One of the biggest problems with most vacuums is they’re bulky and heavy. This makes them a hassle when cleaning stairs. For this purpose, the best vacuum for stairs is what you need consider.
If your home has many flights of stairs, choosing the right cleaning appliance can save you a lot of time and effort.
In this article, we explain what to look for in a vacuum for stairs. We also break down the difference between cleaning carpeted and non-carpeted stairs. Yes, they’re different surfaces. So, you’ll need to handle them differently to get the best results.
Our Picks: Top Options for Carpeted and Non-Carpeted Stairs
- Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional NV356E – Our Top Pick
- Dyson V6 – Runner Up
- Bissell 9595A – Upright with hose attachment
- Bissell Zing 4122 – Lightweight canister option
- Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX – Top Handheld choice
What Makes a Good Stair Vacuum?
Stairs are unique because of their shape. This becomes a problem for some vacuum cleaners because most are designed for flat surfaces. As such, not all vacuum cleaners are well-equipped for cleaning stairs.
In this section we explain the features a vacuum needs to make it good for stair cleaning. We break this down to 3 parts.
- The type of vacuum
- Its features
- Includes accessories & tools
1. Vacuum Type
The type of vacuum you have is key. Depending on the kind of stairs and how many flights your home has, your choice may vary.
a. for Low Flight of Stairs
You have a lot more leeway here. Low flights of stairs are those that are 8 steps of less. You can extend this to 10 steps maximum. Beyond that, it may become a chore.
Here, you can use almost any type of vacuum cleaner, even your main upright vacuum. It isn’t ideal, unless it has a hose attachment. With the upright you’ll need to carry the machine up each step. This is why the limit stops at 8 steps.
More ideal options are:
- Canister vacuums: Their hose attachment lets you leave the canister on the floor or a step and use the hose’s length to your advantage. Its main advantage is you get the suction power of a full-sized machine. Canister vacuums work great for carpeted and non-carpeted stairs.
- Handheld Vacuums: These are lighter and easier to carry up steps. But, they don’t carry as much suction power. They also have smaller heads which means it takes longer to cover each step. We don’t recommend using handheld vacuums if your stairs are carpeted. They don’t have the power to pull out debris stuck in the fibers.
- Cordless vacuums: If you can go cordless. This will save you the trouble of finding an electrical outlet close enough to your stairs. Cordless units do have limited run times though. This is often 15 to 20 minutes. An alternative is to have a long extension cord.
b. for One to Two Flights of Stairs
At this point, the stick vacuum, with the few exceptions we mention below, and the upright vacuum are out. They’ll give you more trouble than you want.
For homes with 10 steps or more, we like the following types of vacuums.
- Handheld stick vacuums: These vacuums are becoming more popular recently. They are a hybrid between the stick and handheld vacuum. In essence you have a cordless lightweight stick vacuum that you can lift, carry and clean with using one hand. You control it much like you would a metal detector. As a bonus, you can detach the neck and head to use the handheld section for small jobs. Here are a few products we like. They are lightweight and easy to use with one hand. Plus, they pack more power than your regular stick vacuum. The Dyson models match up to suction of average uprights.
- Dyson V Series stick vacuums (the V6, V7 and V8 models)
- Shark Rocket Vacuums
- Vacuums with lift-away canisters: Another great option are the upright vacuums with a lift-away canister module. These are also hybrid vacuums. They’re essentially your full-sized upright vacuum. But, the middle section of the vacuum can be detached from the body. This gives you a canister vacuum with a hose you can easily carry up stairs. What’s great about these is:
- They have the suction power of a full-sized upright vacuum.
- They are lighter than full-sized canisters.
- Canister vacuums: We’ve mentioned canister vacuums above. Please refer to the explanation there.
- Portable Lightweight vacuums: These are small units that you can sling over your shoulder like a messenger bag. Many of these compact cleaners weigh between 5 and 8 pounds. This makes them convenient to carry on your shoulder or by hand. Plus, come with a hose and long power cord. These features make it easy to clean many flights of stairs as well as your attic, basement and multi-story homes. A couple of examples are the:
- Hoover CH30000 PortaPower
- Oreck Commercial BB900DGR XL Pro 5
- Handheld vacuums: This one is a borderline case. Some people love using handheld vacuum cleaners for stairs because it lets them get close enough to clean meticulously. The problem with handheld vacuums is they take more time to cover one step due to their small head and low power. This makes them more burdensome as the number of steps increase.
- 2-in-1 Stick Vacuums: This is the other exception to the stick vacuum. These are stick vacuums that come with a detachable handheld vacuum. In this case, you can pull out the handheld unit and use it for stairs. Before considering a stick vacuum though, you’ll want to see if it fits into your overall cleaning needs. If you have a big home or large spaces to clean, it may not be the ideal choice, even if it works well for stairs.
c. Many Flights of Stairs & Multi-story Homes
If you have a lot of stairs to clean, being picky with your stair vacuum becomes essential.
When vacuuming multiple flights of stairs or home with many floors, we like the following types of vacuums.
- Upright vacuum with lift-away canister
- Canister vacuums
- Portable/Lightweight vacuums
- Handheld stick vacuums
For more details of each, please refer to the explanations above.
You’ll notice that the handheld stick vacuums slipped down in our rankings. The reason is they are cordless. With a lot of stairs, you may be limited by the 15 to 20 minutes of battery run-time these have. There are a few exceptions though, the Dyson V8 tops out at 40 minutes and the Dyson V7 at 30 minutes.
2. Cordless vs. Corded Vacuums
A cordless vacuum lets you go anywhere. This makes cleaning stairs so much easier. The drawbacks of cordless vacuum cleaners are their battery run time and power.
Average battery run times of cordless vacuums are between 15 and 20 minutes. There are a few exceptions like the Dyson V8 which lets you go for 40 minutes. It is pricey though.
The other issue is power. This isn’t a problem with non-carpeted stairs, like wood. With carpeted stairs, you may be okay with less suction if your vacuum comes with a brush or carpet attachment. These tools will loosen the debris enough so average suction can pull them up.
3. Wide Cleaning Path or Mouth
Because most stairs come in long rectangular shapes, having a cleaner with a wide cleaning path or mouth is key. This lets you cover more area in less time. For this reason handheld vacuums are at a disadvantage the more steps you have.
4. Hose, Extension Wand and Crevice Tool (Pet Tools if You Have Pets)
Key tools and attachments you want a good stair vacuum to have include:
- A hose: Preferably a long hose. The hose will make it easy to clean steps without you having to stoop a lot or keep carrying the vacuum’s body.
- An extension wand: This attaches to the end of the hose giving you extra reach.
- Crevice tool: This tool is handy for cleaning out the edges, corners and moldings. Please refer to our How to Clean Stairs section below for more.
5. Carpet &/or Brush Tool (if you have carpeted stairs)
If your stairs are carpeted, you’ll need a few extra tools to get the job done. Like carpet flooring, regular suction isn’t enough. It won’t be able to pull out the dirt and debris stuck within the carpet’s fibers.
For this we suggest choosing a vacuum that comes with a carpet tool or brush. If you’re using a canister, you’ll probably have a tool that has a brush roll with the head. The spinning brush helps loosen the debris via agitation. This allows the vacuum’s suction to clean your carpeted stairs thoroughly.
If you own dogs or cats, a pet tool is also essential. Pet tools are designed to attract fur. Besides pet hair, they help pick up dander which reduces the risk of allergies and asthma.
If your home has wooden stairs, we suggest skipping the carpet or brush tool. Instead, use the bare floor tool. This will ensure you don’t scratch the surface.
Best Vacuum for Stairs Reviews
- Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional NV356E – Our Top Pick
- Dyson V6 – Runner Up
- Bissell 9595A – Upright with hose attachment
- Bissell Zing 4122 – Lightweight canister option
- Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX – Top Handheld choice
This is our top pick when it comes to cleaning stairs. We love that it lets you clean stairs effectively and conveniently. Just as importantly, it lets you do the rest of the home efficiently as well. After all, stairs only make a small portion of your home.
The device is a lightweight upright vacuum with a detachable canister and hose module. This lets you remove the canister from the vacuum. Then, carry it up the stairs using the hose to clean each step.
Besides it versatility, what we like most is its power. It does a great job for pet hair as well as carpeted floors and stairs. It picks up a good amount of dirt and can be used of different floor types including wood, tiles, carpets and stairs.
In addition to the suction power, you also get a HEPA filtration system. This along with its anti-allergen system cuts down dust and other particles that can trigger allergies.
Overall, its ability to transform from an upright vacuum to a canister vacuum lets you clean floors as well as stairs and furniture. The canister and hose extension are ideal for stairs. And thanks to its good suction power, it is able to handle pet hair and carpeted stairs very well.
Our next choice is this Bissell upright vacuum. Give a choice we’d stick the with Shark Navigator Lift-Away model above. That’s because you can pretty much carry the detachable canister anywhere you want.
This one on the other hand, lets you clean stairs but not as effectively. Here’s why.
The Bissell 9595A is an upright vacuum that comes with a 6 foot long extension hose. The hose along with its attachments lets you clean stairs.
It isn’t as efficient nor convenient as the Shark NV356E above. But one thing going for the Bissell is its price. It costs about half that of the Shark vacuum. This makes it a more practical option especially if you don’t have many flights of stairs at home.
The unit has good suction power, though not top end. But it does the job. We like that its filtration system works well. This helps cut down on allergens and dust.
Overall, this is a good affordable unit that does the job on vacuuming stairs. It comes with a hose and accessories to help you get dirt out of the edges. If you don’t have a lot of stairs at home and need something to do all-around cleaning plus vacuum the stairs, this is a good choice. It works well on flat surfaces as well as different height carpets.
Another option for stairs is the lightweight canister. For many, this is a more practical stair vacuum compared to an upright model. It’s lighter in weight. And, the design makes it easy to carry with you.
At 8 pounds, this is about half the weight of the BISSELL 9595A. This lets you carry it as you go up the stairs or set it down on the steps easily. The 5 foot long hose makes it easy to stand can vacuum each step as well.
One thing worth noting is that the device’s power cord is 17 feet long. Depending on how high your stairs go and how far the power outlet is, you may need an extension.
One thing to note about the device is that is doesn’t pack as much power as the two previous mentioned devices. If you were to rank them in suction power, the Shark would take a big lead, followed by the BISSELL 9595A and the Zing 4122.
Because the air has to travel through the hose, the 10 amp motor offers just sufficient suction. Let’s say its power isn’t going to blow you away. But it does the job.
We like that it’s very cheap. Plus you get a good sized 10.3” cleaning path. This is more than enough to cover each stair step quickly. In case you need other accessories, it comes with a crevice tool, extension wand and upholstery tool as well.
Of all the devices, this is probably the easiest to use on stairs. It’s like an extension of your arm. So, all you need to do is point and vacuum.
So why isn’t it at the top of our best stair vacuums list? Here are a few reasons.
- Its price. As good as it is, it is expensive for a stick vacuum.
- You do get a cordless feature. But the motor’s power does limit you to 20 minutes of medium use. At the maximum setting, it cuts down run time more.
- It isn’t as powerful as the full sized upright vacuums. Among stick vacuums it ranks up there, close to its sibling the Dyson V6 Motorhead. But compared to the Shark vacuum above, it lags behind.
That said, this is still one of the best choices for vacuuming stairs. The unit comes with strong suction power. And, its ease of use makes it ideal for cleaning stairs. You don’t have to bend or lift heavy devices up the steps.
The Dyson V6’s cordless feature also saves you from worrying about how far the power cord goes. Plus, the motorized cleaning head makes it efficient in picking up pet hair and cleaning carpeted stairs.
In addition, you can detach the motor section of the machine from the neck and head. This gives you a handheld vacuum that’s easier to move around with.
Overall, the Dyson V6 brings strong suction power to make vacuuming stairs convenient. Whether you have carpeted stairs or not, it does a great job thanks to its motor and cleaning head.
If you already own a vacuum that does a good job on your floors, but need something to handle the stairs, this Black+Decker handheld vacuum is a good choice.
Instead of replacing the vacuum you’re satisfied with, why not just complement it with one that works well for stairs. You can use your current vacuum for the rest of your home, and the new handheld vac for stairs. This way, you save money. This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of stairs at home.
When it comes to handheld vacuums for stairs we like the BDH2000PL from Black+Decker. The unit runs on rechargeable lithium ion battery. This gives you more run time use.
We like that the device comes with a wide flat head. This makes covering more area of stairs faster. The pivoting head also lets you adjust it to get to the hard to reach areas in the stairs.
At just over 3 pounds in weight, it’s easy to carry around. The additional brush and crevice tools can be attached to the head to help loose stubborn particles, especially on carpeted stairs.
Choosing a Vacuum for Stairs Buying Guide
1. Choose the Right Type of Vacuum for Stairs
Which product you choose will depend on a factors.
- How many flights of stairs do you have?
- How many steps per flight do your staircases have?
- Are your stairs carpeted or non-carpet?
- Will you be using the vacuum for cleaning upstairs, attic and basement as well?
- What other areas of the home will you need to clean?
- Do you have pets?
We discussed the different features to consider when buying a vacuum for stairs above. Please refer to the discussion for detailed explanations.
2. Go with Cordless If Possible
Cordless vacuums are a great choice for cleaning stairs. They free you of worrying about whether your power cord is long enough.
The one issue with cordless vacuum cleaners is their run time. Currently, most units run between 15 to 20 minutes maximum. There are a few exceptions like Dyson’s V7 and V8 stick models. These run as long as 30 and 40 minutes, respectively. But, they are pricey.
Due to battery run time limitations, cordless vacuums are ideal if you don’t have a lot of stairs to clean. If you have multiple flights, you may want to estimate how long it takes for you to finish a flight. If it takes more than 12 minutes, you may run out of power before you’re done.
Battery charge times often go between 4 to 5 hours for the good cordless units. There are a few that need as little as 2 hours. But some require over 8 hours.
3. Portability/Easy to Carry
Because of how stairs are built, having a lightweight vacuum that’s easy to carry is a good thing. It makes cleaning stairs more convenient.
A long hose and power cord also help. They increase your overall reach.
In general, something less than 10 pounds works. The lighter the better. The only caveat with overly lightweight vacuums is that you lose suction power and dirt cup capacity the lighter you go. That’s because the smaller the device, the smaller the motor.
4. Hose Length & Extension Wand
An ideal stair vacuum will have a long hose and extension wand attachment. The long hose lets you keep the vacuum in one place and clean several steps at a time.
An extension wand also adds to this reach.
5. Consider the Weight
This falls under portability. The less weight you need to lug up and down stairs the better. This is the reason that handheld stick vacuums, lift-away and lightweight canisters are ideal for stairs.
They’re all easy to use and don’t require a lot of effort to carry up stairs.
6. Tools & Attachments
- Stair tool: A few vacuums come with stair tools. These are designed to clean the steps and risers.
- Pet hair tool: If you have a dog or cat, you’ll want to choose a product that has a pet hair tool. Pet hair and dander are harder to pick up. They tend to stick to surfaces. Pet tools are designed to attract fur. This makes it easier to clean them.
- Crevice tool: The crevice tool lets you get to the corners and edges. Its narrow nose is able so squeeze into tight areas that stairs have a lot of.
- Carpet tool or Brush tool: This applies for carpeted stairs. As with rugs, carpeted stairs require some agitation to loosen debris that’s stuck in them. The brushes in these tools do that to help the vacuum’s suction pick up more dirt.
7. Suction Power
For wood and non-carpeted stairs, suction isn’t too important. A regular powered vacuum works well enough.
But, you’ll want to consider its ability to clean the rest of your home. After all, you’re not just cleaning stairs.
Carpeted stairs on the other hand require more power. This is because debris get stuck deep in the fibers. This means you need more suction to get them all out.
If you plan on using a vacuum with a hose, then suction power becomes more important. The longer the hose, the more powerful the suction needs to be. That’s because you need enough suction to get through to the end of the hose. The farther it is, the more suction needed to reach the end.
8. Consider Other Areas of the Home You’ll Be Cleaning
When choosing a vacuum for stairs, keep in mind the other areas of the home as well. You’ll be cleaning those spaces. So, it’s important to choose a product that lets you clean your entire home.
How to Clean Stairs
In this section, we discuss the steps in giving your stairs a thorough cleaning from start to finish.
Basic Steps & Things to Prepare:
- Stiff brush or broom: You’ll use this to loosen debris and dirt. They will also let you get rid of the bigger pieces of dirt.
- Vacuum cleaner: This will do part of the cleaning. To learn more about what features to look for see above. For a full buyer’s guide to vacuum for stairs, see below.
- Shampoo or Carpet Cleaner: After vacuuming all the dirt away, the shampoo will clean it. You’ll also be drying it after which makes a carpet cleaner handy.
- Final vacuuming: You’ll be using the vacuum again to give the stairs a final cleaning.
1. Use the Broom or Stiff Brush To Clean Out Large Pieces
Our first step is to clean out the larger pieces of dirt from the stairs. This makes the job of the vacuum easier later on. For carpeted stairs, a stiff brush works great because it loosens the hardened debris stuck in the carpet’s fibers.
We recommend starting from the top of the stairs and working your way down. This lets you take care of any dirt particles that fall down the stairs on your way down. It also lets you sweep the dirt down to floor eventually.
2. Vacuum the Stair’s Corners & Edges First
For this you’ll want to use your vacuum’s crevice tool. The crevice tool is a short attachment with a very narrow nose. The small nose allows it to squeeze into tight spaces like corners, edges and contours in moldings.
With the crevice tool, vacuum the perimeter of each step. The goal here is to clean the edges and corners of the stairs. These areas are less accessible to the vacuum’s bigger heads. If your staircase has molding, take advantage of the crevice tool’s slim nose to clean the contours as well.
You can also use the vacuum’s nozzle without the head or its extension wand attachment to do this. This method works if your stairs’ edges aren’t too narrow. Leaving the nozzle open without the head allows for more suction. Though the bigger opening also prevents it from getting into smaller nooks and crannies.
- Cleaning the corners thoroughly is key because this is where dust settles. Foot traffic often pushes all the particles to the ends and edges of the stairs. As such, it actually leaves the areas where you often go up and down the stairs cleaner. This is especially true with non-carpeted stairs.
- Carpeted stairs meanwhile are the opposite. The dirt from your shoes get pushed deeper into the carpet’s fibers the more you walk through certain paths. This causes the areas with most foot traffic to accumulate the most dirt. For this reason, we suggest using a brush to loosen the debris beforehand.
3. Vacuum the Stair’s Treads and Risers
Now we can vacuum each step. For more information on what features make a good stair vacuum, please see the section above.
Depending on the kind of stairs you have, you’ll be using different tools.
- For carpeted stairs, use the carpet tool or head with a brush roll. This will be the same tool you use for your carpets and rugs.
- For non-carpeted stairs or wood stairs, use the bare floor tool. This is the same tool you use for hardwood floors.
Some vacuums come with a specialized stair tool as well.
Work from Top to Bottom
With stairs, it is important to vacuum thoroughly. We recommend starting from the top working your way down. In doing so make sure to clean both the riser (vertical part of the stairs) and the tread (the step).
It is important not to make quick passes. The wide head of the vacuum will make this tempting. Intuitively, it may seem that cleaning each step using horizontal passes makes sense. This will let you cover entire steps in one or two passes. And, it works okay.
Unfortunately, it may not give you a thorough clean. Moving slowly and deliberately is a better way. We also suggest going over each area at least twice.
Forward and Back Motion
Another method we’ve found to be even more effective is to vacuum sections of each step using a forward and back motion, instead of going side to side. This takes more time and effort since you’re doing a small portion of a step at a time. But, it cleans much better, especially if your stairs are carpeted.
As mentioned vacuum the riser as well. The riser is the vertical area of each step. With carpeted stairs, this area also collects dirt, though not as much as the steps themselves.
We’ve found the best way to do this is to turn your vacuum head upside down. Then, clean the risers with an up and down motion. You’ll clean small sections at a time going from the left side of the riser to right side. This lets you cover the entire riser thoroughly.
4. Shampooing the Stairs
This step onwards is for carpeted stairs. You can skip the remaining steps if you’re cleaning non-carpeted stairs.
With carpeted stairs, shampooing helps bring back the color of your carpeting. It also gets rid of the dirt that vacuuming doesn’t.
Ideally, shampooing the carpet by hand gets the best results. At least in terms of getting them as clean as possible. You can do this with a carpet shampoo and scrub brush. Unfortunately, it may not be practical for some due to the time and effort needed.
Carpet cleaners may be a better option. These machines are large and many of them don’t fit on stairs. The good news is, there are now many models that do. These come with special features and attachments that let you clean stairs efficiently.
A good alternative to buying a carpet cleaner is to rent one from your hardware store.
5. Drying the Stairs
After shampooing, your stair’s carpeting will be soaked with water. Carpets have a tendency to pull in a lot of water. And in order to avoid mold and other bacteria from growing, it is essential to get rid of as much excess water from them within a short period of time.
We do recommend using a carpet cleaner for this job since these machines come with drying features. This helps remove excess moisture from your shampooed carpet quickly. If you don’t have one, you can rent a carpet cleaner. Doing so saves a lot of time and effort.
A good alternative is to use a wet/dry vacuum. These devices are work like your home vacuum. They are bigger though. And, can be used for sucking up liquids as well as vacuuming dirt.
There are other options including using towels and hair dryers. But, these are time consuming and frustrating to do at best.
6. Final Vacuuming
Get as much water out of the stair carpeting. Then, leave them to dry on their own. This will take a while, often overnight.
Once the carpeting has dried, it’s time for final vacuuming. This will get rid of any remaining dirt or debris that was left behind.
And, you’re done!
Finally, here are some basic stair cleaning maintenance tips. Doing these 3 things will help keep your home’s stairs, whether wooden or carpeted, nice and clean for a long time.
1. Vacuum stairs regularly. Doing so at least once a week helps keep in clean. How often you vacuum will depend how much traffic there is and dirt that’s collected. In general, carpeted stairs require more cleaning than those without.
2. For wooden stairs, you will need to check your floor’s finish. See if there are any scratches or damage that needs fixing. This may mean polishing, sanding or refinishing the steps to restore their look.
3. For carpeted stairs, shampooing the carpet or steam cleaning them at least once a year is essential.
4. Finally, carpeted stair owners will benefit from hiring a professional carpet cleaning company to do deep extractions. Ideally, this is done once every 3 years. The frequency can go down to every 2 years if there’s heavy foot traffic. These companies use commercial cleaning equipment to give your carpets a deeper clean before drying them.
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