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Bagless vs. bagged vacuum cleaners: Here's how to decide which is best for you

Choosing between a bagged or bagless vacuum cleaner makes picking the right model a lot easier.

Vacuums that rely on bags to collect dust and debris have been around for a long time.

Orek

Buying a vacuum cleaner may sound like a simple proposition, but it's a surprisingly challenging one. These appliances range widely in both price and in how effectively they clean. They come in various shapes and sizes, too. And that's before you even factor in fancy options like robotic vacuums.

So, instead, let's focus on a more basic question: Should you buy a bagless or bagged vacuum? Making this choice first helps to narrow down your options -- and if your personal tolerance to dust and other allergens is low, the best decision for you may be clearer than you think. 

The bagged vacuum cleaner

Bagged vacuum cleaner technology has been around for decades and has enjoyed a long history cleaning our homes. At its core, the system generates enough suction to pull dust and other particulates off floors and into a disposable bag. Some bagged vacuums also use a high-efficiency particulate air filter, or a HEPA filter. Once the bag is full, you remove the bag and dispose of it, all without having to touch the collected dust, hair or other debris. 

Some bagged vacuum cleaners like the Hoover WindTunnel T-Series here use a closed HEPA air filtration system.

Hoover

One big drawback to bagged vacuum cleaners is that they tend to be relatively bulky and heavy. Some models can weigh as much as 16 pounds. That said, times are changing, and you'll find a few bagged cleaners that tip the scales at 10 pounds or less. Others have cut the cord completely and come with rechargeable batteries.

Bagless vacuum cleaners

The Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner was first prototyped in the 1980s and popularized the idea of a vacuum cleaner without bags. The device really caught on in the early 2000s, and Dyson's been running with the idea ever since.

Plenty of competitors have noticed and created their own versions of Dyson's cordless, bagless vacuum cleaner. The field now includes everything from upstart outfits like Moosoo to household names such as Shark and Hoover. And they all have Dyson's product's signature feature: a transparent compartment for vacuumed particulates that you can empty and return to the machine. 

The Dyson V15 Detect in action.

Dyson

Dyson's impetus for creating a bagless vacuum cleaner was to design an appliance that didn't rapidly lose suction or clog often. That said, Dyson's current cleaners also address other needs. These machines are lighter and easier to use, especially because they aren't tethered to a cumbersome power cord while cleaning. For instance, Dyson's V15 Detect weights in at 6.8 pounds.

Environmental impact

One positive aspect of bagless vacuum cleaners is that they allow you to dispose of waste directly from the machine. That's a big contrast to bagged cleaners which generate more physical waste, forcing you to throw away entire bags each time one is full. 

If you live in a home prone to a high volume of particulates, for instance with multiple cats or dogs, you'll likely dispose of a disproportionately large number of vacuum bags. That alone might tip the scales toward buying a bagless vacuum cleaner, especially for the environmentally conscious. Even so, despite the growth in popularity of green products, at least one study suggests that features, price and power are more important to the average vacuum shopper. 

Cordless vacuums tend to lack bags and are both light and compact.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Allergen disposal

For some it's dust particles, pet dander and other allergens that are the primary concern. If that's the case for you, consider a bagged vacuum system. Why? Every time you empty a bagless vacuum cleaner, some amount of trapped particles will be rereleased into the air. One workaround is to empty your vacuum outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Still, that's far from convenient.

Another way to go is to buy a vacuum that uses a true HEPA filter. Studies suggest that it's HEPA filtration, rather than whether a vacuum has bags or not, that determines if allergens tend to escape back into the air. Keep in mind that this filtration only happens while the vacuum is running. Once you expose a vacuum's dust bin to open air, say when emptying it, all bets are off.

Upfront versus ongoing costs

Vacuum cleaners vary widely in price, and there are budget and luxury options in the bagged and bagless camps. Unlike bagless models, however, bagged cleaners will always present a nominal cost of ownership over time. Of course, the rate at which you replace vacuum bags depends on many factors. This includes your cleaning frequency along with the amount of dirt in your home.

Vacuum cleaner maintenance

The thought of cleaning filters and emptying the dustbins of bagless vacuums may push some people toward a bagged machine. If you want a vacuum cleaner that needs less manual maintenance, a bagged vacuum is best. However, any vacuum can get hair or other items caught in it, so some TLC may be necessary no matter which kind you select.

The verdict

While we'd love to declare one kind of vacuum cleaner better than another, we can't. The type of vacuum you ultimately decide to buy should be based on your personal needs and situation. And there's room on the market for both bagged and bagless varieties.

If having the lightest and most compact machine is your goal, then a cordless, bagless model is the right choice. Those who require pristine air quality at home should seriously consider a bagged vacuum with HEPA filtration.