Looking for a portable cleaner for small messes? The best handheld vacuum is your best option.
Handheld vacuums or hand vacs are unique in that they are portable. This separates them from uprights, canisters and sticks. As such, you can take them with you almost anywhere, even leave them in your car.
These units are great to have because they let you clean up messes immediately without the hassle of pulling out the big cleaner. Additionally, you can use them in between vacuum sessions to lessen the work then.
We’ve gone through and reviewed numerous hand vacuums to find the best products. Here they are.
Our Picks: Top Handheld Products to Choose From
- BLACK + DECKER CHV1410L – Our Top Pick
- Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX – More Power and Longer Run-time than the CHV1410L
- Dyson V8 Absolute – 2-in-1 stick/handheld vacuum
- Dyson V7 Trigger – High suction & performance
- Bissell Pet Hair Eraser 33A1
What Is a Handheld Vacuum?
Handheld vacuums are small versions of your regular vacuum cleaners. As its name suggests, it is held by hand. This makes it convenient to carry and use.
These types of vacuums are small and compact though they have grown in size over the decades. You can see an obvious size difference between the first models of the Dust Buster to the ones today. The reason for the increase in size is people want more suction power from their hand vacs.
Besides being compact, another feature of this kind of vacuum is it is lightweight. Altogether, this makes them portable.
These features make them an ideal tool for cleaning areas above ground as well as hard to reach areas. These include upholstery, cabinets, stairs, tabletops and your car’s interior.
Why & When You Need a Hand Vac?
Let’s face it, it can be a chore to pull out the big upright vacuum to clean things up. This is especially true if you don’t need to clean the entire house or space.
A handheld vacuum is a quick and convenient solution to small messes. You can use it to pick up after the kids as well as dirt on your car mats or seats.
They’re easy to store away and can be retrieved just as quickly when you need to clean something up. This isn’t always true for your main cleaner.
The good news with today’s hand vacs is they pack good suction. Do note that the difference between a good and bad hand vacuum is huge. For example, handheld models from Dyson practically offer similar suction power to average upright vacuums. Weak hand vacs on the other hand have trouble picking up paper or small pebbles.
Another reason for getting this type of vacuum is its ability to get to areas the bigger machines can’t. You can get into small creases and awkwardly shaped areas. Flat surfaces that aren’t the floor are also ideal for these devices.
Finally, many models are cordless. These make use of battery power. New models use Lithium Ion which maintains a charge longer and offers better performance. Not having to deal with the length of the cord makes it easy to use the vacuum away from home or when traveling. It also lets you go from room to room.
It’s worth noting that some stick vacuums come with detachable hand units. These are essentially 2-in-1 vacuums, where you get the stick as well as a handheld vacuum.
Best Uses of Handheld Vacuums
- Small messes & quick cleanups
- Car interior
- Tabletops, furniture, counters and shelves
- Upholstery, windows and drapes
images from: Dyson
Pros & Cons of Handheld Vacuums
Like all vacuum cleaners, these small devices have their advantages and disadvantages. Here are the main things to consider.
- Compact, lightweight, easy to handle and carry.
- Many are cordless. These do have limited run times though, typically 20 minutes per charge.
- Corded units often pack more power.
- Great for cleaning hard to reach or tight areas.
- Ideal for small messes and quick clean up jobs.
- Easy to store away.
- You can bring it anywhere even on the road.
- Work well for bare floors, low pile carpets.
- New models are versatile. They not only have good suction, but come with many tools and attachments.
- Cheaper than other types of vacuums. The cheapest ones cost under $20. Though average hand vacuums run at around $30 to $55. Higher quality ones cost $75 or more.
- Easy to maintain and clean out.
- Less suction power compared to upright and canister vacuums. Though some top-end hand vacs like those from Dyson and Shark have suction that’s close to or at par with average upright vacuums.
- Smaller dust bin capacity. This means having to dump the dirt more often for bigger jobs.
- They have smaller nozzles. These are good for getting into tight areas. But they’re a disadvantage when you’re cleaning slightly bigger areas like stair steps. Forcing you to make more passes.
- Cordless models need to be charged and have limited run times (typically up to 20 minutes).
Choosing a Handheld Vacuum: Buying Guide
We’ll divide this section into 2 parts.
- Choosing a handheld vacuum. We’ll discuss the features and things to watch out for when picking out a product. These are all product related.
- Things to consider before you get a hand vac. Other things to keep in mind when getting this device.
Choosing a Handheld Vacuum
Here are the important things to decide on with regards to the product and its features.
1. Suction Power & Performance
This is probably the most important thing to consider.
Unless you plan on using it very little. Or, only use it on limited items this can make or break your choice. The difference between a good hand vacuum and poor one is huge.
High quality handheld vacuums offer excellent suction. The best ones include the Dyson and Shark models. These are bigger and bulkier. But they pick up more than just small particles and dust.
The new Dyson handheld models for example have suction of 100 air watts or more. This puts them at par with the average upright vacuum in terms of suction. The great thing about these devices is they’re ultra-lightweight, weighing around 5 pounds.
The problem is, these cost over $100. Depending on the model they can run up to $200 or $300.
Then there are the cheap units. They cost $25 or less. These are enticing as far as price goes. But, be wary of their suction ability. These are great if all you want to use them for is pick up small amounts of dirt from your desk or tabletops. Beyond that suction gets iffy and frustrating at best.
For most homeowners, the most practical ones are those that are in between. They’ll run you anywhere from $30 to $70. Often the pricier, the more powerful the device’s suction. Around this price range, we like the Black & Decker models. They combine strong suction, good battery life and ample dirt capacity.
2. Handheld only or 2-in-1 Vacuum
Nowadays, we’re starting to see hybrid vacuums. By hybrid, we mean 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 vacuum cleaners.
These machines are essentially one kind of vacuum, for example an upright. But, they have the ability to transform into a canister or other kinds of vacuums as well.
With handhelds, you’ll see a lot of products that come with a stick design.
These offer great value for money, if you choose correctly. The problem with these machines is that many manufacturers will use a handheld vacuum and ‘upgrade’ it into a stick. This means you get a stick vacuum with the suction power of a handheld. Not good!
What you want is the opposite, going from the strong suction to the weak. This is what Dyson and Shark did. In the case of Dyson, they built their stick vacuum, then developed a handheld based on it.
With the Dyson stick vacuums, you can remove the neck and nozzle sections. This leaves you with the handheld which houses the motor. So, what you get is a stronger handheld machine because it was converted from a bigger device.
Two-in-one devices cost more than handheld vacs. But you also get two for the price of one. And, you are able to use the bigger, longer device for bigger jobs. Of course, this only makes sense if:
- You don’t already have a main vacuum, ie. upright or canister.
- A stick vacuum is suitable for cleaning your entire home. If not, then it’s beside the point.
How big is it? How heavy is it?
Because of the need and want for more suction, even handheld devices now vary significantly in size.
The one things to keep in mind when considering size of a vacuum is it dictates what’s inside the machine. This means a small vacuum will have a small motor and small dirt container.
So, if you’re looking for something compact, be ready to compromise a bit on suction and capacity.
There are still a few models that have the small and slim bodies. These include those from Dirt Devil, Bissell and Black & Decker. These small ones though often basic models that don’t come with any tools or attachments with them. Their main advantages are their small size and light weight
Most models are bigger nowadays. They come with bigger motors, large dirt bins and long nozzles. These are also wider.
Hand vacs typically weigh between 3 and 4 pounds. The lightest ones go as low as 1.5 pounds.
4. Corded or Cordless
This is one of the major decision points to consider when choosing a handheld vacuum. Here are the essentials to consider when choosing between a corded and cordless handheld vacuum cleaner.
- Cordless units give you the benefit of going anywhere. This makes it easier to get to awkward areas.
But, they do run on battery that needs to be charged. The typical run time is 15 to 20 minutes. As of 2017 the longest run time of any product is 30 minutes.
- Battery run time depends on what setting you’re using. Often, manufacturer ratings are based on the regular speed or low speeds for marketing purposes. If you run the device on high, you’ll notice a significant drop in run time.
- Lower quality models also lose suction as the battery’s power fades.
- Don’t forget, you’ll also have to wait for it to charge. Most good products will charge between 2 to 5 hours, with closer to 4 hours being good.
- Note that charging time varies significantly from brand to brand. There are also some models that offer a ‘quick charge’ feature or something similar. This lets you charge for short bursts like 15 to 30 minutes so you can use it quickly for say 5 minutes. This is great for quick clean ups and can be useful in certain situations.
- Finally, the lifespan of a cordless device is shorter than a corded one. When the battery’s charge gets depleted, you’ll need to get a new one.
- Cordless devices on the other hand often have more suction power.
- Their downside is that you’re limited by the length of the cord. This can be anywhere from 15 to 30 feet. So picking one that fits your needs is important.
A few final notes on corded and cordless units.
If you’re going cordless, we recommend getting one that’s at least 18 volts or more. You can slide down to a 16 volt hand vacuum, but that’s pushing it. A bigger voltage gives you a baseline of the minimum suction power to get things clean. If you go lower, you’ll end up being frustrated because your device won’t pick up things like powder, soil or small bits of food.
Lithium Ion Batteries
We also suggest picking out one that uses lithium ion batteries. These are the newer kind of batteries. You’ll find certain brands and models using older rechargeable batteries like NiCD and NiMH.
The NiCD and NiMH do work. But, they aren’t as efficient. They take longer to charge. And, they lose power over time. The other thing to consider is that NiCD batteries tend to lose power as the charge goes down. This means less suction when you get to halfway of its run time.
If you do choose to go with a corded unit, consider the cord’s length. This isn’t a deal breaker though since you can always use an extension cord to remedy a short cord.
5. The Vacuum’s Nozzle Shape
This may or may not be important to you. But it can make a difference depending on what you use the machine most for.
Today’s vacuums come with many sized heads. Here are some of the most popular ones.
- The long, slim nose. These look like a mini metal detector of sorts. You have the vacuum’s body and a long slim nozzle. These are great for getting into tight situations. But they’re not as efficient for coverage since you’ll need to make more passes.
- The flat, wide nose. These are the opposite of the long nose. They are also extended for reach, but the shape of the opening is rectangular instead of circular. Depending on the dirt and particles you’ll often be picking up, this may or may not be ideal. However, the wide nozzle is great for cleaning flat surfaces. It also lets you cover more space quicker.
- The traditional short nose. This doesn’t have a long, extended nozzle. As such, it can’t get to edges or tight spaces. You’ll need to do that with your body. The short nose also means you’ll need to place the head against the surface to pick up the dirt and other things.
- Pivoting head. The pivoting head is an added feature. A number of products have them. Basically, they let you turn the head in different directions. This makes it easy to get around corners and edges.
Vacuums use filters to keep dirt and debris that has been sucked into the device from going out its exhaust. The better the filter, the less particles escape.
Another important thing that filter do is prevent the internal air flow of the vacuum from clogging. By catching the particles, they prevent clogs and blockages in the air passages and exhaust of the device.
High quality handheld models come with multiple stage filtration. Some come with 3 stage filtration systems which are great. Other models are equipped with HEPA filtration as well.
To save money, you may want to consider a device that uses washable filters. This saves you money since non-washable ones need to be replaced.
With non-washable models, you’ll want to take into consideration the cost of replacing the filters.
7. Tools & Attachments
Most hand vacs today come with a set of tools and attachments. These tools are often clipped onboard the device. You can then attach them to the vacuum’s head when needed.
While they aren’t as essential with hand vacuums as they are with the bigger machines, these accessories can help.
Among the most useful tools you’ll find are:
- Pet tools
- Motorized brush
- Extension wand or extension hose.
- Crevice tools
- Upholstery and dusting tools.
8. User Ratings & Reviews
One of the biggest advantages of the internet is online stores have customer ratings and reviews. These help you decide on what products to get based on their experiences.
We’ve found that choosing products that have high ratings, like 4 out of 5 stars from Amazon.com, are a good measure of filtering out lower quality products.
9. Dust Bin Capacity
The size of the dirt container dictates how much you can clean before having to stop and discard the contents in the trash. The bigger the container, the longer you can go cleaning without interruption.
The compromise with a bigger dust bin is a bigger device.
With dust bins, you’ll want to pick one that’s see-though or transparent. This lets you easily monitor how much is in the container.
Some products offer large bins. These are around 15 ounces or so. A few go up to 20 ounces or even more.
Price is less of a concern with handheld models because they’re inexpensive. On average they cost between $30 and $40. There are a few exceptions though.
The bigger Dyson models cost around $200. Granted is stands out above the rest. Whether or not it’s worth it really depends on you and what you need it for.
Things to Consider Before You Get a Hand Vac
Here are a few final things to consider when buying a handheld vacuum cleaner.
1. Do you really need a hand vacuum or something else?
Before getting a handheld vacuum you’ll want to decide if it’s the right one for you. This kind of vacuum is ideal for small cleaning jobs. They are light and compact.
They also don’t pack as much power. This makes them less ideal for bigger cleaning efforts or if you need to pick up bigger pieces.
With handhelds, you may also want to consider 2-in-1 devices, if you don’t already have a bigger cleaner. This is more economical as you get a stick vacuum with your handheld.
If you should decide a handheld isn’t enough for the job, you can consider an upright, canister or stick vacuum.
2. What’s your typical cleaning job?
What will you be using it most often for?
If it is something that isn’t close to a wall socket, a cordless unit may be more appropriate. Jobs like cleaning car interiors, stairs, or things in your deck or porch are better off with a cordless device.
If most of your cleaning will be in the kitchen, your desk or something in the home with a wall socket nearby, then a corded vacuum is easier to use. This will eliminate the need for charging.
3. How often will you be using it?
The more often you plan on using the device, the higher quality product you need. Higher quality models come with not only stronger motors but more durable and reliable ones. This lets you keep using them without them giving way over time.
Depending on how often you use them, you’ll also want to decide between corded and cordless. A corded machine saves you the need of having to recharge the device.
Cordless units need to be charged.
If you get a cordless unit and plan to use it often, go with one that doesn’t take long to charge. Some product require 12 hours or more of charging. That’s not good.
Go with those that are able to recharge fully within 2 to 4 hours.
4. Do you own pets?
When dealing with pets, suction power is essential. You’ll need a good amount of it to get the fur balls out from certain areas and through the vacuum’s air passages.
A strong motor and good internal design also prevents them from clogging up the entire device.
Another thing to consider when cleaning after pets is a vacuum with a motorized brush or pet tools. Pet hair on upholstery and carpets are hard to remove. These accessories will help loosen and pull out the pet hair.
5. Where are you storing it?
Many cordless models are placed on their charging stations when not in use. This means they’ll need to be close to an electrical outlet.
There are some models that are just plugged in when they need to be charged. This makes storage simple and more like a corded vacuum.
With handheld vacuums, storage is less of an issue because of their small size. But it’s still worth thinking about especially if you get a cordless one.
Best Handheld Vacuum Reviews
- BLACK + DECKER CHV1410L – Our Top Pick
- Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX – More Power and Longer Run-time than the CHV1410L
- Dyson V8 Absolute – 2-in-1 stick/handheld vacuum
- Dyson V7 Trigger – High suction & performance
- Bissell Pet Hair Eraser 33A1
The Black + Decker CHV1410L is a cordless vacuum. It runs on 16 volt lithium-ion battery that’s designed to be fade-free. That means that even as the battery charge gets depleted, the vacuum sustains the same amount of power. Many other products get weaker as battery charge gets depleted.
We like that despite being compact and lightweight it doesn’t skimp on the features. You get good suction that lets you vacuum stairs, upholstery and tabletops. Of course, you can also use it for spot cleaning on floors and carpets as well.
The CHV1410L also comes with a 2 stage filter. One for the bigger dirt particles and another for the finer ones. Its cyclonic action also helps keep debris from blocking the air ways. Altogether, they help improve suction power and keep it strong even as the dirt cup gets filled.
In terms of appearance, the unit has a long, slim nozzle. This helps it get into tight areas. But, it also means the opening is smaller. This increases the number of passes you’ll be doing when you want to cover a certain area.
Overall, we like its suction ability and ease of use. It’s lightweight and portable. Plus, the suction stays consistent. Best of all it’s inexpensive.
An alternative to the Black + Decker CHV1410L above is this one. The two have a couple of major differences though. One is the shape of the nozzle. Another is their voltage.
The BDH2000PL packs a bit more power. In figures, 35 air watts to the CHV1410L’s 15.2 air watt rating. This is thanks to its 20 volt lithium ion battery. But like the CHV1410L, it’s very light at 3 pounds of less.
In looks and use, the two can be very different.
They both work well for cleaning small messes. And, they let you pick up dirt from floors and carpets. They also do well for pet hair. But, the difference in nozzle shape makes each ideal for different situations.
The BDH2000PL comes with a wide but flat nozzle. It also has the benefit of a pivoting head. The wider nozzle gives you bigger opening. This lets you cover more space when cleaning stairs and your car’s interior. The pivoting feature meanwhile, allows you to adjust it to get to awkward angles like edges or your car’s dashboard.
If you’re still counting, you also get a bit more filtration with this one, 3 stages in all. This helps with airflow and prevents clogging. The CHV1410L does have a bigger dirt cup, with a 20.6 oz. capacity compared to the BDH2000PL 15 ounces.
Overall, this handheld vac works better than the CHV1410L for picking up larger particles. It also lets you cover more area faster. It does lose out in cost as well as getting to crevices or tight spots due to the wider mouth.
The two are fairly comparable. Choosing between them will depend on your needs.
- If you want something with more power and a larger nozzle, spend a bit more for the BDH2000PL.
- If you want to save a few bucks and need something to get to tight spots the CHV1410L. It’s also the choice if you want a hand vac with a bigger dust bin capacity.
This is somewhat of a hybrid. But, it’s definitely worth mentioning because of its uniqueness.
Most will consider this a stick vacuum. Nevertheless, because you can control and move it around with just one hand, it’s technically a handheld vac as well.
Unlike the other products in this review, this one is long and slim. Essentially, it’s a 2 in 1 vacuum. A handheld stick vacuum in its full length. And a smaller handheld vac when the neck and nozzle are detached.
In either mode, you use it with one hand.
We like the Dyson V8 Absolute because of its power. It blows every other handheld out of the water when it comes to suction at 115 air watts. In fact, it is as strong as some upright vacuum cleaners.
The power gives you the ability to replace your upright vacuum. It offers high performance cleaning for bare floors, carpets, ceilings and pet hair. Plus, you can detach the neck and nozzle to use it as a portable cleaner.
Besides power, it also has an improved run time at 40 minutes. This is double that of the V6 series and most cordless stick vacuums as of this writing.
Overall, this is a great vacuum, not just comparing to handhelds. It packs excellent suction, lets you move it anywhere easily, and has good battery life. The downside is cost.
Speaking of Dyson vacuum cleaners, this is the brand’s entry into the handheld market. If you need a bit more power than the V6 Trigger offers, you can opt for the V7 Trigger.
The Dyson V6 Trigger is a version of the V6 series without the neck and nozzle. It uses the same motor and design. Just to give you perspective, the V8 series is the newer release of the V6.
While bulkier than many regular handheld vacuums, the V6 Trigger weighs about the same at 3.4 pounds. It has a run time of about 20 minutes. And, will take 3.5 hours to charge.
In terms of suction power, it’s no slouch either producing 100 air watts of suction. This is thanks to the impressive motor, high quality filters and Dyson’s leading edge cyclonic action. This gives you high end suction power that’s consistent because the air passages are kept clear by the radial cyclones and filters.
The device works great for cleaning your car, stairs and furniture. It also picks up pet hair and handles small messes on floors and carpets.
All in all, this is another great option if you don’t need the stick portion of the vacuum. It offers a lot more power than other handhelds and is just as portable. It does cost more though.
We like that it’s cheap. Yet, you get what you need from a handheld cleaner.
The unit offers good suction. It is also designed to handle pet hair. This makes it a good choice for dog or cat owners.
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser runs on a 4 amp motor. Do note that this is a corded handheld vacuum. So, you’re limited to 16 feet because of the power cord.
That said, it works well for cleaning up small jobs, stairs, furniture and inside your car. This makes it ideal for quick cleaning jobs in between your main vacuum days.
The device is fairly small at 10 inches by 8 inches by 5 inches. It weighs about 4 pounds making it easy to control with one hand.
Overall, this is a small hand vac for quick cleaning jobs. It is very cheap and reliable.
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