The best cheap vacuum
After scoping out 160 models over 42 hours of research and testing, we found the $160 Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 cleans most kinds of debris from most common surfaces, needs relatively little maintenance, and should last at least five years. That’s a combination of benefits we couldn’t find with any other vacuum cleaner in this price range.
It won’t last as long or clean as deeply as the best high-end vacs, and it may not be as convenient as a cordless vacuum, but the Shark NV352 represents an effective, affordable, simple-to-use compromise that will work well in most homes in the US and Canada.
How we decided
Experience tells us that the best cheap vacuums are bagless uprights that cost between $130 and $200. We’ve learned that after speaking with about a dozen experts, reading at least 1,000 user and editorial reviews, and testing all shapes and prices of vacuums over the past two years.
We narrowed the field down to a few models that fit those criteria, and then we tested how well they resisted clogs (and how easily we could clean them), how they handled in tight spaces, and whether they could clean up debris like powder, pet hair, and crumbs on bare floors and carpets.
The NV352 comes apart in more places than most vacuums do, which makes clearing clogs or replacing individual broken parts especially easy.
The Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV352 is the best cheap vacuum because the sum of all its features and abilities is greater than that of any of the other 160 vacuums in this price range.
It will clean up pretty much any kind of debris (including pet hair) from almost any kind of bare floor or carpet in your home. And with its washable filters and durable moving parts, you won’t have to put much time, effort, or money into its upkeep, so it will run better, for longer, than most of its peers. If parts break, they’re covered under the five-year warranty, and Shark will ship replacement parts for free as long as you bought the vac from an authorized retailer.
Handling is smooth and light thanks to a 12-pound body and a swiveling joint between the chassis and cleaning head. The lift-away canister, the pull-out wand, and the mini brush attachment give it more versatility and reach than is common at this price. People who own it tend to love it, comparing it favorably to their old vacuums in user reviews.
Any cheap vacuum has to make some trade-offs. This Shark model tends to push large particles, such as pieces of cereal, in front instead of sucking them up, and its accordion hose is prone to cracking, though replacement is free under warranty. We think that among all the sub-$200 vacuums out there, the NV352 makes the wisest set of compromises that anyone could hope for.
If the NV352 is sold out, note that Shark makes a ton of models that are essentially identical. As an alternative, we suggest the Shark Navigator Lift-Away NV356E; we love it for all the same reasons, but it has a larger dust cup and usually costs more.
A canister-style alternative
The Panasonic MC-CG902 has an adjustable-height cleaning head (pictured here on the highest setting), which allows the vacuum to smoothly clean pretty much any type of surface in any home.
If you prefer canister-style vacuums, or if your home has lots of thick carpet that a Shark would choke on, check out the Panasonic MC-CG902. It’s a perennial favorite at Consumer Reports, consistently sitting near the top of the testing house’s canister-vacuum rankings and earning Best Buy status (a step up from Recommended). The build quality has some known issues, and lots of people won’t be able to abide its bagged, canister-style design. But in a few homes, it’s the best affordable option.
Wrapping it up
If you’re floored by how badly your current vacuum sucks, get the Shark NV352. It’s a pleasure to use, and it cleans well—and with the warranty, there’s no reason you should get any less than five years of reliable service for the purchase price.
This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.