Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

This is the infamous vacuum cleaner post I have been promising to write.

I just bought a refurbished vacuum cleaner.  A Tristar MG-2 canister, if you must know.  It’s a compact model which is handy to pull out quickly when you track something in and for carrying out to the garage for cleaning out the cars.  New Tristars are very expensive.  Refurbished they still are not cheap but they will outlast most of the plastic junk built today.

A family I knew well, bought a Tristar back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.  Back then the styling had not changed since the 1940’s.  The family nicknamed it The Pig, because it looked like a little piggy rolling behind them.  It was ugly in a cute sort of way, built like a tank and powerful.  I know they used it for over 20 years and they loved it.

Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Better to buy a quality refurbished vacuum than a new cheap plastic vac. Most new plastic vacs cost $150 to 500 or more.  The really cheap ones are abysmal and all are kind of considered disposable.

Here are the numbers I am seeing: You can buy a new “high end” plastic vacuum cleaner for starting at $650 or more.  It might be made in Germany or the USA.  Or you can spend $250 - 500 for a quality refurbished vacuum cleaner, made in USA, made of metal, that will still be running in 10 - 15 years.  Heck, $250 - 550 buys a heck of a lot in the refurbished department.

Most of the high quality vacuums are made in the USA. I like that.

High quality vacuums can be repaired, Usually it’s just a new belt.  They can be refurbished and have a second life and will probably still outlast the modern plastic ones.  I’ve learned this the hard way.

It is okay to have more than one vacuum cleaner.  I have one for each floor of my house because I’m done lugging a vac up and down flights of stairs.  Also a vac model that is perfect for your ground floor may not work as well upstairs where the bedrooms are.

Bag vs. Bagless

I’ve owned expensive bagless vacuums.  I hated having to go outside to the dumpster all the time to empty the  dirt collector with dust flying everywhere in the wind.  Trying to empty that dirt cup into a garbage can indoors just puts dust back in the air.  And it’s all plastic so dust clings to that dust collector like crazy.  If you have pets, the disposable bags are neater and do not collect pet smells the way plastic does.  The only bagless vacuum I recommend is Rainbow (see below).


Upright vs. canister

Whatever you prefer. I have had several upright vacuums starting with a couple of Hoovers to a couple of Dysons.  Uprights cant get under furniture the way a canister can. Uprights need some room to maneuver.  Uprights seem to work better in offices and retail stores than in smaller home spaces.  If you have large rooms and hallways with big expanses of wall to wall carpet, and are used to an upright, get an upright.  Get a refurbished Kirby.  You want one with a Kevlar fan blade.

If you have small rooms with lots of tight spaces I think a canister is better.

Why Buy Refurbished Vacuums?

Why buy a refurbished vacuum cleaner?  If you buy one of the vacuum cleaners listed below brand new, you are going to pay over $1000 - 2000 or $3000 or more depending on model.  That is a lot of money - too much money for me.  If I buy a properly refurbished machine I get like 96% of the machine if it was new at a fraction of the New price.

Lower Carbon Footprint: When you buy a refurbished, quality machine like I list here, you are buying a machine that has already served 10 - 30 years since it was first manufactured. Professionally refurbished it will probably serve another 10 - 15 even 20 years. It lowers the carbon footprint. When you buy a cheap $150 vacuum it’s disposable - when it breaks in 5 years, you toss it in a landfill. That’s not very carbon efficient or good for the environment.

Get to the Vacuum Cleaner Models Man!

Upright: Kirby.    Runner up: Electrolux/Aerus upright.


Rainbow: Made in USA.  These use water to filter out dust and dirt instead of a bag. Even the older pre-HEPA models are remarkable at filtering the air.  I’m convinced every home should have a Rainbow and here is why: a Rainbow can suck up water: plumbing leaks, basement seepage, roof leaks, windows left open in a storm, defrosting the freezer the Rainbow can suck those wet messes up.  If you live in a place prone to flooding a Rainbow is great for cleaning up afterwards.  It’s great for sucking up excess water out of a basement carpet.  It’s great to have one in reserve.

Pro Tip: If you buy a Rainbow, invest in a non-electrified wet hose, plastic tubes and squeegee attachment if your unit didn’t come with it.  These can be aftermarket but made for your model Rainbow. Cheap insurance!

Even if you already have a working vacuum cleaner, a rebuilt Rainbow with it’s wet pickup can be a good investment and a compliment to your primary vac.  Add the optional carpet shampooing attachment and it has even more uses.

Plus, of course, it vacuums up dry dust and sand like crazy.  It works really well for dusting and not putting allergens back in the air.

There is a downside to the Rainbow, because you have to fill the tank with water before each use, it is not the best for a quick cleanup when the kids track in dirt and the in-laws are due any second, or for lugging out to the driveway to vacuum the interior of the car. The Rainbow is for weekly cleaning day.

Others in no particular order. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.

Electrolux/Aerus:  These are well built machines which are sort of torpedo shaped.  They have a great disposable filter bag system so bag changes are clean and neat.  Also a full bag sensor. The retractable cord is a great feature.  They last a long time.  

Tristar: Made in USA. compact, powerful, they are built to last.  If you need something smaller and lighter for lugging around or in a cramped home or apartment this is perfect.  The Tristar is a handy size for carrying out to the garage to clean the carpet in your car yet it is big enough to clean your whole house.

Update: Up above, when I first wrote this, I had a Tristar on order.  Now I’ve had a chance to really use it and it’s a fantastic machine, very powerful and well built.  I would not hesitate to buy one again.

Filter Queen:  Made in USA. my experience is only second hand but they have a reputation for lasting forever and being very good at cleaning and air quality without losing suction.  These can be good if you have a long haired pets.  They even make a dog grooming attachment.  Refurbished Filter Queens seem to be in high demand, but they are priced right. 

Filter Queen Update: I’m seeing the refurbished older model Filter Queen (red, green and blue color models) often priced at $200 - 250ish range.  That makes these rebuilt Filter Queens one of the best bargains of everything listed in this buying guide.  If money is tight but you still want quality seriously look at the Filter Queens.

Best Vacuum for solving your problems

  • Lots of carpet, lots of big shedding pets. Get a newer Kirby model (Diamond, Sentria).  These really work on getting pet hair out of carpets.  You will probably still want to have a good bagged canister for dusting and getting under beds, sofas and other furniture.
  • Lots of hard floors, lots of pets. Any of the bagged canisters listed above.
  • Sever allergies - Rainbow E or E2 models or newer. Not only do they filter with water but they have a HEPA after filter.  Clean floors and dust furniture with the Rainbow.
  • Mildly dust sensitive (temporary sneezing, mild irritation) - Any Rainbow model. The water filtration really works. Again clean floors and dust furniture with it.
  • Most portable for carrying up/down stairs.  Tristar.
  • Best for cramped rooms with too much furniture. Tristar or any canister.
  • Best for bedrooms and getting under beds.  Any canister.

Where else to buy?

Online Retailers:  There are a number of them, a good search engine will find them.  I bought my Rainbow from Great Vacs a few years ago and I just ordered that Tristar from them because I was satisfied with their service. I have no other affiliation with them other than as a customer. Great Vacs also sells refurbished vacs on Amazon, Ebay and Overstock look for them there. They only list each vac in one place (ie. a vac listed on Amazon will not be listed anywhere else. You get the machine pictured. I like that. But this means that sometimes choices are limited on their website but they have models on Amazon or Ebay so check around.)

I’ve found two potential refurbishers for vintage Electrolux USA/Aerus vacuums: Vacuum Man and The first seems to be a thriving concern. The second site looks dated, I would email them first to see if they are still in business. I’ve never dealt with either.

eBay:  You need to do your homework buying a refurbished vacuum cleaner on eBay.  You want to find a seller that really refurbishes the machine and doesn’t just polish up the exterior with Armor All and pass it off as refurbishment.  Find out: 1. what the seller does for refurbishment, 2. what their return and refund policy is (if they don’t have one pass), 3. what is their sales history and buyer satisfaction rating, 4. how much is shipping and what is the final price with shipping, 5. what exactly you are getting: hoses, attachments etc.  You want to separate the garage sale finds from a truly refurbished model done by someone that knows what they are doing.

Local Vacuum Retail and Repair Shop: Of course they will want to sell you a new vacuum, but many of these shops take in trade-ins, refurbish them and resell. But find out what they do for refurbishment.

Amazon: See above under Great Vacs and Ebay.

What if I Want a New Vacuum Cleaner?

We’ve established that the vacs above are too high priced if bought new, at least for me.  But some people really want a new decent quality vac at an affordable price or they just don’t like the looks of the reconditioned vintage style vacs, above.

Miele - Made in Germany. Makes high quality canisters.

Riccar - Made in USA. Authorized dealers only so check your local vac store. Good machines, especially their uprights.

Sebo - Made in Germany. Good canisters.

Aerus - Aerus is the successor to the old Electrolux USA. They have both a bricks and mortar dealer network and door to door salespeople (I think). New Aerus vacuums are expensive but you can look.

With all four brands: these are not cheap when new. Expect to spend at least $600 - 700 for a good model but they go higher. Check each brands corporate website for dealer locator.

In my opinion, you will not find a really good quality new vac for $100 - 200 range.  You get what you pay for and at those prices, even the plastic seems 3rd rate and they just won’t last.

What do you have?

Note: reading below is strictly optional in case you have insomnia.

I have a Rainbow “D” model bought refurbished as my main machine on my main floor.  I dust with it and sweep the floors with it. I bought this a few years ago online from Great Vacs (see above.)  It’s also my “just in case” vac should I ever have a wet cleanup requiring more than just a quick mop (ie. dishwasher leaks, clothes washer leaks, plumbing leaks, water in the basement, etc.)

Pro Tip:  I dump my Rainbow dirty water on the back lawn in good weather.  The lawn loves it.  In winter I empty the water into the toilet.

When I bought the Rainbow, I already had a subcompact 1990’s Royal canister with shoulder strap for quick spot cleaning, doing the stairs and cleaning car interiors. It was too small in capacity for general cleaning but it was good for those jobs.  The Royal also had a tendency to flop over off it’s wheels when trailing behind.  The Royal finally broke down and repairs were more than the little plastic vac was worth.  The refurbished Tristar, mentioned above is replacing the Royal.

My upstairs is all carpet.  I have a refurbished Electrolux, that I bought on eBay.  It is close to the model we had when I was a kid, so I guess nostalgia.

Update February 2020: I bought a refurbished Kirby and a refurb Filter Queen. I’ll figure out a rationalization later.

Unfinished basement:  I have a Dyson canister.  I originally bought this as a general purpose vac.  I hated it from the start.  I replaced it with the Rainbow.  The Dyson sits next to my workbench, plugged in and ready to suck up sawdust and anything else on the concrete floor in that area and off the workbench.  It works well for that task.

(Electrolux is now called Aerus.)  2018.

I tried to cover everything pretty extensively.  If you have questions feel free to ask in the comments below and I will try to get you an answer.

This was also posted to /en/vacuum-cleaners.

Brad Enslen @bradenslen



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