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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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.Read more 
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Buying guide for best commercial vacuum cleaners

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 pick 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 differentiate commercial vacuums from the machine you have at home is that they're more durable. Whatever the business environment is, these machines are designed to work harder and longer. Other differences are more functional, which can make it challenging to choose the right model.

a vacuum cleaner and other cleaning materials
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 he bought the patent from James Murray Spangler, a janitor who didn't have the money to develop the idea himself.

Key considerations when choosing the best commercial vacuum cleaner

Choosing the right vacuum for your business means considering the types of messes you need to clean, how often you plan to vacuum, and how large your space is. Other factors come into play as well.

Type

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

Handheld vacuum cleaners resemble large metal briefcases. They have lightweight designs meant for extended use. 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. Unlike household handheld vacuums, there are few commercial cordless vacuums. Handhelds are quite specialized, but they are great at what they do.

Canister vacuum cleaners can be horizontal cylinders, but more often they have a vertical can-type design with wheels. Shop vacs are a basic form of a canister vacuum, but commercial canister vacuums typically have higher capacities and more suction power. They are very maneuverable, and it's easy to get the flexible hose into nooks and crannies. These vacuums are best in situations with 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 most recognizable type of vacuum. 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. An 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.

Wide-area vacuums are as powerful as they get, and they resemble lawnmowers in design with a push handle and a low, flat body. Naturally, these are only for large indoor spaces like department stores or warehouses, as their size makes them hard to maneuver in tight spots. However, their cleaning speed is unrivaled thanks to their cleaning path width, which can reach up to 40 inches.

two professionals cleaning a room
Expert Tip
Power cords on commercial vacuums are longer and thicker, which makes them easier to fall over.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

Bagged vs. bagless

A lot of commercial upright vacuums use a bag, but both uprights and backpacks can be bagged or bagless. So, which is better?

Bagged commercial vacuum cleaners: While bags are an additional expense, their big advantage is that they seal the dirt inside. Thus, 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 commercial vacuum cleaners: Bagless vacuums usually have more filter elements because they don’t have a bag as part of the filtration system. These vacuums must be cleaned or replaced regularly, thus decreasing the money that was saved on bags in the first place. Emptying must 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. However, you should be sure replacement bags or filters are readily available before you buy a vacuum.

a professional cleaning a carpet
Expert Tip
Some commercial vacuums are a bit too strong for home rugs and can destroy them a lot easier.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

Commercial vacuum cleaner features

Like household vacuums, there are a handful of features to consider once you’ve decided which type you need. The power, size, filtration system, and other factors impact where and how you can clean.

Suction

The amount of air a vacuum moves, and 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.

Cleaning path width

The wider your cleaning path, the faster you can clean a large area. There are no specific rules for what width suits certain size areas, but most commercial vacuums have cleaning widths ranging from 12 to 30 inches. Bigger is generally better, but it comes at the cost of maneuverability. In addition, an efficient vacuum with a narrow cleaning path will outperform a poorly designed vacuum with a wide cleaning path.

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. That’s 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.

professionals cleaning a room
Expert Tip
For larger homes, a commercial vacuum may be more useful.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

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 types of floor. Several high-end models will adjust automatically, meaning you don't have to stop and fiddle around. In addition to changing the cleaning height, they may also speed up or slow down the brush roll motor, as brushes can damage some surfaces, like hardwood.

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. Wands that have a swivel head are better at rounding corners and keep you from constantly moving around to change your angle.

Suction power

Motor power is often quoted in the specs, but it’s actually of minimal importance when it comes to suction and overall performance. Most motors are between 8 and 12 amps, but this is simply an indicator of how much energy the motor consumes. Instead, look for the airflow specification, which is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). This refers to how much air the vacuum can take in. Most offer from 50 to 100 CFM.

Another major player when it comes to power is how the brush is powered. Dual-motor vacuums have a separate motor for suction and rotating the brush roll, giving both more power than a single-motor design. Some brands indicate how fast the brush rotates to pull in debris, with high-speed brush rolls clocking at 6,000 rpm or more.

Capacity

The more debris your vacuum can hold, the less often you must empty the bag or canister. Industrial vacuums may have extra-large capacities of as much as 100 gallons, but for commercial purposes, 2 gallons may suffice, depending on the size of your business.

professionals cleaning a room
DID YOU KNOW?
Commercial-grade vacuums do not tend to be stick vacuums. There are a few commercial stick vacuums out there, but their power and battery life is often lacking for major cleaning jobs.
STAFF
BestReviews

Accessories

Though cleaning large areas is important, don’t forget about getting to crevices and tough-to-reach areas.

Vacuums that include several accessories offer greater versatility. Here are some of the most common attachments to look for:

  • A crevice tool for cleaning corners and tight spots
  • A dusting brush for quick and thorough dust removal
  • A utility nozzle for cleaning large areas and under furniture
  • An upholstery tool for cleaning chairs and couches, especially when pet hair is a factor
a professional cleaning a carpet
Expert Tip
Before you make a purchase, consider the weight of commercial vacuums versus non-commercial vacuums.
BestReviews Cleaning Expert

How much do commercial vacuum cleaners cost?

Inexpensive

The cheapest commercial vacuum cleaners are usually robust shop vacs, which start at around $65. They're basic, but there's little better for cleaning up a dirty garage floor. Most shop vacs in this range have 1- to 4-gallon capacities.

Mid-range

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. Make note of how long the warranty lasts and its terms.

Expensive

Commercial backpack vacuums are generally more expensive, priced from $250 to $700. For heavy-duty jobs, these may be your only option. However, these products may have more power and capacity than your business actually needs.

High-end

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.

a professional cleaning a couch
DID YOU KNOW?
For the most thorough filtration, look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which can capture very small particles like dust and pet dander, and they can even capture fine sawdust particles.
STAFF
BestReviews

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. An accessory caddy is another useful option.
  • 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. The same goes for bags. Three months is usually a sufficient frequency for changing the filter.
  • Because you’ll need a specific replacement filter or bag, keep an extra one on hand. That way, when you notice it’s time to change the filter, you don’t have to wait a week or more for the new one to arrive.
  • Consider who will use the vacuum regularly. If you have several employees who clean often, choose a type that is comfortable for all of them to use.
  • Don’t forget about high-up surfaces. A surprising amount of dust can collect on the tops of shelves, fan blades, and just about any surface you don’t normally vacuum.
a woman cleaning a couch with a vacuum
Wide-area commercial vacuums can 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.

FAQ

Q. What makes a vacuum “commercial” or “industrial”?

A. There’s no precise definition, but the differences lie in power, capacity, and durability. Most businesses vacuum nightly (and hardly any of us vacuum our homes on a daily basis), so their vacuums need to be incredibly durable in order to last for several years.

Because the square footage of most businesses is quite large, commercial vacuums tend to have wider cleaning paths to cover more areas in less time. Industrial vacuums don’t have specific metrics, but they generally have the most power and capacity available and can suck up liquids, solids, and dust.

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

A. There is. It all comes down to the size of the 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 commercial vacuum cleaner 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 enough to require ear protection. If you only have an occasional need, a mop and bucket are cheap and can get the job done fairly quickly, but a powerful shop vac can suck up gallons of liquid in just a few seconds.

 

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