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Whether it’s cereal on the kitchen floor, art project glitter in the den, or sawdust in the workshop, there’s always a reason for a homeowner to keep a handheld vacuum nearby. Why drag out the broom or heavy upright when you can whip out a handheld vacuum and make the whole mess vanish in seconds?
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Please see the above product matrix for the best handheld vacuum cleaner choices on today's market.
And if you need a little extra help navigating the world of handheld vacuum cleaners, please read on for more information — as well as some pearls of wisdom from our home appliances expert, Bill — about these handy products.
A child drops a bag of chips on the kitchen floor. A wife finds cracker crumbs in the sofa. A dad needs to clean out the family car for a trip. Each of these situations could benefit from a handheld vacuum.
Traditional upright vacuum cleaners are great for large carpeted areas and workshop floors, but they’re not practical for small spills and spot cleaning. It’s far more convenient to reach for a wall-mounted, handheld vacuum, many of which are rated for both wet and dry applications, during minor household emergencies.
Versatility and portability are two strong reasons why you might choose to buy a handheld vacuum cleaner.
But within the handheld vac space, you’ll find yourself faced with even more choices. Corded or cordless? Dry or wet/dry? And how much should you pay?
Both corded and cordless handheld vacuums offer distinct advantages. We encourage you to let your personal cleaning preferences and needs guide your decision.
If you’re thinking of buying a corded vacuum, make sure you have enough outlets in your home to support it, or select a vacuum with a long cord.
Typically, a cordless vacuum has a shorter lifespan than a corded one. However, the amount of care you put into your vacuum’s maintenance usually plays a big role on how long your vac lasts.
Of course, both types have their drawbacks, too. Some mid-range cordless vacs exhibit performance issues, and some plug-in models have inconveniently short cords. That’s why we’re here — to provide you with a stringent review of the best handheld vacuums out there.
A dry vacuum is great for dust bunnies, cookie crumbs, and other dry messes. But there are times when you must clean up both wet and dry materials (think of a spilled bowl of cereal). At such times, a wet/dry vacuum is your weapon of choice.
Using a dry-only handheld vacuum for a liquid spill could cause permanent damage. If you live in an environment where liquid spills are common, opt for a wet/dry vac.
Perhaps you already know that you want a cordless dry vac or a corded wet/dry model. And beyond that, perhaps you're thinking that all handheld vacuums are about the same.
Although many models share the same design, noticeable differences exist along the “Ease of Use” spectrum. We urge you to consider a vacuum's weight, accessories, and storage tank size before making a purchase.
In order to generate maximum power and performance, many cordless handheld vacuums include heavy battery packs. The trade-off for this extra power is extra weight. Fully loaded, some cordless vacuums weigh five pounds or more. This translates to hand and arm fatigue for the user.
Finding a lightweight model that doesn’t sacrifice performance is key. If you can’t find a lightweight vac for some reason, we advise you to opt for a model that feels balanced in your hands.
An entry-level vacuum might include just one directional nozzle, whereas an advanced model might include brush attachments that agitate dirt, crevice tools to help you reach tough angles, and an extension hose. The choice is yours, and as you might guess, the more you pay, the more you’re likely to get.
First-generation handheld vacuums had tiny storage tanks that needed to be emptied frequently. Today’s vacs sport larger tanks that require less attention. The trade-off for the larger tank, however, is a more complicated assembly and disassembly process.
The ideal handheld vac offers a substantial storage tank and a simple method for removing and cleaning the tank, filters, and accessories.
Most wet/dry vacuums have a 2.5-inch diameter hose. Make sure you read the product specifications and not buy a vacuum with a narrower hose as it might not be as effective a clear.
You should be able to find a basic, corded handheld vacuum in the $25 to $35 price range. A vacuum of this caliber may not include many accessories, but it should suffice for occasional dry spills. If you go the corded route, we advise you to seek the longest power cord available in order to avoid frequent changeovers to new outlets.
Admittedly, you could get a handheld “car vac” for less than $20, but we discourage our readers from purchasing these gadgets. Though cheap, in all probability, they will not have the suction power or the durability to do much good.
A decent wet/dry handheld vacuum may cost $50 or more. The cost exceeds that of a basic corded model, but owners appreciate the versatility it affords. If you want a high-end vacuum from an established brand such as Dyson, Bissell, or Black & Decker, expect to spend at least $60, if not more. These pricier vacuums typically come with an array of useful accessories and the latest motor technology.
Bill has been a hardware store owner, locksmith, and general home repair guru for over 40 years. His ability to solve problems and repair every item in every situation is a true gift. In his spare time, you may find Bill working in his garden, tending to his perfectly manicured lawn, or riding his bike.
Q: Where should I store my handheld vacuum?
A: The kitchen and dining room areas are great for wall-mounting vacuums, as they require frequent cleanups. Many of the handheld vacuum cleaners available today include wall-mounting hardware.
Q: My child just spilled a bowl of cereal on the floor. Can my handheld vacuum take care of both wet and dry spills?
A: Some models are intended for dry use only, but others can tackle both wet and dry cleaning jobs. If you’re not sure, consult your product’s documentation and usage manual first.
Q: On what types of flooring can I use a handheld vac?
A: Bill tells us that in general, handheld vacuums work best on hardwood, tile, and non-plush carpeting.
Q: I see lint on my plush carpet. Can I use a handheld vacuum for that?
A: Although handheld vacs are great for cleaning up minor spills and dirt spots, Bill advises that you save lint cleanup for your upright vacuum. The rotary feature of a heavy-duty upright can take on lint and similar items far more efficiently than a handheld.
Q: Why is my cordless vac’s performance so anemic compared to a corded model?
A: Perhaps your vacuum is an older model. Older cordless vacuums were made with less-efficient rechargeable battery systems and single motors. Today’s cordless vacs exert a lot more power. Rechargeable batteries pack a bigger punch, and manufacturers frequently boost performance by including a second motor.
Q: Can I use a handheld vacuum to clean my area rugs?
A: A high-end vac can handle carpeted stairs or a welcome mat, but it’s not meant to replace a traditional upright. Cordless models, in particular, have a limited operating time of 5 to 30 minutes. This isn’t enough time to clean an entire room.
Rather than pushing your handheld past its limits, we recommend stepping up to a more powerful cleaning tool for large carpeted areas.