The Endless Debate: Canister vs Upright

We’ve briefly touched on the topic of going with a canister vacuum vs upright. If you’re not sure which one to settle on yet, this resource is for you. We’ll be going over the main differences between each style of vacuum, along with their pros and cons.

Our goal is to help you select which style of vacuum makes the most sense for your life & lifestyle, your home’s needs, and your budget. There’s one thing that you won’t be able to get from this article, and that is buyer’s remorse. When you take your time to research a topic, and to make an informed purchase, you won’t end up a vacuum that can’t handle anything you can throw at it.

Historically, canister vacuums were better suited to hardwood floors and upright vacuums were better suited to carpets. That’s not the case anymore, it comes down to the individual model rather than the style, more often than not. There are canister vacuums that can’t handle floors as well as certain upright vacuums, and vice-versa for carpets.

Now, let’s take a look at the pros and cons for both styles of vacuum cleaners.

Pros of Canister Vacuum Cleaners

Uprights are a Thing of the Past

Uprights are a Thing of the Past

There are many excellent canister vacuums featured on this site, so take some time to look around at our reviews if you’d like to learn more. The following pros are just general examples that apply to all (or most) of this style of vacuum, however there are many more positives that apply to specific units as well.

  • It’s easier to get under furniture without having to move it. With an upright vacuum, you’ll have a much harder time trying to fit it under and around things, compared to the smaller wand from a canister-style vacuum.
  • The design of canister vacuums can allow HEPA filters to work better, making them an ideal choice for people who suffer from allergies.
  • Many canister vacuums have tools for stairs, and they’re a lot easier to use for vacuuming up stairs. Since you can move around the large wand and whatever attachment you have on it, you’re not stuck trying to maneuver the entire vacuum up and down every single step.
  • You only have to push around the lightweight head, as opposed to an upright vacuum where you’re constantly pushing and pulling the entire unit.
  • An entry level canister vacuum can often be purchased for less money than an entry level upright.

Pros of Upright Vacuum Cleaners

There’s a reason many people still choose upright vacuum cleaners. There’s no right or wrong answer that apples across the board. Here’s just a small sampling of some of the positives of uprights.

  • Upright vacuums are usually easier to store. Their design is more compact and, well, upright. Contrast that with canister vacuums, where they take up a larger footprint, even though they aren’t as tall.
  • This style of vacuum cleaner is easier to use for hallways and other longer, straight paths. With a canister vacuum, you’d have to stop every 20-30 feet to grab the canister (unless it has wheels, some are on wheels). With an upright, you just keep pushing, except when you’ve got to unplug and find a closer cord.
  • They’ll sometimes have a larger area to store debris, so they can accommodate larger bags. This isn’t always the case, but as a rule of thumb you might not have to empty them quite as often.
  • Some will have a hose that you can use with attachments, which makes them a little bit more like a canister vacuum when it comes to vacuuming your upholstery, curtains, etc.

Cons of Canister Vacuum Cleaners

You’ve got to take the good with the bad, and it’s not all sunshine and roses with either style of vacuum. Here are some of the cons that might have you re-thinking that canister vacuum purchase. Or maybe not!

Dragging the canister behind you can take a bit of getting used to if you grew up with upright vacuums. Having nothing but such a light wand to carry most of the time feels a little off at first, but once you realize how much easier it is, you’ll be hooked.

You can cover some large distances, more than enough for most living rooms, but they tend to be better suited for rooms and covering larger circumferences, compared to an upright that works better for longer paths.

Cons of Upright Vacuum Cleaners

You won’t be able to get under furniture with an upright vacuum unless you have a LOT of clearance, and even still, it would be a parody of doing the same task with a canister vacuum. If you have a lot of tables and things to get under, a canister might be a better bet.

The beater bar isn’t ideal for fancier or more delicate rugs, like a Persian rug.

They’re much heavier to try to carry up stairs, while wanting to maneuver and go one step at a time. It’s a nightmare, and it’s really tough to do a good job unless you have a hose attachment, but even at that – you’re trying to balance this heavy vacuum and simultaneously clear all while trying not to fall down the stairs yourself. In can look like a scene from the Three Stooges, at the best of times.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this has helped to shine some light on both styles of vacuum cleaner. Ultimately, there’s no single right or wrong answer, it comes down to your needs. However, there are a few points to check, and if you say yes to all or most of them, you may be leaning towards a canister as the correct choice.

  • Does anyone in your home suffer from allergies or sensitivities to dust, especially smaller particles?
  • Do you have stairs (carpeted or hard) to clean?
  • Do you do more vacuuming of rooms, rather than long hallways (Think office buildings.)
  • Do you have any desks or tables that you need to vacuum under?
  • Do you have hardwood floors? (Both vacuums can work on both styles of floor, but we still tend to lean canister when it comes to hard flooring.)

If none of those things are really big issues for you, consider going with an upright vacuum instead of a canister. Otherwise, check out some of our picks for the best canister vacuum cleaners for all budgets.