Testbench: vacuum cleaners
Modern compact vacs are expensive to buy, but justifiably so if they are good enough for your home and your caravan. James Stanbury tests 10 to see which manage both
James Stanbury reviews a clutch of portable cleaners ideal for taking on tour
What you need is a vacuum cleaner that is powerful enough for your house, but compact enough for touring
NOBODY GOES ON holiday to spend their time vacuuming. But the days of a caravan’s floor being a 4ft x 3ft piece of lino – kept in trim by a brush and a mop – are long gone. Today, large caravans are a mixture of sumptuous carpets, upholstery and hard flooring. Step out of the door and you’ll likely find yourself in a large awning – which may well have a camping carpet style floor, too. Fortunately, vacuums have also moved on. After launching their bagless cyclone machines, it was only a matter of time before Dyson revolutionised the asthmatic handheld models that used to be available. Less predictable, though, was how adding an extension tube to these handhelds, and a clip-on full-spec floor head for the end of said tube, would sound the death knell for traditional mains upright and cylinder vacuum cleaners. But that’s where we’re at – with Dyson and similar ‘stick vacuums’ from other brands. The good news is that these models are absolutely brilliant for touring. As well as being compact and light, they’re as well suited to cleaning large areas – carpet or hard surface – as the occasional spill of coffee beans or breakfast cereal. So although these models are rather pricey, especially in cordless guise, they are in effect, two models in one – a vacuum cleaner that’s powerful enough for your house, but also compact enough to come away touring with you.
But performance varies massively, which is where we started our tests. We kicked off with a large offcut of carpet that we divided into strips – one per vac. On each strip, we worked 200g of a sand and flour mixture deep into the pile, and measured how much of the grime each vac managed to pull out in a single pass. To test performance on hard surfaces, we pitted each model against the ultimate foe – small plastic beads on laminate floor. Being bouncy, tiny and relatively heavy for their size, the beads are much more likely to be driven away from the vac head than sucked up by it, meaning only models with the best brush arrangement and suction will get decent points. Our final surface test was a camping carpet. Being lightweight and not fixed to the ground, these can be extremely tricky to vacuum, as the vac head often simply sucks them in or picks them up. But a good touring vac must be able to deal with them. With cordless models, we ranked each model in order of cleaning ability between charges. As well as timing the maximum run duration at full power and considering if more than one battery is supplied (in effect doubling the run time), we factored run time against the carpet test results to compare like with like – models that suck up more grime are faster to use and consequently, don’t need to be on as long. We also appraised the accessories, whether they could all be used in handheld and extension mode, and whether essential tools – such as the main floor and upholstery tool – use rotating brushes. These improve performance by agitating the dirt before picking it up, and leave the surface looking better. Finally, we considered each model’s ease-of-use factors, such as size and weight, whether it can be safely stored upright, number of power levels, manoeuvrability and bin capacity – the bigger, the better.