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When I was a kid, I remember seeing commercials for Oreck vacuum cleaners on TV. David Oreck himself usually starred in the ads, and when he did, he'd always cheerfully proclaim the merits of his machine, the 8-pound Oreck XL. The XL had the look of a complete clunker, with an ugly, dated design that seemed like it hadn't been updated since 1963, when Oreck first started selling vacuums in Louisiana. All the same, there was just something endearing and perhaps infectious about Oreck's unapologetic confidence. Sure enough, everyone I knew who used an Oreck XL swore by the thing.
Fast forward twenty years or so to today, and you'll still see Orecks on the market (David Oreck, by the way, just celebrated his 90th birthday last month, and is still an active entrepreneur, lecturer, and philanthropist). You won't, however, see anything quite like the good ol' Oreck XL. It seems that somewhere between those TV commercials and the present day, the company finally caved in and decided to update its design -- which brings us to the new Oreck Touch. I was almost disappointed as I took the thing out of the box. It looked... modern. It looked... great. Was this really an Oreck vacuum I was looking at?
By the standards of the many Oreck loyalists out there, I'm happy to say that yes, this is most definitely an Oreck vacuum, the kind of vacuum you'll swear by. We put it through hours upon hours of tests, throwing everything from sawdust to Labradoodle hair at it, and in the end, we found that it was one of our top scoring vacuums, right up there with the most expensive, high-end models. At a price of $399, the Oreck Touch isn't cheap, but as a high-quality appliance in a category with more variance than you might think, it still represents real value for consumers looking for a dependable, easy-to-use cleaning machine.
Design and construction
The Oreck Touch is a vacuum cleaner built for the 21st century, and if Oreck was late to the party in this regard, it's only helped it to make a big entrance. The minimalist, utilitarian design of fifty years ago is gone, replaced with something truly modern and elegant-looking. If there was an old chalkboard at the Oreck factory with the word "flourishes" boldly crossed out for all to see, it's been thrown out the window
This is a vacuum with style to spare. The thick, pale blue bag is gone -- the Oreck Touch uses a sleek-looking translucent blue canister, instead. The handle isn't just a boring, industrial-looking loop of white plastic anymore -- it's a futuristic joystick buttressed by arcs of brushed steel. I hate when writers refer to appliances as "sexy," but I'm really struggling to not call this thing a sexy vacuum.
Thankfully, these design touches have a degree of functionality to them. The brush roll is housed in a body with stylish cutaways that actually allow you to immediately see if you've missed anything on the floor as you're cleaning. The great-looking canister is amazingly easy to take out, empty, and replace. And, of course, there's the fact that the Oreck Touch conveniently relocates the power switch, along with the brush roll button, to the tip of the handle, where they sit just beneath your thumb. From start to end, you could clean with this vacuum and never need to bend over once.
The most noticeable function of the new design is how maneuverable the Oreck Touch is. The curves of the machine's body create a pivot point at the base, allowing you to turn the thing with a simple twist of the wrist, similar to how you would with a ball-based design, like Dyson vacuums use. The comfortable angle of the handle seems designed to make this kind of turning even easier -- it juts out in front of the vacuum, giving your wrist more leverage.
It's a subtle, surprisingly smart build, and I was struck with how much I enjoyed using it in comparison with other machines that we tested. It isn't without its minor imperfections, though. I wish that the hollow loops connecting the brush roll to the back wheels were a bit sturdier, since these are what you're supposed to step on in order to click the vacuum down out of its resting position. While we're at it, a dedicated button or latch for this function would have left me feeling much more comfortable. All in all, when it comes time to criticize the build, minor quibbles are the best I can come up with.
One last design note: as Oreck vacuums go, the Oreck Touch is a heavyweight, weighing in at about 16 pounds. This isn't to say that it's noticeably heavy or difficult to lug around, but don't expect to see David Oreck lifting one with a single finger the way he used to do regularly while hocking the 8-pound Oreck XL.
So the Oreck Touch looks and feels great, but the real question is how well does it clean? After all, it's going to spend most of its life stashed away in a closet. How... ugh... sexy it looks is a trivial concern next to knowing how much dirt it'll suck out of your carpets. For $399, you want a vacuum cleaner that's going to do the job, and do it well. So how does the Oreck stack up?
Let's start with cereal. For our purposes, we used Cheerios (Fruity Cheerios, to be exact -- they photograph a little better against beige carpet and plus, they were on sale).
Our goal was to see how well the vacuums could handle lightweight particulates of a significantly larger size than your average dust mote. What percentage of the cereal would each vacuum manage to pick up? Would the cereal fit underneath the vacuum, or would it just get shoveled around? Would the vacuum grind it up and leave multicolored dust littered across the carpet? What about low-friction, hardwood floors -- would any of the vacuums scatter the cereal across the floor?
The Oreck Touch passed all of these tests with flying colors (or, in the case of that last one, with no flying colors.) Across all three surfaces that we tested on, the Oreck picked up more cereal than any other vacuum, averaging a very impressive 95 percent pickup rate, one percentage point better than the top-of-the-line
Next up, we tested out our patented mixture of sand and sawdust, last seen when we spent a week putting robot vacuums through their paces. As small as the particles are, it's inevitable that a good deal of the stuff will end up ground into the carpet or kicked up into the air, so the bar was a bit lower for this round. Ideally, a vacuum would be able to pick up at least 70 percent in one pass -- anything higher would likely require repeated runs after the kicked-up dust had a chance to resettle.
The Oreck did great on hardwood floors again, but all of the vacuums scored over 90 percent, so this wasn't as much of a standout performance. The carpet runs were less satisfying, as the Oreck was a marginal disappointment on both mid-pile and low-pile, with scores just short of that 70 percent benchmark. The real winner here was the
This brings us to pet hair, and for the second time this year, Lola, trusty labradoodle sidekick to CNET's own Katie Pilkington, courageously volunteered to be sheared for science. After collecting a few plastic bags worth of freshly shampooed dog fur, we set out spreading the stuff over our test floors.
The standout here was Dyson's DC41 Animal Complete, which lived up to its hefty price tag by delivering perfect scores in each and every run across all three surfaces. This wasn't as impressive an accomplishment on carpet, where every vacuum we reviewed was able to ace the test. On hardwood, however, we saw a few machines, like the
And the Oreck? It picked up an average of 92 percent of the pet hair after earning perfect scores on every hardwood run except for one. This left it just short of splitting the DC41's bulls-eye, but for $250 less, the Oreck still looks like the smarter buy to me.
Usability and features
Given Oreck's history of simplicity, it's no surprise that using the Oreck Touch is about as easy as it gets. Just plug it in, click it out of its standing position, then press that power button, which, again, is conveniently located just a few millimeters underneath your thumb. The Oreck moves easily and turns on a dime -- in our tests, it stood out as one of the most agile machines we reviewed, even in comparison to Dyson's ball-mounted vacuums.
I saw the Oreck's canister as another big plus for the vacuum. It fits securely in the machine with no leaks, but pops right out at the touch of a button. Lifting a latch will allow you to release the bottom and dump the contents directly into the garbage, keeping your hands clear of the inevitable dust cloud. Snap it shut and pop it back into the machine and you'll be all set for the next round of spring cleaning.
I also appreciated the Oreck's "quickwand." As hoses go, it was simple to use, although I wish that it stretched just a little bit further. It also only comes with the most basic of brush attachments. If you're like me, and rarely use your vacuum's wand at all, you probably won't mind, but if you tend to rely on your vacuum's wand and enjoy customizing it for different cleaning needs, you might want to look into a more feature-rich model, like the Shark or the Dyson DC41. I wasn't particularly impressed with the way the DC41's wand is designed, but it did let me reach about a foot further than the Oreck's, and it also comes with a variety of brush heads.
That said, Oreck does offer a variety of additional attachments on its Web site, so if you're willing to add anywhere from $10 to $50 to the price tag, you should be able to customize the wand to your liking.
Maintenance and service
Aside from regularly emptying the Oreck's canister, there isn't much you'll need to do to maintain your machine aside from giving the HEPA filter a quick occasional rinse in warm water. The "Endurolife" belt that spins the brush roll is designed to last the life of the machine, and should not need to be replaced.
The Oreck Touch comes with a five-year limited warranty. In the event that your vacuum requires service, you can contact Oreck Monday through Saturday at 1-800-989-3535, or through its Web site. You can also take your vacuum (or any competitor's vacuum, for that matter) directly to an Oreck Store -- you can locate the store nearest you by searching the Oreck Store Web site.
The Oreck Touch was easily one of our favorite vacuums. It's an exceptionally well-designed machine, it's easy to use, and it performed admirably in our tests. At a price of $399 -- well below the top models from Dyson -- I think it sits as one of the most sensible high-end vacuum purchases you can make.
Consumers looking to save a little money, however, might want to take a look at the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, as it costs about $90 less than the Oreck and also left us impressed. The $199 Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away intrigued us, too. Its performance wasn't quite on the same level as the Oreck, but its flexible, multifaceted design was more feature-rich than any other machine we tested.