Shag-pile carpeting is one of the hardest surfaces for a vacuum to clean, requiring a unique blend of power and finesse. No doubt, you'll need a vacuum powerful enough to draw debris out from deep within carpet fibers, but all-out suction power isn't the be-all-end-all. If the vacuum forms too tight a seal, carpet fibers can clog a vacuum's brushroll or even get torn out. Adjustable suction levels are a must, and features like head-height adjustment can make it a lot easier to maneuver the vacuum on uneven surfaces without getting bogged down.
We've tested over 135 vacuum cleaners, and below are our recommendations for the best vacuum cleaners for shag carpets. We selected these picks based on their performance on carpet and their design, feature set, and price. Check out our picks for the best vacuums if you want more general product recommendations. Alternatively, if you're looking for a vacuum but have lower-pile carpeting in your home, see our recommendations for the best vacuums for high-pile carpet and the best vacuums for carpet.
The best vacuum for shag carpet we've tested is the SEBO Airbelt D4. The Premium variant of this vacuum comes bundled with SEBO's ET-1 powerhead, one of the most effective carpet-cleaning attachments on the market. This attachment has four levels of height adjustment and an automatic brushroll cutoff to prevent damage to the motor if something gets tangled in the mechanism. If you want a slightly wider cleaning head, you can buy the ET-2 powerhead separately. It's worth noting that this vacuum can be hard to find at most conventional storefronts, and you're better off ordering directly from the manufacturer or buying it from a specialized vacuum retailer.
As expected for a premium model like this, the SEBO is jam-packed with convenience features. It has a three-stage filtration system to help trap fine allergens, onboard storage for its three included attachments, and a long operating range of about fifty feet. You can also quickly adjust the vacuum's suction power using the rocker switch on the handle so you don't get stuck on thick carpets. It's also remarkably well-built, easy to maintain, and incurs low ownership costs since it uses high-capacity dirtbags and long-lasting filters.
If you're looking for something lighter and a little easier to maneuver, the Miele Complete C3 is a good option; however, it incurs higher recurring costs since it uses smaller dirtbags and filters that don't last as long. Like the SEBO, you'll need to purchase a higher-end C3 variant that comes bundled with a powerhead for cleaning shag carpeting, like the C3 Kona, C3 Marin, or C3 Brilliant. You can also just purchase a powerhead separately.
The best vacuum for shag carpet in the upper mid-range price bracket is the Miele Classic C1 Cat & Dog PowerLine. This canister vacuum is less well-built than the SEBO Airbelt D4 and incurs higher ownership costs: it uses smaller-capacity dirtbags and filters with a shorter service life. That said, it's still a great fit for cleaning thick carpeting, with this variant of the C1 coming bundled with Miele's SEB 228 floorhead, which offers five levels of height adjustment to accommodate thicker rugs. Like all other C1 models, it has a powerful 1200W suction motor with enough power to help draw out any debris embedded deeply within carpet fibers. However, you can always turn the power down using the rotary dial at the back of the body if you're having trouble maneuvering it on carpets or are worried about tearing away any carpet fibers.
Unfortunately, the C1's range is short, so you might have to swap outlets if you have a larger area to clean. There also isn't an onboard storage compartment for its attachments, though you can attach the upholstery nozzle, dusting brush, and crevice tool to a storage clip that you can mount to the base of the vacuum's wand.
Look at the BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser Turbo Rewind if you're shopping on a tighter budget. It's a different proposition than pricier bagged canister models like the SEBO Airbelt D4 or Miele Classic C1, with a bulkier upright form factor and considerably less robust build quality. That said, it's a solid option if you're looking for a more affordable option that can still handle messes on shag carpeting. While you can't adjust its brushroll height, its position is high enough not to get bogged down on most long carpet fibers. If you're having trouble moving it around, you can lower its suction power using a slider switch. There's also a brushroll off switch, so you can easily push the vacuum free if its floorhead gets tangled in carpet fibers. The Rewind variant of this vacuum is nearly identical to other Pet Hair Eraser Turbo models but features an automatic cord retraction system, so you won't have to wind its cord back manually.
Unfortunately, while this vacuum's bagless design results in minimal recurring costs, quite a few parts need regular cleaning, and they aren't always easy to access; just removing the brushroll requires you to loosen ten screws, so it's a hassle to clear out any tangled hair. Its allergen-sealing performance isn't particularly impressive, either, with fine dust particles being able to escape from gaps around its dustbin.
Consider the BISSELL PowerForce Helix for a budget-friendly vacuum to clean shag carpeting. Compared to the BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser Turbo, it feels even less sturdy and is considerably trickier to maneuver in tight spots due to the fixed-angle floorhead. However, it's also very affordable and still offers a few handy features for cleaning shag carpeting, most notably its floorhead offering five levels of surface adjustment, which allows it to pass over thick rugs, though you still need to be careful when cleaning plush carpeting.
Unfortunately, and despite its mainly plastic construction, this is still a bulky vacuum, and it's a nuisance to store when not in use. Unlike the Rewind variant of the Pet Hair Eraser, you must manually wind up the PowerForce Helix's cord after cleaning. Unsurprisingly, given its very low price, air filtration performance is also terrible, with allergens like fine dust and pet dander easily escaping from the exhaust.
If you don't want to deal with the hassle of a power cord, check out the Miele Triflex HX1. Generally speaking, cordless vacuums are rarely the best option for cleaning shag carpeting, as they tend to have smaller, lower-output motors than corded models like the SEBO Airbelt D4 and fairly rudimentary powerheads that can get tangled in thick carpeting. However, this high-end cordless vacuum has a fairly sophisticated surface detection system that lets it change its suction power automatically when cleaning carpets or stop its brushroll if something gets tangled in the mechanism, like long carpet fibers or rug tassels. While it also has enough power to clear away debris embedded in carpet fibers, it doesn't form too tight a seal with the surface it's on, meaning it won't get stuck on shag-pile rugs either.
Unfortunately, battery performance is unimpressive, as its life can vary roughly between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your power setting and attachments, so it's best to keep a second charged pack on standby. It also has a small dustbin that'll need emptying often. If these are both deal-breakers for you, the Dyson V15 Detect is a solid option with better battery life and a larger dirt compartment, but its high-powered suction motor and low-lying floorhead can cause it to get bogged down on plush carpets.
Jul 11, 2023: Replaced Shark APEX Upright with Miele Classic C1 Cat & Dog PowerLine as 'Best Upper Mid-Range Vacuum for Shag Carpet' pick. Replaced Hoover WindTunnel Tempo Bagged with BISSELL PowerForce Helix as 'Best Budget Vacuum For Shag Carpet' due to current availability. Added Shark APEX Upright to Notable Mentions.
Our recommendations are based on what we think are currently the best vacuums for shag carpet. We don't just base our results on overall performance, but also factors like availability, price, and reader feedback, so it isn't as though there's a single best vacuum to suit all needs.
If you would like to do the work of choosing yourself, here is the list of all our vacuum reviews listed alongside their performance on carpet as well their maneuverability score, which is an important aspect of determining how easy a given vacuum is to use on shag carpet. Be careful not to get too caught up in the details. While no vacuum is perfect for every use, most are good enough to please almost everyone, and the differences are often not noticeable unless you really look for them.