhaust system’s resistance into consideration and thus offers an accurate suction power. The higher the value of CFM, the higher the suction power of a vacuum cleaner will be.

Most commercial vacuum cleaners have airflow within the range of 50 to 100 CFM.

Another important point to note about airflow is that the value mentioned on the vacuum cleaner’s specifications is often without consideration of any additional accessories, so the actual suction power might be lower than what is claimed by the manufacturer.

Air Watts or Output Power

Another type of measurement of suction power for a vacuum cleaner is air wattage. Air wattage is the amount of power the vacuum cleaner requires per unit airflow through the vacuum’s nozzle. Many manufacturers use this unit to describe the suction power of a vacuum cleaner. 

However, if you don’t know the air wattage of a vacuum cleaner but have the sealed suction and CFM value, then it is easy to calculate the air wattage using a formula:

Air wattage = Sealed suction (inches of H2O) x Airflow (CFM) x 0.117254

A canister vacuum cleaner should have 220 AW, and an upright vacuum cleaner should have 200 AW for better efficiency. Premium brands such as Dyson and Shark have upright vacuums that produce 270 AW, which is the top of the air watts range.

Also, vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters need to have greater air wattage as the air needs to be pulled through tiny holes, which requires more power.

Regularly replace or clean your vacuum cleaner’s filters to ensure optimum suction power

Sealed Suction or Water Lift

The water lift or sealed suction is a test to determine the suction power of a vacuum cleaner. The water lift is measured in the inches of H2O. It involves a tube filled with water placed in a sealed container. In this test, the vacuum cleaner’s suction power is directly proportional to the water level in the tube.

Once the vacuum is connected to the tube and switched on, it starts sucking the water. The higher the water level rises, the better suction power a vacuum cleaner has. 

However, vacuum cleaners are not meant for this sort of situation. Some of them also have a mechanism to shut down the power in such a case to avoid overheating the motor.

Watts or Motor Power

Vacuum cleaner suction power on carpet

Wattage is the most common way for a manufacturer to provide the electric motor power of a vacuum cleaner

Generally, people correlate higher wattage of a vacuum cleaner with higher suction power, but that is not how it works in most cases. There are several other components in a vacuum cleaner that consume power. So a 1200 watt vacuum cleaner may only use 400 watts for suction. 

The motor power of a vacuum cleaner only describes how much electrical power the vacuum will need to work and not the actual efficiency of the vacuum cleaner. Industrial and commercial vacuum cleaners have a wattage of 1000-4000, and the home use vacuum cleaner has a wattage of 1000-1600.

Clean Air vs Direct Air Motor Systems

The type of motor system on your vacuum also makes a difference to the suction power and overall cleaning performance. The most common motor system you find in vacuums these days (e.g. Dyson, Shark, Miele, Kenmore) are known as clean air or suction motors. 

These motor systems are great for providing strong suction power but do not produce as much air flow or agitation as the other type, direct air motors. When combined with a good brush roll system the direct air motors have great cleaning performance on carpets.

Kirby vacuum airflow suction power
image source: https://www.kirby.com/

Kirby vacuums operate via a direct air motor system. As a result many homeowners with carpets prefer Kirby vs Dyson because of its industry leading airflow and carpet agitation.

Both agitation and air flow are really important for deep cleaning of carpets. Riccar vacuums incorporate a tandem two-motor system that combines both motor types to provide tremendous airflow and suction to lift and remove deeply embedded dirt. For further details check out our Riccar Vacuum Reviews.

Amps or Input Current

Another measurement of energy similar to watts required for a vacuum cleaner to operate is Amperes or Amps. It is used to describe a vacuum cleaner’s input current or energy consumption. Like with the wattage, people may have a misconception that the higher the Amps, the better the vacuum cleaner’s suction power. However, that is not necessarily the case.

The Amps value of a vacuum cleaner denotes the input current of the entire vacuum cleaner and not just the suction power. Several other systems inside the vacuum cleaner use electrical power, like LED lights or brush roll. As a result, using amps when shopping for the best suction power for a vacuum cleaner can be misleading.

If you wish to compare two different vacuum cleaners, one has a power rating in wattage and another in Amperes, the conversion is easy. 

In the United States, volts are equal to 120 volts.

Watts/Volts = Amps.

Horse Power

Another unit used to define the efficiency of a vacuum cleaner is horsepower. It denotes the current in the first few milliseconds of powering the vacuum cleaner. The horsepower may be inflated since the motor temperature is low, but it has nothing to do with the suction power.

Suction Power Depending Upon Flooring Type

In the case of hard flooring, a vacuum cleaner with minimal suction power will work just fine. But if you have carpeted flooring, you would need high suction power, air flow and agitation to suck dust and dirt from the deeper layers of the carpet.

For an upright vacuum cleaner having 180 to 200 AW power is sufficient. 200 to 300+ AW is great for a canister vacuum cleaner, and for a cordless vacuum cleaner, anywhere between 80 to 100 AW is good. Although the Dyson Outsize cordless vacuum still manages to produce a whopping 220 AW from its battery!

vacuum on carpet with dirt

Suction Power Depending Upon Budget

A low-cost vacuum cleaner will have a lower sealed suction pressure of about 50 to 60 inches, which may have trouble lifting heavy pieces of debris and sucking dust from deeper surfaces. A high-cost vacuum cleaner will have a higher suction pressure of about 80+ inches, which increases efficiency.

Final Thoughts

It is essential to determine a vacuum cleaner’s suction power to measure its efficiency. Some of the best ways to determine the suction power of a vacuum are its airflow and air wattage. Other measures like watts or amps do not directly indicate the actual efficiency of a vacuum cleaner.

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