5 Best HEPA Vacuums for Allergy Sufferers, According to Cleaning Pros

·11 min read
Photo credit: amazon
Photo credit: amazon

This story was updated in September 2022 to replace a discontinued model with a newly tested compact canister vacuum from Miele. We confirmed that the rest of our top-tested picks were still available for purchase and accurately priced.

Vacuuming is the best way to remove dust, dirt, dander and pet hair in your home — but picking up dirt is only half the story. A good vacuum should also keep dust trapped inside and not spew it back into the air. When dust does sneak back out, it can trigger asthma and allergies, not to mention settle back onto the furniture and floors you just cleaned. The best way to get rid of dust and dirt once and for all is to use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

HEPA vacuums boast a special high-performance filter that traps 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size — too small to see with the naked eye, but not too small to be felt by allergy sufferers. The most important filter for trapping these microscopic allergens is a HEPA filter located on the exhaust, where the air blows out of the vacuum and back into the room. Dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke and more are all caught by these very high-efficiency filters, and since HEPA filters are available on many upright vacuums, canister and stick vacuums, it’s relatively easy to find a model to fit your needs.

We're always testing vacuums in the Good Housekeeping Cleaning Lab. Sometimes we do full category tests as we did with best stick vacuums or best cordless handheld vacuums where we'll evaluate 15, 20 or more of the same type. Other times, we'll get in a single new model from a brand to see what the buzz is all about and if it's an improvement over what's already on the market. In our tests, we evaluate cleaning performance on carpeting and bare floors. We measure and calculate suction performance at the end of the hose (if there is one) and how well it picks up large debris, fine grit and pet hair. Finally, we check special features, evaluate general ease of use and review data on the brand's filtration claims. In the last few years alone, we've tested close to 75 vacuum cleaners.

Our top picks:

Stick around after our top picks to learn more about how we test vacuum cleaners, what you should look for when shopping for one and why you can trust Good Housekeeping's vacuum cleaner recommendations.

Best Overall HEPA Vacuum

Shark makes great vacuums and this model is no exception. In our last Cleaning Lab test, it exhibited very good cleaning performance on both carpeting and bare floors and was one of the quietest models we tested. It converts from an upright to a canister with the press of a button, so it can't be beat for versatility. We like that the entire vacuum is sealed for better dust retention and that the HEPA filter is washable, unlike others that need replacing. Pet owners will appreciate the brush roll that's designed to help minimize messy hair tangles. The days of snipping stubborn strands with a scissor may finally be over. Plus, it comes with a five-year warranty. It is bagless, however, so care should be taken when emptying it to try to contain any airborne dust, especially if there are allergy sufferers in your home. Emptying the dust bin regularly can help make for less mess.

Best Value HEPA Vacuum

Kenmore vacuums generally do well in our performance tests, and while we haven’t tested this specific model in our Lab, it passed Asthma and Allergy Foundation (AAFA) tests for low emissions both while vacuuming and when changing the bag. We know and trust the rigid standards of the AAFA and are impressed with their certification criteria. This vacuum maintains its acceptable performance even as the bag fills up and clogs with dirt, and it’s loaded with great features like a more powerful motor, a telescoping wand, a five-position adjustable height nozzle for easier pushing across all carpet styles and an air-powered hand tool with a rotating brush to more easily remove stubborn pet hair from upholstery, bedding and stairs. At 20 pounds, it may be a bit heavy for some, especially to carry up and down stairs.

Best Cordless HEPA Vacuum

When fully charged the Dyson V11 is ready for duty at a moment’s notice, and its performance doesn’t disappoint. It is the only cordless stick vac we've tested that deep-cleans carpets better than some full-size uprights. Well-built and sealed to capture tiny allergy-inducing particles, this Dyson has several new and improved features over the older V10 that we also tested and loved. A high-tech dynamic load sensor reads the brush bar's resistance against the cleaning surface allowing the vacuum to automatically adjust its suction accordingly — more for deep carpets, less for bare floors. Another cool feature is its LCD screen that tells you how much run-time is left. It also reminds you when to clean your filters and alerts you to any blockages. It then tells you exactly how to clear them with a quick on-screen video clip. With Dyson, the trigger does need to be continually pressed for the vacuum to operate which some find tiresome. It's bagless, so care needs to be taken when emptying it to minimize airborne dust.

Best HEPA Canister Vacuum

Canisters, though they can be bulky, are truly the most versatile vacuum cleaners, and when a model has a full complement of attachments, like this Good Housekeeping Seal Star Miele, there’s no surface you can’t clean. There's a separate bristled floor brush for cleaning hard floors like wood, vinyl and tile (not all canisters come with them) and a motorized rotating brush head that works like an upright vacuum when cleaning pile carpets. In our tests, we find found swivel casters on Miele canister vacuums made them super easy to wheel around, the ergonomic handles were comfortable to hold and a rotating hose connection kept the vacuum stable and tip-free at virtually any angle. With a tap of your foot, you can raise and lower the suction to clean delicate surfaces, like throw rugs and window treatments. Though the price tag is hefty, Miele’s telescoping stainless steel wand, AirClean filter bag, motor filter, HEPA exhaust filter and sealed body on the Complete C3 Kona make it a worthwhile investment.

Best HEPA Vacuum for Hardwood Floors

Miele's newest vacuum takes all the quality features from its full-size models and wraps them up into a compact, easy-to-tote and easy-to-store bagless canister vacuum. It sports a HEPA filter, four adjustable suction levels and a telescoping wand. In our tests, we found it performed very well on bare floors and medium- and low-pile carpeting. Plus, in our tests we've found that Miele vacuums as a whole are consistent standouts when it comes to filtration, trapping a greater percentage of microscopic particles than other brands. Oversized wheels make it very easy to maneuver and the dust bin is large and easy to remove, clean and replace. What we especially like about this model is its dedicated large parquet hardwood floor brush. These brushes are the best way to deep clean the crevices of wood floors safely and without damage. Unlike other Miele models though, the Boost doesn't have a completely sealed canister body.

How we test HEPA vacuums

Photo credit: Jodhaira Rodriguez/Good Housekeeping
Photo credit: Jodhaira Rodriguez/Good Housekeeping

In the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, we do a complete battery of performance and ease-of-use tests on all the vacuum cleaners we evaluate. All are tested exactly the same way for more accurate comparisons, and our tests are based on the ASTM International industry-standard test methods. To measure the effectiveness of each vacuum’s filter, HEPA or not, and how much dust is generated while vacuuming, we turn to an outside lab with a highly specialized test lab chamber and extensive experience required to run the industry-standard filtration protocol. Once the results are in, we pair them with our internal test results to recommend the vacuums that offer the best combination of cleaning and filtration. In our opinion, it doesn't matter how well a vacuum filters if it can't pick up dirt and clean well.

When it comes to performance, we evaluate dirt removal from plush carpeting and bare floors, pet hair removal from carpeting, suction at the hose, ease of use, loudness and extra features. Every model goes through each test three times before we average the results to give them an overall score across all categories.

Our carpet dirt removal test is done on a custom-built, automated machine that passes the vacuum cleaners the same number of passes over the same test carpeting in exactly the same pattern each time (pictured above). We weigh the dust bin or bag of each vacuum before and after cleaning to see how much of the deeply embedded sand and talc mix the vacuum has removed from the plush carpeting. To test dirt removal on bare flooring, we calculate and weigh a mix of gritty sand, dry orzo pasta and other components and spread it out on a floor. After a specified number of passes, the dust bin is weighed to objectively measure how well each vacuum picked up the debris.

To test for pet hair removal, we use industry-standard rayon fibers to simulate pet hair that we evenly spread on a carpet’s surface. We pass each vacuum the same number of passes over the carpet and take the weight of the dust bin to measure how much the vacuum cleaner was able to pick up. In total, each vacuum goes through a minimum of nine separate tests just to assess floor cleaning performance.

Testing for ease of use includes evaluating maneuverability (weight is a factor here too), battery run-time for cordless vacuum cleaners, the ease of the controls and how simple it is to empty and clean the vacuum cleaner after each use. These assessments are often made not just by our Lab experts but with consumer testers, too. Additionally, we evaluate the owner’s manual for each vacuum cleaner and assign it a grade for robustness and ease of following instructions for use. For sound measurements, we work with Quiet Mark, an independent global sound certification program, to objectively determine the loudness of each model.

How to find the best HEPA vacuum

Here are some common terms you'll see used when shopping for HEPA vacuum cleaners and what you need to know about them before investing in one.

✔️ "Sealed" HEPA vacuums: While a HEPA filter on a vacuum’s exhaust is a must for trapping irritating particles, it’s only effective if most of the air coming out of the vacuum passes through it. If lots of air seeps out from other cracks and crevices, like around the body or hose connections, you might as well not even have a HEPA vacuum. The full-size Miele canister, Dyson stick and Shark convertible vacuums here are sealed HEPA vacuums, meaning little if nothing bypasses the filter and escapes out into the air. Based on our experience and we're confident that our other recommendations also allow minimal air to elude their HEPA filters.

✔️ True HEPA filters: Be wary of vacuums with “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like” filters. They may look like traditional pleated HEPA filters and likely will trap some small particles, but they could miss the very microscopic ones that can't escape a true HEPA filter. Vacuums with HEPA filters are generally more expensive. Keep in mind that less expensive vacuums can be sealed and have filters that grab 99% of particles down to 0.5 microns, but only a HEPA filter nabs 99.97% of particles as tiny as 0.3 microns (and yes, that can make a difference!).

✔️ Bagged models: Vacuums that use bags are generally preferred for severe allergy sufferers because the dirt stays contained inside, even when you empty it. A bagged vacuum with a high-efficiency, self-sealing filtering bag is best. But if you want a bagless model, look for one — like the Dyson, Miele Boost and Shark models above — with a dust cup that empties from the bottom. This allows you to hold the container down into a trash can to empty it and help avoid the dust cloud. But depending on the design of the dust cup, you may still need to reach inside to remove any remaining bits of dust and hair.

Why trust Good Housekeeping?

Carolyn Forté has more than 40 years of experience as a consumer products expert and serves as Executive Director of Good Housekeeping's Home Care and Cleaning Lab. Carolyn has deep analytical testing and editorial writing expertise in categories like vacuum cleaners, household cleaning products, appliances and more and for the past 22 years, Carolyn has been a member of ASTM's F11 Vacuum Cleaner Committee where she serves as Chair of the Consumer Information Subcommittee. She meets regularly with vacuum cleaner company engineers and testing lab executives to develop and set the standard testing methods used by the vacuum cleaner industry. Her deep connections in the vacuum cleaner industry helped her secure GH's carpet cleaning testing apparatus pictured above!

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