As they're often one of the highest traffic carpeted areas in the home, stairs are often a magnet for dirt and pet hair – and if left for too long, this debris has the potential to damage the carpet over time. Unfortunately, stairs are also among the most difficult surfaces to vacuum, especially with all their corners and edges.
It's a complicated and sometimes rather aggravating chore, but this quick guide will help you find a good vacuum for stairs and how to vacuum your stairs effectively.
Whether this is your first time living in a home with carpeted stairs, or whether you're just looking for a way to streamline your routine, the tips and techniques in this guide just might save a little of your valuable time.
Start With The Right Vacuum For Staircases
While a quality vacuum is a serious investment, a staircase is a large enough job to necessitate an upgrade if your current or previous model is too inefficient or unwieldy. Some people actually purchase a separate machine just for their staircases, while others look at the pros and cons of the top-rated models to find a vacuum that adequately addresses all household cleaning needs.
If you're in the market for a new vacuum that takes the pain out of cleaning your staircase, let's explore some of the strengths and drawbacks of each possible option.
Canister Vacs and Lift-Away Models
With their compact easy-to-carry design, canister vacuums offer a robust compromise between portability, adaptability, and power. Simply carry the canister and use the hose to clean all parts of the stairs. One drawback is that holding the canister in one hand and the hose in the other leaves no way to hold onto the guardrail, so it's preferable to set the canister on a stair below you and move it up as you go.
Another downside is that canister vacuums aren't ideal for homes that have fully carpeted rooms. If you'd prefer a model that can still maneuver around the house, look for an upright that includes a lift-away canister design. This will allow you to use your vacuum like a standard upright whenever you're not using the detachable canister on your staircase.
Portable Handheld Vacuums
Although they require more bending than other models, handhelds are a versatile tool to clean every part of a staircase. They're lightweight, often include a variety of attachments to get into all the nooks and crannies, and make it easy to clean the tops of baseboards and the vertical parts of the staircase alike. Many handheld models are cordless, one less thing to worry about.
Of course, the cordless aspect also means that you'll have to make sure the unit is fully charged before using, especially if you have a particularly long staircase. They also tend to have smaller dust canisters than other models, meaning that you'll have to make more frequent trips to the trash bin.
Small and lightweight, stick vacuums offer several advantages in stairwells, but some models work far better than others. Stick vacs that have narrow cleaning heads (ideally as close to the depth of each stair tread) make one-pass cleaning a breeze. Some models include the motor in the handle so that you can detach the head and use the handle as a hose for cleaning out crevices.
If your stick-style vacuum includes a hose, be aware that the lightweight nature of the vacuum means that it will be more difficult to stretch the hose without pulling over the rest of the machine, so make sure the vacuum itself is convenient to carry with you as you go.
Upright with Hose
Upright vacuums that have long, flexible hoses are the ideal choice for staircases – as long as the hose is long enough to reach from the bottom to the top of the staircase. If the hose isn't long enough, an upright can actually prove to be one of the most unwieldy vacuums for cleaning stairs since you'll have to move the entire machine along with you which can be dangerous.
Are you stuck with an upright and don't have room in the budget to invest in a purpose-built machine? See if there are any hose extensions compatible with your model, as mentioned in the "helpful tools" section below.
Helpful Vacuum Accessory Ideas
If you plan to vacuum your stairs using a flexible hose, there are a number of tools that can make the job a little easier while improving the effectiveness of your efforts. While your machine may not come with the suggested accessories, the manufacturer may have them available through their website or catalog. Or, you can always look for compatible third-party tools online.
1. Crevice tools for edges, corners, and baseboards
These tools are useful for a wide variety of staircase-related cleaning tasks. Since your stairs are carpeted, consider investing in tools that have short brush bristles on the end to make it easier to knock loose any embedded dirt.
2. Hose extensions compatible with other tools
Adding a flexible hose extension is a great way to make it up those last few stairs if your stock hose falls a little short. However, it's important to make sure that your crevice tools and necessary accessories will still fit onto the end of the extension section.
3. Powered hose brush to tackle vertical surfaces
While it's possible to vacuum the vertical parts of each tread with the hose or suction head, powered hose brushes make the job a little quicker. Look for brush heads advertised as "pet hair upholstery brushes" to get the benefit of a powered beater bar in a small stair-friendly form.
Tips And Techniques For Vacuuming Stairs
First, prep your work area. Start by picking up any objects like discarded toys and remove any larger debris (like scraps of paper or fallen coins) that could damage or clog your vacuum cleaner. Remove and shake out any runners or landing rugs. Make sure to dust your handrails and balusters if needed so that the dirt doesn't end up back on your staircase after all your hard work vacuuming.
Next, find an outlet at the bottom of the stairs – it's best to keep the machine at the bottom, because a simple tug on the cord or hose could send a machine tumbling from the top, a very dangerous situation. If that's not possible, contact the manufacturer to see if it's safe to operate the hose while the machine is laying in a flat position (less likely to topple over) at the top of the stairs.
If your hose is long enough, you might want to start from the top and work your way to the bottom to avoid missing any debris that may fall from a higher stair to a lower one, while leaving the machine at the bottom of the stairs the entire time. If you have no choice but to move the entire vacuum, start from the bottom and work your way upward to avoid tripping over the cord as you go.
Dusting or vacuuming the baseboards first is another good way to avoid the need to re-do certain parts of the staircase. Then, because some vacuum designs can push larger debris around, many people find it easier to first vacuum the flat part of the tread before pulling out crevice tools for the edges.
Now, all that's left is to enjoy your handiwork! Regular vacuuming keeps carpet pile fluffier, helps your carpet last longer, and cuts down on dust and allergens. Hopefully, this guide will take at least a little of the frustration out of the task.