5 Tips for Choosing the Best Vacuum Cleaner For Your Space

iStock.com/97
iStock.com/97

For those who hate housecleaning, choosing the right vacuum is essential. Some models are better suited to certain tasks and surfaces than others, and picking the right one will save you the hassle of having to skim the same section of carpet five times. There’s a lot to consider, so we’ve detailed the advantages and limitations of the five main types of vacuum cleaners.

1. UPRIGHTS TACKLE THE BIG JOBS.

A man uses an upright vacuum
iStock.com/SolStock

Pet parents love their fur babies, but it would be nice not to have tufts of hair littered throughout the house. The upright model is perhaps the most familiar type of vacuum, and its powerful suction makes it one of the best options for picking up pet hair. If you have lots of carpets or rugs, an upright vacuum cleaner with a generously sized bag or filter is a safe bet. These models tend to be cheaper than canister vacuums, but they’re often heavier, making them harder to push around. If you do opt for an upright vacuum and have hard floors to tend to, be sure to get one with a brush roll feature that can be turned on and off at will (on for carpets, off for hard floors). The best-selling upright vacuum on Amazon—a bagless Eureka NEU182A PowerSpeed—is selling for about $60. Traditional bagged vacuums collect dirt in disposable bags, while bagless models use filters to whisk crud into an onboard receptacle. Both need to be manually emptied from time to time, and bagless models may need to have their filters replaced after long-term use.

2. CANISTERS ARE EASY TO MANEUVER, BUT HARD TO STORE.

Using a canister vacuum
iStock.com/greg801

This is the other type of vacuum that pet owners ought to consider. Unlike upright vacuums, these models are better at handling hardwood or tile floors. Some can even clean carpets as effectively as an upright—and they do so with less noise, too. The only real downside is that they tend to be bulkier and harder to store neatly in a closet because the hose is attached to a separate tank. On the other hand, attachments help you get in those hard-to-reach places, and they’re ideal for cleaning curtains, ceiling corners, upholstery, staircases, and the underside of furniture. Some models cost hundreds of dollars, but the best-selling bagless Bissell Zing sells on Amazon for about $50.

3. STICK VACUUMS HANDLE QUICK CLEAN-UPS.

A woman tries out a stick vacuum at a store
iStock.com/dusanpetkovic

Named for their slender shape, stick vacuums are good at getting into tight spaces like the crack between your refrigerator and wall. They’re lightweight and often battery-powered for convenient, cord-free use. However, they’re not great at cleaning carpets and tend to have the least powerful suction of all five types. There are situations where they come in handy, though. Consumer Reports recommends using stick vacuums for quick clean-ups, like spilled cereal. “They are mainly suited for picking up surface litter and aren't intended as a replacement for a conventional vacuum,” the product review site says. If you have kids or pets running around at home, you may want to buy a cheap one and keep it near the living room or kitchen, while storing a more heavy-duty vacuum elsewhere. One of Amazon’s best-sellers is the Eureka Blaze 3-in-1 vacuum, which costs about $30.

4. HANDHELDS FIT IN TIGHT SPACES.

A handheld vacuum
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Like the stick vacuum, surface cleaning is the handheld vacuum’s specialty. In fact, aside from their size and shape, they’re similar to stick vacuums in terms of their suction power, weight, and function. So which one should you choose? Good Housekeeping recommends using a stick vacuum for floors and spots underneath furniture, while handheld vacuums are better at cleaning the furniture itself and windowsills. Many handheld models are also lightweight and cordless, making them great tools to have around when it comes time to deep-clean the interior of your car. One of Amazon’s best-selling hand vacs is a $55 cordless Black & Decker. But if you want the best of both worlds, opt for a stick/hand combo that comes with nifty attachments like a dusting brush.

5. ROBOTIC VACUUMS DO (SOME OF) THE WORK FOR YOU.

A cat on top of a robotic vacuum
iStock.com/GummyBone

While robotic vacuums promise to take care of business while you lounge on the couch, they may not be as low-maintenance as they sound. They’re able to squeeze into tough-to-reach spots like under the sofa, but they don’t have the power of an upright or canister vacuum—so if you do use a robotic vacuum, you’ll still probably need to use a broom or more traditional vacuum to finish the job. However, they’re great for touch-ups in between cleaning sessions, especially when you’re busy doing something else. Newer models can be programmed with smartphone apps and voice assistants, so they tend to run a little pricier than other vacuums. One of Amazon’s best-sellers is the iRobot Roomba 690, which connects to Wi-Fi and costs about $300.

How to Turn an Old Wicker Basket Into a DIY Cat Bed

iStock.com/Kurgu128
iStock.com/Kurgu128

From cat trees to stackable boxes, there are plenty of products out there for cat parents looking to spoil their pets. But you don't need to buy brand-name accessories to make your kitty feel comfortable in your home. If you have an old wicker basket, you can make a DIY cat bed that doubles as an accent piece.

For this craft project from Martha Stewart, get together a drill, two .25-inch screws, two fender washers, and a round basket. Align your basket where you want it displayed, with the flat bottom against the wall, and mount it by drilling the screws in their washers through the wicker. Add a soft blanket to make the nook an inviting spot for your pet.

Cats like to climb things: Being up high is a way for them to feel safe and expand their territory indoors. If you're not thrilled by the idea of your cat scaling the human furniture in your home, building an elevated cat bed just for them is a way to keep everyone happy.

This project isn't just for cat owners: The mounted basket can be used as a place to store throw blankets, towels, and even stuffed animals. And if you ever do decide to bring a cat into your home, there will be a spot waiting for them.

[h/t Martha Stewart]

10 Essential Items Every Bar Cart Needs

Antonis Achilleos
Antonis Achilleos

The 1950s style was all about fun—and some of that whimsy is reemerging in 21st-century homes. Witness the glorious resurgence of a '50s home staple: the bar cart. This retro piece of furniture pulls double-duty: If styled well, it not only serves as the focal point of a room, but come party time it takes center stage again as a functional, fashionable platform for crafting your guests' favorite cocktails.

There are countless styles of bar carts, as well as products to put on them. But what exactly do you need to get your cart up and running? A bottle opener and some booze are de rigueur. But beyond that? We turned to two experts: Vanessa Dina, author of The Art of the Bar Cart: Styling & Recipes (Chronicle Books); and Brooklyn-based bartender extraordinaire Ivy Mix, who routinely shows up on lists of the country’s top mixologists. Here are their suggestions for can’t-miss bar cart items.

1. Five Basic Spirits

The Art of the Bar Cart cover
Chronicle Books

This may sound obvious, but Mix—who designed and built her own modular red and orange bar cart so she could have a place for all of her tools—notes that there are five types of liquor that should always be on your cart: a vodka, a gin, a bourbon or rye whiskey, a rum, and a tequila. “They’re the standards,” Mix says.

2. Mixers

Negroni cocktail with an orange twist
iStock/bhofack2

Once you have your array of five essential spirits, you’ll need modifiers or mixers to create the drinks. “The ones that go the quickest in my house are my sweet vermouth, my Campari, and my Cointreau," Mix says. "I make martinis, margaritas, and Manhattans, so they’re really important. Having them right there makes it easy: A little bit of this, a little bit of Campari, and voilà—you have a Negroni. In fact, Campari is the most useful thing to make a tasty drink when other stuff is not around.”

3. Bitters

These flavorful, alcoholic extracts have taken the cocktail world by storm in recent years: Foodies craft them at home, bars highlight them on the menu, and multiple new brands and flavors are popping up everywhere. They’re also perfect for your home bar cart, Dina tells Mental Floss: “It’s an easy way to create a lot of variation in your drinks. They add spices, herbs, and other flavorful notes to a drink. But best of all, unlike liquor, bitters take up minimal space on a cart. I suggest a cubby to keep your collection organized.”

You can start with the classics—like Angostura and Peychaud's—or dive into flavors like smoked chili, cardamom, or chocolate.

4. Mason Jars

The internet abounds with recipes and ideas for adding a fun touch to your next shindig by serving cocktails in individual mason jars. But Mix sees the jars as an essential and versatile tool that can do the work of either a shaker or a mixing glass. “You can really do anything in a mason jar,” Mix says. “You can stir a drink in a mason jar and know that it’s going to be OK.”

5. Small Hand Juicer

“A lot of people don’t think this is important, but one thing I recommend to everyone is fresh juice,” Mix says. She notes that people frequently use a lime juice blend from the grocery store when making margaritas. “Most of the time it’s not actually lime juice, but this gross God-knows-what. Even if it is lime juice, [the manufacturer] had to pasteurize it or cook it in some way; it’s not right. But if you get one of those little hand juicers, you can squeeze a cup of lime juice in a couple of minutes. It’s a complete game changer.”

6. Citrus Peeler

When guests leave your next party, you want them to remember that the cocktails tasted fantastic—and looked even better. “That’s where garnishes come in,” Dina says. “Something as simple as an orange twist provides visual appeal as well as aromatics.” Lemon, lime, and grapefruit rinds created with a citrus peeler can also transform a simple drink into a professional-style cocktail.

7. Shaker With a Built-In Strainer

Cocktail newbies may not realize there are multiple varieties of strainers. A Hawthorne strainer is best for shaken cocktails; its flat profile and coil of wire that hugs the inside rim of the mixing glass keep chunks of ice, fruit, and herbs from slipping into the serving glass. Cobbler shakers come with a mixing vessel, strainer, and fitted top all built in; using one means that you won’t need to worry about misplacing your strainer. “They have a classic look that many people want,” Dina says. “In addition, it helps you pour and makes everything a little easier.”

8. Ice Container and Tongs

“Ice is an essential, and sometimes overlooked, player in cocktails,” Dina says. “Drinks would not be as tasty or inviting without the chill that ice provides, whether it’s large, small, hand cut, crystal clear, cubed, or crushed.” Ice buckets or containers not only keep your ice cool, but usually serve as a decorative accent as well. “If you have a theme for your bar cart, you can get an ice bucket to match,” Dina says. “I’ve seen a lot of them in rose gold recently.” Dina shares a tip: Buy some extra ice tongs so your guests can freshen up their own drinks.

9. Versatile, Attractive Glassware

From cordials to highballs to beer and wine, most drinks are supposed to be served in their very own style of glass. But not everyone has enough room on their home bar for multiple styles, so they have to pick and choose. “Short glasses are the most versatile,” says Dina. “You can serve everything from wine to a mixed drink in them and they take up less space. Also, it’s easier to find cute designs and styles at flea markets and home stores in the shorter versions.” Dina has cordial glasses displayed on her two-level home bar cart. Mix collects antique cocktail glasses; in addition, her father is a glassblower. “He uses his own colors so he can make beautiful, colorful glasses,” Mix says. “Having a really nice glass brings it the extra mile.”

10. Your Own Personality

Keep in mind that your friends are in your home—and not a bar—so parties are a chance to share a bit of yourself. Dina suggests that small frames with pictures of family, a piece of artwork that you picked up on a trip, or even foraged items like attractive branches can personalize your bar cart. She also recommends plants; her favorite are air plants. “A touch of nature freshens things up,” she says. “They are visually pleasing and make the whole area seem homier.”

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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