Hands On: Next-Generation Specialty Vacs

Stick, Hand-held & Compact Wet/Dry Vacuum Evaluations

New features and designs now make specialty vacuum cleaners more powerful and more versatile than ever before. You’ll find stick vacs that use lithium-ion batteries and convert to hand-held vacs in new ways. Plus, cyclonic suction technology has become a common feature in stick vacs and hand-held vacs.

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Dyson

Attention, neat freaks: The latest specialty vacuum cleaners (or specialty vacs) are more powerful and    more versatile than ever before. For the first time, you can get a stick vac that uses lithium-ion batteries, which means that the power won’t fade the way that it does with other battery technologies. Stick vacs that convert to hand-held vacs in new ways also can make it slightly easier to switch from one mode of operation to another. And makers of both stick vacs and hand-held vacs are adding more models that use cyclonic suction technology, which means that you’ll pay less than you would have 4 years ago to get the better performance of these versions compared with models that use conventional suction technology.

But hold on to your dust cloths, because many of these new products aren’t suited necessarily for the types of quick cleaning tasks for which specialty vacs are designed.

POWER PLAY. The most significant change for specialty vacs is that you now can buy cordless stick vacs that are powered by lithium-ion batteries. Hoover introduced the first lithium-ion model in March 2009, then Electrolux and Dyson followed in December 2010 and March 2011, respectively. That’s big news for consumers, because experts consider lithium-ion batteries to be slightly more powerful than are other batteries that are used in cordless stick vacs. And the power that’s in lithium-ion batteries doesn’t fade the way that it will in nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries. In other words, if a lithium-ion stick-vac battery runs for 15 minutes on a full charge, you’ll get full power and full suction during that time.

We found when we used these products that the lithium-ion stick vacs allow you to pick up large debris from your floor, such as paper clips, beads and crayon fragments, during the entire life of the battery. Stick vacs that use other types of batteries struggled to pick up the same items after just a few minutes of use. In addition, the models that use lithium-ion batteries recharge much more quickly. All three lithium-ion models recharge fully in 4 hours or less, whereas models that use other batteries typically take about 16 hours to recharge fully.

The biggest problem for consumers, however, is cost. You’ll pay at least twice as much for a lithium-ion stick vac as you would for most other cordless stick vacs. Unless you plan to use your stick vac to clean multiple rooms at a time or use it multiple times in a day, it’s difficult to justify paying so much extra for the kind of lithium-ion battery endurance that some consumers won’t need.

The Dyson DC35 Multi Floor ($300) uses a 22.2-volt lithium-ion battery, which is the most powerful battery that’s available in a cordless specialty vac. The Electrolux Ergorapido Ion EL1030A ($250) and the Hoover LiNX Cordless Stick BH50010 ($180) each uses an 18-volt lithium-ion battery. You won’t find a dramatic difference in the battery power among the three, but in our hands-on evaluations, the DC35 picked up balls of pet hair that the EL1030A and the BH50010 couldn’t.

Editor’s Note: We couldn’t help but wonder whether the emergence of lithium-ion batteries in stick vacs means that vacuum-cleaner manufacturers are that much closer to making a cordless full-size vacuum cleaner. But manufacturer officials whom we interviewed wouldn’t say whether they’re working on such a product, and independent experts whom we interviewed say it’s unlikely that cordless full-size vacuum cleaners are on the horizon, because even the most powerful lithium-ion batteries can’t generate enough continuous run time to power a full-size vacuum cleaner. And nobody knows whether battery-makers ever will create the technology to clear that hurdle.

NEW COMBINATIONS. The DC35 stick vac can be used as a hand-held vac, too, if you detach the wand and brush nozzle. In fact, the DC35 is one of three models that provide a new twist on the 2-in-1 stick/hand-held vac, which also is known as a combination vac. In 2008, only three stick vacs were combination models, but at press time, 15 combination models existed. What’s different is that Dyson, Eureka and Shark created new ways to detach the hand-held vac from the combination stick-vac unit.

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