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The Shark vs. Dyson debate was alive and well far before the FlexStyle or Airwrap were terms the internet had in its vernacular. (But don’t worry — we’ve dissected the FlexStyle vs. Airwrap rivalry, too.)

Vacuums have pitted these two brands against each other in shopping research for at least a decade, though the type of vacuum in the spotlight has shifted from bulky upright vacuums to cordless stick vacuums.

While brands like Bissell, Samsung, and Tineco occasionally slip a competitive cordless model into the fold, Shark and Dyson are two clear market leaders. Here, we’re investigating the variety of cordless vacuums that Shark and Dyson offer as a whole, as well as comparing features like suction power, battery life, maintenance, and attachments on similarly-priced models through hands-on testing in our own homes.

Where Dyson wins: Performance variety, attachments, and the laser

There are nine different cordless Dyson vacuums sold on Dyson’s website as of March 2024, give or take a handful of slightly-cheaper spinoff models of the V8 seen at retailers like Walmart. This number includes the new Dyson V15 Detect Submarine that comes with a mopping head and the two different sizes of the new Gen5 line, all announced in June 2023.

The Dyson family of vacuums ranges in price from around $300 (on sale) to $1,049.99, and that huge cost spectrum leaves a ton of room for a potential buyer to customize the intensity of their ideal cleaning to how much (or little) they think is necessary to spend on a vacuum. Someone cleaning up after multiple pets or children in a multi-story home may need a bigger, badder Dyson with a two-hour battery life and a half-gallon dust bin that won’t need to be emptied as regularly, while someone living alone in an apartment may not require as much stamina and prioritize a more compact build that’s easier to store.

The Fluffy Optic laser head is slim enough to show you what’s hiding under furniture.
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable

Before automatically pegging Dyson’s steeper prices as a downside, we’d be remiss to not consider how much Dyson is giving you for that chunk of change. All of the Dyson models above $649.99 (the V12 line, V15 line, and Gen5 line) come with two interchangeable cleaning heads: the XL detangling Motorbar for deeper cleaning of carpets and the slimmer Fluffy Optic head with the green laser for more meticulous cleaning of hard floors.

That laser is so iconic that it deserves more than a vague mention at the end of sentence. It illuminates invisible debris like hair, tiny crumbs, and microscopic dust on hard floors that probably weren’t noticeable with a casual glance at your floor, pointing out exactly where you need to clean even better than the LED light on the cleaning head of Shark cordless vacuums. It’s a game-changing tool in homes with a decent amount of hardwood, tile, or linoleum — once you’ve experienced cleaning with the Dyson laser, you won’t be able to clean without it.

The mini motorized attachment is a must-have for keeping up with shedding.
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable

The lower-tier Dysons (the Outsize line, the V11 line, and the V8 line) come with one cleaning head like all of the cordless Sharks do, but unlike any of the Shark models, even the cheapest Dyson line comes with the mini motorized hair screw tool. This attachment marks a full-sized vacuum’s true ability to transform into a handheld vacuum and, in homes with pets who chill on furniture or are frequent passengers in the car, is arguably used just as much as the full-sized cleaning heads.

Where Dyson loses: Intimidating prices and… too much power?

The concept of a cordless vacuum not costing the equivalent of a month’s rent can feel groundbreaking if Dyson is at the forefront of your vacuum research. While the higher costs are somewhat justifiable considering all of the extras that Dyson includes and the exhaustive heavy-duty clean achieved by Dyson’s advanced features, some of the lower-tier Dysons just don’t offer what the equivalent Sharks do.

Shark has a more affordable baseline for intelligent suction power adjustment based on the debris level sensed, and offers an automatic emptying docking station with one of its smartest models for less than $500. You can only imagine how much a self-emptying Dyson would cost. The lack of that full-fledged upright docking system means that storing most Dysons either requires closet space or drilling a hole to mount it to the wall.

It also turns out that there is such a thing as being too powerful for your own good. Dyson’s Digital Motorbar XL seems to be in that situation on most carpet pile higher than flat weave — the combination of such intense cyclonic suction and the spinning brush sometimes makes the vacuum too stubborn to push across the floor, often tripping itself up so much that the brush stops spinning altogether. Because of this, I have personally dubbed the Fluffy Optic cleaning head as my Dyson’s full time cleaning head regardless of floor type, despite the fact that it’s tailored to hard floors.

Where Shark wins: Practical prices, balanced carpet cleaning, and automatic emptying

There are six different types of cordless vacuums sold on Shark’s website as of March 2024. This number includes the Shark HydroVac Pro XL: Shark’s cordless vacuum and mop combo model that is significantly cheaper (but less powerful) than Dyson’s cordless vacuum mop. Shark doesn’t ask more than $500 for any of its cordless vacuums at full price, and most of these vacuums can be found on sale for $100 or so less on any given day that you’re shopping.

Shark includes one of two main full-sized cleaning heads depending on the cordless vacuum you choose, but both attack messes with Shark’s proprietary Powerfins, a combination of flexible cleaning fins and bristles similar to Dyson’s Motorbar. There’s no dust-detecting laser, but there is a bright LED headlight that highlights the path in front of you as well as rogue crumbs or kitty litter that may blend in otherwise.

A cordless vacuum that doesn’t automatically eat rug corners is rare.
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable

Comparing suction power on paper is tricky when each brand measures it in a different way. Shark provides standard figures like amps, wattage, and volts, while Dyson’s main suction statistic is a calculation called Air Watts. Confusing numbers aside, whatever Shark is doing in the suction power realm is working better than what Dyson is doing — at least when it comes to plush carpet and rugs. The bristles dig while the rubber Powerfins are great at pinching hair and debris from between carpet fibers, ruled by suction power that’s forceful enough to tackle most messes on one pass, but not aggressive enough to jam the whole mechanism.

Shark did, however, beat Dyson to the punch with automatic emptying — a wickedly-convenient maintenance feature that has already become the norm with robot vacuums. Instead of having to manually empty your vacuum’s dust bin into the trash after every few cleans, the Shark Detect Pro empties whatever it just sucked up into a larger dust bin attached to the dock it charges on. This makes up for the Detect Pro’s tiny dust cup that feels not much bigger than a glass of water, and also acts as built-in storage for the vacuum that doesn’t require a closet or a screw drilled into the wall.

The Detect Pro’s dock deals with debris for several weeks at a time.
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable

Where Shark loses: Skimpy attachments and heavy-duty premium options

Despite its solid mid-range vacuum offerings, Shark loses momentum quickly once it hits the $400 or $500 mark.

The most premium cordless Shark, the $499.99 (or $399.99 on sale) Shark Stratos, only lasts for about 60 minutes on one charge and has a dustbin capacity of just a quarter of a gallon. The closest Dyson counterpart is probably the Dyson Outsize Plus, which goes for $599.99 regularly or between $449.99 and $499.99 on sale. It has the same hour-long battery life and a larger dustbin, yet still manages to weigh a pound less than the Stratos.

Shark’s generally-lower prices are also less impressive when you remember that they also mean fewer extras in the box. Shark only ever includes one full-sized cleaning head whereas Dyson includes two cleaning heads (one tailored to plush carpeting and one tailored to dusty hard floors) with the vacuums on the costlier end of its spectrum. Shark packing the large, powerful brushroll and headlight system into a single rounded cleaning head does make for a more cumbersome design that doesn’t reach edges as precisely, fit in between furniture as nicely, or sweep behind the toilet as satisfyingly as Dyson’s slim Fluffy Optic head.

The headlight does illuminate crumbs, but the design could manage to be more ergonomic.
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable

It’s also noteworthy that the cost of a Shark cordless vacuum doesn’t include the mini motorized brush attachment that makes or breaks a handheld vacuum’s value. The small attachments Shark includes with each vacuum, like a crevice tool or (non-motorized) pet brush, are definitely handy, but aren’t going to dig into upholstery or carpeted stairs like a targeted spinning brush would. If that’s an attachment you could see yourself using often, add $89.95 to the cost of the Shark you’re considering.

Which is better: Shark or Dyson?

When it comes to the cordless vacuum side of their market domination, both Shark and Dyson offer several solid options that make it impractical to objectively crown one brand as “better.” However, settling on the brand you want to bring home is pretty easy after confirming your main priority in your vacuum hunt: budget or cleaning prowess.

Shark’s cordless vacuum lineup makes it easy to stay under a certain budget — all of its cordless vacuums retail for less than $500, and its lower price thresholds also squeeze out smarter features for less money than the most similar Dyson equivalent based on price. There’s also something to be said for keeping suction power in check the way that Shark has, and you can count on its vacuums to take on a rug or carpet without creating so much force that pushing or pulling becomes impossible.

Dyson’s cordless vacuum lineup is larger and more robust than Shark’s, offering several tiers for upgrading and matching the amount you’re willing to pay for certain levels of suction power, battery life, and dustbin capacity. On the pricier end of the spectrum specifically, Dyson runs circles around Shark when it comes to heavy-duty cleaning required to keep up with big homes or frequent messes. Dyson’s higher costs also cover more exhaustive full-sized and handheld attachments that don’t require separate purchase.

All pros and cons considered, we’re crowning Dyson the best brand for most people. It’s hard to argue with Dyson’s slightly higher prices when the reason for the cost is valid: They’re simply sending more in the box. Namely, the mini motorized hair screw tool (a non-negotiable in any home with pets), as well as two full-sized cleaning heads (including the life-changing laser one) that ship with the V12, V15, and gen5 lines. Unless you heavily prioritize the automatic emptying dock that comes with one Shark model, we think you’ll be more satisfied with the customized cleaning that a Dyson offers, even if it requires saving up, splurging, or waiting for a sale. There’s probably one happening as you read this.

When Dyson finally releases its first robot vacuum, we’ll be back with another Shark vs. Dyson comparison.

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