There are a lot of vacuums to choose from out there. The CNET Appliances team has already delved into the cute and somewhat unpredictable world of robot vacuums and today we're expanding to uprights. Yes, the stately upright vacuum is the most common type of dustbuster found in homes today.
I exposed myself to dirt particles large and small to test the $309 Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean against the $649
I would recommend the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean to anyone looking for a reliable upright vacuum -- even if you can spend more. It was competitive with all of the more expensive vacuums and, in many cases, far exceeded my expectations for a midrange model. Somehow, Electrolux found a way to merge thoughtful design, high-end features, and sturdy construction all into one 17-pound vacuum. Combine those three things and you get top usability and performance. The only caveat is that it isn't the most maneuverable or the most versatile of the five models. For the best turn radius, consider the Oreck or the Shark (and for maximum versatility, the Shark excels).
Design and usability
The Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean is a durable vacuum with a silver finish and orange accents. All of its components feel substantial on their own and fit together nicely with the rest of the machine. I really like the look of this vacuum. In fact, it's my favorite design of all five models tested. Even without a swivel function for navigating around furniture, it's still incredibly easy to operate. Also, the sturdy dust bin is a breeze to remove, empty, and snap back into place. It is heavier than the other four, so if you're concerned about lifting the 17.2-pound Electrolux, the 15.5-pound Shark might be more appealing.
While the Dyson machines look modern and efficient, their construction doesn't feel solid. This led to some usability problems with opening the bin, angling the vacuum during tests, and holding the awkward, handleless wand accessory. That's a touch too sparse, wouldn't you say, Dyson? In contrast, the Oreck is a very well-designed vacuum that also offers optimal pivot action with the turn of a wrist. The Shark isn't quite as streamlined as either the Electrolux or the Oreck -- the design is less modern and it doesn't look as high-end, but can I fault it for that? It's only $200.
The Electrolux handle is quite a multitasking pro; it doubles as a wand accessory and the hose stretches incredibly far. The Electrolux wand was the unanimous favorite of the group; the handle is comfortable to grip, it comes with a suction control feature for making power adjustments and a quick release button. Also, it snaps back into place with minimal effort. There's also a crevice tool, which targets corners, stairs and other hard-to-reach-places and a dusting brush for dusting. It probably won't fit under most couches unless you switch to the wand and its many attachments.
This model comes with a switch that lets you select between a "carpet" and a "bare floor" mode. Choose "carpet" and it turns on the brush, choose "bare floor" and it turns it off. Using the brush on bare floors can potentially cause damage or at least scatter the stuff you're trying to vacuum all over the room. The transparent dust bin comes with a removable, washable filter, and it has a handle for carting it to your garbage can. You'll also get a removable HEPA filter, a three-level height adjustment lever, and my favorite feature: brush-roll clean technology. Just press a lever and any gunk that got trapped inside your brush will be pulled into the dust bin. It's a vacuum miracle.
One thing that sets the Electrolux apart from the other four vacuums is maneuverability; both Dysons use the Dyson ball technology, Oreck has swivel steering, and Shark comes with a pivoting head. Some models also include more brushes and accessories than the Electrolux, but the Shark trumps them all. You can convert the Shark upright to a canister vacuum and it even comes with a separate wheeled caddy for rolling the canister rather than carrying it. The Electrolux is still simple enough to steer, though.
So, what did performance testing entail? For the Electrolux, I vacuumed Fruity Cheerios, a mixture of sand and sawdust, pet hair, human hair, and a whole bunch of nuts, washers, and bobby pins on thin carpet, thick carpet, and hardwood. It performed very well overall and when it needed a little extra help, the brush-roll clean feature came to the rescue.
The Electrolux picked up nearly all of the Cheerios for every test. That's a score of 88 percent or better on low-pile, mid-pile, and hardwood. Both the Oreck and the Dyson DC41 outperformed the Electrolux, with the Shark coming in fourth, and the Dyson DC50 coming in last.
The Electrolux performed the best out of all five vacuums on this test. The mid-pile carpet presented the most trouble and the Electrolux still picked up 80 percent of the sand and sawdust I put down. It also did a great job collecting the mixture from the hardwood -- no brush-roll clean tech needed. Both Dysons and the Oreck struggled on mid-pile and hardwood, and the Shark only managed to pick up 59 percent of the mixture on low-pile carpeting.
Pet hair was an interesting test. It performed perfectly on both carpeted surfaces, but when it came time to test out hardwood, nearly all of the pet hair got stuck inside the brush well. For larger particles, you really need a brush to propel the hair into the bin.
That's where the brush-roll clean tech made a big difference. I pressed down the lever and almost everything that got stuck in and around the brush dutifully zipped up into the bin. The Dyson DC41, the DC50 and the Oreck excelled at this test, the Electrolux came in third, only picking up 75 percent of the pet hair from the hardwood (which would have been 0 without brush-roll clean). The Shark picked up no pet hair on the hardwood floor. However, if you go against the rules and turn the brush feature on for the Electrolux or Shark, it will pick up all of pet hair -- the brush might scratch your floors, though.
Every vacuum picked up most, if not all of the human hair on all three surfaces. However, some always got stuck around the brush. In the case of the Electrolux, not even the brush-roll clean feature could remove the hair. I had to manually pull it from the brush, but it came out fairly easily.
The Oreck did the best on this test overall, picking up about a third of the nuts, washers, and bobby pins. The DC41 came in second, and the DC50, the Electrolux, and the Shark all barely picked up anything. None of the vacuums were destroyed during this test, but I wouldn't suggest doing this at home.
The Electrolux is a capable machine with the features and performance of a more expensive vacuum cleaner. It even outperformed a $650 Dyson on the sand-and-sawdust test. That's an impressive feat for a $310 vac, don't you think? Couple that with its nice design and sturdy components and you've got one great sweeper on your hands. No, it doesn't have a swivel function and no, it doesn't have the versatility of the Shark. So, if you have a lot of furniture to navigate and want your vacuum to whip around corners simply by turning your wrist, this isn't the best model for you. But, the Electrolux is a consistent performer. Throw in different types of flooring and dirt of all shapes and sizes and the Electrolux will get the job done.
If you're looking for a midprice vacuum that just works, the Electrolux is a great option. Don't rule out the Shark, though. It's nearly 2 pounds lighter, offers better maneuverability and it's the most multipurpose model of the bunch.