Vacuums for carpeted and hardwood stairs: canister, stick, and handheld models in 2017

Stairs can be a real pain to vacuum. They’re narrow, steep, and don’t give you much space to maneuver.

Most upright models have short attachment hoses that can only reach up a few steps or so. Canisters do a bit better, but they’re very expensive.

What’s a budget shopper to do?

We looked at lots of upright, stick, and canister models to find the most stair-friendly vacuums on the market, paying special attention to crossover models with more maneuverable features for cleaning the stairs.

We compared the key features and specs, and took the time to read hundreds of user reviews to see what buyers said about using these models on their stairs.

We’ve found three great options for stairs of all types. We also made sure that all of these can handle the rest of your house, as well, so that you will get the most bang for your buck!

We’ve complied in-depth, comprehensive reviews of each of our recommendations below. We’ll take you through all the important features and show you how each of these will make cleaning your stairs a breeze!

At the bottom of the page, we’ve also put together a list of things to consider as you shop for the best vacuum for stairs.

Selected models:

– Shark Rocket
– Sanitaire
– Shark Navigator
 

Reviews of the Stair Vacuums

1. Shark Navigator

favorite vacuum under $200

The Navigator Lift-Away Professional combines a few vacuums in one!

It’s a fully-powered upright for cleaning carpets and rugs, and also doubles as a maneuverable canister model for cleaning hardwoods and tile. We like it for its lift-away feature, which lets you carry the canister along so you won’t have to rest it on a ledge or step of the stairs as you clean.

Pros:

The powered carpet head is specifically designed for pulling up pet hair. The Shark can handle wall-to-wall carpeting with ease, and has thick bristles for loosening dirt and hair from carpet fibers. Previous buyers said it was surprisingly effective, for such a light machine.

The Shark also comes with a second floor head, which you can use with the extension hose and wand. The Dust-Away dedicated hard floors attachment combines a wide suction head with a microfiber sweeper pad. The suction head takes care of larger debris and hair, then the pad follows behind to trap tiny dust particles and other smaller allergens. It’s great for hardwood floors, since the microfiber loosens stuck-on dirt, and gives your floors a buffing as you clean!

We love this attachment for non-carpeted stairs because you can use it with the canister in Lift-Away mode. You’ll be able to carry the canister in one hand, rather than balancing it on a step or landing. This is ideal for narrow stairways, as well as cleaning other places around the house where you wouldn’t be able to reach with the canister on the ground.

Since the Shark is so light, previous buyers said lifting the canister along isn’t an ergonomic issue at all.

Both floor heads have swivel steering, for better maneuverability around corners and furniture. Swivel steering really comes in handy with the Dust-Away attachment on stairs, since you can vacuum crossways, or back to front to clean around banisters and in corners.

The air system is completely sealed, and provides HEPA-grade filtration. The foam filters are washable and reusable, so there’s no maintenance cost.

The Shark’s power cord is super long, at a whopping 30 feet! That’s more than enough to get you up and down your stairs without having to stop and replug halfway.

The whole thing is covered by a 5-year warranty.

It’s extremely cost-effective. The Shark gives you the power of an upright model and the maneuverability of a canister in one package. It does the job of two vacuums for the price of one!

Cons:

It’s built from very light plastic. Some previous buyers said the hose was too flimsy, and developed cracks after extended use.

While Shark provide a long warranty period, their service is historically pretty poor. Most previous buyers who had issues said they were asked to send them back to the company, on their own dime.

You won’t be able to use this one on carpeted stairs. The carpet head is too big to fit on most steps, and there’s no additional brush tool for fabric surfaces.

2. Sanitaire

average budget machine

This inexpensive canister model was designed for commercial use, but it makes a great household vacuum for buyers on a budget!

It’s ideal for cleaning stairs, since you can carry it along with you, and it comes with a full set of attachments. We recommend it to anyone with mainly hard flooring and low carpets.

Pros:

It’s powerful. The 1200-watt motor provides plenty of suction, much more than the residential model. Some previous buyers were surprised by how powerful it was.

It’s built for commercial use. The Sanitaire is built from heavier plastic than other cheap canister models, and it has a fully metal extension wand. We didn’t find any reliability issues with the Sanitaire, which is a big contrast from other vacuums at this price (especially canisters).

The convertible floor head works on all your hard flooring, with thick bristles for loosening dirt while protecting the finish. Then, you can disengage the brushes, leaving a metal glider which runs smoothly over low carpets. The Sanitaire can do a good job on low pile carpets and area rugs, as well as flat-carpet stairs.

We love the floor head’s thick bristles for vacuuming hardwood stairs without damaging boards or molding. The dusting brush also has lots of soft bristles, for cleaning the banisters and woodwork around your stairs.

The telescopic extension wand adjusts to suit your height. We also like being able to shorten the wand for vacuuming on the stairs in front of you.

A 20-foot power cord and 7-foot hose give you plenty of cleaning range.

The Sanitaire includes a shoulder strap, so you can carry the canister along with you. This is ideal for vacuuming stairs. It’s even more ergonomic and user-friendly than the Shark, since you’re not holding the canister in one hand.

The Sanitaire’s bags are large. Usually, the big Achilles’ heel of bagged vacuums is a small dust capacity. Previous buyers were pleased to find that the Sanitaire takes a while to fill up, since it has bigger bags than the competition.

There’s optional onboard HEPA filtration. You won’t need to change anything about your vacuum, just purchase an additional filter to fit the built-in slot.

It’s covered by a 2-year warranty, and has a much better reliability record than other vacuums at this price and higher.

Cons:

Some previous buyers found it to be a bit loud. We’ll guess that’s because it’s a commercial vacuum. However, most people didn’t have issues with that.

It doesn’t have a beater brush for deeper carpets. The Sanitaire is top suited to low, flat carpets and hard flooring.

You’ll have to wind the cord up yourself when you’ve finished vacuuming. Because it winds around the bottom of the canister, some reviewers found it inconvenient.

3. Shark Rocket

flexible stick hybrid vacuum

This Shark Ultralight is 3 vacuums in one. It works as a handheld dustbuster, as an overhead vacuum with an extension wand, or with one of two dedicated floor heads for powerful stick vacuum performance.

We love it for vacuuming all types of stairs, including hardwoods and carpets.

Pros:

You can clean in 3 different modes. In the first, the Rocket is a powerful stick vacuum, with a powered brush head for carpeted floors and area rugs. With the second, you can clean with the extension wand and one of the attachments, to tackle high places and far corners. Or, ditch the wand entirely and use the Rocket as a powerful handheld vacuum.

The Rocket also includes the same Dust-Away hard floor attachment as the Shark Navigator. We love this combination of a suction head and sweeper pad for hardwood stairs in particular.

The powered carpet head is small enough to fit on the steps of carpeted staircases. You can also use the pet fur upholstery tool on the end of the extension wand, for tight spaces where the carpet head can’t reach. This makes the Rocket the only choice for plush carpeted stairs.

The brush head has two speed modes. The high speed setting is ideal for deep cleaning carpets, while the slow speed keeps your hard floors safe as you clean.

The dust compartment is easy to empty, with the touch of a button. The trapdoor at the bottom of the hand unit drops all the accumulated dust, dirt, and hair into the trash without you having to get your hands dirty.

The Rocket also comes with a detailing kit for all the other areas of your house. In addition to a few small dusting brushes, there’s also the usual larger dusting brush, crevice tool, and upholstery brush. We like the smaller dusting brushes for cleaning molding and banisters on hardwood stairways. They’re also great for computers, electronics, and other appliances.

It’s very lightweight. The Rocket weighs just 7.5 pounds with the power head attached. It’s even lighter as a handheld vacuum.

The filters are washable and reusable.

It has a 30-foot power cord. That’s the same range as the Navigator, and more than enough room to get up your staircase without stopping.

It comes with a bag for the accessories, and a wall bracket for storing the vacuum.

Cons:

When you’re using the Rocket as a stick vacuum, it’s pretty top-heavy.

It’s lightly built. Some people didn’t find the plastic frame overly reassuring. We didn’t hear about any parts breaking, but some previous buyers weren’t confident that the Rocket would last them a long time.

Some reviewers weren’t impressed by the suction power.

It’s very loud. The Rocket is built from light plastic, and doesn’t have the benefit of a large body to muffle sound.

Which Stair Vacuum is Right for Your Home?

If you have hard flooring on your stairs, but carpet in other rooms of your house, we highly recommend the Navigator.

Its dual cleaning modes help it clean deeper carpets that the Sanitaire can’t handle, for a lower price than the Rocket. It also has the largest dust chamber of our three recommendations, so it’s the best choice for houses with lots of pet hair to vacuum up.

If you have only hard flooring or low carpets, we strongly recommend the Sanitaire. We love it for its sturdy, reliable build quality and powerful suction. It’s also the most budget-friendly of our recommendations, and costs significantly less than either of the Sharks.

We recommend the Shark Rocket to people who want to be able to vacuum absolutely everywhere in their house.

It can handle carpeted stairs and hardwood stairs alike, and is more versatile than the Navigator or Sanitaire for cleaning the rest of your house. However, it is the most expensive of our recommendations.

How to Shop for Affordable Vacuum for Stairs

Think about your flooring type:

The most important thing to consider when you’re shopping for a vacuum for your stairs is the flooring type you’ve got on your staircases.

If you have hardwood stairs, you’ll want a suction head with soft bristles that will protect the finish on your hardwoods while loosening surface dirt.

If you have carpeted stairs, you’ll want to look for a vacuum that’s specifically designed to handle carpets. Low-pile and flatter carpets are easy to deal with using a convertible floor head.

If you have medium or deep carpeting on your stairs, you’ll really want a powered brush head, and an upholstery tool for cleaning the vertical carpets.

Consider your budget:

A vacuum that can do a good job on your stairs shouldn’t cost you any more than a vacuum for the rest of your house.

However, we recommend that you avoid vacuums under $100. These cheap budget models have short power cords which make vacuuming midway up a flight of stairs a real pain.

They’ll also have cheap plastic extension hoses which can develop cracks. Since you’ll be stretching the hose nearly the whole time you’re vacuuming your stairways, that’s a big flaw.

The other issue with cheaper models is ergonomics. We’ve found that over the $100 mark, vacuums become much more user-friendly and convenient.

Think about the rest of your house:

You want a vacuum that does a great job on your stairs, but you shouldn’t have to buy a separate vacuum just for that. We’ve recommended vacuums that can handle the rest of your house as well as your stairs!

It makes more sense financially, and means you’ll have one less appliance knocking around your house.

As you shop, you’ll want to think about the other surfaces, spaces, and flooring types in your house.

If you have hardwood stairs but a carpeted room elsewhere in your home, you’ll want a vacuum with a convertible flooring head or dedicated flooring heads for each surface.

If you have pets, you’ll want a vacuum that can handle lots of hair. In short, you’ll want to be mindful of your whole house as well as your stairs.