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Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum review: High hopes dashed with this vacuum

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With a $119.99 sticker price, the Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum is the cheapest vacuum cleaner we've looked at by more than $50. Unfortunately, it seems that to some extent, you get what you pay for when buying a vacuum, at least in the sub-$200 category. This Dirt Devil was the bottom performer in five of the nine tests we scored and was never in the top half. It performed reasonably well with pet hair on both mid-pile and low-pile carpet, but performed so poorly with the other debris types that we can't recommend this vacuum, even for the low price.

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5.8

Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum

The Good

The <b>Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum</b>'s Vac + Dust tool powers through debris on hard floors, utilizing both a vacuum nozzle and machine-washable microfiber pad.

The Bad

The Dirt Devil was a bottom performer in all of our tests.

The Bottom Line

If you're spending money on something, you want it to work. Sadly, the Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum doesn't perform well enough to make it worth $119, especially when other sub-$200 vacuums outperform it by leaps and bounds.

If you're on a budget and looking for a sub-$200 vacuum, you would be far better off spending a little bit more on the $179.99 Bissell PowerGlide Deluxe Pet Vacuum, which performed better by a wide margin. It's more of an investment, sure, but considering that many people keep their vacuums for a decade or more, that extra $60 feels more reasonable, especially when, for that money, you're getting dramatically better performance.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and features
The Dirt Devil Dash weighs 15.2 pounds, making it one of the lighter vacuums we've looked at so far, comparable to the 15.5-pound Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away and 14.6-pound Dyson DC40 Origin. It isn't a heavy vacuum to push around on the carpet, though it lacks any mechanics that would enable it to maneuver easily, like the Dyson ball technology or even the Oreck Touch Bagless's or the Shark's pivoting hardware. This is fine -- I don't necessarily need to be able to slalom my vacuum around my living room, but I can't help but compare the Dirt Devil to the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean and the Eureka AS1104A SuctionSeal PET, both of which have fixed handles with no pivoting capability, and yet feel more maneuverable.

Like all of the bagless vacuums we've looked at, the Dirt Devil uses a canister or dustbin to collect debris. These vary in both design and ease of use. The Dirt Devil's bin is smaller than some of the others, like the Dyson bins, but not by a large margin.

Each of these bagless uprights features dustbins with subtle differences. Colin West McDonald/CNET (photos); Katie Pilkington/CNET (collage)

The Dirt Devil features a 25-foot cord, which should give you plenty of lead to vacuum a large room or even multiple rooms, depending on their size, without unplugging the vacuum and switching to a different outlet. Like most vacuums, the Dirt Devil includes an extension hose and wand, for use with crevices, upholstery, furniture, or detailing. The wand nests inside the vacuum, with the handle serving both the wand and vacuum itself. The Dirt Devil's hose is 6 feet long, which is not terribly generous, especially when compared with the Eureka's 9-foot hose. Then again, the Dirt Devil comes with a wand extension, which gives the added reach you might need.

I really appreciated this wand extension when using the Vac + Dust Floor tool, which is one of three accessories you'll find with the Dirt Devil; the others are a 2-in-1 crevice tool with dusting brush and the Turbo Tool, designed for upholstery or stubborn, hard-to-clean areas. The Vac + Dust works much like a Swiffer would, only with the added benefit of a full-strength vacuum cleaner. It picked up all of the debris I scattered onto our hard floors, and I like the fact that it's machine washable.

Many vacuums come with an attachment designed to clean upholstery. In many cases, they are designed to remove, specifically, pet hair from upholstery, carpet, and furniture. Katie Pilkington/CNET

The 2-in-1 crevice tool works well as both a crevice accessory and a dusting brush. I like that the two tools are integrated into one, making for fewer accessories to keep track of. I was disappointed, however, in the Turbo Tool. When I used it to clean pet hair from an upholstered chair, the hair matted and clogged the tool's very small opening. It might be fine if you don't deal with pet hair and just want to remove collected dust or grime from your upholstered items, but it would be less than useless in my house with two shedding dogs.

Like the Electrolux or Eureka, the Dirt Devil's roller brush is adjustable, with four choices ranging from bare floors to high-pile carpet. This control switch changes the height of the vacuum and its brushroll, but I found the switch occasionally stubborn and hard to move from floor type to floor type.

Similarly, the Dirt Devil comes with a pedal that turns the brushroll on or off. This pedal looks almost identical to the one found on the Hoover WindTunnel 3 High Performance Bagless Upright vacuum. I thought the pedal was responsive enough and appreciated that it was easy to reach and trigger with my foot.

Usability
The Dirt Devil Dash was easy enough to use and I appreciated the no-frills controls. In fact, you'll find only three main controls on the vacuum: a power switch and a brushroll on/off pedal, both located within reach of your left foot, and a switch that raises or lowers the brushroll's height for different floor surfaces. You'll also note a fourth control, which is the wand-release button at the base of the handle, which unlocks the wand from the vacuum's body for use with the extension hose. The wand-release button is responsive, and I liked that the wand nests inside the vacuum body, making it conveniently accessible without encumbering other vacuum functions.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

As with the Eureka, I appreciate when manufacturers place controls near each other and I like that I can, for the most part, control the vacuum with one foot with ease.

The Dirt Devil isn't the easiest vacuum to clean and maintain, but nor is it the most difficult. You'll find that the bin detaches easily from the vacuum body. Emptying it can be a pain, as you have to touch the bottom hatch of the bin, which can be grimy. My primary complaint about the bin, however, centers not around its removal and emptying, but rather its reinstallation.

The bins on the Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright Vacuum or the Oreck lock into place with great ease, with next to no effort on your part. The Dirt Devil's bin requires you to line it up and press backward until you hear a clicking sound. It felt less well-designed than other models. I know that I can't expect the design of, say, the $649.99 Dyson DC 41 Animal Complete's bin. That said, I grew more and more annoyed with the Dirt Devil's bin as testing progressed.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Chief among my usability complaints is how difficult it is to clean the rollerbrush. This process requires a screwdriver and a lot of patience, as you must remove the entire bottom plate of the vacuum to access the brush. It isn't hard to do, technically, but it's tedious and feels unnecessary, especially when models like the Dysons allow you to access the brush easily, without the need for tools or patience.

Performance
We put each of the vacuums through a series of rigorous tests to assess how each 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 each on three different surface types: low-pile carpet, midpile carpet, and hardwood/laminate floors. We also conducted a torture test, scattering nearly 3 ounces of bobby pins, washers, and nuts on the low-pile carpet.

Given its relative price, I didn't expect the Dirt Devil to perform on par with the $300-plus vacuum cleaners. I did, however, hope it would hold its own with other sub-$200 models like the Eureka, Bissell, and Shark; in this regard, I was disappointed.

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

On low-pile carpet, the Dirt Devil collected 63 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 19 percent of the sand-and-sawdust blend, and 92 percent of the pet hair. For perspective, it was the worst with sand and sawdust, collecting less than the next vacuum by nearly 40 percent. That it collected 92 percent of the pet hair doesn't seem like a bad performance result until you compare it with the nine out of 11 vacuums that picked up 100 percent; the tenth collected 90 percent, making the Dirt Devil the second worst performer in the test. The Hoover was the only vacuum that picked up fewer Cheerios and the Dyson DC40 was the only cleaner to pick up less pet hair.

Sawdust/sand, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  
Dyson DC50 Animal
98 
68 
77 
Dyson DC40 Origin
90 
68 
77 
Oreck Touch Bagless
97 
61 
67 
Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum
77 
33 
19 

On mid-pile carpet, the Dirt Devil picked up 55 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 33 percent of the sand/sawdust mix, and 92 percent of the pet hair. I was comforted slightly by the consistency with pet hair, as the vacuum collected 92 percent on both low- and high-pile carpets, though it tied with the Eureka for the lowest score, with all other vacuum cleaners collecting 100 percent. The field was wider in the Cheerios test and scores varied more broadly from vacuum to vacuum, ranging from lowest-scoring Dirt Devil to the highest-scoring Bissell, which collected 100 percent. The Dirt Devil collected the least sand/sawdust by nearly 30 percent.

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

I knew that hard floors would be challenging for the Dirt Devil because they had been challenging for nearly every other vacuum, at least in some respect. As with other models, Dirt Devil recommends disabling the vacuum's rollerbrush to clean hard floors so it doesn't scratch them. The Dirt Devil collected 15 percent of the Cheerios, 77 percent of the sand/sawdust, and a negligible amount of pet hair.

I was disappointed. I didn't expect the Dirt Devil to pick up a lot of Cheerios. After all, the $499.99 Dyson DC50 Animal couldn't pick up any Cheerios in the hard floor tests. I didn't really expect it to do that well with pet hair either, especially when I considered that seven of eleven vacuums failed at this test. I did, however, expect it to perform better with the fine particulate mix. That was the "gimme" test. Vacuum cleaners struggle with pet hair on hard floors when their rollerbrushes are disabled, and Cheerios are larger objects to pick up. Sand and sawdust don't require a brush like hair would, however, and therefore seemed to be an easy target for the vacuums, all of which, with the exception of the Dirt Devil, picked up at least 90 percent.

I know that the hard-surface tests feel somewhat unrealistic, both in terms of debris type and volume. If you're like me and you spill Cheerios on your kitchen floor, you'll go for the broom and dustpan to clean it, not the vacuum cleaner, both for their likely proximity and ease of use. As many manufacturers make claims about excellent hard -surface performance, however, we felt it necessary to test those claims under the same methodology used to test carpet performance.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Several of the vacuums struggled with human hair, regardless of the surface. This may or may not be a problem for you, depending on the people living in your home. The Dirt Devil did well with hard floors, with most or all of the hair winding up inside of the bin. Carpet was a different story, however, and the Dirt Devil collected, at most, half, with the other half tangling and wrapping around the rollerbrush.

We graded the torture test on a pass/fail scale. Scoring it in terms of debris collected didn't seem fair as that wasn't the test's purpose. The torture test isn't designed to measure how much heavy or troublesome debris a vacuum could collect. It's instead a test of ruggedness. In other words, would this vacuum break in your home if you accidentally ran over a few bobby pins or some loose change. The Dirt Devil did not break, though I did have to remove the entire bottom plate in order to access nuts and washers that were jammed in the brush well, a process which, in total, took about 15 minutes. Will it break? Probably not, but it has the potential to create extra work for you in terms of jam-clearing.

Maintenance and support
The Dirt Devil comes with a three-year limited warranty, which is comparable with other models in the sub-$200 range, though the $179.99 Bissell comes with a five-year warranty. Dirt Devil does include a tab on the product page where you can order replacement filters for the vacuum though, for larger repairs, you'll likely need to use their service center locator. For maintenance, Dirt Devil, like all of the vacuum brands, recommends following regular filter cleaning instructions to preserve the life and performance of your machine.

Dishing the dirt on the Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum (pictures)

See all photos

Conclusion
Given that the average consumer seems to own his or her vacuum for at least a decade, if not longer, it's not a terrible product in which to make a bit of an investment. That doesn't have to mean a $500 Dyson. I can't afford that kind of "investment" and I suspect I'm not alone. I could, however, save to spring for a $179.99 vacuum.

I understand the value of a "budget" vacuum, but regardless of how much you pay for it, you want it to work. The fact is that the Dirt Devil, though it boasts an attractively low price tag, doesn't perform well enough to make it worth your $119.99. Not when, for $60 more, you could purchase the $179.99 Bissell PowerGlide Deluxe Pet vacuum, which consistently performed at or near the top of the pack.

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5.8

Dirt Devil Dash Upright Vacuum

Score Breakdown

Performance 4Features 7Design 6Usability 8