Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vacuum Cleaners

Some years back, we had just moved into an enormous, 2800 square foot house in California--in many respects, a middle class dream home, with a 9 1/2 feet deep heated inground pool.  This was twice the size of our previous house, and we needed a better vacuum cleaner.  A couple from church we knew were trying desperately to get out of their financial hole, and as a favor, we let him come over and do the sales pitch on a Kirby vacuum cleaner.

If you have ever owned one, you know that Kirby's are solid, industrial grade vacuum cleaners.  And they are priced accordingly.  I was feeling pretty darn rich at the time, so I spent the $1000 to buy it.  We used that vacuum cleaner for six years in that house, and for another five years in our house in Boise, after we left California.  At our new house in the mountains, the Kirby had one great failing: it was so heavy that it was beginning to make us nervous when it went over the tiles that make up most of our current house.  So we reluctantly sold it (even though it still worked great) and bought a typical consumer bag vacuum cleaner--something that only cost $100 or so, and like most vacuum cleaners in that range, it never really worked all that well, and then gave up the ghost after a couple of years, and we bought another one.

Of course, none of the cheap vacuum cleaners are spectacular, and a year or so ago, we bought a Hoover Wind Tunnel.  My wife was interested in one of those Dyson vacuum cleaners, which are very cleverly marketed--but by that point, I was a state employee, and she had the good sense to not spend the pretty hefty money required for the Dyson.  The Hoover Wind Tunnel is a bagless machine, and it worked pretty well--but it still has two serious defects:

1. It does not pick up a lot of small pieces, especially on the tile floors.

2. It often seems to throw dust behind the vacuum cleaner, for no apparent reason.

So I started doing some digging, and I found that the Shark vacuum cleaner was enjoying similarly positive reviews to the Dyson, and at a much more reasonable price.  Worse, some of the complaints about Dyson warranty repair made me wonder if the warranty was worth much.

We bought a Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional NV356, largely because the next step down, the NV22, seemed to have a small number of very serious complaints from consumers at Amazon, while the NV356, with similarly high average reviews, did not have any of the very serious complaints.  It seems like spending an extra $50 was probably worth it.

My wife had vacuumed the family room and kitchen on Thursday with the Hoover.  While we had not vacuumed the dining room and living room recently enough to remember exactly when, they were not particularly dirty.  So you can imagine my surprise when we did those four rooms with the Shark.

Ooooh!  Yes, we should have named the cat "Dander."  But look at how much the Hoover failed to get, but the Shark picked up!  The Shark is aptly named; it has powerful suction, indeed, so much that on carpet, you can actually feel it being somewhat propelled forward by the suction. 

Some other interesting aspects of it: they have a single switch that controls on, off, and whether you are on hard floors or carpet.  It turns out that at least some of why stuff was not being picked up by the Hoover, or was being thrown behind it, appears to be that the carpet beater parts of the Hoover's head grabbed stuff from hard floors and threw it.  On carpet, small particles and dust are sufficiently anchored that this is not a problem, but on hard floors, they just go flying.  Switching the Shark from carpet to hard floor seems to solve this problem.

One of the selling points of the Dyson Ball models is that they are apparently easier to maneuver than conventional vacuum cleaners.  The Shark seems to have a pivoting or steering mechanism that while not as elegant looking as Dyson's spherical approach, works very well indeed--much better than conventional vacuum cleaners.

A criticism of some reviewers of the Shark Navigator was how small the cleaning head is.  Indeed, it is very narrow compared to most other vacuums.  In practice, this is not a big problem, and it is actually something of an advantage.  One pass is all it takes on carpet, and the narrower head means that I can get into places that are ordinarily difficult to reach.  The head also pulls up dirt right to the front of the head--something that many other vacuums that I have owned can't do. 


  1. We recently purchased a Dyson to replace the Hoover hundred dollar model just like you did. The first run is very eye opening and then you start thinking about all that stuff that you've been living with sitting in that little container. Ugh. We love the Dyson.

  2. We have three large dogs, and needed something that could handle that, plus the dust when we were living in Arizona.

    After killing three different $100-$150 vacuums in two years, we bit the bullet and bought the Dyson pet hair model for $400.

    We've had it for five years now, and it's as good today as it was on day one; which is, EXCELLENT.

  3. I have to say the Dyson is a winner in my book, although I haven't used the Shark. I noticed that both the Shark and the Dyson have a "stick" model. I'd like to have that. The cats spend most of their time in the FR, so I have to vacuum each day, but all I need is a stick for that job.

    What I want, though, is a model that fixes that nasty cord that keeps getting tangled.

  4. Our experience is the same. We vacuumed with the old Hoover wind tunnel, then with the new Dyson Animal.

    A 2 foot square FILLED the Dyson with dirt the Hoover left behind.

    And now I notice that I don't sneeze or get runny eyes when the Dyson is used. Its HEPA filter really works.

    It really is a superior machine.

  5. I have my grandmother's old Kirby. It's a hulking brute made out of solid aluminum thick enough that it weighs a ton. So yeah, I'm a bit reluctant to use it as often as I should. The biggest problem it has is that if you run it low enough that the beaters actually pick anything up, the air is soon filled with the hot rubber smell of the belt.

    What's funny is just how many vacuum devices I have laying around, at least two shop vacs, a stick vac, the Kirby and a Bissel spot lifter.

    And yet, I still have my eye out for a replacement for the Kirby.

  6. Kirby looks like a decent but massive vacuum cleaner, sold under deeply sleazy circumstances. (It also feels like it would make a very effective battering ram for baseboards and furniture.)

    The real objective of a Kirby sales pitch is to sucker the buyer (in a high pressure in-home situation) both into paying a spectacularly high price for the machine and accessories, and into buying it on their nearly usurious credit terms. People report on one or another net forum, that the package that Kirby try to peddle at upwards of $3700 (before finance charges), can with aggressive negotiation sometimes be had for more like $800-900.

    A couple of years ago I happened to be in the same place as someone who was in training as a Kirby huckster, and got to read some of their training package in exchange for being a simulated pitch recipient. What I sadly did not get to see, was their internal pricing information.

    I have a couple of the Hoover bagless uprights. I get somewhere between wheezy and outright sick every time I have to empty the dirt canister on these, and am often dismayed to see one belch a cloud of dust out one or another of the canister seals when running.

    My Hoovers have a height setting (a slider on the head). If I recall correctly, the Hard Floors setting disengages the beater brush drive.

    I have mostly switched to a Simplicity canister/bag machine. It has its own problems, but it is quieter than the Hoovers, light weight, does not belch dust while in use, and does not expose me to as much dust when I change bags. Its favorite (and my least favorite) trick is to turn turtle when you try to pull it along with the hose.

  7. Whenever you bring in a new vacuum and you see how much got left behind you're never certain if you should be excited or shocked! It really is worth biting the bullet and paying a little extra to get a great vacuum that you can use for the next 5-10 years. It'll pay for itself in time.

  8. I kept this post in mind and when I was in WalMart last night, I picked up the Shark Navigator Lift Away. Not the Pro model (which they had too) because the only obvious difference seemed to be the included extra head that goes on the end of the wand, and I don't have a lot of bare floors.

    Grandma's Kirby will probably go to GoodWill or something.

    The thing I liked aside from the $169 price is that it has an attachment that my the Kirby had too, which was the little vacuum-powered beater brush, which is great for getting the cat hair off the stairs. But using it on the Kirby involved major disassembly and a bunch of attachments. I ended up using it with the Shop Vac.

    But basically it was your recommendation that helped me choose between all the dozens of assorted machines.

  9. I want a middle class dream home too:D

  10. Alas, that was before Congress passes Oxley-Sarbanes, to discourage startups that made ordinary people rich.

  11. Hello! Thank you for sharing your experience about this new Shark vacuum. My sister and I love this vacuum too!

    Im a housewife and reviews like this are very helpful.