A handheld vacuum can be a go-to when you need 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 of the functions of an upright, canister, or robot model—at a fraction of the cost.
There are various factors to consider when choosing a handheld vacuum. Ahead, read about how to find the best handheld vacuum for your needs.
- BEST OVERALL: BLACK+DECKER Dustbuster Handheld Vacuum HHVK320J10
- BEST BUDGET: 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, there are other factors that are important to consider, including size and weight, power source, and type. Ahead, learn more about these and other important characteristics to pay attention to when shopping for a handheld vacuum.
There are a few different types of handheld vacuums. Standard cordless handheld vacuums are small enough to hold in one hand, making them easy to grab for cleaning up a spill or for cleaning 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 ideal for bigger cleaning jobs. These models are also physically larger. 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 their shoulder while using one hand to operate the vacuum hose.
While most handheld vacuum cleaners are rated for dry material only, there are some wet/dry models that are capable of vacuuming up liquids as well as solids, making them ideal for cleaning up spills in a pinch.
Corded vs. Cordless
Vacuums that plug into an electrical socket limit mobility, although an extension cord can extend reach when vacuuming a large room. You can rely on a corded model to have consistent suction power throughout a long vacuuming session as well. 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. They’re much more portable but may run out of battery in the middle of a long cleaning session. Some models feature a battery level indicator so users can keep tabs on the charge. If you plan on using the vacuum throughout the house and to clean patio furniture or car upholstery, a cordless unit is likely more suitable.
Size and Weight
A handheld vacuum should be light enough to be operated using one hand. Most handheld vacuums weigh around 3 or 4 pounds, with smaller handheld models weighing as little as 2 pounds and larger commercial-style corded handhelds weighing as much as 5 pounds.
There are also small sizes ranging between 15 and 20 inches long, which are small enough for the operator to easily maneuver with one hand. Larger, more powerful corded models feature shoulder straps that allow the user to carry them over the shoulder while still operating the hose end with one hand.
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 of around 100, while the best handheld vacuums have at least 15 AW.
While air watts are a good means of determining a vacuum’s effectiveness, not all vacuum cleaners advertise their air watt ratings. In the absence of an air watt rating, battery output for cordless vacuum cleaners, or amps for corded vacuum cleaners, provide a good indication of how powerful a vacuum cleaner is. A cordless handheld vacuum cleaner needs at least a 15-volt battery to provide adequate suction, while a corded model should have at least 5 amps.
Charging and Runtime
While cordless handheld vacuums have the advantage of not being tethered to a power source, their batteries 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 charge a battery in about 1 hour.
Handheld vacuums include a number of features designed to improve their functionality and make them easier to use and maintain. Ahead, learn about additional features that are important to consider when shopping for a handheld vacuum.
- Filter: Like full-size vacuums, handheld units contain a filter that prevents dust in the vacuum from becoming airborne and must be changed regularly. Some manufacturers offer scented filters to leave carpets and upholstery smelling fresh. Pricing for filter replacements varies, so if you’re on a budget, look into the cost associated with each model.
- Dustbin: Handheld vacuums collect dirt in either dirt 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 need to empty it less often. A clear canister lets you see 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 that allow the user to get a firm hold on the vacuum cleaner. Most also have the controls built into the grip, allowing the user to turn the vacuum cleaner on and off without having to use a second hand.
- Accessories: Specialized accessories can make your unit more useful, depending on your needs. You’ll find attachments designed to pick up pet hair and clean in the nooks and crannies of upholstery as well as flexible hoses that reach into dark or inaccessible areas.
- Convertible vacuum kits: Some vacuums include extension poles that allow the user to convert the vacuum from a handheld vacuum into a full-size floor vacuum.
Our Top Picks
The list below narrows the field to some of the top vacuums by type and size. The vacuums below offer ample suction and come from some of the best-known names in vacuum cleaners.
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.
Other features add functionality and convenience to this handheld vacuum, including a suction tool that extends for cleaning out-of-reach areas such as a ceiling fan or deep into crevices between seat cushions. A battery indicator conveniently lets the user know how much charge is remaining in the vacuum, while two speeds add versatility for cleaning different types of surfaces.
- Longer runtime than older models
- Extra-long crevice tool
- One-touch button for disposal
- Two-speed power boost
For those who don’t mind the constraints associated with a power cord, this corded handheld vacuum is a great budget-priced option. It boasts a powerful 7-amp motor that is capable of picking up large messes, such as small stones and stubborn sand. It includes convenient attachments, including a 2.5-foot hose and a crevice tool that conveniently flips into place from the top of the vacuum when needed.
A 15-foot power cord provides plenty of length for vacuuming stairways or a car’s interior, while a rinseable removable filter makes it easy to periodically clean the vacuum. And, at just 3 pounds, this is one of the easier handheld vacuums to maneuver.
- Removable, rinsable filter
- Ultra small for easy handling
- Detachable 2.5-foot hose
- Attached crevice tool flips open
Even at a low price, this handheld vacuum delivers outstanding performance. Through cyclonic action, the lightweight 2.6-pound unit spins dust and debris away from the vacuum filter to maintain that 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 four hours and holds its charge for up to 18 months in storage. The translucent dirt canister makes it easy to monitor your progress and, when it comes time, empty out the mess into your garbage.
- Nozzle can rotate to reach smaller areas
- Charges in only 4 hours
- Cyclonic action for extra power
- Easy-to-change filter
- Battery not replaceable
- Some chargers didn’t work properly
Although cordless vacuums are completely portable, cleaning stairways, high shelves, or deep in 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 to clean those hard-to-reach places.
When the added length isn’t needed, the hose conveniently wraps under and around the base of the model, keeping it secure and out of the way. This vacuum uses a 20-volt lithium battery for power, which gives it an ample 24 air watts of suction. A quick-charging station recharges the battery in 4 to 6 hours. The Max Flex’s attachments include a standard head and a pet brush for removing hair from upholstery.
- 4-foot flexible hose
- Can connect to stick-style floor head vacuum (not included)
- Special pet brush included
- Advanced three-stage filtration
- Works best with two hands
- May take a while to charge
Left unchecked, pet hair can quickly take over a home, collecting in hallways and corners and clinging stubbornly to clothing and furniture upholstery. The small size and design of this handheld vacuum make it an ideal weapon in the battle against pet hair. The key is in the motorized brush built into the mouth of the vacuum. The spinning brush pulls fur loose from fabric and carpeting, allowing the vacuum to suck it up.
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 the collected fur. In addition to the brush attachment, the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser also includes crevice and upholstery attachments.
- Wide vacuum head for larger messes or furniture
- Large-capacity dust bin
- Included brush, upholstery, and crevice tool
- Highly effective on pet hair
- Bulkier than some styles
- No flexible hose included
Special attachments that can reach into the tight crevices, nooks, and crannies of a car interior coupled with a cordless design make this handheld an ideal car-cleaning tool. A crevice nozzle tool is specially designed for removing debris from seams in car seats, while a dust brush tool can remove hair and sand from carpets and mats.
This handheld vacuum also includes smart design features, including an LED light that improves visibility while vacuuming and a clear dust cup that makes it easy to monitor how full the dust cup is. The handheld vacuum uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which provides about 20 minutes of runtime and recharges in 2 to 3 hours.
- Stiff brush tool to clean stubborn car carpet
- LED light to help see in dark areas
- Charges in 2 to 3 hours
- Suction could be better
- Crevice tool is thin but round
With its ability to convert from a handheld model 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 vacuum, making it ideal for cleaning up spills or cleaning upholstery. Add the nozzle extension and the handheld becomes an upright capable of vacuuming carpets and hardwood floors.
Makita is known for its advancements in cordless technology in power tools, and that shows with its cordless vacuum, which 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.
- Converts from stick to handheld vacuum
- Crevice tool is stored on the stick
- Lightweight and powerful
- Only runs for 15 minutes before needing charging
- No flexible hose included
A handheld vacuum cleaner is a great assistant to a full-size vacuum cleaner, giving one the ability to quickly clean up spills without having to pull out the full vacuum cleaner or hunt for the broom and dustpan. The Black + Decker Dustbuster can power through most small messes, but pet owners may want to consider the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser.
How We Chose the Best Handheld Vacuums
The best handheld vacuums should have great suction power, be easy to use, and have all the attachments needed to get the job done. Beyond that, these recommendations also considered other needs such as excessive pet hair or use in a car. We narrowed our research to look for options that met the needs of a variety of users.
Our favorite models are lightweight, effective against pet hair, and work with several accessories, including full-size sticks. We focused primarily on handheld vacuums that were cordless since those tend to be more popular when considering ease of use. But whether users prefer a cordless handheld vacuum or a corded vacuum, there are options for everyone. Not surprisingly, a number of the most reliable household appliance brands were on our radar.
If you have questions about how to use a handheld vacuum or their lifespan, then read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about these devices.
Q. When would you use a handheld vacuum?
There are a variety of uses for a handheld vacuum. A handheld vacuum is ideal for use in places larger vacuum cleaners can’t go, 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 getting into 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 the vacuum’s filters.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series, including This Old House and Bob Vila’s Home Again, he popularized and became synonymous with “do it yourself” home improvement.
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Tony Carrick is a freelance writer specializing in home improvement, landscaping, and design. A recipient of a degree in journalism and a Master of Arts in English, he spent ten years writing for a variety of local newspapers and business publications before becoming an English teacher. Mr. Carrick now works as a freelance writer from his home in North Carolina. When he isn’t furiously typing away on his laptop or working on his latest home improvement project, he enjoys spending time with his family and cycling through the beautiful North Carolina countryside.