Dyson DC41 Animal Complete review: Does this top-of-the-line Dyson drop the ball?

The DC41 did a great job on hardwood -- better than any other vacuum did -- but was a slight under-performer on both low-pile and midpile carpets, falling just short of the 70 percent pickup rate benchmark that you want from a high-end machine. To be fair, it was close enough for us to call it a satisfactory result, but still nothing near what you'd expect from a machine that boasts "twice the suction of any other vacuum."

Also noteworthy: this was the only test where we saw the DC50 outperform the DC41, as it cleaned sawdust off of low-pile carpet almost 20 percent more effectively than the DC41 did.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low pile  
Dyson DC41
100 
100 
100 
Oreck
92 
100 
100 
Electrolux
75 
100 
100 
Dyson DC50
100 
100 
Shark
100 
100 

Our final testing category was pet hair. Fortunately for us, Lola, the official Labradoodle of CNET, was due for a haircut, so we had plenty of material to work with. By the way, this was the exact same type of pet hair that we used while testing robot vacuums, and since those tests produced such telling results, we were excited to see how the high-end uprights would do.

She's a trooper, that Lola. Katie Pilkington/CNET

Above all others, the pet hair tests were where the DC41's performance really shined. After multiple runs on each surface, the DC41 came back with three perfect pickup averages of 100 percent. This means that each and every time we ran the test, the DC41 picked up the exact amount of pet hair that we spread across the floor. Clearly, if you have pets that tend to shed, the DC41 is going to be a useful appliance.

However, as impressive as these results were, some of the other, more affordable vacuums were able to nip at Dyson's heels. The Oreck Touch also posted perfect scores on both carpets, then came darn close on hardwood, faltering on just one test, enough to knock it down to a 92 percent average. The Electrolux also nailed the carpet tests, then scored an adequate 75 percent on hardwood. The DC41 deserves lots of credit for acing the test across the board, which no other vacuum was quite able to do, but again, the real takeaway might be that it doesn't blow away other machines quite like Dyson would have you believe.

The DC41's canister works well, but it wasn't our favorite. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Features and usability
The DC41's most notable feature is the signature Dyson Ball, which sits at the base of all Dyson vacuums. With the Ball, you'll be able to tilt the vacuum from side to side as you turn, which does, in fact, make it much easier to maneuver than most of the competition, in spite of the fact that the DC41 weighs in at a heavier-than-average 17 pounds. Keep in mind, though, that we're seeing similar maneuverability-minded features showing up in other vacuums. The Oreck Touch pivots and maneuvers in a comparable fashion to the DC41, and again, costs a lot less. As easily as the DC41 moves, you don't necessarily need to splurge on a Dyson in order to find a vacuum that'll satisfy your maneuverability needs.

The DC41 features a 0.55-gallon canister made of tough, clear BPA plastic -- the same material police departments use for their riot shields. As sturdy as this sounds, it feels a bit flimsier than we'd like, thanks to the mechanism that opens the bottom of the container. This is the part of the vacuum that rattles whenever you have to yank the machine down into position, and over time, I'd be worried about jarring something loose, or worse. Still, as canisters go, it works well, popping in and out of the machine without difficulty, and emptying straight down into the trash with ease.

The Tangle-free Turbine attachment will make quick work of hair without any of it getting stuck in the brush. Ry Crist/CNET

The DC41 Animal Complete sets itself apart from the standard DC41 with the addition of several unique brush attachments for the wand. Most notably is the Tangle-free Turbine, a cleverly designed tool that features two circular brush heads that spin in opposite directions. This allows it to vacuum up hair without any of it getting wrapped around a brush roll. I tested this out with some long strands of hair clipped from a set of extensions, and it did a great job, picking up all of it without any of it getting caught.

Maintenance and service
To maintain your DC41, you'll need to empty the canister regularly -- after each use is ideal, although the canister is big enough to handle a couple of runs' worth if needed. Dyson also recommends washing the filter out at least once every three months. A quick rinse under warm water followed by 24 hours of air-drying should do the trick.

If you find that your vacuum needs servicing, you can call Dyson toll-free six days a week at 1-866-MY-DYSON (1-866-693-9766) for assistance finding a Dyson-authorized service center near you.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
We saw Dyson raise the bar for vacuum cleaners years ago, and ever since, its machines have maintained a certain aura of perfection about them in the public eye. The DC41, however, is far from perfect -- too far to justify the $649 price tag, especially with more-affordable competitors that have, in many ways, managed to catch up in terms of performance and design.

Dyson may very well need to head back to the drawing board to address some of these key design flaws. Until that happens, I can't recommend the DC41 Animal Complete over vacuums like the Oreck Touch and the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, both of which can compete with Dyson in terms of performance while offering less-flawed designs and more-attractive prices. Consumers looking for a versatile, feature-rich vacuum might also want to look into the $199 Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away, which intrigued us with its 3-in-1 functionality.

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