Best Handheld Vacuums

Updated November 2021
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Bottom Line

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.


Buying guide for best handheld vacuums

A jar of glitter that topples during craft time doesn't require dragging out the shop-vac to tidy up. You need a quick and efficient solution like a handheld vacuum, something powerful, but also light and convenient that will clean up the mess in seconds, not minutes.

When considering a handheld vacuum, remember that the key is ease of use. You'll want something that is lightweight, easy to store, has a variety of attachments or accessories, and is powerful enough to do the work you need it to do. A wet/dry vacuum is the most versatile and a cordless model offers the most mobility because it doesn't need to be plugged in to clean.

If you'd like to learn more about specific features, techniques, and tips for using a handheld vacuum, continue reading this article. If you're ready to buy, we've picked a number of reliable models that will make you happy. Just choose one from our short list and you'll be ready to go.

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Regularly vacuuming your home or car interior improves the quality of the indoor air. Vacuuming dust-prone areas, such as carpets and sofas, will keep your home or vehicle dirt and allergen-free.

Who benefits by handheld vacuum cleaners?

A child spills a bag of chips on the kitchen floor. There's cracker crumbs in the sofa. The family car needs to be cleaned before a big 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?

Corded or cordless

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.

Advantages of a corded vacuum

  • Corded vacuums usually have strong suction as they are powered directly from the wall outlet.
  • They are more powerful than typical cordless models.
  • They are great for tedious projects such as dusting and baseboard cleaning, which need more maneuverability than massive power.
  • The cordless vacuums of yesterday usually sported single motors with weak suction and anemic rechargeable batteries. Today’s models are much improved.

Advantages of a cordless vacuum

  • Portable and convenient, they are useful for quick chores.
  • Great for cars, RVs, boats, etc.
  • Modern battery packs are typically quite powerful.
  • Some high-end models provide 30 to 40 minutes of continuous power.

Wet/dry vacuum characteristics

  • Versatile as they can work on both dry dirt and wet spills.
  • May not have as much suction power as its “dry” competitors.
  • You may need to empty storage bin promptly after each use to avoid maintenance issues.
  • For all their features, wet/dry vacs can be pricey.
"Some vacuums come with plastic dirt containers instead of bags. Some are lightweight but have low capacity. It’s important to find a vacuum that works for you."

Dry vs wet/dry

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.

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.

Dry vacuum characteristics

  • Great for occasional dry dirt and spot cleaning.
  • May cost less than the wet/dry alternatives.
  • They tend to be less noisy than their wet/dry counterparts.
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Did you know?
Typically, a cordless vacuum has a shorter lifespan than a corded one. However, the amount of care you put into your vacuum’s maintenance plays a big role on how long it lasts.

Factors affecting ease of use

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.

Storage tank size

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.

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Did you know?
Most wet/dry vacuums have a 2.5-inch diameter hose. Make sure you read the product specifications so you don't buy a vacuum with a narrower hose as it might not be as effective.

How much should you pay?

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.

The cost of a vacuum cleaner increases with the number of accessories it comes with. Ensure you only buy what you actually need.

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Vacuum cleaners come in various shapes, sizes, features, and functionalities. Depending on the type you have, they can clean up anything from a wet kitchen spill to gravel.


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. 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, 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.

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