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The Insider: Brush up on the best vacuum cleaners around

We all want a vacuum cleaner that effortlessly picks up dust and dirt, but the latest models offer much more than that. From dinky, space-saving models to those that come with hi-tech electronic dust sensors, there's a shape and size to suit every household. It's not all about style and features, though a great vacuum cleaner needs to perform well on the floor surfaces you have in your home and be reliable, too.

There are two main styles of vacuum cleaner cylinder and upright. "It might seem that the main difference is their shape and size, but price, performance and reliability vary, too," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? "Decent cylinders are available for about 100 to 200, but you'll be looking at 200-plus for a decent upright model though you can sometimes pick up a bargain online."

Deciding between a bagged and bagless vacuum cleaner is largely about preference, as there's no link to cleaning ability. Go bagless and you'll save money on replacement bags and earn some eco brownie points but emptying the dust container can be messy.

"Spending more is no guarantee that you'll get a better cleaner," says Martyn Hocking. "Very few vacuum cleaners work well on both carpet and hard floors so if you're looking for best value, pick a model that is well suited to the flooring you have in your home, rather than an expensive all-rounder."

In Which?'s latest tests, the highest-scoring model was the Bosch BSG8PRO1GB Home Professional cylinder, from 245. Which? gave it a test score of 81 per cent and praised it for its performance on carpets, laminate and floorboards. The 12-metre reach makes it good for big rooms, and it sucks up dirt strongly even as the bag fills. It's also easy to adjust the tube height and switch between floor surfaces.

At the other end of the table, the Russell Hobbs 14165, from 60, scored just 38 per cent. It was disappointing when it came to picking up dust on all surfaces except wooden floors, it lost its suction quickly and didn't contain all the dust it picked up, either.

Which?'s latest reliability survey found that cylinder vacuum cleaners are more reliable than uprights, with only one in 20 needing to be repaired within the first six years of purchase, compared with more than one in six uprights. The survey found that owners of Miele cylinder vacs and Sebo upright vacs were happiest with their appliances, perhaps unsurprisingly as they are the most reliable brands for each type of cleaner.

Where to buy? Online stores have the biggest selections, and many offer great bargains, but it's worth looking in store first so that you can check that it's not too heavy and feels easy to use. You can check stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service, www.which compare.co.uk.

What to look out for

* What floor surfaces is it best suited to? Most vacuums perform adequately on laminate, but performance on carpets and wooden floors varies so choose a model that performs well on the flooring you have in your home.

* How long's the cord? If you're vacuuming large rooms, or don't have many plug sockets, you'll likely want a model with a longer cord.

* Is it suitable for an allergy sufferer? Regular vacuuming with a cleaner fitted with Hepa (high-efficiency particulate air) or S-class filters, designed to retain the particles that cause allergy attacks, should help allergy sufferers. Emptying the dust container of bagless cleaners can result in spilt dust.

* How effective is it at cleaning pet hair? Uprights tend to work best, as they have motorised brush heads that are better at prising fur from carpet fibres. Some cylinder vacs have rotating turbo brushes that can help to loosen hair.

* How noisy is it? Higher wattage usually results in more noise, unless the manufacturer has installed noise insulation.

The Insider is written by 'Which?', the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/vacuumcleaners. To get three issues of 'Which?' magazine for a special price of 3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.