Ease of Use
Best Car Vacuum Cleaners
Why Use a Car Vacuum Cleaner?
The top performers in our review are the Black & Decker Auto Pivot Vac, the Gold Award winner; the Metropolitan VM6BS500, the Silver Award winner; and the Armor All Car Vac, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a unit to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 car vacuum cleaners.
The Black & Decker Auto Pivot Vac is a perfect example of a car vacuum that balances power and portability, which is key in this category of products. Units that plug into cigarette lighters have a reputation for being gutless, but we found that this one had enough suction to pick up all the different things we asked it to – dirt, breakfast cereal, crumbs and more. It has an adjustable, integrated crevice tool that gets into lots of tight spots.
Metropolitan's Stainless Hand Vac is pretty, powerful and versatile. This unit made all of our cleanup tasks look easy. It can pick up large messes and has the potential to be useful around the house too, cleaning up computers and tidying other small spaces. It plugs into a wall outlet for power, which is a drawback for portability, but in every other way it is a great unit.
The Armor All Car Vac claims the third spot on our side-by-side comparison chart. This is mostly due to its lightweight design and maneuverability. It draws power from your car’s cigarette lighter socket, so there’s no need to plug it into a wall with an extension cord. It generally cleans up messes very well but struggles picking up pet hair.
Why Use a Car Vacuum Cleaner?
Even the most committed car enthusiast can’t keep all messes away from their prized possession. Those with strict policies about eating in the car can still expect to have anything that attaches itself to shoes – dirt, leaves and worse – accumulate on their car's floor periodically. Some automobile lovers are willing to pay for professional auto detailing on a regular basis, but for the rest of us, a car vacuum cleaner is more than enough to keep our cars reasonably neat. It can also tide you over between professional cleanings.
Kids, pets and life in general can leave messes in your vehicle, and while you could clean them up with a normal household vacuum or one at the car wash, there are many advantages to owning a vacuum specifically for cars. For example, it is nice to have a vacuum in the car with you so you can clean up messes when you are on the road, especially since a road trip is when you are most likely to have some of your most epic spills.
Not every car vacuum plugs into the vehicle itself, which can impact portability on a road trip, but when you sidle up to a developed campsite, you will have access to an outlet. You also have access to an outlet in your garage, so you can clean everything before you leave on your trip and again at the end of a vacation if you choose a vacuum that does not plug into the car itself.
Cars are tricky cleaning environments that benefit from a specific tool. There are very tight spaces in a vehicle, tighter than you find in an average home. Parents and pet owners especially know that food and fur can make their way into even the most remote nooks and crannies, and only a specific type of vacuum can reach them. Our car vacuum cleaner reviews focus on units that are designed for automobiles rather than general handheld units. There is a whole class of vacuums that have extra-long cords, crevice tools, hoses and other features that make them perfect for cars and trucks.
Tips on Choosing the Best Car Vacuum Cleaner
The best auto vacuums are powerful and portable. Sometimes those two characteristics counteract each other, though. You have to consider your own situation as you determine which is the best buy when it comes to portability versus power.
Generally speaking, vacuums that plug into the wall have the most powerful suction, but they tether you to places where electricity is available. This is inconvenient, but a vac that uses this kind of power likely has the suction necessary to handle stubborn messes.
These car vacs are ultraportable, but you never know when the battery will lose power. Their suction is impressive, but it may fade over time as the battery ages, or they may have diminished suction in between charging sessions, even early on.
If you value portability the most, you want to consider units that plug into your vehicle’s 12V outlet, originally used to power the car's cigarette lighter. You can use this type of car vac anywhere you drive, though they generally have less suction than those that plug into regular outlets. Still, if you need something that can go anywhere, it may be worth it, and the best ones clean up most messes just fine. They just may not have the suction to clean up debris that is ground in the upholstery.
There are a handful of vacuums that can handle wet messes, and it’s nice to have that option, although an absorbent cloth and hot water can do almost as much for many spills. When it is fully dry, you can vacuum as normal.
Car Vacuum Cleaners: How We Tested, What We Found
We tested each vacuum in our lineup using an array of substances. We soiled car seats and mats with dirt, pet hair, garlic skins, crumbs and breakfast cereal, grinding each of them into test surfaces to see how the vacuums picked up different types of messes, whether course or fine. We recorded how well they extracted each substance from the various car surfaces. For some tests, we simply counted the number of passes it took each unit to get the carpet truly clean.
We also dropped dirt in a narrow crevice between a car's front seat and the door frame to see how maneuverable each vacuum is in tight spots. We used the attachments included with each unit to access the narrow spot, giving it every chance to clean the mess.
In addition, we considered motor power in our rankings, since more powerful motors tend to create stronger suction. We also looked at cord length, which matters if you need to clean in the back of a big SUV, as well as the weight of each vacuum. The lighter and smaller the unit, the easier it is to use for long periods of time. We considered customer service as well, especially warranties. A long-lasting vacuum is cost effective, and a good warranty ensures yours will last.
No car looks like it just came from the showroom, unless it actually did. But you can keep your car relatively pristine with the right auto vacuum. Whether you value suction power or portability most, you can find the best car vacuum cleaner for your needs to keep your vehicle looking almost as good as new for as long as you own it.
Contributing Reviewer: Danny Chadwick