Bagged vs Bagless Vacuum: Which Is Better?

Bagged vs Bagless Vacuum

Shopping for a vacuum cleaner may look like a simple task. But once you get to the nitty-gritty, things can get confusing.

You’ll have to figure out what type of vacuum to pick up, how much you’re willing to spend, whether or not to go cordless, and perhaps the biggest question of them all.

One of the features to look at is whether to choose a bagged or bagless vacuum.

Choosing between the two is perhaps the most critical decision you’ll make.

Picking one over the other will depend on your health, type of money you’re willing to spend for replacement bags, the size of your home, and the flooring inside it.

Bagged vs. Bagless Vacuum: How are they different?

What’s a bagged and bagless vacuum? And how are they different?

Simply put, this is how a vacuum cleaner stores dirt, and it affects the way you dispose of it.

Currently, there are three types of dirt storage available – water, bagged, and bagless.

With vacuums that use water, the filth collected goes inside a water tank.

An excellent example of a vacuum using water would be the Rainbow vacuum.

Water represents the purest form of filtration available.

Unfortunately, not a lot of manufacturers make these because of the costs involved, and there isn’t much demand.

Bagged vacuums use a bag, usually from paper, to store dirt. When the container is full, all you need to do is pull out the bag and throw it.

Bagless vacuums don’t use any bags but utilize a reusable plastic receptacle for debris storage. When it’s full, detach the container and empty it over a trash bin or plastic vessel.

For this article, I’m not going to talk about water filtration because these machines are costly.

A Rainbow vacuum will cost a few thousand dollars brand new, and unless you’re a neat freak that wants the best filtration money can buy, this may be out of your price range.

Also, these vacuums aren’t available brand new in online stores. Rainbow uses a direct selling model where they require potential customers to schedule a demonstration first before purchasing so that it can be a time-consuming process.

Some like it and others don’t, depending on their preference. But that’s outside the scope of this article.

A little history

If you look at the history of vacuum cleaners, the most popular brands during that era used bags, that was until James Dyson introduced the bagless vacuum in the early 1980s.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Bagless vacuums are more popular than bagged vacuums. Some manufacturers like Shark and Dyson exclusively manufacturer bagless cleaners because there is a demand for it.

People like bagless vacuums because there is more variety, and some of the most innovative products don’t have a bag.

Pros and Cons of a bagged vacuum

Once upon a time before James Dyson revolutionized the bagless vacuum, the bagged vacuum was the default option.

The first vacuums mass-produced utilized a cloth bag that wraps around another bag inside it.

As you vacuum around your home, dirt, gunk, and nasty allergens all go inside that paper bag. Once full, you pull out the bag and throw it away. That’s the theory.

Advantages of a Bagged Vacuum

Bagged Vacuum

First, we’ll go through the pros of a bagged vacuum. Take note that these are general observations across all brands.

1. Almost zero exposure to allergens

Bagged vacuums will provide (in theory) the best filtration possible from allergen exposure because it uses a sealed bag.

First-generation bagged cleaners did an excellent job of keeping dirt inside the bag, but dust tends to leak out during disposal.

The latest models (high-end variants) have improved upon this weakness and have a feature that automatically seals the bag when you detach it.

It makes disposing of dirt easier and virtually mess-free.

Also, these bags have multiple layers (in some cases, four sheets) stacked on top of another that provide an extra layer of protection from allergens seeping going back out.

Imagine dumping dirt inside four brown bags, one stacked top of another. Do you think that dust will seep through that thick layer? I don’t think so.

2. An excellent option for allergy sufferers

This is why a bagged vacuum is generally a recommendation for people who suffer from any allergies like asthma or allergic rhinitis. The top tier brands offer filtration not only in the bag but also post-motor HEPA filter where the exhaust air blows out.

Since these bags are airtight and have multiple layers, dirt will stay inside. There is minimal risk of exposure to dust clouds.

3. HEPA filtration

If you’re buying a bagged vacuum, I strongly suggest you go with a variant that has HEPA filtration to take advantage of the bags fully. HEPA filtration is an extra layer of protection that blocks allergy-inducing dust and pollen from exiting the bags and exhaust.

The top brands like Miele or Sebo do provide this type of filtration, blocking up to 0.3 microns.

4. Not too much upkeep

Aside from replacing bags and filters, there isn’t much maintenance needed in a bagged vacuum as there is less accumulation of contaminants, and it’s generally easier to clean.

Some brands have bags that hold more than a gallon of dry dirt, so unless you’re cleaning a filthy carpet, you don’t need to replace it for at least a month.

Brands that have a post-motor HEPA filter only needs to be replaced once or twice a year.

Disadvantages of a bagged vacuum

As great as a bagged vacuum is at keeping dirt inside the bag, there are some drawbacks.

1. Bag availability

The first problem would be the availability of bags.

It only applies to vacuums that are more than ten years old. If you have a first-generation bagged cleaner, chances are you’ll have a hard time finding replacement bags.

So it’s essential to stock up and purchase a relatively popular variant, so this would not be an issue.

2. Running costs

The second problem would be running costs. To be more specific, the prices of bags.

There are two types of bags – a regular bag and HEPA bags.

Cheap bags don’t cost a lot, but these are prone to leakage and while HEPA bags complete.

Depending on how often you’ll need to replace the bags (around two per month on average), the cost per month for cheap bags may not seem significant, but it adds up over time.

The cost will skyrocket if you use HEPA bags, something that you should strongly consider if you opt for a bagged vacuum.

Please check the calculator I have below to compute for the accumulated costs of bags over an extended time frame.

It should give you an idea of how much you’ll spend.

3. Performance issues when the bag is full

The last issue would be the degrading performance as the bags fills up. But the newer bagged vacuums don’t seem to have to issue based on tests.

Vacuum Wars made a comparison between bagged and bagless vacuums and said that there isn’t much of a difference between the two when it comes to suction loss even as it fills up.

So this shouldn’t be a concern as long as you’re buying from a reputable brand.

4. High-end bagged vacuums are EXPENSIVE

For some reason, high-end upright bagged vacuums (Sebo, Miele) are two or three times more expensive than their bagless counterparts.

You can purchase two high-end Dyson Ball Animal or Shark APEX upright vacuum for the price of a top-of-the-line Sebo upright.

One reason would be that these brands are imported from other countries, which adds to the cost.

Pros and Cons of a bagless vacuum

Bagless Vacuum

Before James Dyson invented the bagless vacuum in 1978, nearly all the vacuums in the market used bags.

However, times have changed.  Manufacturers that pioneered bagged cleaners like Hoover and Eureka now have bagless vacuums in their product line.

And some of them use the same cyclonic filtration that was invented by James Dyson himself.

Advantages of a bagless vacuum

1. Cheaper to operate

The most significant advantage of a bagless vacuum in my book would be operational costs or the lack thereof.

Since the dirt canister is reusable, you don’t need to buy extra bags.

All you need to do is wash the filters. Some brands like Dyson also have washable HEPA filters that will last the lifetime of the vacuum itself.

If the bagless vacuum you’re buying does have HEPA filtration, please do your due diligence and check if the HEPA filter is washable.

Most of the time, these parts use a paper element that will dissolve when you soak it in liquid. So you’ll have to replace these at least once or twice a year.

2. You’ll know when it’s time to empty

Most bagless cleaners available right now utilize a transparent bin that quickly gives you a visual of how full it is. So you’ll know when it’s time to empty.

Even if it isn’t full, there’s no hard in emptying it more often since there are no bags to throw away.

3. Eco-friendlier option

Time of the amount of bags you’ll use during the lifetime a bagged vacuum – easily hundreds to thousands. If you’re conscious about not filling up landfills with paper bags, then a bagless would be a more eco-friendly option.

4. Diversity & Innovation

Easily bagless vacuums are more popular than their bagged counterpart when it comes to the sheer number of options.

Looking at the landscape, the most innovative vacuums over the last 5 to 10 years are mostly bagless.

The sheer demand for these types of cleaners is obviously on the rise, and manufacturers are finding ways to innovate and attract more of the market share.

These innovations are evident in brands like Dyson, Shark, Neato, and iRobot. You won’t find these innovations in a bagged vacuum as we speak.

Disadvantages of a bagless vacuum

Despite the popularity of bagless vacuums, there are some things you’ll have to consider before making that purchase.

While these products are cheaper to run in the long term, it’s not for everyone.

1. Tedious maintenance

The most significant disadvantage of a bagged vacuum is the constant upkeep. You’ll have to continually clean different components of a bagless vacuum to maintain a high level of performance, and this task can be a messy and tedious process that will take time.

Fortunately, some brands like Tineco and Shark make this process easier by having washable dust containers.

Please be sure to read the manual to confirm if the vacuum you have has a washable receptacle or not.

2. Air quality and allergen exposure

Please note that this con applies to cheap bagless vacuums that don’t have a sealed system so that these products will leak allergens through the exhaust.

This isn’t an issue with more expensive options that have a sealed system since these emit the same low amount of dust particles as bagged vacuums.

If this is a concern, then opt for a higher-end bagless or a bagged vacuum.

3. Messy to empty

Bagless vacuums can be messy to empty. The messiness level will depend on the design of the dust cup. If it has lots of tight crevices and a narrow pathway, there’s a high probability that you’ll need to use your fingers to dislodge dirt.

Fortunately, newer bagless vacuums like the Dyson V10 and V11 have the hygienic system that makes this process much more streamlined.

How to empty a Dyson cordless bin?

Here’s how each Dyson cordless vacuum disposes of dirt – from left to right V6, V7, V8, V10, V11.

Other brands like the Shark ION P50 have so much clearance where the contents just drop when the trap door opens.

Shark ION P50 Dust Cup

Older models like the Dyson V6 Mattress that still utilize the old trap-door-style dust bin can be tedious and messy to empty.

Statically charge dirt tends to stick on the narrow area between the walls and mesh filter in the middle.

What happens is when you clean lots of dust or hair, these particles stick in that narrow area.

You’d have to remove the whole bin to clean it, which will get your hands dirty.

There is also the issue with air pollution when emptying bagless vacuums, but it is only minimal if you’re using a bagless vacuum with a fully sealed system.

Even bagged vacuums can emit dust clouds if you’re careless, so it’s not a problem that’s exclusive to bagless systems.

Why are bagged vacuums better?

When you compare entry-level options, yes, bagged vacuums are better than bagless when it comes to air quality.

There’s much more allergen leakage on a bagless than a bagged vacuum – the difference is night and day.

However, that isn’t the case with the mid and high-end bagless vacuums that filter as well thanks to their sealed systems and HEPA filtration, and this is confirmed in particle counter tests.

Add to that the higher cost of bagged vacuums (at least in the United States), it would make more sense to go with a bagless vacuum due to the lower maintenance costs, unless you’re looking at something at the budget price point.

Are bagless vacuums any good?

Yes, I’ve tested a lot of bagless vacuums, and some of the most innovative products don’t have a bag! Some examples I could give you are the Shark ION P50, Dyson V11, Tineco Pure One S12, Shark APEX upright, and more!

Like what I’ve said earlier, most of the innovations that you see in vacuum cleaners are seen in the bagless systems. I’m not sure why probably because of market demand, but that’s the trend I see.

Bagged vacuums tend to cost more, so it’s a factor that limits its popularity.

Bagged or bagless vacuum for pet hair?

I don’t think that a bagged or bagless design has any bearing with how it deals with pet hair. I would lean towards a bagless since there are options that have excellent anti-tangle systems that keep the pet hair from wrapping around the brush roll.

Some examples include the Shark APEX Upright with Zero-M and the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser upright that are very good at cleaning pet hair on hard floors and carpets, respectively.

Another issue with using a bagged system for pet hair is it fills up the bags quickly, especially if you have a herd of them at home. The cost of the bags would surely skyrocket.

The Verdict: Which is Better?

Bagged and bagless vacuums each have their strengths and weaknesses. There isn’t a clear winner between the two, as each will cater to a specific group of people.

For entry-level models, a bagged vacuum is better than a bagless when it comes to filtration as fewer allergens seep through the exhaust, thus the air is cleaner.

However, mid and high-end bagless vacuums are as good as bagged options thanks to their HEPA filtration and sealed systems.

So consider a bagless vacuum in the higher price spectrum. Also, don’t forget the costs of bags as it adds up over time. Don’t forget to use the calculator above to check the accumulated expenses of bags over an extended time frame.

I hope this article helped you in knowing the difference between these two and helped you with your decision on which type to buy.

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About the author: Garrick Dee Garrick is the founder of the Cordless Vacuum Guide has been testing cordless vacuums for the past 10 years, and writes about them on this website. When he’s not writing reviews, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son, traveling and tasting different cuisines.