Stairs can be hard to clean if your vacuum has a bulky design or a short power cord or hose, as these design elements impact your ability to efficiently clean tight, narrow spaces. If you're cleaning a staircase, an ideal vacuum should be lightweight, easily portable, and have great maneuverability. It should also be able to get into tight corners as well as have a long enough range to reach the top or bottom of your staircase.
We've tested over 40 vacuum cleaners, and below are our recommendations of the best vacuums for stairs. These recommendations are based not only on their performance on different types of surfaces but also on their design and price. For more buying recommendations, see our lists of the best lightweight vacuums, the best cordless vacuums, and the best cordless stick vacuums.
The Shark ION W1 WANDVAC is the best vacuum for stairs with a handheld design that we've tested. This handheld is remarkably lightweight and portable, with a compact body that can be carried around very easily. It has a very simple construction with few parts that need to be taken care of, so maintenance is quite easy. Thanks to its bagless design and washable pre-motor and allergen-trapping HEPA filters, you shouldn't have to worry about recurring costs either.
It's quite well-built overall and can be placed on a sleek charging rack that doubles as an accessory station. It comes with a crevice cleaner and a soft-bristle brush, allowing you to clean tighter spots or more delicate surfaces. It performs well on bare floors and low-pile carpet, where it clears pet hair, small debris like rice, and fine material such as baking soda quite easily. However, large chunks of debris can occasionally get stuck at the narrow entry to its dirt compartment, impacting its performance.
Since it lacks a brushroll, it struggles sightly with lifting debris from shaggy carpeting. It also has a very short battery life, with under 10 minutes of continuous runtime. However, it recharges relatively quickly, so you can get back to cleaning sooner. If you're looking for an extremely lightweight vacuum to clean your staircases, this is a fantastic choice.
The Dyson V8 Animal is the best stick vacuum for stairs that we've tested. Although some may find its build a bit plasticky, this makes it lighter and more portable, which is great if you have a lot of steps to clean. If you don't want to use a stick model on your stairs, you can reconfigure it into a handheld with relative ease as it has intuitive clip-on mechanisms to help assemble or remove parts.
As a stick vacuum, it has good maneuverability thanks to its rotating head. You can also set it to two different power settings depending on your cleaning needs. The manufacturer includes a few unique tools and brushes to change its capabilities, so you can transition from cleaning stairs to other parts of your home like blinds or upholstery. It has outstanding performance on bare floors, and it does a great job on carpet. If you have pets that shed, it can pick up pet hair without a problem.
While it's easy to maintain, several parts need regular maintenance. There are virtually no recurring costs, as it has reusable filters as well as a bagless design. Unfortunately, if you're using it in its most power-intensive mode, it lasts just under 10 minutes. It also takes over four hours for it to recharge, so it may not be the fastest option if your stairs need constant cleaning. Still, it's the best vacuum for stairs with a stick design that we've tested, thanks to its lightweight and portable design.
The best vacuum for stairs with a canister design that we've tested is the Miele Complete C3 Alize PowerLine. If you don't want to worry about battery life while you clean, this corded model is worth considering. Even though its canister design is a little bulky, it has an excellent build quality and amazing maneuverability, which is especially great for tackling L-shaped stairs.
It has a handheld mode, which is handy if you want a closer clean. Thanks to the LED light on its handle, you can easily see what you're cleaning, even in shadowier spots on your staircase. It has no trouble at all on bare floors like hardwood or tile, and its performance on carpets is great. It's easy to assemble and outstandingly easy to maintain. It also includes a couple of tools and brushes, including a crevice tool, so you can get into tight areas more easily.
Unfortunately, canister vacuums can be a little more difficult to use on stairs due to their size. While it's decently compact and has a handle to help you transport it up and down stairs, you need to make sure not to tip it over while you're using it. Some of its parts, like its dirtbag, also require regular replacement. Still, if you don't mind its more bulky size or corded design, it offers versatile performance and can easily transition from stairs to floors.
The HoLife HM036E is the best budget vacuum for stairs that we've tested. This cordless handheld delivers impressive overall performance for the price, as it does an outstanding job on surfaces like hardwood and linoleum and clears a good amount of debris on both low and high-pile carpet. Thanks to its lightweight construction and integrated carrying handle, it can be easily carried up and down flights of stairs.
It's quite well-built and decently easy to maintain, with a simple design that makes it fairly easy to access the few parts that require regular maintenance. Only its filters are disposable, so recurring costs are quite low. It comes with a liquid nozzle to clear wet messes, though we don't test this feature, and it should be thoroughly cleaned after that kind of use. Its 20-minute-plus battery life is good for a handheld, allowing you to clear bigger spills without running out of charge partway through cleaning.
Unfortunately, it struggles somewhat with clearing coarse or fine debris, such as sand or baking soda, particularly on carpeted floors. It also has a small dirt compartment that needs to be emptied frequently, though it is on the large side for a handheld. Overall, it's a good budget-friendly option if you're looking for a versatile handheld vacuum that can be easily maneuvered for spot cleaning on stairs.
If you like the portability of a handheld vacuum, but you're looking for something even more affordable, check out the BISSELL Featherweight Stick 2033. While its corded design can be a bit short for cleaning long staircases, especially when compared to the cordless design of the HoLife HM036E, it can be used as both a handheld and an upright, which makes it a more versatile overall cleaner for cleaning larger spaces. While it's best-suited for cleaning bare floors such as linoleum or hardwood, it still gives an overall fair performance on carpet. Unfortunately, its corded range is quite limited, and you may need to change outlets more often in order to fully clean a staircase.
If you're looking for a cordless vacuum that can help you spot clean your stairs on a budget or that can deal with wet messes, consider the HoLife. However, if you're looking for something a little cheaper that can be used to clean larger areas, go for the BISSELL.
10/20/2020: Replaced Black+Decker dustbuster CHV1410L with Shark ION W1 WANDVAC as 'Best Handheld Vacuum For Stairs'. Replaced Shark ION W1 WANDVAC with HoLife HM036E as 'Best Budget Vacuum For Stairs'. Added Black+Decker dustbuster CHV1410L to 'Notable Mentions'.
Our recommendations are based on what we think are currently the best vacuum for stairs. We don't just base our results on overall performance, but also factors like availability, price, and reader feedback.
If you would like to do the work of choosing yourself, here is the list of all our vacuum reviews, ranked by their performance on stairs. 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.