Vacuum cleaners used to be heavy, massive appliances way back in the day. But thankfully, all that has since changed. Today’s machines are lightweight, cordless and powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Many can handle different types of flooring, from hardwood to thick carpets. And they often come with useful attachments to help with more chores around the house.
One company in particular saw this sea-change coming. Dyson was the first to pioneer this field with a series of capable — and pricey — Cyclone V series stick vacs. Other companies have since followed suit, and now sell cordless vacuums of their own. Some have even shamelessly cloned Dyson products. Others are distinctive new riffs on the cordless vacuum, with innovative features all their own.
We then put them all through a rigorous battery of floor-care tests on hard flooring, carpet and other surfaces. The process took over 150 hours to complete. It also consumed multiple pounds of sand and rice, plus hundreds of handfuls of pet hair. After that, we’ve determined that these products are our picks for the best cordless vacuum for 2021. We update this list periodically.
The V11 is Dyson’s latest and greatest stick vac. It’s also the most expensive machine in our test group. That said, this flagship model delivered best-in-class performance to match its steep price. On hardwood floor surfaces, this Dyson vacuum literally wiped the bare floors clean from dust and dirt. The vacuum, which has a lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, demonstrated near-flawless pickup of both sand and black rice test samples (99.6 and 100%, respectively).
Pet owners will also appreciate the V11’s prowess at eliminating pet hair. During anecdotal tests, the vacuum completely removed hair fibers and dust from mid-pile and low-pile carpet. Pet hair pickup across hardwood flooring went almost as well. The only detractors were a stray clump the vacuum missed at the top of our test area. That and a few strands ended up wrapped around the V11’s brush roll.
I certainly like how easy the V11’s dust bin is to empty. Just aim the vacuum into the trash, and push a release tab to open the dust bin’s lid. To close it, pull the tab in the opposite direction. Other models we tested were a nightmare in this regard. The Hoover BladeMax gave us the most trouble. Hair and dust typically became trapped deep inside its dirt cup. I found its bin tricky to open too. Worse, it isn’t always clear that the dirt bin is securely attached.
Dyson also bundles numerous attachments in the box. Among them are a crevice tool for cleaning tight spaces, a motorized tool for upholstery, a soft dusting brush and a stubborn dirt brush head for pulling ground-in dirt from a carpet with strong suction. All this makes the Dyson V11 the clear choice for the best cordless vacuum money can buy.
Read more about the Dyson V11.
The second-best performer in our group of cordless vacuums was the Shark Rocket Pet Pro Cordless. It came very close to cleaning floors as well as the Dyson V11, but costs hundreds less. The Rocket cordless and bagless vacuum removed just as much sand from both midpile carpet and hardwood floors. In fact, the only area where the Shark trailed the V11 as the best cordless vacuum was over low-pile carpet. There, the cordless cleaner pulled away an overage of 67.6% of our test sand. By contrast, the Dyson V11 removed a greater amount of sand from our low-pile carpeting (78.4% on average).
The Rocket didn’t have trouble handling pet hair either. On both low-pile carpet and hardwood, this handheld cordless vacuum wiped away all traces of animal dander. Results were favorable across midpile carpet, too. Only a small tuft of hair remained after the vacuum passed over the thicker, more challenging surface.
Design is another of the Rocket Pet Pro’s strengths. Its dust cup is almost as easy to empty as the Dyson V11. The dust cup typically remains clear of dirt and debris as well, not stuck inside even after emptying. I also appreciate how the Rocket Pet Pro’s wand and upholstery tool can stand upright on its own (disconnected from the main vacuum unit). LED lights on the nozzle help you see dirt and debris around your home, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery makes for easy charging. So, if you seek a solid midrange cordless upright stick vac, Shark’s Rocket Pro is an outstanding option.
Moosoo isn’t exactly a household name. Nevertheless, the Moosoo M X6 cordless vacuum packs a respectable punch, considering its low price. Despite costing much less than competing vacuums, the M X6 was the fourth-best performer in our test group of eight models.
The stick vac picked up 99% (on average) of our test sand from hardwood. On low-pile carpet, that figure sank to 41.3%. The M X6 fared better across thicker midpile carpet though, earning a higher sand pickup average of 52.2%.
Black rice, our large particle test soil, was a breeze for the Moosoo vacuum. It managed pickup averages above 90% on hardwood, low-pile and midpile carpet (95.4, 96.8 and 94%, respectively).
Don’t buy the Moosoo M X6, though, if you’re a pet owner. Cons are that at least some visible dander remained after vacuuming, no matter the test surface. The brush roll tends to wrap strands of hair around itself as well.
If you want cordless vacuuming on a tight budget, however, consider the Moosoo M X6. It just might fit the bill, and for much less cash.
If you’d like to own a Dyson but would rather not spend top dollar, consider the Dyson V8 Absolute hand vac. This step-down cordless model is a few years old, yet still has powerful suction and performs like a champ. On our floor-cleaning tests, the V8 came in a respectable third. In our test group, only the Dyson V11 and Shark Rocket Pet Pro scoured floors better than the V8.
On a hard floor, the vacuum managed to pick up an average of 98% of the sand we dropped. For low-pile carpet, that average fell to 68.3%. The average slipped further across midpile carpet, though remained at a respectable 52%.
Pet hair didn’t faze the V8 hand vacuum much either. It pulled hair away from midpile and low-pile carpets completely. It did fail to remove a small amount of dander on hardwood. Additionally, some fibers became wrapped around the vacuum’s brush roll. But the washable filter was handy.
And similar to the V11 Torque Drive, the V8 Absolute upright vacuum comes with a generous assortment of add-ons. That includes gadgets for dusting, a crevice tool for reaching into a tight crevice, a soft cleaning head for bare floors, a motorized brush roll for grabbing ground-in dirt and debris, and a docking station for charging the battery. So for those who’d like to own a Dyson brand stick vac a little less cash, the V8 Absolute is worth a look.
Read our Dyson V8 hands-on first take.
How we test cordless vacuums
Putting cordless vacuums through their paces isn’t as complicated ascleaner, but it still takes lots of time and careful effort to find the best cordless vacuum. We run each vacuum in a straight line across three different surfaces (hardwood, low-pile carpet, midpile carpet). On all three test beds, the test area is the same length (30.25 inches).
The width of the test bed is proportional to the vacuum’s nozzle width. We measure this width ourselves. We also use nozzle width, plus the flooring type, to calculate the soil density for each test, per International Electrotechnical Commission guidelines. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers.
We use three types of soil. To simulate small particle size, we use a mix of play sand and landscaping sand. To emulate larger dirt particles, we use uncooked black rice. To see how vacuums deal with pet hair, we use our mixture of clippings sourced to us through our local pet groomer.
We perform three runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also test with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per vacuum. We weigh the vacuum’s dust bin both before and after each run.
From there we can calculate the percentage of dirt and debris pickup for every run and the average amount of soil a vacuum manages to remove. Additionally, we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each vacuum, on all three floor types to help us select the best cordless vacuum.
Want more cordless vacuum options? Here’s a list of the other stick vacs we tested besides the models listed above: