A handheld vacuum is often great to quickly clean up common messes like broken glass, pet hair, and cookie crumbs. Though lightweight and compact, today’s best handheld vacuum options are powerful enough to perform many functions of an upright, canister, or robot model—at a fraction of the cost.
To help consumers find the right model, we tested a host of popular handheld vacs, both corded and cordless. Some were clear winners, with lots of power to suck up anything we threw at them, while particular low performers had us wondering how they ever made it to the marketplace. We tackled everyday cleanup tasks, including commonly spilled foods, tracked-in dirt and grass, and pesky pet hair, recording our findings via a performance rubric along with our notes on personal preferences.
Ahead, learn about the various factors to consider when choosing the best handheld vacuum for your needs—and don’t miss our hands-on reviews of the lineup below.
- BEST OVERALL: BLACK+DECKER dustbuster Handheld Vacuum (HHVK51500FF)
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Dirt Devil Scorpion Handheld Vacuum Corded SD20005RED
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: BLACK+DECKER dustbuster Handheld Vacuum (CHV1410L)
- BEST EXTENDED REACH: BLACK+DECKER 20V Max Flex Handheld Vacuum (BDH2020FL)
- BEST FOR PET OWNERS: Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Cordless Hand Vacuum
- BEST FOR CAR INTERIORS: VacLife Handheld Car Vacuum Cordless (VL188-N)
- MOST VERSATILE: Makita XLC02R1B 18V LXT Cordless Vacuum Kit
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Handheld Vacuum
While most people want powerful suction in a vacuum cleaner, be it handheld, shop, or upright, other important considerations include size and weight, power source, and type. Read on to find out how these factors weigh in when shopping for a handheld vacuum.
There are a few types of handheld vacuums. Standard cordless models are small enough to hold in one hand, making them easy to grab for cleaning up a spill or tidying up a small space, such as a car’s interior.
Commercial-size handheld vacuums offer greater capacity—more than a quart—and more suction power, making them suited to bigger cleaning jobs. These models are also physically larger and heavier. They consist of a box that houses the motor and a 5-foot hose that connects to the vacuuming attachments.
Most commercial-size handheld vacuums come with a shoulder strap that allows the user to carry the vacuum over a shoulder while using one hand to operate the hose.
While most handheld vacuum cleaners are rated for dry material only, there are some wet/dry models that can suck up liquids as well as solids, making them ideal for cleaning up spills in a pinch.
Corded vs. Cordless
A corded model will provide consistent suction power throughout a long vacuuming session, and while plugging into an electrical socket will limit mobility, an extension cord can extend reach in a large area if necessary. With the exception of professional vacuums, corded units tend to be more affordable than cordless models.
Cordless handheld vacuum cleaners rely on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Though more portable than corded units, they may run out of power in the middle of a long cleaning session. Some models feature a battery level indicator so users can keep tabs on the charge. If planning to use the vacuum throughout the house and to clean patio furniture or car upholstery, a cordless model will be convenient.
Size and Weight
A handheld vacuum should be light enough to operate while holding in one hand. Most handheld vacuums weigh around 3 or 4 pounds, with smaller options weighing as little as 2 pounds and larger commercial-style corded handhelds tipping the scales at as much as 5 pounds.
Small sizes ranging between 15 and 20 inches long let the operator maneuver easily with one hand. Larger, more powerful corded models feature shoulder straps for carrying over the shoulder during use.
The suction of corded and cordless handheld vacuum cleaners is directly related to the amount of power they have. Cordless models use batteries that range between 18-volt and 40-volt, with the latter providing the most suction power. A handheld vacuum’s suction is measured in air watts (AW). Most upright vacuum cleaners have an AW rating of around 100, while the best handhelds have at least 15 AW.
While air watts are a good means of determining a vacuum’s effectiveness, not all vacuum cleaners advertise air watt ratings. In the absence of an air watt rating, battery output for cordless models and amps for corded counterparts provide a good indication of power. A cordless handheld vacuum cleaner requires at least a 15-volt battery for adequate suction, while a corded model should have at least 5 amps.
Charging and Runtime
The batteries on cordless handheld vacuums have a limited runtime and can take hours to recharge. While runtime varies depending on the model and battery size, expect to get between 15 and 20 minutes of runtime from a cordless handheld vacuum cleaner. Vacuum cleaners that use a standard charger for their lithium-ion battery typically take around 4 to 6 hours to recharge the battery; however, some rapid chargers can juice up a battery in just about an hour.
Handheld vacuums typically include a number of features designed to improve their functionality and make them easier to use and maintain.
- Filter: Like full-size vacuums, handheld units contain a filter that prevents dust in the vacuum from becoming airborne. Some manufacturers offer scented filters to leave carpets and upholstery smelling fresh. Filters are either removable and rinsable, or they must be changed regularly; since pricing for replacements varies, those on a budget may wish to look into the cost associated with each model.
- Dustbin: Handheld vacuums collect dirt in either canisters or bags. Canister models are more popular because they tend to be easier to empty and clean—just snap and dump. The larger the dirt canister, the bulkier the vacuum, but you’ll empty it less often. A clear canister shows at a glance when it requires emptying.
- Adjustable speed: Some handheld vacuum cleaners offer more than one speed option. This allows for versatility, making the vacuum cleaner capable of cleaning areas that might be damaged by a higher speed.
- Grip: Handheld vacuum cleaners are intended to be operated using one hand. As such, most have molded ergonomic grips for a firm, comfortable hold. Most also have the controls built into the grip, allowing the user to turn the vacuum cleaner on and off without employing a second hand.
- Accessories: Specialized accessories that can make a unit more useful include attachments designed to pick up pet hair and clean nooks and crannies of upholstery. There may also be a flexible hose that reaches into less-accessible areas.
- Convertible vacuum kits: Some vacuums include extension poles that enable converting the unit from a handheld to a floor vacuum.
Our Top Picks
The lineup below narrows the field to some of the top handheld vacuums by type and size from some of the best-known brands in the business. All these models were put through their paces by our testers and found to offer ample suction and otherwise fill the bill in their respective categories.
With its powerful 20-watt rechargeable battery, Black & Decker’s Dustbuster is one of the most powerful cordless handheld vacuum models with 35 AW of suction. That, coupled with a large 75-mL dustbin, makes this handheld vacuum ideal for cleaning up larger messes quickly. Emptying the dustbin with a simple push of a button at the end of the device was virtually effortless in testing.
A well-designed crevice tool proved great for sucking up a lot of debris in tight places, and we appreciated the convenience of going cordless when taking this out to the car. Although there’s a lack of extra attachments, we didn’t miss them, and we found this model to be lightweight, powerful, and easy to use.
Runtime is pretty considerable at about 30 minutes, and a battery indicator shows how much charge is remaining. The device boasts two speeds that add versatility for cleaning different types of surfaces.
- Filter: Washable filter and pre-filter
- Volts/amps: 20 volts
- Weight: 2.4 pounds
- Extendable crevice tool always on board
- 20-volt battery
- Estimated 30 to 35 minutes of runtime
- 5-hour initial battery charge time
- No brush or specific pet hair attachments
Get the BLACK+DECKER handheld vacuum on Amazon.
For those who don’t mind the limits of a power cord, this handheld vacuum is an excellent affordable option. It boasts a powerful 7-amp motor that is capable of picking up large dry messes, such as small stones and stubborn sand. It comes with convenient attachments, including a brush, a 2.5-foot hose, and a crevice tool that conveniently flips into place from the top of the vacuum when needed.
While this on-board accessory means less to keep track of during cleaning and storage, in testing the crevice tool presented a potential problem: It requires being firmly inserted into the vacuum’s spout, and we wondered if the device would be rendered useless if it cracked or got stuck. We also didn’t find the included brush accessory to be very useful picking up large amounts of hair and dust.
A long 16-foot power cord is great for vacuuming stairways or a car’s interior (as long as an outlet is nearby), while a removable rinsable filter is easy to clean. At 3.75 pounds, the model was easy to maneuver. Suction power in terms of air watts is not provided by the manufacturer, but our testing proved very little could escape this mighty vac’s clutches.
- Filter: Washable filter
- Volts/amps: 7 amps
- Weight: 3.75 pounds
- Onboard fold-out crevice tool
- Lightweight and narrow design
- Constant a/c power with no charging downtime
- Very affordable
- Corded design limits portability
- Crevice tool requires firm insertion
- Strong “kick” from motor potentially off-putting to some users
Get the Dirt Devil Scorpion handheld vacuum on Amazon or on Chewy.
A lightweight handheld vacuum with outstanding performance, this 2.6-pound unit uses cyclonic action to spin dust and debris away from the filter to maintain strong suction throughout a vacuuming session. Thanks to a 180-degree rotating nozzle with an extendable crevice tool and flip-up brush, the vacuum grasps grit even in hard-to-reach areas.
The 16-volt battery charges in 4 hours and holds its charge for up to 18 months in storage. A translucent dirt canister makes it easy to monitor progress and shows when it’s time to empty. During testing, we enjoyed the portability and grab-and-go access of its upright charger. But with only 15.2 air watts, it proved best on stray dirt and crumbs, not heavy or wet messes.
- Filter: Washable filter and dirt bowl
- Volts/amps: 16 volts
- Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Lightweight and portable
- Vertical charging hub offers one-handed docking
- Onboard crevice tool and flip-down brush
- Air watts are relatively low, only about half the amount of our top choice
- No additional attachments
Get the BLACK+DECKER handheld vacuum at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Lowe’s.
Although cordless vacuums are completely portable, cleaning stairways, high shelves, and deep into the tight crevices of a car’s interior requires a handheld that can extend away from its base. With its flexible 4-foot hose, this vacuum provides plenty of length for those hard-to-reach places.
Though the reach is admirable, the suction power (20-volt lithium battery, 24 air watts) failed to fully capture all stubborn dust from picture frames, door frames, and light fixtures during hands-on testing. It’s also a fairly pricey model, so we would have appreciated greater suction.
When the added length isn’t needed, the hose conveniently wraps under and around the base, secure and out of the way. Attachments include a rubberized pet brush for removing hair from upholstery that proved effective in testing, clearing a great deal of dander from couch cushions and car seats during our testing.
- Filter: Washable filter and pre-filter
- Volts/amps: 20 volts
- Weight: 3.2 pounds
- Handy wraparound 4-foot hose for extended reach
- Pet hair pick-up tool excellent on upholstery
- 3-stage filtration keeps dust and dander in unit
- Despite 24 AW, suction isn’t strong enough to move stubborn dust
- Cost high due to unique design
Get the BLACK+DECKER handheld vacuum on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Thanks to a unique motorized brush built into the mouth, this small handheld vacuum is a worthwhile weapon in the battle against pet hair. In testing, the spinning brush really did the trick, pulling fur loose from fabric and carpeting so the vacuum could suck it up. We found it also picked up plenty of dust and dander, too, without us having to break out the big upright vacuum.
Three separate filters prevent dirt and dander from getting blown back into the room, while a 14-volt lithium battery provides the power needed to turn the brush and remove the fur. A clear dust cup allows the user to see when it’s time to empty. In addition to the brush attachment, the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser also includes crevice and upholstery attachments.
We tested this vac in a house filled with dogs and were fairly happy with its ability to scoop up our pooches’ hair as well as the grass, dirt, and who-knows-what-else they dragged in. Though excellent on hardwood floors, carpet, and furniture, the device was defeated by our vehicle’s nearly decade-old embedded dog hair in the trunk area. However, it did a super job of collecting swirls of lint and other detritus from the back of the car seats.
- Filter: Triple-layer filtering
- Volts/amps: 14 volts
- Weight: 3 pounds
- Motorized pet brush spins dirt and hair from fabric and floors
- Lightweight portability
- Clear dustbin
- Ominous warning not to pick up anything flammable was a stand-out caution without much explanation
- Possibly related to above, we got a shock when vacuuming wool-blend upholstery
Get the Bissell pet hair hand vacuum at Amazon, Belk, or Target.
While marketed as a car-specific cleaner, this cordless hand vac could be used anywhere for a quick cleanup—just don’t expect to tidy the whole house with it. Its compact size and light weight make it a solid choice for small spaces, and it comes with special attachments to reach into the tight crevices, nooks, and crannies of a car interior. A crevice nozzle tool is specially designed for removing debris from seams in car seats, while a dust brush can vanquish hair and sand from carpets and mats.
This handheld vacuum also includes an LED light that improves visibility while vacuuming dark spaces and a clear dust cup that makes it easy to monitor fullness. The handheld vacuum uses a rechargeable 3.2-volt lithium-ion battery, which provides about 20 minutes of runtime and recharges in 2 to 3 hours.
- Filter: HEPA
- Volts/amps: 3.7 volts
- Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Very compact and lightweight
- Thin crevice tool is the narrowest we encountered in our testing
- Fairly quick charge time
- So lightweight, it may not survive bumps and jostles of hard use
Get the VacLife handheld car vacuum on Amazon or Vaclife.com.
With its ability to convert from a handheld to a stand-up push model, Makita’s XLC02R1B is two vacuums in one. At less than 19 inches long, the vacuum functions as a handheld, ideal for sucking up spills or cleaning upholstery. Add the nozzle extension and it becomes an upright, capable of vacuuming carpets and hardwood floors. The conversion is not only convenient but also proved relatively easy to do in testing. However, we found that the stick worked well when pushing but not as well when pulling back.
Makita is known for its advancements in cordless technology in power tools, and that shows with its cordless vacuum. It uses an 18-volt lithium-ion battery, providing up to 15 minutes of continuous use on a single charge and recharging in about an hour using the rapid charger.
- Filter: Cloth
- Volts/amps: 18 volts
- Weight: 2.7 pounds
- Battery usable in other Makita battery-powered tools
- Short 1-hour recharge time
- Convenient wall-mountable holder
- Battery is an expensive necessity
- Stick attachment works best only in “push” movement, not “push and pull”
- Cloth filter must be replaced
- Power button must be held during operation
Get the Makita cordless vacuum kit on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
After testing, we can highly recommend two top handheld vacuum performers: our Best Overall selection, this BLACK+DECKER dustbuster Handheld Vacuum, and the Best Bang for the Buck pick, the Dirt Devil Scorpion Handheld Vacuum. The cordless Black & Decker Dustbuster boasts a robust 20V, is lightweight and easy to handle (and empty), and it won’t break the bank. The corded Dirt Devil Scorpion offers robust suction, easy maneuverability, and—as a corded model—the ability to vacuum until the entire job is done.
How We Tested the Best The Best Handheld Vacuums
We put these handheld vacuums through their paces, spending time sucking up everyday messes from spilled flour (simulating dust), dry oatmeal, and cereal. We tested them to reach under furniture, between couch cushions, and on top of door frames and ceiling fans. We also brought them out to a well-worn vehicle and tried to unlodge dog hair, small rocks, grass, and dirt.
We looked for helpful accessories, comfortable portability, and good value. Lots of vacs we tried out came with handy rinsable filters, quick-release dustbins, and good battery life. Though diminutive size was a consideration for portability, smaller wasn’t always better.
If you want further info about how to use a handheld vacuum or the lifespan of these devices, read on for answers to some commonly asked questions that will likely fill you in.
Q. When would you use a handheld vacuum?
There are a variety of uses for a handheld vacuum. It can be ideal in places larger vacuum cleaners can’t go or fit, such as a car interior or a flight of carpeted steps. Handheld vacuums are also convenient for quickly cleaning up messes, such as spilled cereal or sand tracked in from the beach.
Q. What is the best handheld vacuum for pet hair?
With its spinning brush that pulls fur loose from fabric and carpeting, the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Cordless Hand Vacuum is one of the best handheld vacuum cleaners for getting rid of pet hair.
Q. What is the best handheld vacuum for cars?
With a small size that makes it easy to maneuver around tight spaces and an attachment designed specifically for the nooks and crannies of a car’s cockpit, the cordless VacLife Handheld Car Vacuum is one of the best options for vacuuming a car’s interior.
Q. How long do handheld vacuums last?
Most handheld vacuums last about 3 years before they begin to lose their suctioning power; however, that lifespan can be extended by remembering to regularly empty the dustbin and clean (or replace) the filters.