A vacuum is one of those appliances, like an alarm clock, that people don't really think about much when it's time to purchase.
If it isn't offensive to the eye or ear and works as advertised, your average shopper doesn't really doesn't dwell on it. However, when buying a vacuum to clean hardwood floors, not thinking about it can result in costly damage.
Keeping 4 factors in mind can help a person narrow down the options quickly and painlessly:
- Form Factor
- Wheels and Beater Bar
There are 3 basic form factors for hardwood vacuums: canisters, uprights, and electric sweepers. Canisters and uprights are the traditional vacuum forms we are all familiar with.
Electric sweepers are a more modern replacement for brooms. Sweepers are the lightest, least expensive and most easily deployed of the 3 form factors, but also tend to be the least powerful and versatile.
Most people find uprights more efficient for cleaning big open areas, while canister vacuums have the advantage for navigating tight areas around furniture. It's really a personal preference whether uprights or canisters are altogether better, because the costs and functionality of both types are generally in the same ballpark.
Two parts that virtually all vacuum cleaners are traditionally equipped with are wheels and beater bars. The wheels are obviously to make the vacuum easier to move and use. For hardwood applications, these wheels should be rubberized. Hard plastic wheels that run over particles of dirt on hardwood will grind it in, causing scratches.
Beater bars are the rotating cylinder (usually with brushes) found on the underside of most vacuums. Their purpose is to literally beat the carpet and cause dirt to fly up into the suction of the cleaner. It takes little imagination how much damage even relatively soft plastic brushes rotating very quickly can do to the finish of hardwood floors. The beater bars that alternate hard metal or plastic bars with the brushes are even worse.
To prevent such damage from beater bars, ensure that the vacuum has a beater bar that can be turned off or a hardwood floor attachment that contains no beater bar at all.
Versatility comes into play because most people would prefer not to have a different cleaning device for each area in the home. For example, the electric sweeper that is fine for picking up spilled cereal on hardwood is completely ineffective on most carpet. A cleaner that can handle liquid spills as well as dry can save a ton of time and is less likely to be damaged.
Attachments are really an extension of a cleaner's versatility. For decades, canister vacuums were the undisputed kings of attachments (being just a basic vacuum motor with attachments). Modern uprights have made great strides in that area and now have a comparable array of attachments. Top end cleaners often have attachments that perform tasks that required a separate machine in the past, like steam cleaning or hardwood buffing.
While virtually no one really wants to think about vacuum cleaners, with the amount of money a bad decision could cost when hardwood surfaces enter the picture, it is well worth devoting some thought to the subject.