Bagged or Bagless Vacuum?


Should you go bagged or bagless?  This is a popular question because there are many vacuums of both types on the market. Most residential vacuum cleaners sold in the USA today are of the bagless variety but bagged machines still sell well and have a special place in the heart of many homeowners.

The concept of a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t use disposable bags has been around for a long time. Many older machines actually had re-usable cloth bags. The cloth bag could be removed from the vacuum and emptied then put back on the vacuum. These were very messy to empty and also required that the bag be washed frequently as the material would get plugged with dust and debris and decrease the vacuum suction. After some time someone came up with the great idea of a bag that you just threw away and replaced – this became today’s bagged vacuum. Now many manufacturers are making bagless vacuums again - but these don’t operate in quite the same way as their predecessors.

bagless upright vacuum
bagless upright vacuum

Today’s bagless vacuums usually have plastic canisters that hold the dust and debris. These canisters are removed from the vacuum cleaner, emptied and then reattached. There are essentially two types of bagless vacuums and they differ in the separation technology they use – that is the technology they use to separate the dust and debris from the air. Some bagless machines use cyclones to generate rapidly spinning air and “throw” the particles out of the air while others simply use filtration. Vacuums that rely solely on filtration require substantial filter cleaning and/or washing. Those that use cyclones still require filtration but the level (and maintenance) is reduced.

Some of the pros and cons of bagless vacuums are highlighted below:

emptying dust canister bagless vacuum
emptying dust canister from a bagless vacuum

- You don’t have to buy and dispose of bags (keeps costs down and good for the environment).
- Suction doesn’t diminish as the dust canister fills.
- As dust canisters are usually transparent it is easy to see how well the machine is working with respect to debris pickup and to determine when it may be necessary to empty the dust canister.

- Require additional filtration – if filters are washable this is extra work and if they are not washable this is extra cost.
- Filters usually have to be cleaned frequently.
- While they don’t lose suction as the dust canister fills they can lose suction as the filters get clogged.
- Messy to empty dust canister

Now let’s look at the pros and cons of bagged machines:

- Very easy to empty – just throw away the bag.
- More hygienic - don’t expose you to dust or dirt
- Bags also add a level of filtration so there is less filter cleaning required

- Suction diminishes as the bag gets full
- Have to keep replacing bags
- Can’t tell when bag is full although full bag indicators can be found on some machines

Other Considerations

bagged upright

- While bagged machines require that one has to buy bags, bagless machines generally require more filter maintenance and if this involves buying filters it can – in some cases - outweigh the cost of buying bags.

- For people that suffer from allergies or asthma, the ability of a vacuum cleaner to remove allergens from the air can be quite important. Bagless vacuums tend to be less effective in this regard as they often have quite a few rubber seals and joints through which dust and allergens can escape. But this problem can be addressed by purchasing a machine with what is known as a sealed system (this can be found in both bagged and bagless machines but is more common in bagged). A sealed system ensures that all the air entering the machine is passed through the filters before it is exhausted out of the vacuum.

- Even though suction is decreased in bagged vacuums as the bag fills, there are newer no-clog bags on the market that limit this issue – although these are not available for all brands and models at this time.

- The airpath from intake to exhaust is longer in a bagless vacuum than in a bagged vacuum. This, combined with the fact that bagless machines generally have more filtration, can create added stress on the bagless motor resulting in it running hotter and shortening its life.

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About Me


I'm Nigel Russco, a 50 year old professional engineer who loves to review vacuums, and I’ve been doing just that since 2008.  

I strive to write unbiased, intelligent vacuum cleaner reviews and I provide a score for each and every vacuum I investigate.  My goal is to help you find the best vacuum for your cleaning needs.

Also, watch my video reviews on the Vacuum Cleaner Advisor YouTube Channel.