No matter how big or small, fancy or unfussy your apartment is, there will be dust—the sooty, filmy kind, especially, if you live on main streets and avenues. That's why a good vacuum is essential. And by good, we mean one that's powerful enough to take on not only dust but the grit and grime we walk in with from our streets; light enough so you don't crack your back on chore days (especially if you live in a duplex or townhouse and have to ferry it up steps); and maneuverable enough that it can navigate the most "eccentric" of NYC layouts. Extra bonus points if it's flexible enough to use to clean more than floors (shades, drapes), and has a quiet motor that won't incur the wrath of neighbors if it needs to be deployed in an emergency (or after a particularly messy, late-night party).
For guidance, we grilled salespeople at four key stores—Gracious Home, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, and Lowe's—that stock vacuums and store-tested as many as we could. We also scoured the NYC-centric parenting website, Youbemom.com, whose vocal posters often weigh in on products, and interviewed vacuum repair expert Mark Linde of Crown Machine Services, which has been repairing vacuums (and other household items) for city dwellers for 55 years, to get the scoop on vacuum must-haves for every kind of New York apartment and budget:
Either the Shark Navigator Bagless Upright ($149.99) has a rep permanently on alert at Youbemom.com, or it truly is a miracle worker. Often, when someone asks for vacuum recommendations for New York apartments, one poster (or two) will invariably sing praises of their Navigator. "It kicks ass on hardwood," says one. "I like it so much I wrote a review for it on Amazon, and I never write reviews!"
It's a Best Buy top pick at their brick-and-mortar stores, which has a placard proclaiming it as such, and a salesperson told us it's well-reviewed and is "probably the most affordable for what you get." And what do you get? Though it's not the lightest option at 15 pounds, the 25-foot cord makes cleanup easy in outlet-challenged apartments—you can vacuum one room even if it's plugged in another—and an attachment hose lets you reach up the corners of high prewar ceilings and clean drapes and shades. And the 10-amp motor is plenty powerful for most apartments.
There's a reason the Miele Swing H1 Quickstep Broom is dubbed a bestseller at Gracious Home and is a popular pick, we're told, at Bed, Bath & Beyond, too. (It runs $199 at either outlets as of this writing.) It's ultra-light at 9 pounds, which makes it easier to lug around the apartment, and has a sound-insulated motor, so if you spill coffee or sugar on your kitchen floor way early in the morning, a quick clean-up won't likely offend neighbors. Even better, it quick-changes into a hand-vac, which makes hard-to-reach areas like under the bed or the crevice between the kitchen sink and the wall—thank you, layout gods—easier to clean. (And it transitions between hardwood and carpet at a push of a button.) It may not be enough as a standalone vacuum for a large classic-six, but for smaller apartments, it's probably the only vacuum you'll need.
The Shark Rocket TruePet UltraLight Upright ($229.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond) had a fan in one salesperson we spoke to, who has one at home. Why? Easy handling on both hardwood floors and carpet—there are other models, but this one claims to work best for pet-friendly homes—and the ability to convert into a hand-vac make it an attractive, useful pick.
It's hard to argue with a vacuum equipped with a "silence motor" that makes all-hours cleanup possible, especially one that's sealed, keeping allergenic particles out, and uses a HEPA filter—important if you're allergy-prone—and has a small, lightweight footprint. Enter the Miele Compact C2 ($429), which received shout-outs nearly everywhere we went. (Both Miele and Dyson—see below—were name-checked in general by salespeople at all four stores we visited, actually.) It's great for both bare floors and low-pile rugs—the common combo for city apartments—and is easy to pull around at a little over 10 pounds. (Watch it get wheeled around with ease on this YouTube video from A Vacuum Warehouse.) And it comes with tools for crevices and upholstery cleaning.
Linde's a big fan of Miele, which he says "filters [dust and dirt] the best." (He also prefers bagged vacuums to bagless models; he says bagged ones are better for trapping allergens.) Linde also recommends canister vacuums for households with mostly hardwood floors—even those with a 50-50 split. (Besides, not everyone follows the 80-20 carpet rule, which isn't really a law). "Canisters are designed for suction," he explains, while "uprights are designed for the revolving brush, the spinning brush, to do all the work [which is better for carpet and heavy rugs]." (He says uprights still have to have great suction, but the brush is designed for cleaning rugs.) Canisters, he says, "give you the best of both worlds," able to clean hard surfaces such as wood floors, ceilings, windowsills, and crevices, but also often come with attachments like a power nozzle or brush that's motorized and "duplicates what an upright does." That said, some rugs, like high-end Persian rugs, aren't meant to be cleaned with a vacuum that uses a revolving brush and has too-strong suction because "it's going to pull up the fibers of the rug." (A turbo-brush attachment is okay, though.)
Bar none, the Dyson V6 Animal Cordless Bagless Stick Vacuum ($399 at Lowe's) was the lightest model we tried at all the stores. Weighing less than 5 pounds, it's super-easy to maneuver and stow away—it's no bigger than a mop, really, and lighter than a pogo stick—while still boasting the strong suction for which Dyson is known. (One Lowe's salesperson told us Dysons sell well and "absolutely" get great word-of-mouth.)
Vacuum experts also gave props to the less expensive Dyson Ball Multi-Floor Bagless Upright ($399 at Best Buy) which, again, was recognized for being powerful. And it certainly was easy to use, as the "ball" at its center allows the user to angle the vacuum every which way, though heavier than the rest of the pack at 17.33 pounds.) Some Dyson ball love from a New Yorker on YoubeMom: "I was overwhelmed by the hardwood everywhere, thought I would have to mop it constantly, but the Dyson sucks up all the dirt and dust, I even use it in kitchen."
AND A WORD ABOUT HANDHELDS:
Given the aforementioned dust situation endemic to urban living, we're doubtful that a hand vac will do the cleaning trick for your home. That said, if you live in a small studio and prefer Swiffer-ing and mopping to vacuuming, you can probably get by with just owning a hand vac. Consider these two brands:
Black and Decker's Cordless Pivot Vac ($69.99) should win awards for its design alone, its nozzle folding into the body so it's only slightly bigger than the base of a hand mixer—watch how it works on VacuumWizard's YouTube channel—and nearly as light, too. The wide mouth makes for easy pickups, and the suction's strong enough for pet hair.
Linde highly recommends Filter Stream's DirtTamer ($69 to $99, depending on the model), which is strong, uses a HEPA filter (again, great for those with allergies), and, though rechargeable instead of corded, keeps its charge for a good long while at full-strength, he says, allowing fairly robust clean-ups for a small appliance. Plus, they're versatile, outfitted with attachments for crevices, squeegee-ing and upholstery cleaning.