What type of vacuum cleaner works best for pet hair?

dog keeps an eye on the vacuum cleaner
When deciding which vacuum cleaner will work best for you, consider the types of pets and flooring in your home.

Just flip the switch on your vacuum cleaner and watch your pet run for cover. Despite the fact that cats and dogs aren't fond of the common household appliance, having one is as crucial as chew toys and water bowls when you have an animal living in your home.

Without a vacuum cleaner, your family and possessions could soon be buried under a mountain of cat or dog hair. But can you ever get all that fur up? And if so, what will do the best job? There are a lot of brands out there that claim to be designed for pet-hair removal, but how do you know which ones live up to the claims -- and which ones will work best in your home?


A pet-hair-filled house can be a challenge for any vacuum cleaner, but not all floor cleaners are created equally. If you want one that's specifically geared toward a home with pets, look for the following: powerful suction, strong airflow and a vigorous roller brush. All of these functions aid in getting embedded hair out of carpet and upholstery. If you're a pet owner, you may find other features helpful, too. For example, you might want to opt for a bagless cleaner if you find that your vacuum bags are filling up with hair quickly. It's not something that affects cleaning power, but it could save you a little money.

If you're looking for information on specific brands and models, try consulting a product-testing organization like Good Housekeeping, ConsumerGuide or Consumer Reports. Pet-hair vacuum cleaners is one of the categories product testers evaluate. They do so by testing the ability of the cleaner to effectively suck up embedded pet hair that has been forcibly lodged into carpet. But if you'd like to take another look at the basic features and types of vacuum cleaners that can clean up after your canine and feline family members, keep reading to find out more.



Handheld Vacuum Cleaners for Pet Hair

If you live with cats or dogs, you know that their hair can get anywhere and everywhere -- between the sofa cushions, on the stairs, in the car, on your bedspread. Sometimes the mess is in a place you missed or somewhere that's inconvenient to clean with a standard upright or canister vacuum cleaner. Those are the places where a handheld vacuum cleaner can come in handy.

Handheld vacuums are convenient cleaning tools that are usually cordless. They're a popular go-to for small messes, but not ideal for major cleaning projects. When it comes to using them for pet hair removal, they can be hit or miss. So when you're shopping for a handheld vacuum cleaner for pet hair, consider whether it has those same features you'd need for a vacuum cleaner of any size: powerful suction, strong airflow and a vigorous roller brush. Earlier hand vacs were often weak and included no roller brush at all. Many of today's models, however, are designed for heavier-duty tasks -- some are even geared specifically toward pet-hair pickup. Of course, a roller brush isn't necessary if you're primarily using the cleaner on hard surfaces. If, however, you're using it on carpeting or upholstery, the brush is important as it helps loosen dirt, dust and, of course, pet hair.


Before you buy a handheld vacuum cleaner, keep in mind that it's only for minor tasks. It has a small canister that will fill up quickly if you use it for pet hair. And, because you must use it by hand, it isn't ideal for clearing an entire room of cat or dog hair.

On the next page, we'll look at another method of vacuuming up pet hair.


Hardwood Floor Vacuum Cleaners for Pet Hair

When you think of vacuuming, you think of carpet, right? Unfortunately dog and cat hair knows no flooring boundaries. You can find a heap of fur on your dining room's hardwoods just as easily as you can in your family room's Berber. Thankfully, hardwood cleaning doesn't have to be done solely with a broom and a dustpan.

When it comes to vacuuming hardwood floors, you have two major concerns: removing debris and pet hair effectively, and protecting your floors. Let's start with cleaning first.


Hardwood floors have an advantage over carpeting when it comes to pet hair in that everything rests on the surface. Therefore, removal of debris from bare floors can be easier -- but it's not without its challenges. If you've ever run a vacuum cleaner over a hardwood floor, you know that almost as much pet hair blows away from the cleaner as gets sucked into it. This can happen due to the large path of a vacuum cleaner's head. Sometimes more concentrated suction is ideal. To achieve this, simply pull out your vacuum cleaner's wand and switch to one of its tools.

The other important part of cleaning hardwoods is protecting the floors. Hardwoods can be a beautiful investment to a home, and you don't want to mar them with scratches from your vacuum cleaner. Fortunately these days, it's easy to find a vacuum cleaner that's easy on bare floors.

The top feature of a hardwood floor cleaner is the absence of a roller brush. The roller brush, also known as a beater bar, is essential for cleaning carpets because it acts as an agitator that dislodges and loosens pet hair. Not only is a roller brush unnecessary for hardwood floors, it can also scrape them. So, if you only have hardwoods and other bare flooring in your home, skip the roller brush. If you have a combination of carpeting and bare flooring, find a vacuum cleaner that will allow you turn off the roller brush when you need to. If you don't have this function on your vacuum, try using one of its tools instead. Many canister vacuum cleaners come with a hardwood floor tool.

Another hardwood-friendly feature on some vacuum cleaners is rubber wheels. The rubber is easier on hard surfaces than traditional plastic wheels.

In our final section, we'll go over the cleaners with the really hard work.


Carpet Vacuum Cleaners for Pet Hair

If you own a cat or dog, this may have happened to you: You vacuum your entire carpet, filling your bag or canister with a swirling mass of fur. Then, as you survey your clean floors, what catches your eye but stray pet hairs. It seems practically impossible to make your carpet fur-free.

While it's easy for pet hair to become embedded in the fibers of carpet, your vacuum cleaner may be part of the problem. If your machine has a weak roller brush, suction and air flow, it's not going to do the job you need it to. But before you run out and buy a brand-new vacuum cleaner, first make sure there isn't an easy solution to your current one's cleaning problems.


If suction and airflow are weak, check to make sure your bag or canister isn't full or overflowing. You might also want to check the hose and head to make sure there isn't an obstruction. If your vacuum cleaner's roller brush isn't operating, the machine could have a broken or slipped belt that needs to be replaced. Don't forget to adjust your roller brush for the pile height of your carpet if your machine has that function.

If you've addressed any possible problems and your vacuum still isn't cleaning up pet hair well, it might be time to invest in a cleaner designed with pet owners in mind. These machines should have powerful suction and air flow, but how do you know for sure if the claims on the manufacturer's box are true? You may notice that some vacuum cleaners have more amps than others. While amps do indicate the electrical power of the vacuum, they don't tell you how much suction the cleaner will have.

A good rule of thumb is that upright vacuum cleaners typically have better suction than canister vacuums. However, there is still a lot of performance variation among the two categories. When it comes down to selecting a specific brand and model, the most effective way to find the best vacuum for pet hair cleaning is to do your research. Since organizations that rate vacuum cleaners, such as Consumer Reports, typically have a separate testing category for pet hair, this information might help you avoid lower-performing cleaners. You should also ask friends and family who have pets what vacuum cleaner they use and if they're happy with the job it does.

See the next page for lots more information on vacuum cleaners and housekeeping.


Lots More Information

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  • "Air Flow through the Vacuum Cleaner System." Ristenbatt Vacuum. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://www.ristenbatt.com/airflow.mv
  • "Best Pet Hair Vacuum." Vacuum Cleaner Advisor. Oct. 27, 2010. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://vacuum-cleaner-advisor.com/Best-Pet-Hair-Vacuum.html
  • "Best Vacuum Cleaner for Hardwood Floors." Vacuum Wizard. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://www.vacuumwizard.com/vacuum-cleaner-for-hardwood-floors.html
  • "Get a Clean Start." Boston Globe. Nov. 14, 2010. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://www.boston.com/business/personalfinance/articles/2010/11/14/get_a_clean_start_with_a_new_vacuum/?p1=Well_MostPop_Emailed6
  • "HEPA filters help some with allergies." Ohio State University Medical Center. Jan. 23, 2005. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://internalmedicine.osu.edu/pulmonary/article.cfm?ID=1907
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  • Peterson, Christina. "Behind the Scenes: Vacuum Testing." Good Housekeeping. Aug. 20, 2010. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-testing/from-the-lab-blog/vacuum-testing?click=main_sr
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  • Trotta, Gian. "Which vacuum is top dog at removing pet hair?" Consumer Reports. Feb. 17, 2010. (Nov. 19, 2010) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/02/which-vacuum-is-top-dog-at-removing-pet-hair/index.htm
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