/ Home & Energy

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.Β 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?


First, I remove the large head from my Miele cylinder cleaner and replace it with the the small cleaning head. Then I start vacuuming from the bottom up, moving the vacuum cylinder a few stairs at a time. The long hose enables me to reach a few stairs ahead of the step where I and the cylinder stand. The electrical cord is always behind me and not tripping me up. Sometimes, when I’m in a rush, I lift the cylinder and carry it up the stairs while I give a quick vacuum to the stairs.

I have a handheld vacuum but it would take too long with this as the head is very small.

I would love to buy a smaller, lightweight, powerful vacuum for the stairs, but would not pay the extortionate prices some well know manufacturers charge.

If I am stuck with vacuuming the stairs, I tend to use my Vax bagless upright vacuum, because it’s very light indeed. I’ll have to balance it on the stair, holding it with one hand, while I use the hose with a crevice nozzle on it to vacuum up. But it certainly isn’t easy – and even a light vacuum cleaner gets heavy after long enough!

I tried with my Henry Hoover once…but I’ll never make that mistake again.

When I lived in a house I used to use a cylinder vacuum, do the landings with the floor tool and then work upwards with the small brush attachment, holding the vacuum in the other hand. Half way up I would run out of cable and have to plug in at the top of the stairs. Hand-held vacs are great for cars and for anyone who finds a normal vac is too heavy, but the performance is not great.

I’ve lived in a bungalow for 30 years, so vacuuming stairs is just a memory. πŸ™‚

I use a Dyson DC 44 Animal, handheld with powered brush head.

This is a good example of poor design because it will put unnecessary strain on the wrist, made worse by the weight of the internal battery. An orthopaedic specialist should be able to confirm this.

My grandmother’s Hoover Dustette – designed in the 1940s – did not have this problem.

If the DC44 is intended to be held in two hands I will take back my criticism.

I had not appreciated that the battery is below the handle, which will help reduce wrist strain. However, I have found numerous criticisms that this handheld vac is a problem for users, particularly those with arthritis, so I stand by my claim that it is a poorly designed product.


I am not saying that the cleaner is ineffective, but after I posted my first comment I found quite a few users’ comments supporting my view that the DC44 is tiring to hold and a strain on the wrist, particularly by those with arthritis. If you are going to carry something heavy it is best to have the handle horizontal or sloping towards you, or to use two hands, and definitely not with weight in front twisting the wrist. I don’t know whether Which? enlists the help of elderly and arthritic people to test products that are not specifically designed for their needs.

I did pick up the criticism of the switch in a couple of the online comments. This is quite a common design fault with household products. Sometimes it is related to safety but often it is just lack of thought by manufacturers.

Thanks for looking into this, Adrian. There are plenty of examples of cordless appliances where it is easy to keep the power switch on, so hopefully this will be an easy problem to rectify with this vac.

I would just like to add that my criticism only applies when the DC44 is used to clean stairs, etc. and must be lifted frequently. When cleaning floors, the handle is a good angle and there is little strain on the wrist.

The researcher Adrian refers to who tried out the DC44 was myself, so I thought this might be a good time to join in this conversation.

I gave the DC44 a pretty thorough workout on walls, stairs, all my different floors – I even used it on shelves and skirting boards, and did the whole house more than once – these are not things that happen often in my house!

Personally I found it a lot less tiring than using my cylinder, especially on the stairs where I normally have to drag the cleaner up and balance it on the steps behind me as I go. I tend to end up dragging it up the steps by the hose, which I often think can’t be good for it, though I can reach the top without unplugging if I plug it into the right downstairs socket.

With the DC44 I took the stick off and attached the head to the motor, which felt comfortable to me. I liked the fact that I could work close to the stairs without wires or a hose to get in the way and it felt a lot less heavy than my cylinder as I haul it up in my usual way.

I should add, though, that I don’t have arthritis, and I do wonder whether any handheld machine would be comfortable for someone who does, though I do take your point that they can be made so if designed with that in mind.

There are two staircases in our house so a fair bit of consideration has gone into how best to clean them. We have a Miele and a Henry vacuum cleaner [both kept under the lower stairs as it happens]. The Miele is certainly the best one to use on the stairs and has a long enough flex and suction hose to operate conveniently. You can stand the unit on end on each stair and progress upwards or down but I tend to carry the machine in the left hand and work the tool – without any extensions attached – with the right hand. The Miele also has an alternative smaller-sized turbo-brush which is good for doing stairs. The Miele is a quieter cleaner than the Henry and performs better for ordinary household requirements [the weight of the full-size turbo-brush is an advantage giving closer ground contact and greater stability, and the engineering of the tube/head joint is exellent for allowing you to clean right under low furniture and in confined spaces]. Sir Henry will not stand properly on the stairs despite several warnings and is too bulky and awkward to manhandle in the Miele manner. The cleaner is very good in other ways, though, with a powerful suction, longer suction hose [but shorter tubes], a bigger bag, and plenty of flex; it comes into its own when you have to deal with the fluff off new carpets and DIY clear-ups.

I will stick with my much loved Miele cylinder cleaner which is a doddle on the stairs and works very well everywhere else. I would not pay Β£270 approx for this Dyson as it looks top heavy and any Dysons used in friends homes have felt very awkward to use. I much preferred the Henry as it glided very well and felt light and easy to use.

I must admit I’m pretty ruthless with the hose of my upright vac. I attach the head that looks like a funnel (upholstery cleaner?), leave the base at the bottom of the stairs and vacuum my way up. I stretch the hose as far as it’ll go which gets me a couple of stairs short of the top. Then, when I’m hoovering the landing, I go back to the stairs I couldn’t reach. Job done.

I know this probably isn’t great for the hose, but I hate hoovering the stairs so much I can’t help it.

Pjay Gloucester says:
23 May 2013

A few years ago, I puchased an extention hose from Betterware. It is 53″ in length and will extend to the top of my 14 step stairs with ease.
I have a Hoover upright unit. The hose fits onto the nozzle attachment hose, so I can leave the cleaner at the botom of the stairs, put the required nozzle on the other end and clean the stairs with ease.

Peter Wareham says:
23 May 2013

Like one or two of your other correspondents we use a Dyson battery-powered vacuum cleaner (DC 31) for th stairs and, although it only has an operating time of 6 mins on full power, it gets over the problem of trying to balance our Miele cylinder cleaner on each step of the stairs, which is a real pain. I honestly did not know that some upright vacs have a long hose reaching all the way up the stairs, but in any case I may well go for another battery-powered vac next time such as a stick vacuum cleaner from either Dyson or Gmax (?) is it? As they have longer operating times before he need to recharge and are apparently much lighter without the nuisance of a power cord.

Frederique Gower says:
23 May 2013

I use a handheld Dyson DC35. I got it when I became pregnant as I couldn’t face lugging our huge Dyson upright up and down the stairs. Result, it is now the only vacuum we use and the stairs are a breeze. I use the large brush head straight on the vacuum, and it does a pretty good job. Even my now 18 months old helps me vacuum the house with it. The rest of the family converted to it and now we all have (at least) one per household. I would be lost without it!

For many years I used my old Dyson DC07 which (although a bit bulky under furniture) was very good because it would easily stand at the bottom of the stairs while I was able to go all the way to the top by just pulling the extension hose out from the handle. Easy!

Then I made the mistake of swapping it for a nice new Dyson DC50. Disaster! The hose, when pulled out from the handle, only reached about halfway up the stairs. And I can’t swap back because I availed myself of the Currys “trade-in” of my old cleaner. So I’m faced with now having to buy a (cheap — it won’t be a Dyson!) hand-held vacuum to do just the stairs. What waste of money this has been! I really wish that I’d just stuck with the old DC07.

It would be a good idea if all reviews listed the hose length available for all cleaners. (And even better if all the manufacturers did so.)

Keith Barker says:
26 May 2013

We bought a Which Best Buy Miele S 7210 upright vacuum cleaner and use it’s extending hose for cleaning the stairs.Whilst we find this machine very good at cleaning it is quite heavy and unbalanced especially when using the extension hose. The hose is stiff and quite difficult to pull to its furthest extent and therefore frequently pulls the machine over completely which is very annoying but more importantly can be dangerous. I intend to raise this issue with Miele as in all other respects we are happy with this machine’s performance. Does anyone else experience the same problem?

Dave says:
31 October 2014

I agree with your comments about the Miele S7210. Unfortunately I had to really pull on the hose to reach our top 2 stairs which recently resulted in the hose tearing! This of course also meant that the whole machine was rendered useless. We managed to repair the hose with some glue which allows us to continue using the Miele for normal vacuuming. As yet we haven’t dared to try and use the repaired hose. It costs about Β£80 for a replacement hose assembly! πŸ™

John G says:
27 May 2013

I use the Coopers Of Stortford extending hose which extends up to 16ft and costs Β£6.99 plus p.and p . It fits both our upright and an industrial type vacuum cleaner which can sit at the head or foot of the stairs, but not all the tools from these machines fit this hose well, some have a tendency to come off in ones hand.

We have a Dyson DC14, only an average size house – but the hose doesn’t reach the top of the stairs so we have to move the cleaner to the landing. There is then the danger of pulling it down

It only needs to be a couple of foot longer – and I’m sure we cannot be the only people who have this problem

P.F.Ratigan says:
29 May 2013

I have a SEBO type X4 with the usual 0.7m long concertina hose at the top. I vacuum the stairs by lying the cleaner flat at the bottom. When the cleaner hose is joined to the optional 1.85m extension hose the two together extend to 4m, easily enough to reach the top of the stairs. The small tool clipped to the back of the cleaner makes things very easy.
I feel that the two hoses will extend further if required.

P.F.Ratigan says:
29 May 2013

I once bought a Dyson vacuum, being accustomed to the technology. It worked superbly, but the handle fell apart after less than a year. Then there was risk of running over the pieces that broke and fell off (the plastics were very brittle), thereby jamming the brush. I cemented the pieces back on as much as I could. It was in for repair several times. It was a high maintenance cleaner even when doing normal household jobs. Eventually I scrapped it.
We also have a Hoover Dustette which we use for the beds, and a Numatic HenryXtra for rough jobs.

Roger E says:
30 May 2013

I have an upright Sebo with an extension hose. I can do the top half of the stairs with the vacuum on the landing and the bottom half with the vacuum in the hall. It works very well.

C Davidson says:
30 May 2013

I use an upright Dyson with extension hose. It reaches to the half landing, and I then carry the machine up to that point to do the rest.

P.F.Ratigan says:
31 May 2013

The extension hose that I refer to is an extra that I bought with the vacuum. It has a rubber connection that slides over the concertina section attached to the body beside the handle. With the two fitted there is no need to clean half way and then the other half. I feel that if the vacuum cleaner is at the top of the stairs when the stairs are cleaned then there is the risk of it being pulled down and knocking down the user.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

This is true, a vacuum at the top needs to be used with care. I use a Numatic Henry and the hose is plenty long enough to come 1/4 the way down without pulling the cleaner, but many cleaners have shorter hoses.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

I run a domestic housecleaning service, taking with me all products and equipment, and regularly clean 15 or more flights of stairs each week. I clean just about every style and age of property you can think of; this, coupled with the different carpet types means I have a variety of ways of vacuuming stairs. As I work alone and the clients are not usually home, my personal safety is my principle concern. Vacuuming stairs cam be a very dangerous activity.

I use two different cleaners – a semi-commercial upright and semi-commercial cylinder. Some homes require only one vacuum cleaner due to the floor types (homes with almost all carpets are the ones where I use the upright, whereas hard-floor homes require the cylinder), but in many I use both cleaners so as to achieve the fastest and most effective results across all surfaces. There is no such thing as one vacuum cleaner which does all tasks to perfection. I will always use my cylinder cleaner on stairs given the choice, usually standing it at the bottom of the stairs to clean 3/4 of the way up the stairs and then putting it on the landing to clean down the remaining 1/4. I cannot abide the stretch hoses on upright cleaners as I am constantly fighting them as they pull back on me. They are also hopeless on stairs which twist as the hose gets caught on the stair rails.

If there is one thing set in fact, it is that vacuum cleaners are a personal choice. I owned the original D y s o n hand-held cleaner, the DC16, and I never ever liked it as I found it impossible to hold onto for any length of time. Whilst the DC44 is vastly improved, I have picked one up and found it to be no more easier on the wrist. Frankly, I don’t care what online reviews say about products, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and I’ve been caught out in the past by trusting what 100’s of people said about a certain product.

Ultimately though, cleaning is hard work and for many a boring job (I am one of the few who love it & have since made a very good career out of it), and manufacturers can do what they like to their cleaners to make them look and sound better. That’s up to them, I’m not bothered (though do forgive me if I pull out what hair I have left if I hear the word “technology” used one more time), but you know I use some of the most basic bog-standard equipment & products to do my job, yet my clients are always astounded at the results and at how much I get done in the time I am in their home. It’s not all about the “technology”, the fading “knowledge” of how to clean (not to mention elbow-grease) is what’s needed.

I like Busy Bear’s pragmatic down to earth comments, and add that stretch hoses on uprights are like doing a gym workout with springs, as well, when used for close working on stairs with the machine put on step between me and step being cleaned I find the flex weighty and cumbersome. So I too use any of our cylinders on stairs, and our powerful heavy upright on large carpets.

Which leads me to comment ‘off topic’ that, in reaction to the new well intentioned EU law on halving the power of vacuum cleaners, I intend to acquire the skill of using two vacuum cleaners at once. It shouldn’t be difficult, simply copy cross country skiier’s style, it’ll save the time of going to a gym to use their walking treadmills.

Marion Arbuckle says:
31 May 2013

I have an awkward bend at the bottom of my stairs and find my Dyson upright doesn’t reach to the top unless I balance it on a stair. I have bought a hand held small vacuum cleaner which does the work very well.