The Difference Between Canister vs. Upright Vacuums 


The Difference Between Canister vs. Upright Vacuums 

Vacuums are far more versatile than most people realize. They come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, so choosing the right design can sometimes feel overwhelming.

When selecting a model, it helps to start with the most basic categories: canister vacuum vs. upright. Both have significant benefits, but some noteworthy downsides can also accompany these. We’ve covered both in detail, so you can feel confident as you choose the right vacuum for your situation.

The Basics: How Are Canisters and Uprights Different?

The main and most obvious difference between canisters and uprights lies in the shape and orientation of their designs. Canisters are sometimes referred to as cylinder vacuums due to their iconic shape. Their trademark canister holds their motor and dirt containers, which are purposefully kept separate from the vacuum head. A flexible hose and a handle or wand are attached to the head, which does not have a motor or filter perched on top of it.

Uprights stand, as their name indicates, straight up, serving as all-in-one devices that balance on the head and nozzle. Everything — power head, handle, motor, and filter — is contained within a single unit. This major category is then broken into a few noteworthy subcategories, such as bagged and bagless upright vacuums.

Specific Features & Qualities To Keep In Mind

For some consumers, the upright vs. canister vacuum debate is easily settled; they instinctively know which style they prefer. Most, however, need to look closely at both options to determine which is ideal according to specific budgetary, durability, or performance concerns.

To help, we’ve highlighted several specific concerns that influence the upright vacuum cleaner vs. canister decision-making process.


A durable vacuum limits your need to invest in cleaning equipment through the years. With minimal maintenance, the right vacuum will provide reliable cleaning power far into the future.

Unfortunately, no guarantees are available for canisters or uprights, which can vary dramatically in terms of durability. Still, canisters generally have a reputation for being more durable than uprights, in part because they have fewer components susceptible to breaking down. With vacuums, as with many devices, simplicity lends itself to fewer opportunities for breakdowns.

That’s not to say that uprights are inevitably prone to breaking down. Many well-designed uprights are just as durable as their canister counterparts. Often, these models avoid shoddy plastic components and instead stick with die-cast aluminum. As a result, many proud upright owners have been able to continue using their favorite vacuums for years or even decades on end.

Power & Performance

Canister vacuums can provide a truly deep clean. Because it’s possible to store their motors separately, these can be larger and more powerful than many upright vacuum motors. Canisters are also able to support larger filters.

The result? Impressive suction that can be difficult for upright styles to match. That being said, many upright models work their own magic in the power department. What’s more, they have the added benefit of strategically designed brushes that help them thoroughly clean the thickest rugs and carpets. As such, uprights are often preferred in homes that are primarily carpeted.


Canister enthusiasts often point to noise as a key consideration. This is an understandable concern: some vacuums are notoriously loud, to the point that everyday cleaning can be highly disruptive for other household members.

Canisters’ reputation for being quiet derives from the placement of the motor, which is easier to muffle. As a result, it’s possible to limit canister noise to just 60 decibels. Most uprights will inevitably be louder, as it’s simply more difficult to muffle noise when the motor is contained within the main vacuum structure.


While many people use vacuum cleaners primarily for rugs and carpets, they need not be limited to these specific types of surfaces. Many high-end vacuums are equally impressive for cleaning hardwood floors or even tile and grout. This is a key advantage of cleaning with a canister vacuum, as it’s capable of handling not only soft areas but also, hard flooring surfaces that might otherwise be scratched by certain upright models.

Some people don’t mind the reduced versatility associated with lower-end or mid-tier uprights. In homes that primarily feature carpet, hard floor cleaning needs may be minimal. Other people are okay with owning and maintaining separate cleaning systems for their carpet and hardwood spaces.

Thankfully, all-in-one solutions exist within the upright vacuum category: comprehensive cleaning systems with dedicated brush rolls and other attachments for specific types of surfaces. Small adjustments allow these vacuums to tackle hardwood, tile, or even vehicle interiors.

Storage & Mobility

A glance at the concerns highlighted above might have you thinking that canisters are superior to their upright counterparts, but a few key issues encourage people to stick with tried-and-trusted upright designs: storage and mobility.

Simply put, canister vacuums are bulkier than most upright styles. While uprights can easily be tucked away into small closets, it may take more space and planning to store a canister. When they emerge from storage, moving them can also be surprisingly difficult. After all, they have multiple components that must be handled.

The all-in-one approach of the modern upright makes it easier to move about, even if special attachments are needed for cleaning crevices, hardwood, or tile. This extra level of mobility is particularly important when cleaning vehicle interiors, garages, and other possibly difficult-to-reach spaces.

During the actual cleaning process, ease of use will ultimately depend on the specific model. After all, once they’ve been moved where needed, some canisters can be quite easy to maneuver. They often feature optimized cleaning wands with steering mechanisms. Moreover, the canister sits still by design while the wand, handle, and head are moved about. Unfortunately, some models may call for extra bending or stooping, as canisters often sit low to the ground.

Uprights may be heavier, but solutions such as power assist transmission should dramatically reduce push force. They rarely require bending, and they transition wonderfully from one cleaning space to the next — and finally, to easily accessible storage areas.

Finding a Vacuum That Provides the Best of Both Worlds

If you find the power and durability of canister vacuums compelling but cannot bear to give up the mobility or easy storage of the standard upright design, you’re in luck: with the right design, you can abandon the canister vs. upright vacuum debate once and for all.

The Kirby Vacuum offers the convenience of all-in-once-functionality but also the enhanced cleaning performance typically associated with canisters. Discover the joy of a pristine household as you let the best and brightest uprights work their magic.

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