Versatile Shark vacuum makes Consumer Reports' list of top picks

The Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501(The Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501)

Want an upright that’s also a canister vacuum? You’ll find one rated by Consumer Reports, along with an upright that steam-cleans floors. But as multitasking vacs become a trend, the tests show that some skimp on the cleaning that counts.

Lower prices and freedom from bag changes help make bagless uprights the hottest sellers. Shark’s Rotator Professional Lift-Away NV501, $250, has a canister component that lifts out onto a wheeled base and doubles as a handheld vac. Strong carpet cleaning, a swiveling head for easier steering, and an arsenal of tools helped it join the winners’ list. But you’ll find even better vacs for as little as $120, especially for pet hair. And using this model in the handheld mode takes some muscle.

MORE AT CONSUMER REPORTS

You’ll also find Samsung among your canister choices after a long absence from the U.S. market. Consumer Reports tested the Electric Blue VCC88P0H1B, $350, and Champagne VCC96P0H1G, $450, which has more dust-separating chambers inside. But both had dismal suction for tools and were just mediocre at carpet cleaning, still a vacuum’s top task. And small bins make dust capacity minimal for both models.

The tests with almost 700 pounds of sand, wood, flour, cat fur, and other messes found other models that put features before performance. Here are the details:

Oreck’s VersaVac upright(Oreck’s VersaVac upright)

A combo that doesn’t cut it.

Oreck’s VersaVac upright, $250, has two pads and a plastic frame that convert it to a steam mop. It’s also the brand’s first bagless vacuum and, at 13 pounds, one of the lightest we’ve tested. But it was only middling on carpets and worked better on bare floors with the brush on. Doing that with this model didn’t scatter dirt, but Consumer Reports usually recommends turning the brush off on bare floors, if possible, to reduce that risk. What’s more, the Oreck doesn’t accept tools and lacks suction control and other features you’d expect for the price.

(See also: Dishwasher features that didn't pan out in CR tests)

A name that doesn’t deliver.

Eureka’s AirExcel NLS upright, $100, aced the pet-hair tests and maintained suction as claimed. But don’t take its “excel” moniker too seriously: The bagless vac was subpar at carpet cleaning and emissions, and it ended up far below the humbler Eureka AirSpeed AS1000A, a CR best buy at $120.

A smart feature on a so-so vac.

The Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean EL8807A, $300, has a built-in comb that skims hair from the brush roll when you press a foot-controlled lever. The feature worked flawlessly in the tests; too bad this bagless upright was less than stellar at cleaning carpets and delivering the airflow needed for tools.


HOW TO CHOOSE

Start by matching the type of vacuum to the cleaning you usually do. Uprights, especially those with a bag, do better overall on carpets. Canisters are easier to maneuver, especially on stairs. Here’s what else to consider before you buy:

For allergies, stick with bags.

Emptying a bagless vac’s bin tends to be a messy, dusty process, though changing bags can also raise dust if you aren’t careful. Consider wearing a dust mask and clearing the bin or bag outside if you have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems.

Check the features.

A brush on/off switch protects bare floors and avoids scattering debris. A motorized brush deep-cleans carpets far better than suction alone. Other smart features include manual pile-height adjustment and suction control for cleaning drapes with tools.

Try it out.

Even if you order online, go to a store first. Push, pull, turn, and lift models you’re considering. Check controls and features. And see whether the store will match a lower price you get online.

Copyright © 2006-2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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