A name like JetForce inspires high expectations. It conveys power, performance, and excellence, at least in my mind. Unfortunately, the Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright vacuum falls short of the mark.
Priced at $148, the MC-UL429 is the newest member of Panasonic’s line of MC-UL vacuums, all of which boast the same JetForce technology and hourglass-shaped bin. This particular model, available exclusively at Walmart, failed to wow me the way I’d hoped it would.
Performing in the bottom half of six of the nine tests we scored, the Panasonic failed to impress, even for its budget-friendly price. It’s one strength was with fine particulate (a sand and sawdust blend) on hard floors, a test in which it collected 100 percent of the debris, the best record in that particular test. Hard floors, however, are not the most common surface target for vacuum cleaners. To qualify as a good vacuum, it has to work well on carpets, too. In this, I was disappointed with its results on both large debris and fine particulate debris tests. It did perform well with pet hair on carpet, collecting 100 percent, but as anyone who has ever deep-cleaned their carpets will tell you, there is a lot more stuck in that carpet than just pet hair.
Consumers looking to purchase a sub-$200 vacuum would be far better off considering either the
Design and Features
The Panasonic is a light-feeling bagless, upright vacuum that features bright purple accents and tools. It uses two primary controls, which include a brush roll on/off switch and a power switch, both located within reach of your foot. To recline the vacuum, you must press your foot down on the front and then pull or push the handle backwards. This gesture is similar to the one required by the
The hose and compressed telescope wand reach 8 feet, though when you extend the wand, it reaches more than 9 feet. This reach is further extended by the telescoping crevice tool for a total reach of up to 13 feet. This length isn’t particularly generous, especially when compared to the Hoover, which boasts a 12 foot hose, telescoping wand not included.
Like the other vacuums we’ve looked at so far, the Panasonic comes with tools for the extension hose, such as the gliding double roller pet tool, three-position fan and blind tool, and the telescopic crevice device.
Aside from the fact that it can triple in size when it's extended, the Panasonic’s telescoping crevice tool is fairly standard in terms of nozzle shape. It doesn’t have the uniquely molded tip like the Hoover’s crevice tool. That said, I don’t want to downplay the fact that it does extend much farther than other tools we’ve seen, in addition to functioning as expected.
I really like the three-position fan and blind tool (known with other vacuums as a dusting brush). Whether you’re trying to reach the tops of fan blades or vacuum under a sofa, this tool will help you get the job done.
I wish I had the same glowing report for the double roller pet tool, which caused me problems with pet hair on both carpet and upholstery. It looks like it’s picking up all the pet hair, but upon turning it over, you’ll notice that the pet hair is matted together and stuck inside the tool’s narrow slit opening. I found the pet tools on nearly every other model more effective. I attribute this to their use of either bristles or rubberized blades, both of which grab at pet hair and bring it towards the vacuum hose. The nubs on the Panasonic’s tool don’t do enough to grab pet hair and the entry point into the vacuum is too narrow to collect it even if they did.
Like the Hoover and Oreck, the Panasonic comes with a replaceable HEPA filter, which will help trap dust and allergens, helping you breathe easier.
You’ll find a 24-foot long power cord, which is not as long as the cords on other models. I don’t mind this so much, however, because the Panasonic’s cord is retractable and housed inside the vacuum’s body, just below the dustbin. The
Like other bagless vacuums we’ve looked at, the Panasonic uses a plastic dustbin to collect debris from floors. I’ve been rather ambivalent about most of these dustbins. Some elements I like, others I don’t. My feelings about the Panasonic’s bin are no different though they are, perhaps a bit stronger on either side of the spectrum. For example, I love how easy it is to remove the bin and reinstall it onto the vacuum. Both actions are effortless. On the other hand, I hate that there isn’t a lever or button to open the bottom hatch and that I have to manually pull the bottom of the bin open to empty it.
While the Panasonic lacks maneuverabilty-centered hardware like the Dyson ball, found on the
Unlike other models, like the Eureka and
When I consider a vacuum’s usability, the difficulty involved with cleaning both the brushroll and the dustbin factors heavily into my assessment. With a bagless vacuum, the dustbin is convenient but it’s not as “set it and forget it” as some people think. In addition to emptying it regularly, you’ll need to rinse the bin’s filter once a month. You'll also need to occasionally dust or clean off the cyclones or other equipment inside the bin. On some models, accessing these parts can be a huge hassle.
I’ve found that where routine maintenance is concerned, if it’s troublesome for me to do, I tend to conveniently forget about it. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to access the Panasonic’s filter and bin insides. The top portion that encloses the filter lifts off by means of a tab. This filter gets really grimy and if you vacuum frequently, you may want to rinse it more often than the recommended once a month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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