It's the end of an era here at the Kelly home. For over a decade, I've bragged to friends about my Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the one I inherited from my husband's grandmother. I called it "the Tank" and marveled that it still had so much suck after 40 years. But nothing lasts forever, and the Tank has given out."Guess I'll check out the price on a new Electrolux," I told my friend Bernice.
"Don't," she replied. "I bought one off of QVC for $400 , and it broke down constantly. I finally got rid of it."
I couldn't believe it, so I called the one Electrolux dealer in town (Aerus Electrolux, Clairemont, 858-565-8288) to hear their side of it. Employee Rick explained, "There's another Electrolux out there called the Oxygen. It's actually a relabeled Eureka, from a company called AB Electrolux. It's a good vacuum for what it does -- you buy it, use it for a year, and when it breaks down, you throw it away. It's not made to the same standard." It seemed that Electrolux had sold its name and now used the brand name Aerus Electrolux to denote its own products. Rick assured me they were still tanks. Three reasons to buy: "Reputation, longevity, and warranty. The price range is $1100 to $2499 . Even the entry-level vacuums have a 5-year warranty on the motor. There's also a 7-year, and the top-of-the-line Guardian has a 25-year warranty on the motor and a 2-year warranty on parts."
It sounded good, but it sounded expensive. I decided to call around. My friend Shawn swears by her Rainbow canister vacuum ( $1997-$2477 at Rainbow Service Center in Clairemont, 619-275-1691). "I love how well it picks up dirt. It cleans super-well and uses water as a filter. I also love that, when you vacuum, you can see the dirt, along with any trinkets you've picked up. But I hate that I have to put water in it every time I vacuum."
Friend Julie paid $2200 five years ago for her Kirby upright (Kirby Vacuum, Kearny Mesa, 858-565-2827). "I like that it's well-built. I've had it for five years, and nothing has broken. And it has a lot of flexibility -- there are a lot of attachments made for every little type of vacuuming that you might want to do -- even carpet shampooing. But it can be complicated to use -- you have to break out the owner's manual or watch a video before you try to do certain things. And I think we paid way too much for a vacuum cleaner."
As for Bernice, she liked her Oreck upright just fine. "I love how light it is. It's really easy to move around, and the kids can do it. But the belts keep popping off." (Orecks are priced $299-$749 at Oreck Authorized Sales in Mira Mesa, 858-586-7100.)
Finally, I turned to Brett Roberts, owner of Metro Vacuum in La Mesa (619-466-4430). Roberts was a man who knew what he believed, starting with the superiority of canister vacuums over uprights. "Canisters are better for all surfaces, and uprights are better for no surfaces. A canister has much more sucking power because the motor is bigger and heavier. That would weigh down an upright, but with a canister, your motor sits in one spot while you work around. An upright cannot navigate between chairs and table legs, or under beds or coffee tables. You have to put the whole machine any place you vacuum, but with a canister, you have this little maneuverable brush. An upright is terrible for above-the-floor vacuuming -- vents, blinds, furniture, shelves, cars." At best, he said, you have to attach a separate hose. "But there's already an attached hose on a canister."
Roberts wasn't a fan of the Oreck ("Archaic design -- everything you suck up goes through the motor blades, and they break constantly"); the Kirby ("Well made, but poorly designed and very pricey -- plus, it's an upright"); or the Rainbow ("If a bubble pops at the top of the water filter, the dust goes back into the air. New-model Rainbows have a hepa filter at the exhaust port"). The Electrolux was okay, he said, but expensive, and not as good as his favorite: Miele (available at Metro Vacuum, $529-$1000 ).
Miele, he said, delivered the most important feature a vacuum can have: "high air speed occurring where the dirt is. Miele gives you 140 cubic feet per minute of airflow and a tremendous amount of suction. The air is moving very quickly, and Miele captures that speed where the dirt is, with tools that interface appropriately with carpet and floor. The parquet floor brush, for example, will penetrate into a variegated surface. If a nozzle interfaces poorly with a floor -- say, a carpet -- then very little of the flowing air is going through the carpet fibers, where the dirt is."
Once you get the dirt up into the vacuum cleaner, said Roberts, you want to make sure it stays there. The bag is the big filter, made from "a polyspun electrostatic material that you can't break," but Miele also includes a hepa filter, "which delivers a filtration level of 99.97 percent efficiency at 0.3 microns. It's the only vacuum to pass the European EN1822 test, which monitors hepa filtration while the machine is running, not just the filter independent of the machine. Most vacuums that have the hepa filter don't deliver true hepa filtration, because some of the exhaust air goes around the filter."
And if canisters in general were more maneuverable than uprights, Miele was the most maneuverable of all. "It's light, but it also feels light. All three wheels on the bottom swivel. If you kick your machine sideways, then it rolls sideways. It's very easy to maneuver. Also, the brush at the end of the hose swivels -- just twist the hose, and the brush on the floor steers with your twist." Finally, "there's a swivel where the hose enters the grip, so that the hose always stays in a relaxed position. It never twists."