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As you prepare to head back to college, these portable vacuums are best for compact spaces

A vacuum doesn’t have to be large and bulky to be an effective cleaning machine

Whether you’ll be living in a dorm or apartment when the fall college semester begins, chances are you’ll have limited space. When it comes to keeping it neat and clean, you may wonder where you’ll store a vacuum when it’s not being used. The good news is that portable models are available that are powerful enough to whisk away dirt yet small enough to stash in a corner or closet. 

In addition to a space-saving design, the best portable vacuums have features such as onboard cleaning tools and powerful suction that make quick cleanups a breeze. Affordability is also important for college students on a budget.

Features to look for in a portable vacuum

Vacuum size is undoubtedly an important feature for dorm and apartment dwellers. However, vacuum cleaners that lack important features may not do a thorough job of keeping your place clean.

Powerful suction: Even in compact spaces, a vacuum must offer reliable suction. You’ll want something that grabs dirt with minimal effort.

Onboard tools: Brushes, hoses and crevice tools come in handy for cleaning tight areas, stairs and overhead spaces.

Removable dirt cup: Some well-performing vacuums still require bags, but they aren’t the most convenient models for college students. That’s because replacing the bags can be tedious, plus there is the continued cost of new bags. Today, most trusted brands offer vacuums across all categories that have removable dirt cups. These are economical and easy to empty and put back in place for the next use. 

Rechargeable battery: Also called cordless vacuums, models that are powered by rechargeable batteries offer the convenience of cord-free operation. 

Retractable cord: When a vacuum does have a cord, an auto-rewind function that stores it onboard saves space and hassles. 

Easy maneuverability: Swivel steering, a lightweight build and angled tops make vacuums effective at their job. Maneuverability is also important in small rooms when cleaning around and under objects such as beds and desks. 

Types of portable vacuums

Upright vacuums 

Upright vacuums offer reliable suction but can be bulky. However, some brands make models with slim designs that can be easily stored in tight spaces. 

Stick vacuums 

With a thin and compact build, stick vacuums are ideal for dorm and apartment living. Cordless models are pricier than their corded counterparts but provide better suction. 

Robotic vacuums 

Vacuuming robots don’t take up much space. While they need room to mark their boundaries, some work well in small rooms. Although they used to be expensive, there are robotic vacuums available today for most budgets. 

Canister vacuums

In the past, canister vacuums were on the large side and required bags. Modern canister models aren’t bulky, and some with removable dirt cups are available. Budget-friendly options are also available. 

Handheld vacuums

Handheld vacuums are compact and affordable. They are best for spot cleaning but aren’t ideal for vacuuming entire rooms. 

Best portable vacuums

Best portable upright vacuums

Shark Navigator Light Upright Vacuum

The slim structure of this Shark upright vacuum makes it a good choice for any college student who prefers an upright but has minimal storage space. This Shark vacuum delivers the impressive suction power that the brand is known for, and has useful onboard tools for hard-to-reach areas. 

Sold by Amazon and Macy’s 

Eureka Airspeed Ultra Lightweight Compact Upright Vacuum

In addition to a trim design, this Eureka vacuum weighs just under eight pounds which makes it easy to maneuver. Other features of convenience include a dust brush, crevice tool and large dirt cup. The low price is also appealing to budget-conscious college students

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Best stick vacuums

Samsung Jet 75 Cordless Stick Vacuum

Versatile attachments, an ultra-compact build, impressive suction and long battery life per charge make this cordless stick vacuum a top-selling option. Although it’s one of the priciest options we considered, it’s a solid investment that can easily go from your dorm to your first place after college. 

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Eureka RapidClean Pro Lightweight Cordless Stick Vacuum

This cordless stick vac is powerful and super easy to maneuver. It gets up to 40 minutes of use with each charge and takes up minimal storage space. What’s more, it’s available at one of the lowest prices for vacuums in the cordless stick class, making it a sound choice for anyone who’s college-bound. 

Sold by Amazon 

Bissell Featherweight Stick Vacuum

When it comes to quick, simple cleanups in small spaces, this classic Bissell vacuum will do. The Bissell stick vacuum lives up to its name by being lightweight and easy to move. This versatile bagless model also doubles as a handheld thanks to the unit that detaches from the base. 

Sold by Amazon and Kohl’s  

Best robotic vacuums for small spaces

Eufy by Anker RoboVac 15C

An affordable robotic model, this Eufy vacuum doesn’t make a lot of noise as it does the cleaning for you. It’s slim and capable of cleaning tight spaces. Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to pair it with your phone for effortless control. 

Sold by Amazon

Enther Robot Vacuum

It’s easy to operate this robotic vacuum that boasts six cleaning modes for numerous cleanup tasks. Once charged, it gets up to 120 minutes of runtime. Students will appreciate the low price that makes it easy to own a robotic option. 

Sold by Amazon

Best compact canister vacuums

Eureka Whirlwind Canister Vacuum

Lightweight, affordable and highly portable, the Whirlwind is a canister vac that’s ideal for dorm life. It’s bagless and cleans carpet and hard flooring in a snap. We love the automatic cord rewind that keeps the cord out of the way between uses. 

Sold by Amazon 

Bissell Zing Canister Vacuum

This is another compact bagless canister vacuum that suits the college lifestyle. A spacious dirt cup, retractable cord and reliable suction are some of its selling points. It’s also available at a price that won’t break a limited budget. 

Sold by Amazon and Kohl’s

Best handheld vacuums 

Black and Decker 20-Volt Max Flex Handheld Vacuum

This Black and Decker handheld vacuum is ideal for small places, as it’s powerful yet compact and simple to store. Although it’s a handheld model, it comes with a hose that increases its reach. It’s powered by a rechargeable battery so there’s no cord to get in the way. The low price is another appealing highlight. 

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Dirt Devil Flipout Hand Vacuum

Eliminating minor messes is a straightforward job with a Dirt Devil handheld vacuum. This little powerhouse has decent suction and an easy-to-empty dirt cup. It's powered by a rechargeable battery that gets as long as 13 hours of runtime when fully charged. 

Sold by Amazon 

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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