These days, every pitch for a new vacuum cleaner promises a tidier floor. To help you cut through the hype, consider these points before you buy.
¢ Need to know: How will you use the vacuum cleaner? Do you have wall-to-wall carpeting, or hardwood floors with area rugs, or a combination of the two? Will you need attachments for cleaning furniture, windowsills, Venetian blinds, ceiling fans?
¢ Upright or canister? This depends on the surfaces to be cleaned and the geography of your home. If you live in a three-story house, do you want to drag an upright with all the attachments up every flight of stairs? Or would a canister vac be easier to handle? Both have similar path widths (12 to 15 inches). But experts say a canister is better for a house in which more than half the floor surface is wood, while an upright does a better job deep-cleaning carpeting.
¢ Bag or bagless? Vacuum bags are easy to replace and inexpensive, and some cleaners come with lights that tell you when it's time for a change. With a bag model, you, the user, will seldom come in direct contact with the stuff you've swept up. On the other hand, bagless vacuums offer a view of the cup that holds the debris and provide easy access to the contents if you've swept up something valuable. But emptying the cup can be messy and may involve cleaning the unit's filter each time.
¢ Breathing lessons: Vacuum cleaners come with different kinds of filtration systems that remove dust and airborne particles before expelling the air. If allergies are an issue in your home, check out manufacturers' specs online and compare them with information from an independent source, such as the Clean Air Council (www.cleanair.org). HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. True HEPA filters remove 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 micron in diameter (or larger) from the air that passes through them; sealed airflow systems reduce the amount of dirt recycled by the vacuum.
¢ Size matters: Make sure that the electrical power cord is at least 20 feet long and retracts easily. (Most vacuums these days are 12 amps.) Hoses should be more than 5 feet long.