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Your pets are an important part of the family, but unfortunately, you can't expect them to do chores like the kids. They probably won’t pick up after themselves, so it's vital that you have a decent vacuum to clean up all the mess they make.
Often "pet" versions of everyday products are just an excuse to add an extra hundred bucks to the price tag, but pet vacuums really do have a range of features that give them superior power for cleaning up pet hair and dander.
Not all pet vacuums are created equal, however, so the problem is finding one that works well and offers good value for money. If that's your aim, you're in the right place.
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If you're in need of a vacuum that will clean up after your pet, leaving your floors spotless, this guide will point you in the right direction. When you’re ready to buy, check out the product matrix, above, for the BestReviews recommendations.
The first step to choosing your new pet vacuum is deciding which type you want. Let's take a look at the three main varieties.
Overall, we believe upright vacuum cleaners are the best choice for tackling pet hair, so this review focuses on the upright variety.
A handheld vacuum is great for spot cleaning or cleaning upholstery, when you don't want to get out your main unit.
While a handheld vacuum certainly has its place in your cleaning arsenal, it isn't large or powerful enough to function as your one and only vacuum cleaner.
Robot vacuums are ever-improving, and are perfect if you hate household chores, but they're not quite at the point where they can tackle the heavy-duty tasks necessary for cleaning up after pets.
A canister vacuum has a separate motor in the main body of the unit, with the intake port attached by a hose.
Due to its compact size, a canister vacuum is usually easier to store.
A cannister vacuum has a narrower cleaning path, and a range of attachments, so it's perfect for homes with a lot of furniture on the floor that you need to clean around, but it takes longer to tackle large, open areas.
In most cases, a canister vacuum doesn't have a beater brush, so it may not lift hair from as deep in the carpet as an upright vacuum would.
Pet vacuums are powerful, pick up hair better, and shouldn't clog or break down, no matter how much your pet sheds.
An upright vacuum cleaner has a one-piece construction with the brush and intake port (where the vacuum sucks up dirt) on the bottom of the unit, the motor in the middle, and the handle at the top.
Usually, an upright vacuum has a rotating brush — or "beater brush" — which is excellent for lifting hair from the carpet.
If you have a large home, an upright vacuum will clean it faster, as it has a wider cleaning path and can quickly move over wide, open spaces.
Unless you choose a folding model, an upright vacuum will require a taller storage space.
A home with pets generally gets dirtier than a home without pets, so a pet vacuum needs to be powerful.
Let's take a look at some of the features that set pet vacuums apart from regular varieties.
A pet vacuum cleaner should have a decent air filter, to stop all the dust and dander from being blown back out into your home with the air expelled through the exhaust port. We recommend a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which is the gold standard of air filtration systems. A vacuum with a HEPA filter will filter out a range of allergens, including pet dander.
A certified HEPA filter must retain 99.97% of particles that have a size of 0.3 micrometers (that's 0.003 millimeters) or greater.
On carpeted floors, a beater brush is essential for pulling pet hair from the pile so it can be sucked up by the vacuum. The trouble when you have pets — especially long-haired cats or dogs — is that hairs get wrapped around the rotating brush and regularly need to be cut out and removed. A good pet vacuum will have an easy-clean beater brush to save you time and effort.
Pet vacuums are generally more powerful than regular vacuums, as you need extra suction to tackle hair, dander, and dirt from muddy paws. Power is measured in "air watts" and should be listed in the manufacturer's specifications. Anything with less than 200 air watts of juice isn't going to cut it.
You should be able to adjust the position of a beater brush — or remove it altogether — as you don't need it on non-carpeted floors.
Like most vacuum cleaners, pet vacuums should come with a range of attachments. If you're like most people, you probably won't spend too much time thinking about what each one is for, and will probably only use a couple of them regularly, if at all.
The two we find most useful are the upholstery tool — for sucking up all that pet hair under your couch cushions — and the crevice attachment — for removing pet hair that somehow seems to collect in corners.
If you only ever use two of your vacuum attachments, try out the upholstery tool and the crevice attachment.
If you've got a lot of floor space to tackle, you can either make things easier or harder for yourself with your choice of vacuum. Look for a model with a wide cleaning path, as it will remove more dirt in each pass.
Self-propelled models also make it quicker and easier to vacuum, as you don't need to put so much effort into pushing them, you simply need to control where they go using the handle.
Look for an upright vacuum with a hose and attachments to take on corners and stairs, where pet hair can gather.
If you have pets, a beater brush is a must have for carpeted floors, but is unnecessary (and even detrimental) for hardwood, laminate, tile, and other non-carpeted floors.
Most beater brushes are height-adjustable, so you can raise them out of the way when you vacuum floors without carpets. Those people who don't have carpets may even want to remove the beater brush altogether.
Some high-end vacuums have filters that never need cleaning or replacing — so that's one less chore on your list.
Despite the hype, bagless vacuum cleaners perform just the same as equivalent bagged types, so your choice comes down to personal preference. It can be less messy and less problematic for people with allergies to simply throw away a bag, instead of emptying the dust chamber where the dirt collects.
However, bagless varieties are more environmentally friendly, as you're not throwing an extra item into the trash, and you can avoid stale smells by emptying them more often than you might replace a bag. Plus, with pets, you may find that you fill up vacuum bags faster than average, so you can end up spending a lot on replacements.
Bagless vacuums may be more convenient for some people, but they don't perform any better or worse than bagged varieties.
Let's face it, vacuuming is a pain. You have to lug your vacuum cleaner out of the closet, plug it into the outlet, haul it around, and keep unplugging it and plugging it back in when you run out of length from the power cord. Cordless vacuums cut down the effort involved in cleaning your carpets.
However, they have a limited battery life — about 15 to 30 minutes — and they aren't quite as powerful as corded models, although newer cordless vacuums are starting to catch up.
That said, if you're an extremely reluctant vacuumer, and a cordless model is going to encourage you to vacuum every few days, instead of once a month, your carpets will be cleaner, despite the lower suction power.
Cordless vacuum cleaners don't have the suction power of corded types, but they are much more convenient and lightweight.
A basic pet vacuum should cost between $100 and $200. A vacuum in this price range should be perfectly serviceable for most people, but don't expect miracles — if you have a couple of constantly-shedding 200 lb Saint Bernards, a low-end model is unlikely to be powerful enough. These models are likely to be bulkier and heavier, and will lack extra features more costly models have.
A mid-range pet vacuum should cost between $200 and $300. While they'll have some handy features, they'll lack some of the extras you'll find on high-end models. They'll usually have a few disadvantages, such as having small dust chambers or less powerful hoses and attachments.
A high-end pet vacuum should cost between $300 and $500. These vacuums have superior cleaning power and all the bells and whistles you could hope for, plus they tend to be lightweight and easy to maneuver. You'll often find that models on the lower end of this price point are as good or almost as good as the priciest units, but without the same brand recognition.
Q. How often do I need to change the air filter in my pet vacuum?
A. It's generally recommended to change an air filter about once a year, or when you notice a musty smell when you vacuum, if sooner. Some air filters can be removed and cleaned, but this will usually damage HEPA filters. Check the manual to see how you change a filter in your vacuum model.
Q. Should I replace my regular vacuum with a pet vacuum?
A. We're not ones to fall for marketing gimmicks, but we absolutely recommend pet vacuums for dog or cat owners. If your current vacuum cleaner is doing a good job, you might not need to upgrade to a pet model until it needs replacing. However, many customers have said they didn't realize how much dirt was getting left behind, deep in their carpet, until they switched to a pet vacuum.
Q. How often do I need to vacuum up pet hair?
A. This really depends on how much your pet sheds and how clean you like your carpets to be. If you run a tight ship, you might find yourself vacuuming daily. Whereas others with more relaxed standards might only do a deep clean once every week or two, plus the occasional bit of spot cleaning where needed. Do whatever works for you.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.