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We evaluated nearly 70 handheld vacuums before purchasing the top 8 contenders for extensive hands-on testing. Having a high-performing and versatile handheld vacuum that can conquer mess, big or small, can be a game-changing addition to your cleaning product arsenal. So, in our quest to determine the best, we rigorously tested then scored each contender on various performance attributes, such as how well they clean light dust to caked-on mud and how easily they manage tight cracks and crevices. We also timed battery life, tested airflow with an anemometer, and took a noise level reading on a decibel meter. Read on to find out which handheld vacuum will last the longest after a full charge, which one is wallet-friendly, and which contenders earned an award.
Weight (with heaviest tool): 3.1 lbs | Runtime: 15 min
REASONS TO BUY
Easily reaches hard-to-access areas
Surprisingly good at picking up pet hair
REASONS TO AVOID
Mediocre battery life
Not as convenient to use
If you long for versatile performance at a reasonable price, our top recommendation is the Black+Decker Flex Vac BDH2020FL. This vacuum handles everyday dirt and dust with ease while adeptly tackling bigger messes. Unlike some other models we tested, this vacuum has all of its attachments mounted onto an integrated hose. This design makes it much easier to reach small areas; but, it sometimes requires two hands to operate, which is slightly less convenient.
We found the Flex Vac to be noisier and heavier than some competitors, and its battery life was also shorter than some. Still, this is a good choice if you're looking for a high-performing handheld vacuum with more versatility.
If you're on a tight budget, consider the Black+Decker HHVI320JR02. This handheld vacuum did a great job cleaning up large messes and surpassed expectations regarding battery life considering the lower price. It's easy to use and features a decent capacity dust bin that is lightweight and straightforward to empty. We like that all the tools are integrated into the unit, so the weight never changes, and you'll always know where everything is located.
This vacuum showed a lackluster performance at picking up pet hair, and its shorter battery life means it is best suited for smaller messes. It can also be quite noisy and struggles to get dirt out of smaller cracks and crevices. However, it still performs adequately for the price, making it a great budget buy.
Weight (with heaviest tool): 3 lbs | Runtime: 20:42 min
REASONS TO BUY
Amazing with pet hair
Great at tougher messes
REASONS TO AVOID
Not the best for cleaning confined areas
Gaps and corners are also not its forte
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser is the solution if you are searching for an easy way to pick up pet hair without emptying your wallet. While it does a good job at cleaning up your average household messes, too, it's at the top of the pack when cleaning up after furry friends.
On the downside, it sometimes falls short when trying to reach under appliances and furniture and other typical nooks and crannies to get a space sparkling clean. We also noticed that it is loud and on the heavier side for these vacuums. Ultimately, it still does a good job, and we would highly recommend it to anyone shopping for a handheld vacuum to clean up after their fur babies.
Weight (with heaviest tool): 1.3 lbs | Runtime: 15:23 min
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight and compact
Great for tight areas
REASONS TO AVOID
Struggles with pet hair
Can't handle large, tough messes
If you are searching for a tiny handheld vacuum to leave in your car, then we think the Bissell AeroSlim is a fantastic option. This vacuum does a decent job of cleaning up light dust and dirt and can reach deep into all sorts of cracks and crevices. We love how it has an integrated USB cable for recharging, making it the perfect companion to leave in your car or other vehicles to deal with periodic light messes and prolong the time between more intense cleaning with a bigger vacuum.
However, this petite device slightly struggled with some of the tougher cleaning challenges. It had a poor performance with pet hair, as it lacks a motorized brush head. The AeroSlim is a great supplemental cleaning option, retailing at a great price as well, and we highly recommend it for those in-between cleanings. If you routinely have to tackle larger or heavy-duty cleaning tasks, we recommend checking out other options in our lineup.
Our handheld vacuum team consists of Austin Palmer and David Wise. They are both veteran tech reviewers, having tested more than 400 different products over the past few years. Austin has spent more than 500 hours evaluating vacuums of all types, from upright, stick, and robot models to the handhelds in this review. In addition to professionally reviewing tech products, David lives in a house with three long-hair cats, two long-hair dogs, and shag carpet straight from the '60s, making it the perfect place to torture test these vacuums.
Our team searches the market for top options before selecting and purchasing impressive contenders for head-to-head testing. We take on the entire process from unboxing to in-house and real-world testing. Essentially, we design our tests to push their boundaries and see what they can handle. Using side-by-side comparisons, we examine how well each vacuum cleans up pet hair, dust, dirt, and caked-on mud, as well as how effectively each handheld vacuum can reach into cracks and crevices. We also took measurements of each product's weight, battery life, and noise levels and considered their ergonomics and ease of use.
Our testing of handheld vacuums is divided across six rating metrics:
Dust & Dirt (20% of overall score weighting)
Tough Messes (20% weighting)
Hard-to-Reach Areas (20% weighting)
Battery Life (15% weighting)
Convenience (15% weighting)
Pet Hair (10% weighting)
Over the years, we've purchased and tested more than 11 handheld vacuums. Our extensive testing protocol for handheld vacuums involves conducting over 20 different assessments with each product to rate their performance. Each rating metric involves further tests. For instance, dust & dirt holds 20% of a product's overall weighted total and is comprised of four sub-tests: surface dusting, brush head fit, stubborn debris, and corners. Along with our extensive background and experience with a range of vacuum types, we consulted professional house cleaners, solicited feedback from friends and family about our test plans and selections, and loaned out the products to confirm our results. At GearLab, we never accept free samples from manufacturers; we purchase all products we test.
Analysis and Test Results
After extensive market research and consideration of the multiple factors that determine a handheld vacuum, we selected our competition. To cover all angles of a vacuum's performance, we tested six metrics, including Dust & Dirt, Tough Messes, Hard-to-Reach Areas, Battery Life, Convenience, and Pet Hair. While testing, we score the competition, and these ratings make up a product's overall score.
If you want a handheld vacuum but have limited funds, the Black+Decker HHVI320JR022 is a decent option to consider. However, if you can afford to upgrade, the Black+Decker Flex Vac is quite a bit better as it couples an overall well-rounded performance with a reasonable price tag. It is pricier than many other options in our lineup, so if the flexibility of a long hose doesn't appeal to you, you can certainly pay less for a design more to your liking. If you seek a supplemental cleaning tool to augment your upright vacuum, then the Bissell AeroSlim is another good value option. This lightweight device is much lower than the average price tag, and it's ideal for those on the move or who need in-between cleaning of your vehicle or boat.
Dust & Dirt
Our initial round of assessments focused on how adept each handheld vacuum is at dusting and cleaning up grime and caked-on dirt. We also compared how effectively each product cleaned a narrow ledge — like a baseboard — and inside a tight corner. To compare dusting performance, we used a nylon light-diffusing screen, charged it up with some static, and then spread flour on it, aiming for the point where the flour stuck to the surface when the screen was tilted. To score the vacuum's performance with stuck-on messes, we let some mud dry on linoleum, then attempted to scrub it off and clean up the mess.
The Black+Decker Flex Vac, Black+Decker HHVI315JO42, Bissell AeroSlim, and Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro Plus are all some of our favorites when it comes to dust and dirt. They all quickly and efficiently cleaned up all the flour, though the Pet Pro Plus did leave a few streaks behind that merited a second pass due to its shorter and stiffer bristles.
The HHVI315JO42 and Pet Pro Plus have a slight edge over the Flex Vac and the AeroSlim at the caked-on dirt. However, the AeroSlim and Flex Vac did better cleaning in tight corners.
Next, the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser had a respectable showing for its dust and dirt-sucking abilities. It doesn't have a superb brush for dusting, but it includes an upholstery attachment without bristles and a motorized bristle brush that's overkill for dust.
The Shark Wandvac delivered poor results. This tiny handheld vacuum needed more time to complete our cleaning tasks, though it slightly redeemed itself for its adeptness at cleaning corners and small spaces.
Next, we assessed how well each handheld vacuum manages tougher messes, along with measuring and comparing each vacuum's effective airflow using an anemometer in a sealed chamber. To replicate tough messes, we spread flour and oats, plus larger particles, like Mini-Wheats cereal, on a section of car carpet and couch cushions and sent the vacuums in one at a time to see how effectively they clean.
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser is one of our all-time favorites when it comes to tough messes. This vacuum smoothly handled the flour and oats on both surfaces, quickly and efficiently cleaning up everything. It does have a smaller door to the collection bin, so larger objects, like Mini-Wheats, can jam.
The Black+Decker HHVI320JR02, Black+Decker CHV1410L, and Shark Pet Pro Plus also delivered notable performances. After multiple cleaning passes, these three left a bit more of the flour behind, but they showed excellent results with the larger oat fragments. They also have a much larger opening to the dust bin, preventing things from getting clogged as easily.
The Flex Vac and Black+Decker HHVI315JO42 deliver slightly above-average performances. The Flex sucked up the Mini-Wheats without any issue, but it did a lackluster job collecting oats and flour. The HHVI315JO42 showed a poor performance in the flour test, but it was a little better than the Flex Vac at cleaning up crushed oats. It also did a great job with the Mini-Wheats and surprisingly achieved one of the highest wind speeds in our anemometer test.
We followed up our cleaning tests by evaluating how effectively each vacuum could manage tight spaces. To do this, we used each cordless vacuum to clean out a sliding window track and measured how far they could reach into narrow gaps, such as underneath an appliance, furniture, or in between the center console and the seat of a car.
To see how well the vacuums clean under furniture, we used a shelving unit with a three-inch gap between the base shelf and the floor, then measured how far each one could effectively clean underneath. The Flex Vac vacuums as far as you can reach when using the crevice tool and hose attachment — almost three feet in our tests! Thanks to a skinny crevice attachment, it also excelled at cleaning debris out of a window track.
Next, we made the test even harder by adding a piece of cardboard that narrowed the size of the gap down to 1.25" — a gap that you might find under a kitchen appliance or between a car seat and the center console. We then repeated the test. The Flex Vac outperformed the rest again, cleaning up to 8 inches from the opening.
The Shark Wandvac and Bissell AeroSlim are also quite good at cleaning confined areas. The Wandvac could effectively clean up to 13 inches in the larger opening. However, it only made it four inches when we halved the size of the gap. The AeroSlim reached 9.5 inches into the larger slot and 5 inches into the smaller.
The Black+Decker HHVI320JR02 and CHV1410L also did well in this test, both performing above average. Both contenders skillfully cleaned a window track and nearly matched the Wandvac and the AeroSlim performance for cleaning in tight crevices.
Since these products are cordless, battery life is an important consideration. We started each vacuum with a full battery, then ran them until they died. Most of our tested models only have a single cleaning mode, but a few have high power and low power modes. We based our score on a 70/30 split between low power and high power mode for these products.
The Bissell Pet Hair Eraser clocked out after 20 minutes and 42 seconds of runtime without using the motorized brush. However, we noticed that the runtime dropped by about three minutes when using a motorized tool. Still, this is an impressive time, and other vacuums with a motorized brush accessory typically also suffer similar drops in runtime when using their tools.
The Black+Decker Flex Vac and HHVI320JR02 had shorter than average battery life, with the Flex Vac lasting for 15 minutes on the dot and the HHVI320JR02 making it an additional 24 seconds before calling it quits. The AeroSlim topped out at 15 minutes and 23 seconds, while the Pet Pro Plus lasted for just over 13.5 minutes. Oddly enough, the Pet Pro actually lasted 1:10 minutes longer when using its motorized brush tool. We ran this test twice with the same result and found this to be quite odd. But we'll take it!
We compared each model's ergonomics and weight, noise level, the size of the collection bin, and the ease of emptying it. We also evaluated whether or not a product conveniently stores its tool attachments.
The Pet Hair Eraser and Black+Decker's Flex Vac, HHVI320JR02, HHVI315JO42, and CHV1410L all featured above-average convenience. These vacuums are fairly typical when it comes to weight, tipping the scales between two and three pounds without any tools attached.
The Pet Hair Eraser is also very quiet. On the other end of the spectrum, the Black+Decker HHVI315JO42 and the CHV1410L are some of the loudest products we've tested in this category, reaching sound levels of 83 decibels on our sound meter at a distance of roughly three feet.
Only the HHVI320JR02 and the CHV1410L have integrated tools of this group, both with a flip-out brush and telescoping crevice attachment. We found this design to be highly convenient, as you'll always have the tools on hand, and you won't misplace them.
These models all have comparably sized collection bins, with the bin on the HHVI320JR02 being the easiest to empty, followed by the HHVI315JO42 and the Pet Hair Eraser.
If you're a pet owner, this test metric will likely influence your decision-making. We ranked and scored each product's mastery at picking up pet hair for our final metric. With donated pet hair from a local groomer, we scattered the hair on a couch cushion and a low-pile automotive carpet, then awarded points on how much was successfully picked up, again utilizing the most effective attachment for each vacuum.
The Pet Hair Eraser, as the name suggests, had an almost perfect performance, making it clear that a motorized brush attachment is the best solution if you want to pick up pet hair. It cleaned at least 99% of the hair from both surfaces in less than a minute.
Following close behind the Pet Hair Eraser's top-notch performance is Black+Decker Flex Vac and UltraCyclone Pet Pro Plus. While the Flex Vac doesn't have a motorized brush, it has a pet hair-specific attachment with stiff rubber bristles that works quite well, though it takes a bit longer than motorized options. The Pet Pro Plus has a similar tool attachment to the Pet Hair Eraser but left a few more stray hairs behind.
None of the remaining vacuums did very well in this testing metric, except for the Wandvac, so they're not good choices if you hope to use your new handheld vac to clean up after your furry friends. We found the Wandvac most effective for this task using its upholstery brush instead of its standard brush head.
Our detailed and intensive testing provides the information you need for a clear idea of which handheld vacuums are the best fit for your needs and budget. No matter what your small job might entail, we believe there is a handheld option in our review for you. Remember, these small vacuums are designed for cleaning small messes in between deeper cleans and should be viewed as a supplement, rather than a replacement, for your existing vacuum.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.