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Best Commercial Vacuum Cleaners

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 15 Models Considered
  • 7 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 438 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best commercial vacuum cleaners

    Last Updated December 2018

    For some people, a commercial vacuum cleaner is a powerful beast with a 30-inch mouth capable of quickly cleaning hundreds of square feet of floor space. For others, it's a steel bucket that can suck up piles of workshop debris. And for others, it's much like any other vacuum used for cleaning laminate floors and carpeting around the office.

    One of the main things that differentiates commercial vacuums from the machine you have at home is that they're more durable. Whatever the business environment, people expect them to work harder longer.

    Other differences are more functional, which can make it challenging to choose the right model. BestReviews has been taking an in-depth look at the market so we can help you with your buying decision. We've picked a few top models that illustrate the variety of performance and price options. We've also put together the following shopping guide if you would like a more detailed explanation.

    The first vacuum cleaners were so big they were mounted on horse-drawn carriages that went from house to house. William Henry Hoover didn't “invent” a vacuum but bought the patent from James Murray Spangler. Hoover was a janitor who didn't have the money to develop the idea himself.

    Key considerations

    Type

    There are four main types of commercial vacuum: handheld, canister, upright, and backpack.

    • Handheld vacuum cleaners resemble large metal briefcases. These are intended for cleaning upholstery, stairs, blinds, drapes, and other textiles. They're not as good with floors. These are very light but have relatively low power and modest capacity. Handhelds are quite specialized but great at what they do.

    • Canister vacuum cleaners can be horizontal cylinders, but more usually are a vertical can-type design with wheels. Shop vacs are a basic form of canister vacuum. They are very maneuverable, and it's easy to get the flexible hose into nooks and crannies. These vacuums are best in situations where there's lots of furniture or other obstacles to maneuver around. They're fine for larger areas, but it's not their main strength.

    • Upright vacuum cleaners are the ones we all recognize. While power and efficiency have increased, the design is pretty much the same as it was almost a hundred years ago. These excel at cleaning hard floors and carpeting – they cover the ground more quickly than other models, have roller brushes that help free trapped dirt, and are height adjustable to cope with different surfaces. The upright is best if you have long corridors and large rooms to clean. An additional hose allows you to work in tight corners or at different heights, but these vacuums are not as nimble as canisters.

    • Backpack vacuum cleaners take the main dirt container off the floor, giving them the high mobility of handheld vacuums but the power of canisters and uprights. Added to that, the capacity is usually twice or three times that of other models. With only one hand needed for the hose, the other is free to move objects out of the way. They're perhaps not quite as efficient on carpets as upright vacuums, but backpacks excel everywhere else. They’re undoubtedly the best all-rounders. The reason you don't see more of them? We suspect price plays a part.
       

    Bag vs. bagless

    Most canister vacuums use a bag, but both uprights and backpacks can be bagged or bagless. So, which is better?

    While bags are an additional expense, their big advantage is that they close the dirt inside, so disposing of it is less likely to cause a mess. Good bags act as part of the filtration system, and some seal completely as you remove them from the vacuum. This is particularly good for allergy or asthma sufferers. However, poor-quality bags let plenty of particles escape, so these should be avoided.

    Bagless vacuums usually have more filter elements because they don’t have a bag as part of the filtration system. These vacuums have to be cleaned and/or replaced regularly, thus decreasing the money that was saved on bags in the first place. Emptying has to be done carefully or you could end up in a cloud of dust. Emptying the vacuum outdoors is advised but not always practical.

    If clean air is the absolute priority, a vacuum that uses a high-quality self-sealing bag is recommended. Otherwise, it's more a question of personal preference.

    Powerful portability

    With a rating of 150 cfm and a ten-quart capacity, you'll be working fast and stopping less often to empty bags. Filtration is endorsed by the American Lung Association. The comfortable harness adjusts to suit all body types, 50 feet of cable gives you plenty of freedom, and there's an excellent selection of tools and brushes. A hardworking, high-quality cleaning solution.

    Commercial vacuum cleaner features

    Suction: The amount of air a vacuum moves, and therefore the suction it creates, is rated in cubic feet per minute (cfm). It's a useful comparison, though manufacturers sometimes seem reluctant to provide the information. In truth, buyer comments are an equally valid source of real-world capabilities.

    Filtration: Filtration is important for capturing nuisance elements like pet dander and potentially harmful elements like allergens and bacteria. What emphasis you put on the latter will depend on the environment you're cleaning. Manufacturers will typically quote high percentages of particles trapped – 99% or more – but the key specification is the size of those particles. Capturing 99.9% of 3.0 micron particles (a common capability) is nowhere near as effective as capturing 99% of 0.3 micron particles.

    Noise: The sound made by normal conversation is around 55 decibels, and some modern vacuums are that quiet. However, most are in the 60 to 65 dB range. Not particularly loud, but you wouldn't want to try to hold a phone conversation with one running next to you. Large commercial models can be noisier still, so it's worth checking. At 85 dB and above, some form of ear protection is necessary.

    Cord: Power cords should be as long as possible so you don't have to keep stopping to find another outlet. Many commercial vacuum cleaners sold today have cords between 30 and 50 feet in length.

    Adjustments: On upright cleaners, check if it cleans right up to the wall. Some cheap models don't. Also look at height adjustments to cope with different thicknesses of carpet. Several high-end models will adjust automatically, meaning you don't have to stop and fiddle around.

    Wand: On canister and backpack vacuums, the wand (the steel tube part) can be two-piece or telescopic. The latter can give variable length and greater flexibility, and it is usually more convenient for storage.

    Power: Motor power is often quoted but of minimal importance. Most are between eight and ten amps.

    EXPERT TIP

    Backpack vacuums give you great freedom of movement. When shopping, check the length of the cable and the weight. And make sure the harness is comfortable and supportive.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If you have lots of stairs to clean, a vacuum’s weight and mobility are important factors in your decision. Uprights can be awkward to maneuver on stairs.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If you need to shift heavy debris, look for a vacuum with a large-diameter hose.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Commercial vacuum cleaner prices

    The cheapest commercial vacuum cleaners are usually robust little shop vacs, which start at around $65. They're basic, but there's little better for cleaning up a dirty garage floor.

    Budget upright and canister vacuums cost about $120 to $200. The price inevitably rises as you add features and accessories. At the upper end of that range, you'll get top quality from a leading manufacturer.

    Backpack vacuums are generally more expensive, priced from $250 to $700.

    Wide-area vacuums are a class apart. You'll pay well over $1,000 for a 24- or 26-inch machine, and as much as $2,500 for a 30-inch model.

    Dust busting on a budget

    The Bissell offers excellent value as the essential tool every office needs. It's got adjustable height to cope with carpet as well as hard floors, as well as useful attachments stored onboard. The flexible hose has good reach, and the vac weighs just 12 pounds. Some question the durability, but it isn’t designed for industrial use. It's competent and cost effective – exactly what many businesses need.

    Tips

    • Look for a vacuum with onboard attachment storage. It’s particularly convenient if you don't want to have to wander back and forth when you need a different tool.

    • Don't be tempted by cheap vacuum cleaner bags. Usually they're thinner, so you get inferior filtration and strength. Having a bag full of dust split on you is no fun at all.

    • Clean or replace filters regularly. Filters are easy to overlook, but they can have a big impact on the efficiency of a vacuum.

    Other products we considered

    You'll find variations on the Shop-Vac 8-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum in thousands of garages and small workshops up and down the country. It's unsophisticated, but it's compact, durable, and affordable. The lightweight Atrix HEPA Backpack Vacuum is a particularly stylish unit with a good range of accessories (though there are some concerns over how long they'll last). Comparatively inexpensive, it's worth thinking about as a home or office model, but not in an industrial situation. If you've got a really big floor area to clean, you need a wide-area vacuum cleaner – and they don't get much wider than the 28-inch Powr-Flite PF28SV. It comes with 60 feet of cord and will suck up debris other vacuums leave behind. It's expensive, but given the price of its close rivals, it’s a good value.

    Wide-area commercial vacuums can you save a lot of time, as long as you're cleaning open spaces like a big hall. They're not what you want if you have to negotiate furniture or office partitions.

    Commercial vacuum cleaner FAQ

    Q. Is there a difference between HEPA-type and true HEPA filtration?

    A. There is. It all comes down to the size of particles the filter traps. HEPA-type filters can handle 99% of particles down to 2.0 microns, which is okay for general household or office dust and dirt. True HEPA filters take care of 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns – fine enough to trap many of the particles that cause odors and allergies. True HEPA filters are the only ones that can be termed “air purifiers.”

    Q. Can I buy extra accessories if what I need doesn't come with the machine?

    A. Yes. All kinds of extra brushes and tools are available, and you don't have to buy them from the maker of your machine. Just check the fitting diameter before ordering (the most common are 1 1/4, 1 1/2, and 2 inches). Although they're not interchangeable, “step-down” converters give you the option of using smaller-diameter accessories on a larger hose.

    Q. Would a wet/dry vacuum be a sensible option?

    A. If it's likely you'll need to clean up spilled liquids on a regular basis, absolutely. They are very versatile machines and particularly suited to workshops. However, good wet/dry vacuums are expensive and often loud – loud enough to require ear protection. If you only have an occasional need, a mop and bucket are cheap and they get the job done just as quickly.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Enid
      Enid
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer

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