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Best Upright and Canister Vacuums 2020

Michelle Ma


The Miele Complete C3 Calima.
Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Upgrade pick

Miele Complete C3 Calima

Praised by nearly everyone as excellent, this nimble canister vacuum works on any kind of flooring, runs quiet, and should last for decades. This model is great for those with asthma and allergies, but it requires bags.

If you want a vacuum cleaner that will run reliably for decades and keep your home as clean as you can hope for, your best bet is a Miele canister, particularly from the C2 or C3 series.

Miele canister vacuum models have a phenomenal reputation. Technicians, salespeople, enthusiasts, testing houses, and regular people who’ve bought one all love these vacuums. Some of the experts we talked to said that if they could recommend just one vacuum, they’d recommend a Miele canister vacuum cleaner. They’re easy to maintain and built to last for a long time (20 years is not uncommon), allowing for a great long-term value in spite of the high purchase price. Miele canisters are fantastic vacuum cleaners with excellent filtration and smooth handling, and they run about as quiet as any vacuum. Granted, most Miele models use bags, which are less convenient and incur additional costs over time compared with bagless vacuums. Miele vacs are also canister-style machines, but most people in North America are familiar with uprights. However, this is as sturdy and effective a vacuum as you can get. (Miele’s new Blizzard line is bagless, but we didn’t find the model we tested to be as effective a cleaner as the company’s traditional models.)

The Miele Complete C3 Calima is the model we’d go with because it’s the most affordable canister in the C2 and C3 series, and in our tests, its air-powered turbo brush was better at picking up debris on short-pile rugs than the more expensive electric heads on other Miele models (such as our previous upgrade pick, the Miele Compact C2 Electro+). The C3 variants have a larger operating radius than the C2 models, and their bags hold 4½ liters, while the C2 series’ bags hold 3½ liters.

The variants come with different combinations of cleaning heads and filters. The bare-floor tool allowed the Calima to suck up more debris from hardwood floors faster than all the other vacuum cleaners we’ve tested, and its soft bristles are gentler on sensitive surfaces than an upright vacuum cleaner’s wheels and spinning brush roll.

If you have high-pile carpeting, you may prefer a Miele model with an electrified cleaning head, such as the Miele Compact C2 Electro+. When the vacuum was on the correct setting, with some effort we were able to push it around in our test on higher-pile carpeting, whereas it was nearly impossible to do so with most other vacuums we tested. Miele also makes a slightly more affordable C1 line. The vacuums in this line clean similarly, but the filtration isn’t quite as excellent, they run a little louder, and the hoses aren’t crushproof. We’d buy a C2 or C3 model, but a C1 isn’t a bad choice if you want to save the money now.

Three Miele canister vacuums.
We tested Miele canister vacuums from the C1, C2, C3, and bagless Blizzard lines, as well as most of the different cleaning heads that Miele offers. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Here’s a cheat sheet, accurate as of January 2020, for all the Miele vacuum cleaners, in roughly descending order of how likely each one is to be the best choice for your home. Some older models, including the C2 Topaz and the C2 Onyx, may still be available at certain retailers, although we expect them to be phased out at some point. (As of early 2020, Miele also sells several “HomeCare” variants, which are similar to the rest of the lineup but come with extra attachments and are officially sold only through small-ish retailers.)

Miele canister vacuum cheat sheet

Model Price Cleaning head Flooring Comments
Complete C3 Calima $700 Air-powered Short carpet, bare floors For thin carpeting
Compact C2 Electro+ $560 Electric All floors Great value
Complete C3 for Soft Carpet $950 Electric All floors Larger bag, nicer controls
Complete C3 Cat & Dog $1,000 Electric All floors Odor-snuffing filter, pet-hair tool
Complete C3 Kona $900 Electric All floors Not as good a deal as similar Soft Carpet or Cat & Dog models
Complete C3 Marin $1,100 Electric All floors Slight advantage on longer carpets, has a headlight
Classic C1 Cat & Dog $700 Electric All floors Pet-hair tool, louder, not as sturdy
Complete C3 Alize $650 Suction only Flat rugs, bare floors Not great for carpets
Complete C3 Brilliant $1,500 Electric All floors Lots of “comfort” features, but not the best value
Compact C1 TurboTeam $500 Air-powered Short carpet, bare floors Okay for short rugs
Compact C1 PureSuction $400 Suction only Flat rugs, bare floors The bare-minimum Miele
Blizzard CX1 Cat & Dog $900 Electric All floors Bagless, pet-hair tool
Blizzard CX1 Electro+ $800 Electric All floors Bagless, slight advantage over longer carpets
Blizzard CX1 TurboTeam $600 Air-powered Short carpet, bare floors Bagless, for thin carpeting
Blizzard CX1 PureSuction $500 Suction only Flat rugs, bare floors Bagless, no HEPA filter
Closeup on the suction settings of the Miele C2 canister vacuum.
The Miele C2 has six suction settings, a foot-controlled power button, and a foot-controlled cord retractor—the cord stores inside the machine. Photo: Michael Hession

The main reason we love Miele canister vacuum cleaners is that they’re impressively sturdy, without feeling clunky. Miele reps have told us that the company designs all its products to last 20 years. Brian Driscoll, the Reddit vacuum guy, told us that he has seen 30-year-old Miele canisters. That’s incredible longevity for any kind of electric product these days. Sara Rabstenek, Wirecutter’s director of product management, has owned a Miele canister vacuum going on nine years, using it two to three times per week, and says it’s still fantastic. Senior staff writer Tim Heffernan’s 12-year-old Miele “still runs like new and has never had a single issue,” even after he mistakenly vacuumed up a lot of plaster dust without a bag in place.

It starts with the parts: The canister casing is a lightweight plastic with a rubberlike anti-cracking quality. The hoses on the C2 and C3 models have metal wiring (sort of like a Slinky), which prevents the airway from getting crushed if you accidentally step on it. Miele reps have told us (and also wrote in a 2014 press release) that the company designs its models’ motors to last for 1,000 hours, so that works out to roughly one hour per week for 20 years. The Miele canister vacuums also have a handy auto-rewinding power cord, which is a really convenient feature compared with most upright vacuum cleaners’ manual cord hooks.

Video of someone stepping on the cord rewinder of the Miele canister vacuum.
Miele canister vacuums all have cord rewinders, so you don’t have to wrap up the cord by hand when you’re done cleaning. Video: Michael Hession

A handful of other high-end vacuum cleaners from brands such as Riccar and Sebo are similarly durable, but Miele has a wider service network than either of those competitors, so you’ll usually have more technicians to choose from once your vacuum cleaner needs its inevitable midlife tune-up. The seven-year warranty is also one of the longest in the industry. For most models, only the first year is comprehensive, but the body casing and motors are covered for seven. The C3 Brilliant and other HomeCare-branded models have a five-year comprehensive warranty, and 10 years for the body and motors.

Another highlight is that the Miele C2 and C3 are totally sealed systems. The bags are self-sealing, too: When you swap out the old one, it closes its own rubber flap as you remove it from the vacuum, so dust and allergens can’t escape that way. The standard filtration is excellent, and you can even upgrade to HEPA filters if you want.

Video of someone removed a full bag from a Miele canister vacuum.
The self-sealing bags in Miele canisters prevent dust clouds and are easy to swap in and out. Video: Michael Hession

So if somebody in your household has asthma, allergies, or any other condition that’s affected by indoor air quality, Miele canister vacuums can make a substantial positive impact. Multiple Amazon reviewers write that they’ve seen noticeable improvements for the allergy sufferers in their homes after they started using a Miele. Jeffrey May, an indoor-air-quality consultant and former Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America board member, told us he personally owns a Miele. Even if you don’t have severe reactions to airborne irritants, it’s a good idea to keep your indoor air fresh. Along with the EPA, Wirecutter, in its research into air purifiers, has found that small airborne particles can harm health. Ultimately, some other vacuum cleaners match or nearly match the Miele models’ filtration, but we’re not aware of any that outperform it.

The Miele canister vacuums are among the quietest vacuum cleaners you can buy. We measured C3 and C2 models—running with the power head attached and the brush roll spinning at the maximum suction setting—at 74 dBc, which is about five dBc quieter than our main pick. The motor is also a slow starter, meaning that it gradually revs up to maximum power over a few seconds, rather than turning on at full blast. It’s not as jarring. You might be able to get away with vacuuming while somebody is sleeping nearby, something we can’t say about many other vacuum cleaners.

Closeup view of the Miele's brush roll.
The brush roll in this Miele power head is driven by a geared belt, which lasts for many years without losing tension. That feature promotes great cleaning performance over time and cuts down on the maintenance you’ll need to do. Photo: Liam McCabe

Everyday reliability is another upside to the Miele canister vacuums. They don’t need maintenance very often. All of the cleaning heads made for carpets use no-stretch geared belts to drive the brush rolls, so they maintain their spin speed and cleaning ability over time. (The vacuum cleaner should last long enough that you’ll need to replace the belt eventually, but that will probably be only once a decade. Most people can handle the replacement themselves, or you can go to a shop.) Miele canister vacuums are also not especially prone to clogs, because they have wide, straight intake paths. If they do clog (which can happen to any vacuum of any type), Miele vacuums come apart at all the major joints, without needing any tools. That makes it easy to get into the cleaning head, the wand, or the hose to knock any obstructions loose.

Cleaning performance is also top-notch. The suction is strong enough in every model that even the cleaning heads with air-powered, turbine-driven brush rolls outperformed many other brands’ electrically driven brush rolls in our tests. The Calima was second best in our debris-pickup test on short-pile carpeting, vacuuming up 84 percent of the sand–and–baking soda mixture. Although our main pick, the Shark Navigator Lift-Away, picked up nearly all of the debris, we think the difference won’t be noticeable to most people. And the Miele has other features that make it worth the extra money.

The relative downsides: The Miele vacuum cleaners we like best are bagged and canister vacs, neither of which are very popular in North America circa 2020. We covered the pros and cons of this style earlier in this guide, so we won’t repeat those here. We understand why people tend to avoid this style, but these particular vacuum cleaners are so good that we think most people can become comfortable with the style.

The Miele C3 with it's trap door open showing the included attachments.
Some Miele canisters, like the C3 model pictured here, keep all their attachments onboard. Photo: Michael Hession

The last big downside to buying a Miele is that you may not have an authorized service center near you. Most large and midsize cities have at least one, but it’s worthwhile to check the service map before you buy a Miele so that you don’t end up having to drive 90 minutes to a vacuum shop if you need service under warranty.

On a similar note, it’s important that you buy your Miele from an authorized dealer. Amazon is an authorized dealer, but third-party Marketplace sellers on that site often are not. Make sure the Miele model you choose is sold by Amazon through Amazon, or by an authorized dealer through Amazon (this may require a little extra sleuthing on your part). Bed Bath & Beyond is another authorized dealer. If you’re nervous about buying from the wrong source online, buy your Miele in person. Also remember that (except for some really high-end models) the first year of the warranty is all-inclusive for the entire vacuum and its accessories, but in years two through seven, coverage is limited to the body casing and motors—the expensive parts that shouldn’t break anyway.

Other uncommon complaints that we’ve read in owner reviews:

  • In models with electric cleaning heads, the hose can’t fully rotate at its connection point because the power cord gets in the way. If you circle around while you’re cleaning, the hose can get tangled, and sometimes you might flip over the canister. This annoyance is typical of any canister vacuum with an electric cleaning head.
  • The automatic cord-rewinding mechanism can get stuck in the not-rewound position. We’ve read a couple of accounts of its failing after just a year. This can happen to any vacuum with an auto-rewind feature, but it should not happen to a vacuum cleaner that’s this expensive. The mechanism is covered under warranty for the first year (though the full seven years of coverage would be better). You can still use the vacuum even if the rewinder is stuck, though it will be a pain to deal with a free-swinging 33-foot cord.
  • The plastic latch for the bag door can break, leaving you unable to keep the door closed securely. Most people open the door only a few times per year anyway, so breakage seems unlikely. And in the worst case, you can still use the vacuum cleaner when it has the broken latch; gravity and suction keep the door shut as long as the canister is on its wheels. This repair should be covered under warranty anyway.
  • Some people find the wand to be a little heavy, especially with the variants that have wiring to power electric cleaning heads. If you’re used to handling the plastic accordion hose on your upright vacuum cleaner, this component will seem heavy because it has metal parts.

Several Wirecutter staffers who own or have used Miele canister vacuums note that they can be unwieldy in small apartments, and their bulbous shape can make them difficult to store.

And, finally: Nobody can guarantee that your particular Miele canister vacuum will last as long as other people’s Miele canister vacuum cleaners. We’ve heard stories of these things crapping out beyond the point of easy repair after just three or four years. That could be due to user error, like using the vacuum to suck up bits of metal, construction dust, water, or other things that residential vacuums really aren’t meant to clean—they’re very sturdy vacuums, but they are not invincible. Still, you’d hope that they’d be able to stay in service longer than that, even with improper use. Is it a good idea to pay so much for a vacuum up front and risk a premature breakdown? That’s your choice to make, but based on what we know about these vacuum cleaners, we think they’re worth the asking price.



Source: Wirecutter: Reviews for the Real World, Author: Michelle Ma, Liam McCabe, and Sarah Bogdan

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