I ARRIVED home, opened the front door and stepped into what looked like the set of a movie being shot on location in the Old West.
Huge tumbleweeds of dog fur rolled across the floor. Every step I took created a dust storm. Searching for the source, I made out the faint outlines of furniture — yes, that was the piano in the distance — and a snoring lump of something brown and molting, sprawled in a warm spot under the window.
My dog Otto napped peacefully, unaware that he was casting off so many fistfuls of fur that he looked like a plush toy whose stuffing was leaking.
How I dread his annual molting season. Some pet owners face an even greater challenge — I realize it can’t be a picnic to remove an abandoned snakeskin from a cage — but my situation has been exacerbated by a vacuum cleaner crisis.
Call me indecisive. For years, I have been trying to buy a new vacuum cleaner. But which one? I flirt with fancy, high-price models with “high efficiency particulate air” exhaust filters, like the Nilfisk Silver Bullet ($1,095 at bestvacuum.com). I keep up with the latest ratings on consumerreports.org, which warns that “high-priced, feature-laden machines don’t necessarily deliver better cleaning.”
A few years back, after I got a $100 repair bill for my ailing vintage Electrolux canister model, I even went so far as to phone Jeff Bagnall, a vacuum specialist who at the time operated a bricks-and-mortar store called Sweeps Vacuum Center in Hudson, N.Y., and had the foresight in 1993 to register the domain names vacuum.com and vacuums.com.
After hearing my tale of woe, Mr. Bagnall asked a few succinct questions (“How big is your home?” “Carpet or wood floors?”) and then recommended an immediate vacuum upgrade. But in the end, I balked, not only at the price but also at the overwhelming range of choices.
The age-old question — upright or canister? — was just the starting point. Shoppers also face lures like vacuum cleaners that wash floors (like the Hoover FloorMate SpinScrub, $169.99 at target.com) and robotic vacuums like the Electrolux Trilobite, $1,689.99 from Ace Digital Club, an amazon.com retailer.
But we all have our breaking points, and I reached mine, it turns out, when I walked into a living room that had been transformed into a bleak landscape that more resembled the O.K. Corral at high noon than a place where you might want, say, to put your feet up.
I had to get rid of those tumbleweeds of fur.
Being a longtime canister person or, as consumerreports.org summarized it, a person who always needed a machine that was “best for cleaning bare floors, and stairs, drapes and upholstery,” I ruled out uprights, which are best for deep-cleaning medium- and deep-pile carpets.
But beyond that, I needed to ask Mr. Bagnall a few more questions. In search of him, I went to both vacuum.com and to vacuums.com, only to find that both had become useless domain name parking sites full of automatically generated ads relevant to the word “vacuum.” There was no sign either of Mr. Bagnall or of his small-town vacuum store.
I panicked. What would I do without expert advice? Luckily, I found Sweeps Vacuum in the phone directory, and called.
“What happened?” I asked Mr. Bagnall.
“I sold both,” he said. “We don’t sell online much anymore. We operate, well, we operate a store.”
“But a few years ago, you were selling 20 vacuums a day online,” I said.
“Go to Google and type ‘vacuum,’ ” he said. “At the top of the page, it says 1 through 10 results of how many?”
“76,200,000,” I said.
“I rest my case,” he said. “What happened with the Internet is it almost turned in on itself, with everybody and his brother having an Internet site. The only way to prosper now is to pay for ads on Google and Yahoo.”
“But you still sell online?” I asked.
“Now I have sweepsvacuum.com, and some people still find me,” he said. “And if I recall, you have pets. Any new pets?”
“Same shedding pet,” I said. “Same house. Same hardwood floors. A few rugs.”
“Then the Miele S251 Plus vacuum I discussed for you back then is still the one for you,” Mr. Bagnall said. “It’s the least expensive Miele that comes with an electric power nozzle. I seem to recall a conversation about pet hair, so you need a power nozzle.”
“Lots of less expensive brands have power nozzles,” I said. “And what about a vacuum that also steam cleans, or is a robot or cooks dinner and folds laundry, too?”
Mr. Bagnall recommended I stay focused on the task at hand — banishing the Badlands from the living room — and avoid getting distracted by gimmicks.
“Any vacuum will break at one point or another,” he said. “A Miele will break less often. And any decent vacuum that you get from a quality vacuum store will have enough suction and power to pick up the dust bunnies.”
“Tumbleweeds,” I corrected.
“The next question is how much of that is contained in the vacuum as opposed to being thrown back out into the environment you’re trying to clean. With Brand X from Wal-Mart, you will do an excellent job of pulling in, pulverizing and then dispersing back into the air all the dust, where it will linger for 8 to 12 hours. With a quality machine, it will keep the dust inside.”
“The Miele S251 doesn’t have the fancy filtration system of the more expensive models,” I said.
“The least expensive Miele canister has better filtration even without a HEPA,” or a high efficiency particulate air system, which you need if you have allergies, Mr. Bagnall explained. “It has a filtration system to handle anything that’s one micron or bigger. Let’s put things in perspective. I’m bald. When I used to have hair, the average hair was 70 to 80 microns in diameter. At 10 microns, something becomes invisible to the naked eye.”
The Miele S251 cost $529 at sweepsvacuum.com. It cost $499.95 at vacsew.com.
I could save $30 by comparison shopping. But Mr. Bagnall’s advice was worth at least that much. So I bought the vacuum from sweepsvacuum.com. Then I went to look for Otto’s hairbrush.