Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright Vacuum review: Negative, JetForce, that dustbin ain't full

Cleaning the filter is the most important, but I also like to, from time to time, clean the inside of the bin itself. I’m not so worried about the canister, but the cyclonic portion gets really dirty and I used a compressed air duster to remove dust and debris trapped on or around the cyclones. This might be especially important during months where static electricity is a problem because debris, especially dust and pet hair, clings to the inside of the bin. For deeper cleaning, follow the instructions in the manual regarding washing the cyclones.

See what I mean? It's definitely a good idea to clean those cyclones from time to time. Katie Pilkington/CNET

You’ll find it easy enough to clean the Panasonic's brush roll, should hair get tangled around it. The opening of the brushwell is wide enough that you could manually remove tangles or use scissors and cut them out. For deeper cleaning or to clear a jam, you’ll need to take a screwdriver and remove the bottom plate of the vacuum for full access.

Aside from my occasional frustration with reclining the vacuum, I found the Panasonic extremely easy to use. The fact that it only has two controls makes this a fairly fool-proof process. The brush roll switch is responsive, though it does take some getting used to. The power button is equally simple to reach and press with your foot.

The vacuum will clean a path 13.5 inches wide and will sweep up to 5 inches deep under your couch, so long as the bottom clearance is at least 5.5 inches high. This isn’t as broad a swath as other vacuums, like the Hoover and its 15-inch wide nozzle, but it’s respectable and fairly typical for vacuums of its size.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance

We put each of the vacuums through a series of rigorous tests to assess how they would do with debris types you may encounter in your home. Our tests included Fruity Cheerios, a sand and sawdust mixture (to mimic fine particulate debris), pet hair, and human hair, collected from a hair extension kit. We performed every test three times on three different surface types: low-pile carpet, mid-pile carpet, and hardwood/laminate floors. We also conducted a torture test, scattering nearly three ounces of bobby pins, washers, and nuts on the low-pile carpet.

Testing the Panasonic alongside the Hoover and Dirt Devil proved interesting and solidified what I have suspected all along -- that in the sub-$200 price range, you get what you pay for.

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  

On low-pile carpet, the Panasonic collected 83 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 61 percent of the sand/sawdust blend, and 100 percent of the pet hair. It was a bottom-half performer with the Cheerios but tied with eight other vacuums with pet hair, all of which collected 100 percent. With the sand and sawdust mix, the Panasonic also performed in the bottom half of the group.

Sawdust/sand, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  

On mid-pile carpet, the Panasonic collected 75 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 66 percent of the sand/sawdust mix, and 100 percent of the pet hair. For perspective, with both the Cheerios and sand and sawdust blend, it was the third-worst performer, only performing better than the Oreck and Dirt Devil with the fine particulate, and the Dirt Devil and Hoover with the Cheerios. As with the low-pile carpet, the Panasonic tied with eight other vacuums, all of which collected 100 percent of the scattered pet hair.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  

I thought that hard floors would present the same challenges to the Panasonic that they did to other vacuums. Many vacuums struggled with our hard floor tests, in large part because most manufacturers recommend disabling the brushroll so that it doesn’t scratch the floors. For many of these vacuums, the brush is integral to their success. The Panasonic’s instructions are the same. In these tests, the Panasonic collected 12 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 100 percent of the sand/sawdust mix, and a negligible amount of pet hair. It shared results with seven other vacuums in the pet hair tests, none of which picked up considerable hair. With Cheerios, the Panasonic was the second worst performer, coming in behind the Dyson DC50 Animal, which picked up no Cheerios. On the other end of the spectrum, the Panasonic was the top performer with sand and sawdust, outperforming vacuums twice its price and more, including all of the Dysons we’ve tested.

Human hair proved a challenge for several vacuums, no matter what surface we tested. In my house, this would be a major consideration as we have both long-haired pets and human inhabitants. For you, however, it might not matter so much. The Panasonic wasn’t abysmal in this test. On both carpet types, it managed to pull about half of the hair into the bin, while the other half wrapped around the brushroll. On hard floors, the performance was better, with two-thirds in the bin and one-third wrapped around the brush. Fortunately, the wide nozzle opening gives you ample space to clear these tangles.

I’ll admit that the hard surface tests are somewhat unrealistic in terms of real-life application, both with debris type and volume. If you spill a cup of cereal on your kitchen floor, you’re probably going to grab the broom and dustpan because by the time you went to get the vacuum, plugged it in, and used it, you could have swept the mess with a broom. We felt the tests were necessary, however, because of the claims that many manufacturers make about their vacuums and hard floor performance. As such, we wanted to test the vacuums under the same parameters used to test carpet performance.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

We graded the so-called “torture test” on pass/fail scale. If the vacuum survived the test, it passed. Grading the vacuums on how much heavy or awkward-shaped debris they could collect really isn’t the purpose of the test. Instead we want to examine ruggedness. If you accidentally run over some loose change or hair clips, will your vacuum survive? Will it break irreparably? The Panasonic did not break, I'm happy to report, and it picked up a considerable number of the bobby pins. It pushed the largest debris around without jamming, though it didn’t collect any of it either.

Maintenance and Support

The Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless comes with a one-year limited warranty. Given that the $110 Dirt Devil comes with at least a three-year warranty, I’m calling this move cheap on the part of Panasonic. Vacuum cleaners undergo such wear and tear that I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying one with such a short warranty period. It gives the impression that, as the manufacturer only wants to support the product for a year, they don't have a lot of faith in it or its durability.

This particular Panasonic model is available exclusively through Walmart and, as such, you won’t find links to any of Panasonic’s part replacement or service pages. If you go to the Panasonic’s main upright vacuum page on their main site, however, you’ll find links that direct you to the proper channels to either order parts or search for a service center for repairs.

Conclusion

The $148 Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright is an intriguing-looking vacuum that offers lightweight, easy handling and some nice features like a retractable cord and adjustable tools. It’s performance, however, falls short. While it did well with pet hair on carpet, it never performed well enough in the other carpet tests to set it apart as a top contender. I can’t discount its stellar pick-up rate with fine particulate on hardwood, but as the primary surface for vacuum use is carpet, that stellar performance isn’t enough to redeem it.

If you’re looking for a sub-$200 vacuum with better, more consistent carpet performance that, while not perfect, also performed extremely well in that hard floor sand/sawdust test, you would do well to consider the Bissell PowerGlide Deluxe Pet Vacuum or the Hoover WindTunnel 3 High Performance Bagless Upright, both of which feature MSRPs of $179.

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Where to Buy

Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright Vacuum

Part Number: MC-UL429

MSRP: $148.96

See manufacturer website for availability.

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