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 60 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 UltraCyclone Pet Pro+ is the best vacuum for stairs with a handheld design that we've tested. This cordless model has a lightweight, compact design that makes it easy to carry up and down flights of stairs and clean tight, hard-to-reach areas. It's quite well-made and easy to maintain, with a bagless design that incurs few recurring costs.
It delivers exceptional overall performance on a variety of surface types, whether that be hardwood or high-pile carpet. Its suction performance remains quite consistent as its dirt compartment fills up. It comes with a couple of tools and accessories, including a turbo brush with a brushroll that's designed to self-clear hair wraps.
Unfortunately, its short battery life of a little over 10 minutes requires you to work quickly when dealing with messes on large staircases. It also isn't equipped with a HEPA filter, which might be an annoyance if you frequently clean up after a heavily-shedding pet. Still, its mix of portability and performance help make it one of the best lightweight vacuums that we've tested.
The best stick vacuum for stairs that we've tested is the Dyson V8 Animal. This cordless model is very lightweight and maneuverable, which makes it easy to lift and carry. It comes with an array of tools and accessories, including a turbo brush and a 180-degree extension tool, and can be quickly converted into a handheld configuration to deal with messes in tight corners.
It delivers superb performance on bare floors, where it easily clears pet hair as well as small and bulky debris like rice or cereal. It has a bagless design with washable, reusable filters, so recurring costs are minimal. While using it continuously in its 'MAX' power mode yields under 10 minutes of runtime, which can be extended to over 40 minutes if you leave it in its more efficient 'Powerful Suction' mode, which should be more than sufficient for bigger staircases.
Unfortunately, it takes roughly four hours to recharge, which is very long. It also doesn't have any sort of on-board tool storage, and its wall rack station doesn't have enough room to place all its accessories when not in use. Otherwise, its lightweight, highly configurable design makes it a good option for cleaning stairs.
The best canister vacuum for stairs that we've tested is the Miele Complete C3 Alize PowerLine. Its strong overall performance and excellent maneuverability make it a good choice for cleaning stairs, especially if you have a big area to cover and don't want to worry about emptying a small dirt compartment or running out of battery.
Like many canister models, it's on the bulky side, but it doesn't feel very heavy in your hand. There's also a carrying handle that makes it easier to lift, and you can use it in a semi-handheld configuration with any of its tools and brushes. Overall, it performs very well on all surface types, clearing most debris, and doesn't lose suction as the dirtbag fills up. Also, it has an outstanding build quality and convenient features, like a bright LED light in its handle to help you clean darker corners.
On the other hand, its hose is somewhat short, which you may find limiting if you're cleaning a lot of hard-to-reach areas. Also, the filters and dirtbag have to be replaced regularly, so there are quite a few recurring costs. That said, if you don't mind a heavier canister-style vacuum, this is a great option for stairs.
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 prefer the lightweight ease of a handheld but at a lower price point, consider the BISSELL Featherweight Stick 2033. Although its corded design is more limiting than the cordless HoLife HM036E, it can be used as both a handheld for tackling stairs as well as an upright for larger areas. It performs best on bare floors like laminate or hardwood, but it still offers a fair performance on carpet and rugs. However, its corded range is a bit short, and it can be hard to clean a long staircase without changing power outlets.
If you're shopping for a handheld on a budget and you want the best performance possible, check out the HoLife. However, if you're on a tighter budget and you don't mind its corded design, try the BISSELL.
12/22/2020: Added LG CordZero A9 Ultimate and Black+Decker dustbuster AdvancedClean+ Pet to Notable Mentions.
12/01/2020: Minor updates to the text, no changes to recommendations.
11/10/2020: Replaced the Shark ION W1 WANDVAC with the Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro+ in the 'Best Handheld Vacuum For Stairs' category.
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.