When it comes to vacuum cleaners the UK have been slow to meet the wonderful product ideas from Japanese company, Panasonic. Whilst the U.S has new and technological vacuums that have been thought out, (Panasonic's U.S line up has auto cord rewinds, variable power and has better built components) the UK market is still getting old upright vacuums that Panasonic keep tarting up in different colours and motor power year after year. I know because I've used many of the bagged uprights in the cleaning jobs I've done for cleaning companies and they come in different colours as per the power rating. I've just been given a brand new black upright model to use during my cleaning job and to be honest I couldn't' wait to try something that's not bagless or cyclonic!
The 2000-watt MC-UG304 upright vacuum by Panasonic isn't for environmentalists worried about power and electricity. For the price of £86.47 from Amazon online (£89-99 in Argos) it is quite stylish looking even though it uses a paper dust bag, and a large one topping 5 litres (4.6 ltr according to Panasonic). I wasn't surprised to find that for a model this old Panasonic still insist on screwing two screws into the top handle (which is ribbed by the way for extra comfort) and the whole vacuum weighs just nigh of 6kg, easily lighter to carry by the carry handle on the back and supported by a streamlined design helped by its black colouring and smooth, rounded edges. A 7-metre power cord is handy to get around but it is good that whilst this vacuum is old, Panasonic have retained the old swing cord hooks that allow easy access to the cord when needed. I rather like this vacuum not just by its masculine approaches to the colour but from the way it handles.
In use the first time I switched the Panasonic on, I was literally blown away by the noise of this vacuum cleaner. It isn't as whiney as the Hoover Purepower which carries the same price, but is noisy all the same if you're not used to high noise tones and a hot billowing fan at the front. From the off though, what a revelation this Panasonic model is to push and pull! Because of its floating floor head, there are no height adjustable cheap dials or sliders to break off for the floor head on surfaces, not having to put it into the "upright position," like Hoover and adjusting to most carpet surfaces without further personal hardship when the Panasonic does it automatically. What a pity however that Panasonic have stopped fitting the all important stop brush bar function - a slider switch on most of the early 1990 upright models that could allow owners to vacuum hard floors. All the while, the Panasonic picks up dirt and hair effortlessly and edge cleaning on both sides really does work up to the edge on carpeting. On hard floors, the Panasonic does struggle a bit; some dust is picked up but whenever the vacuum is switched on, regardless of the handle angle, the brush bar moves permanently and that means possible damage to hard floors when the beater bar is constantly spinning. The handle, although rectangular and flat at one end is quite comfortable in use and makes the grade for easy grabbing.
Sadly there are a few downsides. Panasonic claim that the MC-UG304 has a stair cleaning hose; even going as far to stating that it has as much as 2.5 metres in length. Sadly the hose doesn't stretch that much and as much as I tried to stretch the hose, the location of the hose around the back to the rear of the vacuum means that if the hose is pulled roughly, the Panasonic goes crashing down to the back of the floor. Over the Hoover Purepower, at least I got to a few more steps than the Purepower but like the Hoover, the key to safety is putting the vacuum against something stable that won't prevent the machine from falling over. The holder that keeps the hose in is also permanently attached to the back of the vacuum by two screws and the hard plastic that holds the hose in isn't particularly well made, each time getting a good scrape or knock when the vacuum falls over. This is important because if the Panasonic ever clogs up, the hose can be removed but only by removing the holder with the two screws. This is why SEBO's X series (although largely £100 more over the list price) is easier to use where the hose to the vacuum simply comes off via a lock or clip.
Despite several brands I've tried that claim to have an "anti-tipping," design built in, standard hoses on uprights always remain to be short so that sales aren't lost out on the cylinder vacs made by the same company! A way around this is to consider a longer extension hose but Panasonic don't make one for this model and it is hard to find one on the Internet thanks to Panasonic's bigger 35mm size diameter on the hose and tools. I find I can use a Sebo extension hose fit for the X models (or Felix) but then you'd have to use Sebo tools to get better reach from the Panasonic for longer hose travel suction.
Talking of hoses and extensions, of the tools equipped with the Panasonic, you get a long extension pipe, a long crevice pipe that fits into the extension pipe for storage and Panasonic's default crevice brush that is narrow and easy to use up to a point. Because of its fixed position, the brush tool is next to useless unless you attack surfaces horizontally. All of the tools have a thin plastic consistency to them as well; I felt with initial use that the long straight extension pipe could snap at any moment and the long crevice pipe in particular will pull the Panasonic over if the pipe gets stuck on something despite having an open hole at the top to let out suction air. Even for the price of £90, Panasonic don't fit a turbo brush air driven tool, which is a great pity because suction through the hose is so strong, it took down my curtains off the rail when in use! I hazard a guess that if a mini turbo brush was available, the Panasonic would be terrific for pet owners where pet hair pick up is required. Dust bags are cheap though, about £5-99 to £8-99 for a pack of five bags and a spare filter to slide in under the dust bag. The bags have several layers of filtration, are easy to install but they don't have seals to catch the dust when taking out. The bags do last a long time though in terms of capacity as they are deep fill and can hold up to two to three months of dirt; so much cleaner than the bagless cyclonic route and the long lasting ability will need to be reliable to depend upon as bags for the Panasonic uprights are notoriously difficult to find unless you happen to visit a high street big shop name like Currys, Comet, Argos or John Lewis.
When it comes to filtration, there is a HEPA / High Efficiency Particulate Air filter on board but it's the basic paper pleated cartridge type. This means at best the cartridge is washable but again like other brands Panasonic don't give you another HEPA filter to use whilst the existing one dries. Whilst it filters out the nasties and leaves rooms smelling neutral, another filter underneath the dust bag (which is easy to take out as well as install) has to be cleaned periodically. Just like Panasonic's HEPA filter, this is a white pad so it is easy to see when it needs cleaning when it turns dark in colour. A replacement HEPA cartridge from Panasonic costs on average £15 to £23, which is too expensive in my opinion.
The Panasonic MC-UG304 is a good attempt at covering almost all bases for quick and efficient dust pick up but its biggest foibles come down to a claimed stair cleaning hose that isn't very long and brings the machine crashing to the floor when pulled roughly. Then there's the noise factor, which whilst not off putting, doesn't inspire me to use late at night. Then there's the poor cleaning tools, which don't offer much versatility even when the extension pipe and crevice are fixed on, it doesn't adjust the stretch design of the hose. The biggest flaw of Panasonic's upright bagged vacuum isn't on its performance however; it still retains two drive belts, a larger brush roll from the motor belt and a small ring belt that drives the motor pulley to the main motor fly wheel. When the drive belt snaps, the smaller ring has to be taken off before the larger drive belt can be put on, and with seven screws to undo on the base, when it all goes wrong the Panasonic can be a right bugge* to maintain! Luckily there is a very helpful user manual included with Panasonic's upright vacuum and what a pity for a company who used to offer variable suction control that there's no let up from the strong 2000-watt motor.
Fine for carpets only but when vacuuming delicate things like my curtains that were brought down, it is about time Panasonic updated this vacuum cleaner because having fixed suction means ruthless, strong suction all the time. The models they sold under the Miele tag in the U.S had variable suction controls and a brush bar stop function. In the UK there is nothing like that to extend versatility of this very old machine. A new colour and a higher motor doesn't hide the original weaknesses - it is still more than 20 years old - but at least it is more powerful and lighter to use than most other uprights on the market and getting under low furniture with long travel thanks to a greater amount of power cord. However for all that it is lightweight, with poor cleaning tools, poor plastic durability and those drive belts that have to be changed just to replace one main belt, it does seem like an awful lot to put up with despite the technological name. Thanks for reading! ©Nar2 2010
Panasonics MCUG304 bagged upright vacuum cleaner has a large dust capacity of 4.5 litres requiring less frequent emptying / The model features on-board tools and an easy access hose for added convenience / The MCUG304 is a very lightweight cleaner offering convenient manoeuvrability with 260W suction power and a 2000W motor. / Short name: Panasonic MC-UG304