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Does your vacuum cleaner suck too much?

vacuum cleaner

A vacuum cleaner that excels at picking up pet hair from carpets and fine dust from hard floors is all well and good, but not when the suction is so powerful it’s impossible to move when it’s switched on.

In the past few months, we’ve tested vacuum cleaners with push forces exceeding 80 newtons.

Put another way, it takes as much force to push some models a single stroke as it does to lift an Olympic-standard shot put or eight bags of sugar.

While improving your physique might be a desirable consequence of vacuuming for some, we think this level of heavy lifting is more suitable for the gym.

Why is this happening?

As far as we can tell, this strange phenomenon is an unwanted consequence of the vacuum cleaner energy label.

Introduced in September 2014, it restricted the motor size of vacuum cleaners to 1600 watts to save energy, and introduced ratings for how well each cleaner sucked up fine dust from carpet and hard floors.

This led to manufacturers racing to optimise their machines for sucking up fine dust in order to get a higher score on their energy labels.

Some manufacturers appear to have done this at the expense of the end user, who might be surprised to get their new machine home only to find it’s almost physically impossible to use when switched on.

What has Which? done about it?

The push and pull force of each model is now integral to how we test vacuum cleaners at Which?.

If a machine’s push force exceeds 45 newtons, we adjust the power setting until it’s acceptably easy to move around. This is then the setting we use to conduct our cleaning tests.

We now also publish the push force of each vacuum cleaner on its most powerful setting, so Which? members can decide themselves whether they want to buy a machine that may be difficult to push around.

Do you have a vacuum cleaner that you have to take a running start at to get it moving over your floors? Can you think of any other products that have become more difficult to use in recent years?


We often discuss product durability but I cannot recall if we have discussed the current EU durability requirement for mains-powered vacuum cleaners. Motors must be designed to work for a minimum of 500 hours and hoses to survive flexing tests: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/Manufacturer%20guide%20-%20vacuum%20cleaners.pdf

It’s a step in the right direction but I would like to see consumers protected by minimum guarantee periods that are appropriate to various products.

I’m not sure this interpretation of the EU Manufacturers guide is correct. EN 60312-1 is the relevant performance standard and, like many such standards, includes endurance tests to verify the operation of devices and components. The tests for this are done under very specific conditions, and the motor test, for example, is the ability of the cleaner to maintain airflow with a recommended total time of 500h. It specifies how the dust bag should be filled and the cycle time. This does not equate to a “guaranteed” life as operational conditions and materials, emptying of the dust bag, for example, could well differ from the EN tests. So there might be trouble convincing a supplier.

500h, based on the EU usage criteria, would be 10.4 years of vacuuming. That is well outside the EU’s basic legislation on consumer protection (2 years) and even ours and Scotland’s (6 and 5 years). So you’d need a 10 year warranty to make full use of the “durability” even if you could prove it had been used under “standard” conditions.

It seems strange that the EU has picked on vacuum cleaners for limiting power. As it is to limit the consumption of energy (43 kWh a year – so they reckon you’ll spend less than an hour a week vacuuming) I wonder when they apply it to such a little-used device why they don’t apply it to other appliances, and things like TVs. A vacuum cleaner supposedly uses 0.8 units a week. A decent large TV will use 3 times that. Or, more particularly, if they really want to save energy, limit the power of car engines. All very arbitrary.

As part of its durability assessment, Which? could look through performance standards to see just what endurance tests are carried out on components. It might be a start.

That’s very negative, Malcolm. Of course products have to be tested under standard conditions for meaningful comparison. Under these conditions the motor is expected to operate for a minimum of 500 hours and how long individual ones last will depend on how the cleaners are used and also on luck.

I don’t know why the EU chose to restrict the power of vacuum cleaner motors but you have to start somewhere and when some cleaners are a nuisance because of too much suction – the original topic of this Conversation – why not? With the exception of Dyson, vacuum motors have not changed much in design in our lifetimes. We are seeing more efficient motors in many products, though much of this is driven by the need for more efficient motors for battery-operated products.

Yes we could save more energy by changing car design but I don’t see that as a reason for not having more efficient vacuum cleaners and other household products. Criticism of the amount of power that products use on ‘standby’ has led to less wasteful products.

Longer guarantees will help get rid of third-rate products and push up quality. We cannot afford to carry on generating mountains of waste household goods that have failed after a short life.


Two down votes! How bizarre. I am not suggesting that three would be better though. : ) Perhaps it is the “Very negative” starting sentence. I have not voted BTW.

Vacuum cleaners are not the first item as washing machines and ovens I think have already been dealt with. That it has been done in an opaque way is not a good thing.

Overall it should be self-evident that every activity that creates heat is probably not great for the future of mankind so minimising consumption or equally making more efficient use have to be good policies.

Which? in it’s own way has been poor in highlighting and taking action on housing and energy loss. Essentially with over 0.7m subscribers it might have been effective in making real case studies and educating people on achieving efficient dwellings. Campaigning on energy costs in a global energy system is verging on the futile when more effectively publicising the solutions to energy use are available. Thus helping people save money in the long term and reducing excess energy production.

It would be good if we could tackle all forms of energy wastage but I don’t see much chance of that happening any time soon. What we have achieved thanks to the EU is vacuum cleaners that use less than half the power of models that have gone before. They still do their job but don’t produce as much heat as a fan heater.

When electric drills and other power tools became popular it became common to use the power consumption in marketing. I can remember Black & Decker doing this. The popularity of cordless tools has changed marketing because high power consumption is associated with short running time. It’s not that long since one Dyson handheld vacuum would run for six minutes before needing charged. Now we have many rechargeable vacuum cleaners that will do much better.

I think we do need to explore ways of saving energy and minimising pollution without waiting for comprehensive solutions that may be a long time coming. The increasing popularity of electric cars and buses will help held address the problem of air pollution in built-up areas. We don’t need to wait until we can do the same with HGVs and other diesel-powered transport.

Time to bring back the Ewbank hand-pushed carpet sweeper? No suction, just roller-brush action.

Carpet sweepers are fine for hard surfaces but not brilliant for cleaning carpets, despite the name. Nowadays we have electric carpet sweepers at prices that won’t break the (ew)bank.

Suction was a worthwhile addition but that does not mean that it has to be so powerful that it becomes difficult to move the cleaning head or it lifts the corners of rugs.

Our Miele 1600W Cat and Dog vacuum cleaner, now about 16 years old (probably more) has a selector switch to change the power (suction) to deal with different kinds of surface. Seems to put the user in control. That reminds me, I must order some more dust bags.

The user is not in as much control as it may seem. I have a Miele cleaner without the pet designation and probably earlier because it is rated 1500W. The suction control is marked as variable between 300W and 1500W, though on the lowest setting where it produces very gentle suction it actually consumes over 400W and over 800VA because of the very crude phase control. Appliances with a low power factor distort the AC waveform and create problems for the generating companies. The power consumption is hardly surprising because the motor is an old fashioned design with a commutator, brushes and field windings. Permanent magnet motors are significantly more efficient and the EU power limit for vacuum cleaners makes them essential.

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I was referring to suction control, not energy consumption.

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Small motors like that always used permanent magnets but it was the development of magnets that could provide a strong field and shaped to make best use of it that they started to appear in larger motors. My 1982 Philips washing machine contained a permanent magnet motor made by Italian company Polymotor and the earliest examples I’ve seen dated from the 1970s, albeit not in domestic products.

The vacuum cleaner speed control is a simple triac circuit of the type you mention and here is an example of one for a Miele cleaner: https://www.partmaster.co.uk/speed-control-module-cyl-s444i/product.pl?pid=309567 I built speed controllers and dimmers when they were very expensive to buy. Happy days. I presume that modern brushless motors use speed controls that do not play as much havoc with the power factor.

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Sadly it costs more to make electronic devices these days, when they are mass produced.

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I’ve been considering it but my carpet is too thick. I’m heading for 80 and I like a clean home. No pets, few visitors, the question is which do I buy!

Dont buy tower vacuum unless you are built like Hercules

The Which? reviews show give the weight of the cleaners they test and also the amount of force needed to push them over medium and plush-pile carpets.

Maybe the Which? reviewers were thinking about Hercules when they wrote this: “Some vacuum cleaners can be almost impossible to push on their highest setting. We have measured push forces higher than 80 Newtons, which is like picking up an Olympic mens shot put everytime you push the vacuum cleaner over carpet.”

Apparently, this is all the fault of some bloke who was born and raised in Gloucester and who patented the first vacuum cleaner:


Yesterday, I found his “blue plaque” on the house where he lived, next to Gloucester Park.

There is an interesting photo of an early machine based on Booth’s patent on this page: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/British_Vacuum_Cleaner_Co
It does not look very safe, either electrically or mechanically.

The dubious electrical safety of early household products reminds me of this delightful advert relating to vacuum cleaners:

Credit: cracked.com

Ah, Cracked 🙂

I’m a big fan of Roger and all his “Honest Ads”


Yes, but I could relate better to English humour. Apparently the vacuum cleaner ad is British.

Help! In the past two or three months, deep wrinkles have developed in my eighteen-year-old carpet, hitherto perfectly smooth. Is it possible that these have been caused by my cleaning lady turning up the suction on my Miele vacuum-cleaner to its highest level?

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Hi Fiona,

I’m not an expert on carpets, but I do have a coupled of ruffled or wrinkled areas in my 7 year old living room carpet.

In my case, I am highly confident that they have not been caused by excessive vacuum cleaning.

One occurs between the room’s door and the nearest corner of the room – I think it is the result of the bottom of the door tending to push the carpet in towards the corner. The other area is much smaller and may be caused by a cupboard pushing against the carpet, each time its hinged door is opened.

That said, if your cleaner has recently changed her methods for hoovering the carpet – or anything else that she does in that room, it could explain why you are now seeing wrinkles after 18 years without any. But there might be other explanations too.

To decrease the suction while vacuuming carpet with medium to high pile..simply disconnect the hand held hose attachment hose nozzle from connection near vaccum head.
Vacuum will now move easily and still provide all the suction you need to pick up dirt/debris.
To use the hand held hose attachment.. simply replace back to original connection.

Maureen Spears says:
26 February 2019

Had new carpets. Dyson leaves huge scratch mark all over the carpet and is also so heavy that it can’t be moved upstairs. Today I bought a Miele C1 Junior. Tried it but found that even on the lowest setting I have to open the air vent and, even then, it is extremely difficult to push. It is easier to place the floor tool at its further extent and the pull it towards me! My 1980 Electrolux had settings for short pile, thick pile and hard floors which altered the height of the machine. Seems to me the Miele is not fit for purpose as it doesn’t really clean carpets. Vacuum prices seem to have gone into the stratosphere and yet it is extremely hard to get a lightweight, sturdy machine. I understand that most people by the turbo tool for the Miele but this costs about another £50.

It looks as if the problem may be the new carpets rather than the vacuum cleaners. The ordinary turbo tool is simply powered by the air flow and not motor driven, and is only really suitable for short-pile carpets.

New carpets with a wool content liberate a lot of fluff and threads when new and should be vacuumed at a low speed, with the air vent partly open and with the cleaning head raised to a high position. Not all vacuum cleaners have these features.

As Wavechange says the turbo head should be disengaged or replaced with the standard head for long-pile carpets. The machine will also struggle if the dust bag or container becomes full quickly as it will with a new wool-pile carpet. It is probably better to brush the carpet by hand initially to release most of the fluff.

We have two Miele vacuum cleaners [one upstairs, the other downstairs, and we clean the stairs with a battery-powered Samsung stick]. We are having new carpet fitted later this week on the stairs and landing and I shall see how our machines perform.

We once had a Dyson cleaner but found its performance unsatisfactory; it was also very noisy and too heavy so I cleaned it up and we put into an auction with a lot of other items. So popular are Dysons that it fetched more than we paid for it three years previously.

Every since Hoover promoted ‘Beats as it sweeps as it cleans’ I have been concerned that aggressive vacuum cleaners could do more harm than good to any half-decent carpet.

Here’s an old advert to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2sNntaeP-s

I’ve managed fine without turbo-brushes, preferring to vacuum frequently and take off outdoor shoes when I come home.

Michele says:
4 March 2019

Just bought a new Hoover….Hoover make. Cannot make the thing slide over the carpet or hard floor. Would need arms like a wrestler to clean my house. Its stuck to the floor when its running. Surely this will burn put the motor in the long run?. Its going back….ridiculous.

Bruce Tulloch says:
15 August 2020

In April 2020 we bought our Miele 10661280 Blizzard CX1 Comfort PowerLine Bagless Vacuum Cleaner on the strength of its overwhelmingly positive Which? review. It is indeed powerful with a lot of useful features and is probably brilliant if your house is enormous with huge stretches of hard flooring and practically no furniture. However, if like many of us your floors are almost entirely carpeted, and if like us you are well into your 70s, then this machine is literally a pain in the back. After cleaning only one room, I am exhausted and clammy with sweat. It’s so powerful that on only the second of its four settings it’s practically impossible to move on carpet. We have persevered with it for some months, but now regret it. But we’re stuck with it – and at our age for the rest of our lives.
Please, if you’re like us with lots of carpet and lessening energy, avoid this machine. Or consider a horrendous bill for refitting the entire house with hard flooring.

This is a well known problem with modern cleaners that tend to have more suction than older models. The Which? review for your cleaner states: “The maximum setting is so powerful that it’s uncomfortable to move on any type of floor surface, but you can find a comfortable level with a bit of trial and error.” That is an understatement of the problem in my view.

Knowing the problem you have described from reading vacuum cleaner reviews I chose a Miele cleaner supplied with a turbo-brush head intended for use by pet owners, even though I don’t have any pets. It was also supplied with a standard cleaning head, so I was able to confirm how hard that was to use on carpets. The turbo-brush (Miele Turbo Plus STB 200-205 STB 201 Vario Vacuum Brush Head – now discontinued) makes it a much easier to use on carpets, though if used on hard surfaces it sounds like an aircraft about to take off. The current equivalent costs in excess of £70.

Here is a video comparing the older and current Miele turbo brush heads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8PUr91J6cg

It would have been helpful if the Which? review of the vacuum cleaner had also commented on how powerful the machine was on the minimum setting because, as Mr Tulloch says, even on a low setting it is a strain to operate it on carpet.

The widespread domestic trend to replace carpeted floors with laminate or wooden surfaces presumably led to a fall in demand for vacuum cleaners so the manufacturers have developed machines more suitable for hard flooring but not suitable for conventional carpets.

Our Miele vacuum cleaners have a sliding shutter on the tube which can be opened to a greater or lesser extent to reduce the suction at the nozzle or cleaning head. This is good for cleaning lighter weight and unfitted mats or rugs in the same overall room cleaning operation.

The turbo heads also have a foot-operated toggle switch which can alternate the brush elevation between hard and soft floor coverings.

Christine Cullen says:
22 November 2020

I bought a Numatic Henry which is a pain to use. There is absolutely no adjustment to the suction and it’s useless on rugs because it sucks them up! I’ve ended up just using the Henry to do the edges of wooden and carpeted floors and using my old rechargeable upright Bosch for the rest of the rugs and carpets. Very bad design fault not to have some adjustment on the suction.

This is a well known problem since manufacturers increased the suction power of their cleaners. The problem will reduce as the bag starts to fill but the easiest solution is to use a turbo-brush, where the suction drives a revolving brush. These come with some models and are particularly popular with pet owners because they are effective in collecting pet hair, as are upright cleaners.

Numatic use the name Airo Brush to refer to their turbo-brushes. Here is a video showing two sizes of these brushes in action, brought to you buy a guy with an obsession with vacuum cleaners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwQjond4JkQ I presume that the turbo-brush can be bought separately as well as in the kit shown.

As pointed out, turbo-brushes are noisy. Mine (not Numatic) reminds me of an aircraft taking off but it makes the cleaner much easier to use.

We have a Henry as a reserve vacuum cleaner and for certain purposes. It has a normal power level activated by the green on/off switch plus a red booster button which creates additional suction. These seem to give effective vacuum force variation without the problem Christine has mentioned, but the type of rug might be the cause of those problems: small or lightweight ones and those with fringes are difficult for any vacuum cleaner. The traditional remedy was to take them out, hang them on a line, and beat them; this is good for children too.

Some Numatic cleaners (Henry and friends) have two power levels like yours, John. I have not seen one with a slide valve on the handle – a crude but effective way of reducing suction.

On our Henry, there is a grip ring on the upper length of the metal tube which can be rotated to reduce suction [by venting the vacuum force]. Perhaps this feature is also on Christine’s machine and she hasn’t found it yet; it’s not exactly obvious.

My Miele vac has a rotary switch to set the power level to the motor and a slider on the hose connector that reduces the suction. Luxury.

Thanks for drawing my attention to the rotary control on the Henry cleaners, John. Hopefully this will help Christine.

Some vacuum cleaners have a control for motor power on the handle, which is better than having a suction relief valve on the handle and a power control on the cleaner. The ones I have seen had a cable between the handle and the cleaner but the modern approach is to use a wireless controller on the handle. With ‘stick’ cleaners this is not necessary if the motor unit is at the handle end but having a heavy motor next to the handle of a stick cleaner can make them cumbersome.

As well as the motor speed controller [which we tend not to alter] and the vacuum relief slider on the tube, our Miele also has a foot-operated valve on the brush accessory which makes it convenient when cleaning small loose mats in doorways. It is possible that these various operational features are not appreciated when choosing products and people buy one with a nice appearance, a pleasant colour, or a funny name.

Her indoors, she who must be obeyed, has an argumentative cleaner named John.

The appeal of smiling Henry and friends has helped a British company to continue to manufacture their durable, repairable and sensibly priced products in the UK.

Numatic produced special edition versions named John and Lewis, probably sold a well known retailer.

At least you know your place in your household, John. 😉

I have never thought of John as a sucker.
If Numatic can successfully make cleaning products in the UK (Somerset) at sensible prices, why cannot Dyson. I’d like to Back Britain where possible, and see good products made here supporting jobs. Maybe Brexit and COVID could be an incentive.

The first carpet cleaner I was ever aware of was named Ewbank. I was astonished to find they were still going.

Ewbank is still going but the brand was swept up by US brand Earlex.

Have you bought a British made cleaner, Malcolm? I have twice considered doing so but the problem has been storage. Maybe I should have looked at one of Henry’s smaller siblings.

No, my last cleaner was a Miele bought 17 years ago and still going strong. It was bought on the basis of Which? reviews. However, some say the UK cannot compete in the appliance market but clearly this is not the case; but they need to maybe look harder at the performance.

Some of us have said many times that we would like Which? to show where products are made in their reviews. Sometimes this is difficult to know, for example where companies manufacture in different countries. Sometimes products simply assembled from parts produced in other countries. Nevertheless, I suggest it would be useful to provide information where this is available.

I have had a look at the evolution of Miele canister cleaners. Mine, which is around 20 years old, has a rotary control for motor speed on the vacuum and a sliding suction relief valve on the handle. To save carting it up and down stairs I bought another one early this year and that has six power levels controlled by foot-controls, which is more convenient.

Miele offers a cleaner with a wireless remote control in the handle, but that’s more expensive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fj1XzRmBrM&t=856s I believe other brands also offer wireless remote controls. A better solution would be to have some sort of trigger to temporarily increase the speed where more suction is needed.

I see QueChoisir [France] has testes for over 300 vacuums and does go into extensive details but not actual suction power. It does cover the ways that suction may be reduced.

Choice [Australia] does not cover such a range but does link its reviews to readers comments which is wonderfully reassuring to see how they perform in real life. A feature that one would think so useful to members.

ConsumerReports [US] have this interesting note and features:
“Results in the following chart are gathered from Consumer Reports’ 2018 Summer Survey, 2019 Winter Survey, and 2020 Winter Survey of 63,498 upright vacuums, owned by members who purchased a new machine between 2010 and 2020.

Our predicted brand reliability ratings are based on a statistical model that estimates problem rates within the first 5 years of ownership, for vacuums that are not covered by an extended warranty or service contract. We also adjust for the median number of hours of use per month. The median in our survey was 4 hours per month. Higher ratings are indicative of better reliability. Brands receiving a red or orange rating cannot be recommended by CR at this time.

Our brand owner satisfaction ratings are based on the proportion of members who are extremely likely to recommend their vacuum to friends and family.”

I’m not surprised that QC does not pay attention to suction power, Patrick. Even with the current maximum wattage of 900 watts (half that of some cleaners before the EU legislation) it’s not a meaningful measure of how effective a cleaner is. As Which? has reported, lower power has not meant a decrease in the effectiveness of cleaners. Upright cleaners use tend to have high suction but are effective because they combine suction with rotary brushes/beaters. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/vacuum-cleaners/article/vacuum-cleaners-energy-label-explained-aVMnp9z71EkN

Despite lower power there remains a problem that many vacuum cleaners remain difficult to use on carpets, the focus of this Convo.

In Convos on sustainability some of us have expressed concerns about how cleaners with rechargeable batteries will last. Which? now warns us about ones with no replaceable battery, but before buying a cordless vac I would want to no the cost of a spare battery and will the be available in ten years time. Have Choice and CR looked at this issue?

It’s always interesting to learn how different consumers’ organisations look at similar issues so thanks for your contributions.

Dyson’s distaste for the EU may have had a basis on the very long case in which he objected to the EU measuring suction when the vacuum was empty. He maintained that suction should be measured at half-full. Logically correct.

” Dyson spokeswoman said: “This is welcome news and a win for consumers across Europe. We have been arguing consistently that the Commission committed two legal violations to the detriment of European consumers and Dyson.”

The spokeswoman said that lab tests for energy labels do not reflect “real use”, and said the EU labelling system “flagrantly discriminated against a specific technology” – Dyson’s patented cyclone.

“This benefited traditional, predominantly German, manufacturers who lobbied senior Commission officials. Some manufacturers have actively exploited the regulation by using low motor power when in the test state, but then using technology to increase motor power automatically when the machine fills with dust – thus appearing more efficient,” she added.

“This defeat software allows them to circumvent the spirit of the regulation, which the European Court considers to be acceptable because it complies with the letter of the law.

“In these days of Dieselgate, it is essential consumers can trust what manufacturers say about their products. But the Commission endorsed a measure that allowed Dyson competitors to game the system.
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“The legal process has been long, distracting and expensive, with the odds stacked against us. Most businesses simply do not have the resources to fight regulations of this nature. It is appalling that this illegal and fundamentally anti-competitive behaviour has been endorsed for so long.”

The outcome where 60C in a wash is not 60C is another example of manufacturers/EU coming to an agreement that seems to defy logic. However applied to cars and mpg would seem a natural extension to this concept. Just register 60 mph when someone drives at 50mph and we will all be impressed by improved consumption though it will take longer than envisaged for the journey. Splendid solution – no?

That’s interesting. Increasing the motor power as the bag fills makes good sense if you want to maintain suction. Modern bags are better than the ones we had 20 years ago but the suction power of bagged cleaners does reduce as the bag fills. It’s disappointing if some manufacturers have done this to cheat in the tests rather than for sensible reasons.

At one time. Which? would not rate Dyson cleaners as ‘Best Buys’ because of unreliability. Dyson then introduced a five year guarantee on mains-powered cleaners, so I presume they improved their designs. Their motor designs are interesting and more efficient than their competitors. I would not have a bagless cleaner if I was paid to take it, but Dyson have convinced many people that this is the best approach and the major manufacturers all offer bagless cleaners, I believe. That’s marketing.

The EU specifications for cleaning performance do not specify temperatures but cleaning performance. Shorter washes at 60°C have been replaced by longer but equally effective washes lower temperatures. This protects delicate fabrics and saves energy. Manufacturers are removing meaningless temperature figures from their machines and instead indicating the purpose of each program.

I have not managed to find any reports providing evidence of manufacturers using ‘defeat software’ to increase the motor power in their vacuum cleaners. Is there any evidence of this? It implies cheating rather than a simple automatic compensation to increase power as the bag fills to maintain suction.

Nevertheless it does not make much sense to carry out tests only on empty cleaners, as Dyson has pointed out.

I think all my vacuum cleaners are far too old to contain any software controlled components.