Power Surge: Specialty Floor Care

Stick Vacs • Hand-Held Vacs • Compact Wet/Dry Vacs • Steam Floor Cleaners

The latest stick vacuum cleaners and hand-held vacuum cleaners are more powerful than their predecessors were because of the use of lithium-ion batteries. The newest steam floor cleaners are more versatile than ever before, because they now allow you to mop and simultaneously vacuum, scrub or use a cleaning solution.

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It might sound like a broken record to note that manufacturers of specialty vacuum cleaners upgraded the battery technology that’s in their cordless products, but it’s true again in 2014.

More cordless stick vacuum cleaners (or stick vacs), hand-held vacuum cleaners (hand-held vacs) and compact wet/dry vacuum cleaners than ever before use lithium-ion batteries. Some manufacturers even say their newest cordless stick vacs clean floors as well as a corded vacuum cleaner does, but we found that those claims fall short.

The latest steam floor cleaners are more versatile than ever before, because manufacturers added simultaneous sweeping capabilities, mechanical scrubbing features and cleaning solutions that are designed to supplement the steam mop.

IN CHARGE. The 10 cordless stick vacs in 2014 that are powered by lithium-ion batteries are seven more than what existed 3 years ago, and the 10 cordless hand-held vacs that use lithium-ion batteries in 2014 are twice as many as existed 3 years ago, according to our research. In the process, you’ll pay significantly less than you’d have paid before for a lithium-ion-powered stick vac or hand-held vac. The least expensive lithium-ion-powered stick vac in 2014 costs $100, which is $80 less than the least expensive model did 3 years ago. Likewise, the least expensive hand-held vac that’s powered by a built-in lithium-ion battery is $60, which is $70 less than previous models cost.

The expanded use of lithium-ion batteries is good news for consumers, because it means that vacuum cleaners that use them operate at full power until the battery loses its charge. Specialty vacuum cleaners that have other battery types (nickel cadmium and nickel-metal hydride) have their power fade gradually.

We expect the use of lithium-ion batteries to increase in the years ahead. For instance, Electrolux tells Consumers Digest that in 2015 all of its stick vacs will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and it will eliminate all existing stick vacs that use nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

The manufacturer of the most expensive cordless stick vacs, Dyson, claims that the models perform as well as a corded vacuum cleaner does. Dyson says the DC59 Animal ($500), which was introduced in January 2014, can “suck up as much dust as a corded vacuum” cleaner despite the fact that the model uses a smaller battery (21.6 volts) than the previous most powerful Dyson cordless stick vac used (22.2 volts).

How is this possible? Dyson says it re-engineered the stick vac’s motor to generate 350 watts rather than 200 watts. As a result, Dyson says, the DC59 Animal delivers 50 percent more suction power than did its previous most powerful cordless stick vac. Dyson also added its proprietary 2 Tier Radial Cyclone Technology, which is the same suction technology that its full-size corded upright vacuum cleaners have.

However, based on our hands-on evaluation of the DC59 Animal, we believe that it’s misleading for Dyson to claim that the DC59 Animal performs as well as a full-size vacuum cleaner does. It’s clear to us that the DC59 Animal is more powerful than were all other previous Dyson stick vacs, but we found that the DC59 Animal couldn’t pick up some of the heaviest debris, such as small paper clips, raisins, sliced almonds and dime-size pieces of orange peel. In some cases, the debris got stuck in the cleaning head’s brushroll, which led to the stick vac shutting down.

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Dyson engineer Rob Green tells Consumers Digest that Dyson’s performance claims are based on industry-accepted ASTM International’s standard tests that measure how well the DC59 Animal vacuums fine dust and household dust rather than larger debris. (It’s the only way that manufacturers are allowed to compare their models with competitors’ products.) Green says consumers should use the DC59 Animal’s extension wand to clean larger debris, or they can buy the DC59 Motorhead ($550), which has a larger and slightly more powerful brushroll but is otherwise the DC59 Animal’s twin. The DC59 Motorhead brushroll never clogged during our evaluations, and it vacuumed all of the debris that was on low carpet. However, on hard floors, the DC59 Motorhead’s brushroll missed some of the debris, such as raisins and almond pieces, and, in some cases, the brushroll pushed around large debris rather than vacuumed it.

Furthermore, we found Dyson’s claim that the DC59 Animal has a 26-minute run time also to be misleading. Green says 26 minutes doesn’t reflect continuous run time, but rather how long that that model runs in standard power mode if you turn the machine off occasionally to move items, such as pillows, while you clean. When we used the DC59 Animal in the maximum power mode, its continuous run time never exceeded 10 minutes.

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