The best handheld vacuums will make quick work of cars, stairs, and pet hair. Many of the options in our guide are cordless, which gives you complete freedom to vacuum in every room of your home, and even outdoors, without constraints. Unsurprisingly, the brands behind some of the best vacuum cleaners for home also feature heavily in our guide to the best handheld vacuum cleaners. This includes top brands such as Dyson, Shark, Black & Decker, Bissell, and Dirt Devil.
When choosing the best handheld vacuum, consider how much you want to spend. Some of the top rated brands can cost you upwards of $100, but you can also find handheld vacuums for around $30 which hold their own. Many top rated handheld vacuum cleaners for pet hair, car upholstery, and stairs come with specifically designed attachments.
However, many of the most powerful cordless vacuum cleaners will not have a long battery life, and you should consider the lengths of time you intend to use your vacuum for and how long you will have to wait for it to recharge once more.
For those looking for a cleaner which can handle day-to-day tasks, you can find handheld vacuum cleaners with battery power that last between ten minutes and 30 minutes, but the advantage of corded handheld vacuums is their limitless run time. Corded handheld vacuum cleaners also offer more power on average, because they run on the electrical power of your home and not batteries. These models work well for pet hair and in-home messes such as cat litter and crumbs. However, some lithium batteries generate enough power to rival corded options, with the benefits of complete freedom.
1. Black & Decker Dustbuster: Best handheld vacuum overall
The Black & Decker Dustbuster performed better than every other handheld vacuum in our side-by-side comparison. It has a built-in crevice tool that reaches tight spaces so you can clean efficiently.
This Dustbuster effectively vacuumed up sawdust on hard floors and carpets. When compared with other cordless vacuums, it was one of the best. While no cordless vacuum has quite as much suction power as corded vacuums, it makes up for this with convenience. This device can clean up messes of all kinds in any space in your house or car. It is equally efficient at cleaning up light debris like leaves and heavier debris like kitty litter and dog food on all kinds of surfaces, including carpet, hardwood and automobile flooring. This vacuum didn’t have the tendency that other vacuums we tested had of blowing the debris around as it cleared a path. The exhaust was released out the back of the machine, so it cleaned with fewer passes and less work.
This vacuum had a little trouble picking up ground-in pet hair on carpet, but this was a common issue with many of the vacuums we tested. Despite its cleaning power, it was the quietest vacuum we tested, so you can clean up messes without disturbing people nearby. It’s also a lightweight vacuum that won’t cause excessive fatigue. The battery lasts a respectable 15 minutes with each charge, which was slightly longer than average when compared with the other vacuums. Its charge time of eight hours, in contrast, is longer than average. The Dustbuster has the convenience of integrating its useful crevice and brush tools onto the body of the vacuum so they are always handy and just need to be snapped into place. It comes with an above average two-year warranty.
2. Shark WANDVAC: Best cordless handheld vacuum
The Shark WANDVAC is the ultimate cordless, lightweight handheld vacuum. Its docking station includes space to store the Multi-surface pet tool and Duster crevice tool, and makes an attractive addition to countertops (or wherever else you charge it). It weighs only 1.4 lbs and takes an hour to charge, which is significantly less than some of the vacuums in our guide. The tradeoff for this is a small capacity, 0.08 quarts which can be emptied with the touch of a button, and the runtime is only ten minutes.
The WANDVAC is covered by a two year warranty and users find it powerful enough to pick up dog hair, gravel, and crumbs. The crevice tool is great for getting into hard-to-reach areas such as cup holders or the corners of steps, and its cordless design means you can take it absolutely anywhere.
- Read our Shark WANDVAC handheld vacuum review
3. Dirt Devil QuickFlip: Best value handheld vacuum
The Dirt Devil QuickFlip is truly tiny and lightweight in a way that almost makes the other handheld vacuums seem oversized and cumbersome. It was not a superstar for suction, but it is ultra-portable, weighing less than any other we tested, and it costs less than $30.
The QuickFlip is battery powered and can be stowed in tight spaces. The 13-mintute runtime isn’t the best, but that should be enough for small tasks. There were plenty of vacuum cleaners with more suction, but this is good for quick pickups.
It's not as useful for bigger jobs, though, even things like stairways. It just doesn't have the battery life, tank capacity and suction power to handle stuff like that. This would be right at home on a short camping trip, though. It works fine for getting the stray crumbs after a meal, too. To test suction power, we used the handhelds to pick up a box of screws. We kept adding screws to the box until the handheld vacuum could no longer pick it up. The more weight the vacuum can pick up, the better the suction. This vacuum did not do great. There was only one other vacuum with less suction in that setting. It was not great on pet hair either. This is a great value buy for small pickups, but it’s not powerful or good for pet hair.
- Read our Dirt Devil QuickFlip BD30025B review
4. Dyson V7 Trigger: Best handheld vacuum for cars
For cleaning the inside of your car, the Dyson V7 Trigger handheld vacuum is a great choice. This handheld vacuum is expensive, but it is designed to last up to 30 minutes (on its lower power setting) which will give you more than enough time to tackle every corner of your car. The cordless design of this handheld vacuum is especially useful, because it allows you to get into hard-to-reach areas without depending on an extension cable.
For extra tough areas, the Dyson V7 Trigger has a MAX boosted mode which is super powerful. The battery on this mode will last up to six minutes, which is less than the battery life of most handheld vacuums. You shouldn’t expect to use the MAX power mode at all times though, so it shouldn’t be an issue. When the V7 Trigger runs out of battery, it takes three hours to charge. That’s a lot, so don’t count on it for big cleaning tasks.
5. Bissell Pet Hair Eraser: Best handheld vacuum for pet hair
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser lives up to its name and is one of the best vacuums for pet owners. It is a very affordable, simple vacuum with two attachments.
There is a pet hair attachment, which does exactly what it says, and the flathead attachment for cleaning up everything else. Like other corded vacuums, the Bissell has plenty of suction power, but it still got mixed results in our tests. It excelled in our suction test, easily picking up a box filled with 17 ounces of screws with its flathead attachment. It was the only vacuum to get a perfect score in our pet hair removal test, completely sucking up ground-in pet hair in our test carpets. The only problem with this test was some of the hair got wrapped around the pet hair attachment and made cleaning the vacuum after the test difficult.
This vacuum was less successful in our other tests. Its power and design sometimes worked against it, for instance, when vacuuming up sawdust on carpet and hard floors. The side exhaust would blow the debris around, so we had to vacuum twice. Still, its suction power helped it get rid of the debris in repeat passes. It also wasn’t a top performer in our car seat tests. The lack of a crevice tool hurt it in this test because it had a hard time negotiating the crevices on the seat. Cleaning tight spots is also a problem with this vacuum.
- Read our Bissell Pet Hair Eraser 33A1B review
6. Eureka Easy Clean: Best handheld vacuum for stairs
The Eureka Easy Clean has very strong suction. It scored higher than all other vacuums on our carpet cleaning tests.
Since portability and versatility also weigh heavily for this type of vacuum cleaner, the Easy Clean was eclipsed by some of the competition. It did struggle some to remove pet hair. It showed some weakness on car upholstery, too. The strong suction with the cleaning head didn’t seem to translate to the hose so cleaning the car seat was more of a chore. It also is heavier than most, and the cord means you are somewhat limited for portability. This will be an absolute champion if you are buying it to clean your carpeted stairwells, though, or any other job on carpets, really. It has a wider cleaning head than most we tried, and the suction was strong enough to clean different kinds of messes efficiently.
- Read our Eureka Easy Clean 71B review
How to find the right handheld vacuum for you
Since we started reviewing handheld vacuums in 2014, we have spent more than 200 hours testing and researching. First, we identified the best handheld vacuums on the market through extensive research, both online and consulting with professionals. We continued our online research, comparing product pages for specific features of all the vacuums in our lineup. In our labs we put the vacuums through their paces and tested them on different surfaces, including carpets, hard floors and car seats, to see which vacuum performed best overall and which excelled at specific tasks. Our findings are presented in our side-by-side comparison chart and our reviews.
We found some great products as we tested, but some of the final decision comes down to your specific situation and the reason you are buying a handheld vacuum cleaner.
Erin Reed, Associate Director of Marketing for Stick and Hand Vacuums at BISSELL, said the key to finding the right handheld vacuum cleaner is organizing your priorities.
"You'll want to focus your decision criteria on both the length of time you need to clean, considering the run-time and battery power, and the accessories you'll need for what you're cleaning," said Reed.
Full-sized vacuum cleaners have their place, but a handheld unit can be great for stairs, cars, furniture and other small tasks. "They're great for in-between cleans or specific tasks," said Reed.
Reed explained there have been some advancements in terms of battery technologies that make handheld vacuum cleaners last longer and recharge faster so you can get back to cleaning when you have a longer job.
How much does a handheld vacuum cost?
Handheld vacuum cleaners are designed to tackle smaller messes and usually come with a small cost -- less than $100. We tested products ranging from $30 to $175. In this category it is not necessarily worth it to invest more money. Our favorite product was almost the least expensive one. You do not need a ton of suction for most of the small messes you will be targeting with this type of vacuum – cleaning up a bit of breakfast cereal the kids spilled or freshening up car mats. Also, portability is another major factor and there are plenty of smaller units that come at a reasonable price and do a fine job of cleaning.
How we tested
The two most important components of the best handheld vacuums are performance and portability. Suction power is important, especially if you are trying to pull up stubborn dirt in crevices and corners, or pet hair that tends to stick to upholstery. Portability focuses on how easy it is to carry around a small vacuum while using it. It also looks at convenience factors, such as the battery life and how heavy the machine is.
In addition to the obvious functions of pick-up and maneuverability, we also considered design features that give some handheld vacuum cleaners a leg up on the competition. For example, some products use a HEPA filtration system that enables them to meet air quality standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and remove 99.97 percent of dust particles and keep them from blowing back into the air during vacuuming.
We performed many tests to determine how well each hand vacuum picks up a variety of common items, including cereal and wood shavings. We rubbed dog hair into carpeting and went into volunteer pet owner homes to test how well portable vacuums were able to pick up both cat and dog hair from upholstered furniture such as couches and chairs to help us determine which models had better suction.
To further test suction capabilities of small hand vacuum cleaners, we put screws in a flat-topped container and recorded how many screws each unit could hold for five seconds. Those capable of holding more weight received higher marks for suction.
As part of the portability tests we timed how long the battery lasted when fully charged. This is important if you need to tackle more than one mess or have an unusually big mess, such as dried leaves or cookie crumbs in your car, that may require some extra cleaning time.
We weighed each portable vacuum cleaner to give you a good idea how cumbersome and tiring it may become while using the vacuum. We also considered how long it takes to charge all of the battery-powered units. The ones that charge more quickly scored better.
Most of the hand vacuums we tested come with attachments for getting into folds in furniture or corners in staircases more easily. The crevice tool is long and narrow so it fits more easily around the base of car seats that are bolted to the car floor and more difficult to vacuum around. The Black & Decker Dustbuster has a crevice tool as part of the main body design rather than as a separate attachment. It also extends to give you a longer spout, adding to the maneuverability of the vacuum.
A wide-mouth tool, such as the one included with the MetroVac Vac N Go, gives you the ability to vacuum a larger area with one pass rather than having to continually repeat smaller passes to get up the same amount of mess.
Cordless vs corded handheld vacuums
While cordless models are more portable, they are also generally less powerful. One of the main reasons for buying a handheld vacuum is to get to the messes you can't easily reach with your full-size vacuum cleaner. But having less suction once you get to those messes is also a major drawback. David Stern, part-owner of Metrovac, highly recommends a corded model because of the increased suction.
"If you've got electricity your best bet is to go with one of our 110-volt units," said Stern. Indeed, the unit with the best score in our suction tests is one that plugs into the wall. It is also the heaviest model we tested, though. The extra weight and being tethered to a wall limits portability.
The best way to decide between a corded and a cordless handheld vacuum is to determine what you need more: portability or power.
How to maintain your handheld vacuum cleaner
The best advice for maintaining vacuum cleaners, even small ones, is pretty universal. That is because all vacuum cleaners have a lot of the same components. Here are some things that will keep your handheld vacuum cleaner in good condition for a long time to come:
- Empty Bag or Dustbin – When the unit gets too full it can lead to loss of suction. To be even more safe, we recommend emptying bags and dustbins when they are 3/4 full. Handheld vacuums are unlikely to have a full bin indicator light, and even when they do they are often inaccurate. Check things out yourself on a regular basis.
- Clean or Replace Filters – Whether it is the foam filters that you find in the less expensive models or the HEPA filters that you will find on the best handheld vacuums, clean them or replace them on a regular basis. You lose suction by not doing so.
- Clean Out Brushes – There are fewer brushes on a handheld vacuum than on a full-sized unit but check the ones you have and comb them out from time to time. They will spin more freely and the non-spinning ones will pick up more hair if they are clean.
How long will your handheld vacuum last?
According to Consumer Reports, the answer is generally about eight years, but that is just a median number across all vacuum cleaner types. The real answer to that question for most vacuum cleaners, including handheld units, will depend on maintenance. Every vacuum cleaner will have its own quirks, but you can definitely extend the life of your handheld vacuum with proper maintenance. Be especially vigilant about cleaning filters and emptying the dustbin or dust bag regularly.
Handheld vacuum cleaners vary quite a bit on the position and type of filters, but on most common models there is a filter in the middle of the machine. You unsnap the body from the cleaning head and the filter is right there. You can either tap it on a ledge to free debris or wash it, or both. Be sure to check your owner's manual for specific instructions. In the case of the Dyson model we reviewed, and really most Dysons, the filter looks very different. It is a cylindrical shape as opposed to the disk-shaped filters on most handheld vacuum cleaners. It still needs to be cleaned, dried and replaced on a regular basis. Some models also recommend replacing instead of washing filters. Check your manual for details.
Environmentally friendly cleaning
Any product that's made of plastic and contains a battery can have a negative impact on the environment. If you're looking for an environmentally friendly handheld vacuum cleaner, consider these factors:
- Batteries: The batteries in cordless vacuums can have a negative effect on the environment. Hoover is one company working to mitigate that problem; the company has partnered with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation to make it easier to find a battery drop-off location so that the batteries don't end up in landfills.
- Durability: Look for a product that will last a long time. A long warranty can give you some confidence about that, but also ask a local vacuum dealer and read lots of reviews. That way, you won't put a handheld vacuum in a landfill every few years.
- Repair: Handheld vacuum cleaners are pretty inexpensive, so it may seem silly to repair them. However, repairs are worth looking into if you want to make the greener choice.
- Air quality: Indoor air quality is routinely reported to be worse than outdoor air quality in some areas. Both the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America certify the products that are best for indoor air quality.
What is a good wattage for a handheld vacuum cleaner?
It is difficult to quantify suction power in a vacuum. The numbers on the box are not really any help. Wattage is good to know in terms of energy conservation because it lets you know how much electricity the vacuum cleaner will be consuming. Higher wattage does not mean more suction, though. Amps can seem like a good indicator but they really just represent the power it takes to push the voltage. More amperage can lead to higher rotations per minute but that does not necessarily lead to cleaning power on a machine that is poorly constructed. More amps also generates more heat, which can wear down a motor.
Air wattage is one number that can give you an idea at least. The air wattage (AW) is the wattage it takes to move a unit of air through the vacuum cleaner's nozzle or cleaning head. The AW can be pretty hard to find, though.
Manufacturers will sometimes list motor wattage but not air wattage. Suction claims can also give you an idea because they are generally based on air wattage. We use hands-on testing to update our vacuum cleaner comparisons regularly so check our reviews to find the products with the best cleaning power.
Cleaning for those with allergies
Handheld vacuum cleaners are generally used for quick pick-ups, so you might not feel like they warrant a ton of research. A little research can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy home, though, especially for those with asthma and allergies. Any time you are vacuuming or cleaning, you can stir up dust.
"If you don't have a quality vacuum it can actually put dust and allergens back into the air," said AAFA Director of Marketing Michele Ann Cassalia. Her organization tests machines to see which ones are the best at containing dust, and that includes handheld vacuum cleaners. The AAFA recommends just one of the handheld vacuum cleaners we tested – the Dyson Trigger. We weren't overly impressed by its suction in our testing, and the relatively high price is off-putting, but it is definitely worth a look if you have allergies or asthma. For more information, go to www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com/USA/.
Car cleaning tips
If you spend a lot of time in your car, keeping them clean takes a little bit of effort. We scoured the internet to come up with a list of the best shortcuts. These are our favorite cleaning tips:
- Dash - You can condition your dash or leather seats with olive oil or Vaseline rather than buying the expensive options in the store.
- Seats - The best solution for removing pet hair is a squeegee and a spray bottle. Just spray water on the seats (do not soak them!) and wipe the squeegee over them. The hair comes right up.
- Bumper - A little elbow grease and some good water pressure can usually get the bugs off, but there were a few creative ideas out there that might be worth a try. Both cooking spray and dryer sheets are said to dislodge the bugs.
- Vents - There were some great ideas for removing dust from vents, including those angled foam craft brushes, make-up brushes and a can of compressed air.
- General - Keep a tub of baby wipes in the car for cleaning the dash and really anywhere periodically. Test them on a small surface in your car first to make sure they don't damage it, but they are generally gentle enough for any surface.