In Praise of the Glorious Bag Vacuum

Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

We praise technology because it propels us forward into a future that, we hope, will one day result in a Jetsons-like utopia (absent the weird gender stuff). Technology is supposed to make things easier and improve upon necessary if annoying tasks. But that’s not always the case. We cut the cable cord only to plug into services hell, and manufacturing might have made clothing and furniture cheaper and more accessible, but at a significant cost to quality.

Vacuums are one of the most outstanding examples of technology, not only making things more complicated but often worse. Oh, sure we all cooed over the first Dyson vacuum we saw. It rolled on a ball and could handle corners with enviable ease. My brother dropped hundreds on his and still babies it like his first car. My colleagues have praised many of Dyson’s iterations on the vacuum since, including the latest versions when Dyson declared that cords, like bags on vacuums, were over.

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But cords and bags serve a purpose! They’re not inconveniences to triumph over. Have you ever emptied a bagless vac? It’s a challenging task. Plumes of dust billow out, and a stench fills the air unless you use a fresh trash bag and empty the canister at the very bottom of the bag to prevent releasing dust everywhere.

Then there’s the hair/fur/debris that will stick in smaller canisters like the ones on Dyson’s vacs, forcing you to remove it all by hand. If you have pets or allergies or both, bagless vacs are a challenge. I have had at least one roommate who habitually put off emptying ours because it’s such a filthy chore.

The cordless situation isn’t much better. My Dyson V6 lasts a while on a charge, but I’ve already had to spend $35 to replace the battery once, and Dyson might have fixed that issue with the new V11, which improves the power, adds a battery meter, and increases the size of the receptacle while almost making it easier to empty.

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My colleagues Adam and Andrew love the $700 Dyson V11 because it’s light, maneuverable, and powerful. But they do not have terrifically bad dust allergies, a 74-pound Labrador retriever, and a roommate with two cats. Neither do a lot of our commenters, but time after time they’ve brought up an alternative vacuum manufacturer in every article we publish about Dyson: Miele.

Miele is a German company that has been making vacuums since the 1930s, and it’s iterated on its original cannister-type vacuum a lot in the last 88 years. It’s one of a few companies that still sells vacuums that have a bag in them. A Miele Complete C3 goes for the same as a Dyson v11. But for your $700, you get a vacuum that’s tethered to a power outlet, weighs 2.12 pounds more (8.8lbs versus 6.68lbs), and holds almost exactly 1 gallon more crap inside.

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Naturally, I had to try it out and see if the bagless, cordless future Dyson sold me on was, in reality, a monumental step back. Of course, I might have been a little biased going in—I really, really, really hate emptying the container on a bagless vacuum. I hate how dust inevitably accrues on the vac and has to be wiped down or rinsed off monthly to stay pristine.

Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
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Three months in, I haven’t had to take a rag or a hose to the Miele. I have had to drag it up and down the stairs. It’s a canister vacuum, which means a handle attaches to a hose which is attached to a tank on wheels that trails you around like a quieter Roomba. The little buddy trailing after you means it sucks for stairs—especially if you have a lot of them. You have to sort of hobble your way up or down, awkwardly maneuvering the tank and juggling the hose. Yet it’s great for cleaning places up high, where the bulk of the weight of the vac can stay on the ground and not tire out your noodle arms. And it’s flexible enough for annoying rarely cleaned corners behind furniture or under beds.

And I never have to worry about whether it has enough juice because I plug it into the wall. And because it plugs directly into the wall, it’s so powerful. Vacuum makers typically measure suction power by air watts, and Miele claims it can sustain 1,100 watts, while Dyson claims the V11 does 185 watts. The Miele consumes all that is before it: Fur, kitty litter, the change that fell out of my pocket—even a sock I didn’t realize had been kicked under a chair. It’s the reason pets are afraid of vacuums.

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If you’ve only got little messes, you probably won’t notice the Dyson’s less impressive performance—heck you might even appreciate the lower wattage on a Dyson. You don’t have to worry about vacuuming up change or the backing from an earring and then fishing it out of the dusty muck. If you accidentally suck up the fringe on a carpet, it’s easy to unspool from the Dyson. It’s powerful enough for a lot of people.

Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
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But even if they can both do the same job, the Dyson takes a lot longer. And it’s not just because you have to take more passes, it’s also because the Miele, and any bag vac will store at least a gallon more crud before needing to be emptied. If I go a week without a pass, my little v6 requires four or five trips to the trash can. The Miele does it with room to spare, and when it’s finally filled up a month and a half later? I just pull the bag out and drop it in the garbage and slot on a new one.

There’s no dust and no rush to clean my whole body to avoid an allergy attack after I empty it. I don’t have to carefully reclean around the trashcan because some of the dirt inevitably missed the target. People talk about the convenience of a Keurig versus a traditional coffee machine, but that has nothing on the convenience of a bagged vacuum versus the bagless kind. After three months of a cleaner and nicer smelling home, I don’t think I can go back. I can put up with the additional space a bag vac takes up, and I can survive the climb up and down the stairs. Sometimes the best thing isn’t cutting the cord—it’s plugging it in.

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About the author

Alex Cranz

Senior Reviews Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.