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Shopping: What should you be looking for in a vacuum cleaner?

Dust bag or no dust bag? Upright or cylinder? Object of desire or workhorse? We subjected our six chosen machines to a battery of tests to check how easy they were to assemble, how simple to manoeuvre on the flat and on stairs, how heavy to carry around and, most fundamentally, how well they removed anything from fluff and biscuit crumbs to talcum powder and ground-in cigarette ash from carpet and upholstery.

Dyson DC02 Absolute, pounds 229 [6]. If you were to choose a cleaner on looks alone, you would pick this one. Happily it also does its job extremely well. Uniquely it is bagless and this model is the first to have both HEPA filtration and a bacteria killing screen. It's also comfortable to use; the metal stem can be lengthened or shortened as appropriate and its shape makes it balance neatly on stairs. The motor is fairly quiet, too. Not particularly cheap, but worth it. (Dyson Appliances Ltd 01666- 827200)

Goblin Medivac Combi, pounds 129.99 [5]. Medivac specialises in vacuum cleaners for asthma sufferers, and this wet and dry cleaner, with its clinical green and white colouring, certainly looks efficient. Filtration is hospital standard, but the pick-up of dust from the carpet was not noticeably better than with the best "nonmedical" cleaners. The shape made it hard to carry. It was also the noisiest of the six machines. Reasonable machine for the price, however. Launched next month. (Goblin 01924-892 888)

Bosch Perfecta 83, pounds 169.99 [4] This has become the "classic" cylinder shape of late, flatter for more efficient storage, and with a compartment on top for storing extra brushes. The suction is fully adjustable, so you can run the brush up your most delicate curtains without them vanishing. That said, it dealt well with balls of fluff, but not quite so adeptly with ground-in cigarette ash. An extra-fine filter is available as an optional extra. Of all the machines this was the quietest, even at full power. (Bosch 0181-573 8888)

Electrolux Widetrack 21480, Price pounds l99.99 [1]. If you have a bad back, upright models are a good choice, and this one has a specially designed "backsaver" handle. The 15-inch wide head is intended to speed up cleaning, though its less than impressive removal of crumbs and talcum powder means you have to cover the same ground several times. It has a flexible hose to make stair-cleaning easier, though the uprights are not ideal for this. It's also quite heavy; it does move well on the flat, however. Fine for flat or bungalow dwellers. (Electrolux 01582 491234)

Hoover Turbopower 3 U2880, pounds 199.99 (pounds 179.99 to end Oct) [3] The Turbopower 3 is a fairly standard upright with fewer neat touches than the Electrolux; the handle, for instance, is a bit short and not particularly comfortable. The selling point is the extra-long hose - four metres - which is intended to make it easier to clean the stairs, though it's not particularly successful in this respect. A "permabag", instead of the usual dustbag, improves filtration of the air, and this model performed reasonably well in all our tests of dust removal. (Hoover 01685 721222).

Vorwerk Upright System. pounds 599 including accessories [2]. The German-made Vorwerk is a prince among cleaners, designed apparently by four houseproud Hausfrau who wanted something that really worked. It dealt smugly with all the test materials, even on areas that looked clean already. The cleaning head detaches so you can plug in a hose and stair-cleaning bit, and there's a retractable shoulder strap. The lightest of the machines but strongly built. Expensive, but definitely works. (Vorwerk 01734 794753).