GIMME SHELTER-Suck it up: Needs determine the right vac

John Vermillion, Charlottesville Sanitary Supply

Q: My old vacuum is shot, and I need a new one. What are my options?

A: First, ask yourself a few questions. Do you have mostly wall-to-wall carpet or hardwood floor? Do you have pets? A lot of stairs? Do you want to use your vacuum outside to clean your car? Does someone in your household have allergies or asthma?

For example, if someone in the house has allergies or asthma, you may want to consider a vacuum with advanced filtering systems. For wall-to-wall carpet, your best bet is an upright, as they're faster and suck up carpet dirt better.

For places with a lot of stairs, a canister vac is the way to go as they're more versatile than uprights. They can also be easily carried outside to vacuum the car. Canister vacs come with both straight suction heads for floors and motorized heads for carpets. In addition, canisters are great for getting into tough-to-reach nooks and crannies and for dealing with dog hair, which tends to get clogged in uprights.

Next, decide if you want your machine to be bag or bag-less. Lots of people want bag-less vacs these days, but remember that all vacs have filters, and they need to be changed. The difference is that a bag can be quickly removed and disposed of.

Dyson bag-less vacs are the hottest thing on the market now. Everybody wants one, and they are undeniably the best no-bag vacs. But they're also very complicated, and the jury is still out on their durability.

Miele canister vacs use a cloth bag, which is more efficient than paper. These bags can fill up until they're hard as a brick and still provide plenty of suction. Also, they don't leak. In addition, Mieles are very quiet, don't lose their suction over time, have great filtering systems, and will last about 15 years. Of course, they're not cheap. A Miele canister vac with a motorized carpet and floor attachment can run about $799; advanced models go for as much as $900. But they are top-of-the-line machines.

As for uprights, take a look at the Sanitaire. They can last up to 25 years if properly cared for– all for about $349. If that's a too much, you can get the Eureka Boss upright for about $200.

Of course, there's always the industrial route. Nobles makes an upright called the Viper that's used at UVA and at area hotels and office buildings. Like the Miele, it costs about $700, but its plastic casing makes it as tough as nails. In fact, you can throw it down on the ground and jump up and down on it, and it won't even have a dent.

Sanitaire also makes a flashy red back-pac vac for about $600. Strap one of these on at home, and you'll feel like George Jetson!

John Vermillion