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Vacuuming the stairs – how do you clean yours?

A set of carpeted stairs

Of all the jobs around the house, vacuuming the stairs is the most groan-invoking. But there are several different ways to approach the problem – so how do you clean yours?

Personally, I carry my small cylinder vac about and use the main floorhead to clean each step. I then return to the bottom, attach the crevice nozzle and go round the edges of each step – or rather, the ones I can’t get away with not vacuuming.

On the other hand, my other-half will move the vac from stair to stair and use just the crevice nozzle, or alternatively use just the hose without a nozzle attached.

An upright conundrum

It can be an especially annoying task for owners of upright vacuums, as these types of vac tend to be heavier than their cylinder counterparts. They also don’t take well to sitting on stairs.

Unless, of course, your upright vac has a hose long enough for you to leave it on the floor while you tackle the stairs with the hose and attachments. One of our Which? members is lucky enough to have one such vacuum:

‘This enables the vacuum to be stood at the bottom of the stairs and you can then reach to the top stair. This is one of the reasons why I prefer an upright vacuum. It is much safer than trying to have a vacuum stood on the stairs.’

Then there are cordless or handheld vacs, which are lighter than the typical vac and generally a lot less effort. However, they often come with added expense.

How do you clean your stairs?

Some people have two vacuum cleaners – one upstairs and one downstairs – to avoid lugging anything up and down the stairs. But what’s your preferred method of cleaning the stairs themselves?

Do you use more than one vacuum cleaner or an attachment for cleaning the stairs? Do you keep a handheld vacuum as well as a full-size model?

Fiona says:
2 June 2013

After eons of searching I recently bought an Oreck which came with a hand held vacuum. The hand held Oreck is a star. I’ve been looking for it all my life. Stairs will now be cleaned once a month instead of once a year!

I follow the manufacturer’s instructions in the user guide for my Grandparents; 1947 Hoover Junior upright cleaner, which I use to do the job:

“Depress the foot pedal to switch the motor on. Place the handle in the upright position and grasp with one hand at the base of the handle and the other hand at the top. Slowly guide the cleaner from left to right and back over the tread. Lift the cleaner off the tread and turn to face the opposite direction. Reposition on the same tread and repeat the left to right action. Lift the cleaner to the next tread and repeat until the stairs are all cleaned. In this manner your stair carpet will be deeply cleaned and the pile rejuvenated using the famous ‘beats as it sweeps as it cleans’ action.”

I grew up cleaning mum and dad’s stairs in exactly this way with their 1962 Hoover Junior (which mum still uses) and I’ll keep on doing mine this way. There is little wrist strain as the cleaner is very light weight, there is no danger of the cleaner toppling on me as I pull the hose because there is no hose to pull, and there is no frustration of the hose not reaching for the same reason.

I clean the stairs about 4 times a week in this way – it only takes about 10 minutes to do the flight or 14 stair treads and the quarter-landing. Once every two or three weeks I connect the hose and tools to the cleaner and use these to get into the nooks and crannies at the ends of the stair rods and at the edges of the runner.

All your new-fangled Pana-Dys-olux cleaners can’t do that can they?!

Had to laugh at a Kirby salesman once – he tried showing me how to ‘convert’ the Kirby tradition to use on the stairs. In the time it took him to make it ready to use I’d got the Hoover, plugged in, vac’d the whole staircase and was waiting for him to start. Needless to say the Kirby could not pick up what the Hoover did either.

Forgot to say … in answer to Adrian’s last point in the intro … I have 8 vac’s……………

Hoover junior (1947 model 375 – Grandparents’ – daily use upstairs and stairs)
Hoover Junior (1970’s model 1354 – daily use downstairs)
Hoover Junior (1957 model 1354A – mint condition, used only to show off)
Hoover Senior (1960’s Model 652 – mint condition, used rarely)
Hoover Dustette (1960’s – used for cleaning the three piece suite)
Electrolux Widetrack Professional (Model C2112, about 1984 – used to impress!)
Hoover Constellation (1970’s version – used for high level cleaning as it has the ‘duble-stretch’ (TM) hose and amazing suction – spiders don’t stand a chance)
Hoover Commercial (Model 912 – used downstairs quite often as it’s almost silent, lifts the carpets off the floor and all cat hair out of them in seconds and the 15″ wide brush makes the job take seconds to complete)

I have one very good Miele cylinder vacuum and an almost useless hand held dustbuster.. I do not have space for even one more. Where on earth do you keep 8 vacuums and why do you have so many?

And vacuum the stairs four times a week? I reckon that Dave does not like throwing away decent quality electrical goods that are still in good condition. Or the ginger cat is moulting. 🙂

Don’t you collect anything Figgerty?

I’ve got the Miele for the bungalow (so no stairs to worry about), a 12 volt one for the car and the 33 year old Electrolux for the garage and when the car deserves a treat.

Poor Jasper (Ginger cat) died 3 years ago now, but Prudence moults even more than Jasper did. Not that the Hoover’s notice!

912 lives in Pantry with Constellation and 1970’s 1354 Junior. 375, 1354A, 652 and E’lux widetrack live in study-c*m-spare bedroom … though when a friend came to stay for 4 months we did have to evict the E’lux from teh wardrobe and lie it flat under the bed for a while.

Dustette lives in a drawer in a chest of drawers in the study.

Wavechange is right – onl the 375 (grandma’s) and the 912 were actually bought by me or my family; the others are cleaners that people have discarded because they were stupid enough to be taken in by flashy adverts for other machines which have yonks ago bitten the dust and been consigned to landfill. One lady threw out her Hoover Junior 119 (1955 model) to replace it with a daft Dyson and then came to me about 6 months later with a massive list of grumbles about the Dyson, top of which were it’s failure to pick up bits of cotton from when she was dress-making and the obscene cost of filters for it, and asked if she could have her 119 back. She’s still using the 119 now, another 7 years down the line, and gave the Dyson to the bin men.

If I had a larger house I would have probably have more vacuum cleaners from my late parents’ house. One went to a family member and I checked the other for safety and gave it to a charity shop. My parents must have disposed of their 1940s Hoover Dustette hand-held cleaner that had belonged to my grandparents. I can’t say it was very effective at cleaning stairs but it was old and interesting, complete with a brown bakelite BS 546 5 amp round-pin plug.

I am guilty of having too much, crockery, bedding, books and clothing, but they all fit in reasonably well, or so I think. I also have two kettles, one in use and the old slightly leaking one is in the loft. I would love to collect cars but not having a garage or the money to buy good quality old cars rules that out.

You sound just like me ….. Collections galore!

Yes indeed, and I would have much more if I had the space. It would seem that the Hoovers you have were built to last, unlike today’s cleaners.

Busy Bear says:
3 June 2013

Hoover 912? Drop that on your foot and you’ll know about it!!! Bullet-proof to say the least.

Absolutely – but a great cleaner that will never fail.

Anthony Jordan says:
8 June 2013

My solution for easy stair cleaning was to purchase the 3.9 metre hose (Numatic part number 601303) for my Henry hoover. With the hoover at the bottom of the stairs, I use the upholstery nozzle with slide-on brush (included parts 601145, 601146) attached to the hose to comfortably reach every one of the 12 steps and the edge of the upstairs landing.

Our staircase has two bull nosed stairs at the bottom, three leading round the first newel post, two straight stairs followed by nine around the next newel post onto the top landing, so we turn through 270 degrees each time we ascend or descend. Our Sebo Automatic X4 (upright) came with an extension hose and a Turbo brush so cleaning our near spiral staircase is a doddle. Just park the vacuum cleaner at the bottom, connect the hose and turbo brush and away you go. Simples!!

Yvonne Ruge says:
12 June 2013

I have a Dyson DC33 which has ample flex and a long flexible hose BUT then the trouble begins: a) the hose, unlike the wand, has no attachment moulding so the tool keeps falling off and b) the suction in the hose without the wand is such that it refuses to stay extended. Result: vacuuming the stairs (or upholstery) is like doing battle with an octopus.

I’ve raised this with the Dyson helpline, the operator immediately tried this out at the other end of the line and admitted it was a hitherto unnoticed design fault and would be addressed.

It’s a point worth noting in further tests at Which?.

curts says:
15 June 2013

I use the hose and turbo brush of my Miele Dog & Cat upright. I put the vacuum at the base of the stairs, set it for maximum suction, and work my way up. After the first several stairs I extend the metal tube so I don’t have to bend over. The hose just reaches to the top step.

Chris J Dixon says:
17 June 2013

I place my Dyson DC07 at the foot of the stairs, attach the stair tool to the hose and work down from the top step. Although the stretchy hose reaches the top OK, the effort to keep it extended against the suction force makes this a difficult task, and one that I would imagine anybody with any strength or mobility problems could find too hard.
Perhaps Which testing should include hose length and effort to keep it extended in use.
Back when I had an old Hoover upright, the beater would run with the handle vertical, and it could be run sideways across the steps. A Henry hose worked fine: cylinder on the landing to work down halfway, move the machine to the bottom and finish. The force on the Dyson stretchy hose makes it unsafe to have the cleaner at the top of the stairs.

Busy Bear says:
18 June 2013

Chris, I like your reply. The problem is, for generations people have known that vacuuming stairs is a difficult task and one which has no perfect solution. How many people back in the day owned both an upright and a cylinder vacuum, and used both extensively for different jobs? Quite a lot. However, twenty years ago Dyson brought out an upright cleaner with a hose long enough to stretch to the top of the stairs, and before anyone could even stop to see if that hose was going to split, the other manufactures followed suit. “Stair cleaning” hoses became the new normal, and were a huge selling point. Fast-forward to 2013 if you will, and a whole load of people now think that cleaning homes thoroughly can be achieved with just one cleaner. I don’t see how. I was taught that each style of cleaner has it’s uses and which sort is suited for what task. That’s why I use both styles. There isn’t -and I doubt ever will be- one cleaner of any style which will ever perform as well as a separate upright and cylinder ensemble.

Tone says:
18 June 2013

As I said earlier (above), my old Dyson DC07 was ideal for cleaning the stairs. Its hose reached to the top step without difficulty. and I needed no other for the whole house. Then, unfortunately, I traded it in for a new DC50. And that wouldn’t reach up the stairs with its silly short hose. And I got no warning! As it was another Dyson I expected it to be the same.
We definitely need hose length in Which reports, and preferably in the manufacturers’ details and packaging.

jordan says:
21 June 2013

i have a vax power3 upright powerful yes, but the hose stretches but always pulls the upright down to the floor. id have to have someone hold the vac at the bottom to stop the hose retracting up to me and pulling it over and its not easy to keep lugging the thing up steps. the hoses on most uprights need to be looked at

Busy Bear says:
21 June 2013

“the hoses on most uprights need to be looked at”

Well this is my point, a hose on an upright which worked as well as that of a cylinder would not physically fit on the back of the cleaner. That’s why the hoses are usually the stretchy type. The firm hoses are better, but are of course very short.

Chris J Dixon says:
22 June 2013

That is the basic design flaw. There is such concentration on making the hose an integral part of the cleaner that its function is seriously compromised. Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to have a separate hose clipped on only when required? It could then be as long and manageable as the task actually requires. Just like the old Hoover had.
There are times when the original design was actually better then what “progress” has brought us.

Busy Bear says:
22 June 2013

Well exactly. When I use an upright cleaner (and I do, all the time), the hose is there for getting into tight corners and places where I’d missed with the cylinder vac. But generally I find it so much easier to clean all the surfaces of a home -including hard floors- with a cylinder vac, and then finish the middle of carpeted rooms with the upright. I can’t bear using stretch-hoses when they are stretched out; the vacuum always seems to want to come with me.

Ken. says:
28 June 2013

I have a Sebo Auto X4 upright vacuum cleaner, and find cleaning stairs no problem. Using a Turbo Brush for stairs on the tool handle with the stretch hose, and reversing the vacuum to the foot of the stairs, I release the handle and lay the dust bag housing on the bottom stairs then work my way down from the top. Very simple and easy method.

I have a 1998 Dyson DC01. I stand the Dyson at the foot of the stairs and extend the stretchable hose all the way up the stairs – 12 in number. (What I would say was an average staircase.)
There is a special tool for stairs which attaches.

Dianne says:
13 July 2013

What great comments from everyone here and the humour is a big plus. We need an extra dollop of mental fun when we spend time researching the best way to clean stairs and still hope to be sane. I have 31 stairs in my new place so finding a better vacuum (I have given up on perfect) is really important. I have a Kenmore built in with a powerhead that roars like a fighter jet. It has been discontinued and it is still under warranty, but noise level is not something anyone monitors. The comments about getting an extension hose for canister vacuums is something I will check into as that could be a reasonable solution. Thanks to all for posting.

I use a long extension hose that gives me 3 metres, then use the short hose on my SEBO Felix (it has 3 metres too) so that gives me 6 metres of stretch. I either use the tools on board or the air driven turbo brush by SEBO. I love that I can store the cleaning tools AND the turbo brush on board -everything is close to hand – you can’t do that with a Miele!

I’ve vac’ed stairs since 12 yoa in 1957; then using a brown loud Hoover upright. The posting by Dave D from Hoovers guide (which I’d not read before (being a boy)) matches the way my Mom, who was a very practical lady, taught me. And like her, I’d use the flex pipe with T tool for the vertical faces of the steps and getting right into the corners. Since then and married, I often ‘voulunteer’ to do the vac’ing, our Electrolux upright is not so good or easy to use as was the hoover of former years, and being very heavy, my wife hates it. Of our AEG, Miel and Karcher vacs, the Miel 1500 is the easiest as it is light and will comfortably stand with stability on its back-end on the step in front of me.
On reflecting on all the comments above, I Googled for ‘long vacuum hoses’ and found that I can now buy an extension of up to 7 metres; which I’m sure my wife will also like, so’ll get it as an early birthday surprise gift. All I’ll have to do then, is find some where to put it away, and will be free to go out and play. Of the modern cleaning hoses, I’d criticise the designs of all at the handle end, where traps exist where the bellowed hoses enter, which can pinch the edge of on’e’s palm. The hose entries should be given a sizeable rim so that one can avoid the inadvertent painful pinches, which I can’t ever recall suffering from during my Hovering apprenticeship.

Wow 🙂
This is an incredible collection of ideas!
Waiting for more helpful pieces.
You would amazing to read a similar one here-
bestofcleaner blog

Thanks for the ideas, guys