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Vacuum cleaners suck, says survey

Vacuum cleaner on pink carpet

Some have names, others have trendy designs and many are bagless – but vacuum cleaner sales are still on the decline. So are we less house-proud or just more savvy when it comes to selecting the right model?

The latest figures on the UK vacuum cleaner market show that sales have fallen 14% in the last year. In numbers that means we’ve bought 800,000 fewer vacuum cleaners.

The report, from Mintel, also suggests we just don’t care as much about how clean our houses are compared to previous generations: that pride in cleaning is also in decline.

I love a clean house and vacuuming is a firm favourite, but if I’m honest it’s often a race against time, and one that starts when visitors are due. So are modern households just too busy to care as much about the dust on the floor as generations before? Maybe, but I reckon the decline in vacuum cleaner sales is a reflection of a much more mundane fact.

Frugal times, fewer sales

Vacuum cleaners aren’t the only domestic product to have taken a hit in sales in the last few years – almost all have. In 2008 only 50% of households waited until their current vacuum cleaner broke down before replacing it, whereas now 80% do.

My Miele vacuum cleaner is now five years old. I bought it after convincing my husband that, although the landlord’s vacuum cleaner turned on, it didn’t actually work. And I just had to have my own top-of-the-range Which? Best Buy, complete with on-board accessory storage, telescopic tube and HEPA filters.

My faithful vac is now showing the signs of age but, true to its excellent Which? brand reliability rating, it keeps going. Money well spent in my mind.

Making do, wasting less

But with price tags of £200-£500, I can’t convince myself (let alone my husband) to splash out again, so will carry on with my trusty old vac until it stops altogether. Although, since we’ve now got a cat, I do look enviously at the latest top-of-the-range models that score well in our pet hair tests.

The figures from this report suggest I’m not alone in this wait-and-see approach. Hopefully I’ll enjoy the new model even more having waited so long for it. Heck, waiting to upgrade could even makes us more, not less, like our parent’s generations when it comes to domesticity?

What my experience tells me is that buying a good vacuum with excellent reliability is the best, and most cost effective, way of getting clean floors with minimal effort… Just give the skirting boards a miss if you’re short on time.


I think you have got it in one: people are (at long long overdue last) realising that they should make appliances last longer and that they are not fashion accessories to be changed as often as your socks. Maybe in that sentence the word “should” could be replaced with the phrase “have to”.

There could be other reasons too, related to efficiency, particularly efficiency in terms of energy use.

I’ll illustrate the point – because it echo’s exactly the introductory comment about Miele appliances being made to last longer.

I use my Grandparent’s Hoover Junior bought in 1957. It is rated at just 225watts. As far as I can see you are hard pressed to buy a new vacuum rated at any less than 1500 watts these days. My vacuum has caused embarrassment to door to door salesmen from Kirby and Dyson, because when they have tried to demonstrate their cleaners, mine has picked up dirt that their demonstration ones could not. I can still buy every consumable part for my vacuum (belts, brushes, bags, replacement bearings, etc) from a wide range of shops including chain stores, departments stores and supermarkets, as well as on line and from Hoover Service Centres.

My vacuum was clearly built to last and it has done so, having survived several moves of home and use after significant building work when it has picked up all sorts of things that it really should not have, like small nails, screws, bits of brick and plaster.

In terms of economy, therefore, not only do I run this machine for around one sixth of the running cost of a modern one, but also I have never had a replacement cost in my lifetime – if my grandparents were alive they would have had over 50 years of use for an initial outlay of just under 3 guineas and probably not much over the same again in replacement parts in it’s whole life time.

I know I am the odd one out: no one else would consider running a machine this long, but why not? It is environmentally friendly and it is pocket friendly. It cleans better than at least two famous name brands of modern machine (one of which is consistently a Which high rating or best seller) and it’s also quieter and lighter than any newer machine I’ve ever tried to use.

The only drawback that mine has is that the filtration bags are 3-layer paper which is very good but I am sure will not filter out as much in the way of microscopic particles as HEPA filters do.

Maybe the time has come when the profligate throw-away culture will be forced to end and people will make things last longer again?

Of course, the concept that we are becoming a nation of slovenly sloths with filthy homes is also a possibility!!!

Good points, especially your comment about the profligate throw-away culture.

I have never understood why anyone should replace equipment that works well or could be fixed easily, unless the new appliance has a definite advantage. Vacuum cleaners are not cheap, so there is an incentive to repair rather than replace. It is easy to repair many domestic appliances and this is not hazardous provided simple precautions are taken. Modern designs tend to be harder to dismantle but there is little to lose if the alternative is replacement.

Sophie Gilbert says:
15 October 2010

My 20 years old, trusted AEG machine shows no sign of weakening, but the main brush broke last year. It was impossible to find an AEG replacement for it and I had to buy an inferior replacement because that was “what would fit the tube”. Most disappointing because the combination doesn’t work fantastically well. It will have to do though, because I sure as heck ain’t going to get rid of my vacuum cleaner until it conks out completely.

Scott Humphrey says:
29 November 2010

When my girlfriend and I moved into together my parent’s gave us their old Miele. We’ve had it just over 2 years and it started to suffer an intermittent cutting out fault. Quick Google search pointed out the problem and 10 mins with a screwdriver it was fixed. Now got a loss of suction problem, that I suspect is down to the newer design of bags getting clogged as we’ve just used it to hoover up some plaster dust. My GF is keen to get a replacement, but why replace when you can easily and cheaply repair. I would love a Dyson, however I get this underlying sense that they don’t have that great a lifespan and are seen as almost disposable. Something you’ll be looking to replace in 5 years time when the warranty has run out.

Which? only started including Dyson in best buys when the warranty was extended. If you do change your vac, hold on to the Miele. You might need it again.

I still use the same vacuum cleaner that I bought 35 years ago – A cylindrical Goblin. I’ve bought three different machines in the interim – A Hoover wet and dry for shampooing – A very quiet Henry and an Industrial cleaner for the workshop – All are still working.

Being the owner of 3 dogs and spending a lot of time walking on the shore we tend to bring a lot of sand home.
Over the past 30 odd years I have found that the only 2 upright vacuum cleaners to pick up all the sand out of the carpets are the Hoover Junior with its 250 watt motor and the later Turbopower with a maximum 600 watt motor.
The 600 watt Turbopower was replaced by a new Electrolux 1300 watt and that cleaned the surface of the carpet fine [dog hair ect] but the sand was left behind, 6 moths later bought a reconditioned 410 watt Turbopower which picked all [or most of ] the sand out of the carpet, that Turbopower is now around 18 yrs old, suction is so strong it sticks to the floor, belt needs changing around every 2 yrs and a pack of bags last around 1 yr and it doesnt need a power station to run it.
If you need a good long lasting and powerful cleaner the Turbopower [original, not 2 or 3] is the one to go for or even the Hoover Junior as it again cleans better than most modern cleaners and doesnt need a power station to run it

I have a cordless hand-held vacuum that is in good condition except that it needs new rechargeable batteries. It is beyond economical repair because the batteries are built-in.

Many hand-held vacs (and other rechargeable items) are discarded simply because they need new batteries. It would help if manufacturers would use standard size rechargeable batteries that can easily be replaced by the user.

While researching the best vacuum to replace my aging very annoying LG upright, I noticed several mistakes in the test reports. This is not the first time I have noticed discrepancies, but going through the reports I have found some glaring mistakes.
If there was a review on consumer test sites Which would be at the bottom! Why do we have to keep putting up with numerous mistakes, what’s up with YOUR quality? Come on if your going to do a test GET ALL THE FACTS RIGHT. You used to ooze quality, today I’m not sure anymore.

Thanks for this feedback, Phil. Our research teams spend a lot of time and effort making sure our content is of the highest quality – and factually accurate. So it’s very disappointing to hear that our vacs reviews haven’t lived up to your expectations. I am very happy to personally investigate the mistakes you say exist. Can you supply me with more information to help me do this either by posting the details here or by sending me an email using the form at this link: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/. Many thanks.

simonep says:
15 June 2011

I bought a Bosch vacuum cleaner just over 2 years ago based on Which’s best buy table and it has been TERRIBLE!!! I’ve had it looked at on countless occasions for the same problem. The head/attachment for vacuuming carpet stops sucking up and the brush stops rotating. This problem occurred after approx’ 2 months and occurs again every 2-3 months.

Bosch’s customer services are pretty awful at resolving it. I’ve lost count of the times engineers have been round. On the last one or two occasions I have asked for a refund or replacement and they have said they will only repair it.

I have to say I will not have blind faith in your reviews after the experiences i’ve had.

simonep says:
15 June 2011

I meant to add that one Bosch engineer told me my carpets were too fluffy – we had newish carpets. And another Bosch engineer told me it wasn’t really meant to be used on carpets!

Thanks for your comment, simonep – and sorry to hear you’ve experienced problems with your Bosch vac. We’ve looked up the model you noted in your email and, while we’ve received lots of comments, they’ve generally been very positive. While the brush bar doesn’t seem to be a common problem, we appreciate your feedback and will continue to monitor any future comments to see whether it’s a wider issue. We did find that the brush is quite difficult to clean when we tested this Bosch vacuum cleaner, so we’d recommend de-fluffing it after every vac to keep it in good working order.

Bellxchat says:
17 June 2011

When the vacuum cleaner’s not picking up well – especially pet hair – another vacuum cleaner won’t necessarily solve the problem. But a new floor tool will. Get a turbohead (floor head with a rotating brush) and the pet hair will come up off the carpet very easily….and you don’t need to “scrub” the carpet either, the turbohead does the work for you.

cordless vacuum cleaner lithium says:
19 April 2012

I don’t even know how I stopped up here, however I believed this post was once great. I do not realize who you are however certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger if you aren’t already. Cheers!

I thought you might like to know that I bought a Kenwood Chef food mixer plus all attachments in 1965. I bought a commercial machine as in those days it was exempt from Purchase Tax. It is still going strong and has never failed to please. Built to last I would say, why don’t cars last for as long? It seems that a modern item loses its value as soon as it is purchased and is replaced by the manufacturer with a newer model as soon as you use it.

I would like to add my approval of the Makita 18v Lithium battery handheld cleaner. For anyone into power tools and already has the batteries for their drills etc. its hard to beat. I have spent much money on Bosch Black and Decker and Dyson handhelds. While they worked to an extent, none delivered the goods. When it bought the Makita I was very impressed. Strong suction, easy to use and empty, easy clean filter and very long battery life. This is the bonus of using an already powerfull battery from the power tool range one of the best range of power tools. I have been using this for over a year now I would thoroughly recommend this cleaner to anyone who has existing 18v Lithium power tools, otherwise it is expensive.

I have a house where often the best place (location wise) to do DIY sawing & planing is far from the best place to clean up afterwards. I do put dust sheets down but there is always a bit of sawdust on the carpet that my old vacuum takes ages to suck up.

As it is overdue for replacement and making a few other weird noises from time to time, should I be looking at the Which recommended ones for “cat & dog” hair, or can somebody suggest a better idea?