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How to Pick the Perfect Handheld Vacuum

How to Pick the Perfect Handheld Vacuum
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
By David Wise ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday January 11, 2022
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Are you wondering why you would ever want a handheld vacuum? As electric motors and lithium batteries become smaller and more powerful, it's time to throw out everything you thought you knew about those antiquated dust busters and give their modern counterparts a chance. We looked at tons of different products then bought all the best ones to compare head-to-head. Along the way, we compiled this guide to help explain what they are good for, where they fall flat, and how to pick the best model for your needs.

handheld vacuum - some of our tested products, past and present, ready to get busy.
Some of our tested products, past and present, ready to get busy.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Why Buy a Handheld Vacuum?

The first thing you might be wondering when you see these products is why you even need one. While handheld vacuums are good at cleaning tons of different messes around your home — or even in your boat, car, or RV — they are definitely not the best at cleaning compared to upright or stick vacuums.

While these products might not be the best for hardcore cleaning, they are certainly one of the best options when it comes to convenience. Handheld vacuums are exceptionally handy at cleaning up light to medium messes and are the perfect solution to cleaning hard-to-reach places, like under the seats in your car or on top of cabinets. A handheld vacuum is a great way to do light cleanup between less frequent, deeper cleans of your home or to tackle messes on things that a standard vacuum can't access, such as a dining room table or a kitchen countertop. However, not all handheld vacuums are created equal, with some being much heavier-duty than others.

handheld vacuum - can your vacuum pick up larger and heavier items? consider who...
Can your vacuum pick up larger and heavier items? Consider who you'll be cleaning up after and what kind of messes you want to be able to tackle.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Step 1: Corded or Cordless

The first major split for these products is whether they are corded or cordless. Corded handheld vacuums — running on either an outlet in your house or on a 12V outlet in your car — will undoubtedly have a much longer maximum runtime than a battery-powered model. Still, we find them to be significantly less convenient to use.

Handheld vacuums stand out by being extremely convenient to use — they are great at being on hand to quickly clean up a spill or mess right after it happens. It doesn't seem like a significant increase in effort, but spending the time to dig out the cord and plug it in severely cuts down the appeal of these products, and we almost always would recommend a cordless model over corded. True, they may only run for 10-20 minutes, but they aren't designed for cleaning your entire home in one go.

handheld vacuum - the integrated usb cable is very handy for recharging the compact...
The integrated USB cable is very handy for recharging the compact AeroSlim.
Credit: Laura Casner

If you prefer having a cord, we still wouldn't recommend getting a corded handheld vacuum. Instead, we would recommend getting a small corded shop vac that also includes handheld attachments. This way, you are at least getting a significant increase in suction and cleaning power to compensate for the huge loss of convenience with the restriction of a power cord.

Step 2: What Are You Going to Use It For?

First, we wouldn't even consider getting one of these products without some sort of bristle brush attachment or a crevice tool. Both of these attachments are absolutely vital, and we found we used both of them on each vacuum almost every single day that we tested these products. We would also recommend one that does fairly well in our battery life tests and has a collection bin of at least 0.5 liters in capacity.

handheld vacuum - the pet pro plus, following suit with its namesake, is great at...
The Pet Pro Plus, following suit with its namesake, is great at removing pet hair.
Credit: Laura Casner

To further narrow down your options, it's time to think about where you are actually going to use your new handheld vacuum and what you are hoping to pick up with it. If you are only looking for a quick and easy way to clean up crumbs or other light messes off of smooth surfaces, such as an office desk or countertop, then you are in luck. Almost any of these products would work very well for you, so you should save some cash and stick with a mid-range value option.

handheld vacuum - the crevice tool on the pet hair eraser is thin making it easier to...
The crevice tool on the Pet Hair Eraser is thin making it easier to get into tight spaces.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

If you are looking to dust as well, you are also going to want to make sure that the handheld vacuum you pick has a medium to long bristle attachment that is on the softer side.

handheld vacuum - the black+decker flex vac bdh2020fl is a well-rounded machine, and...
The Black+Decker Flex Vac BDH2020FL is a well-rounded machine, and we appreciate that it manages harder-to-reach areas, thanks to its attached hose that makes it easier to reach places.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

We also found that longer attachments or even a hose to be particularly useful when it came to cleaning out a car. Additionally, we would also recommend getting a model that has a longer battery life if you are looking for something to clean out your car, boat, or RV. That said, there is no beating a shop vac or even an industrial vacuum cleaner at a car wash if you really want to do a deep clean of your vehicle.

handheld vacuum - the crevice attachment on the pet pro plus works well for dust and...
The crevice attachment on the Pet Pro Plus works well for dust and dirt.
Credit: Laura Casner

Finally, if you are mainly looking at a way to pick up small messes off your floor, then we would dissuade you from getting a handheld-only vacuum. Instead, we would suggest that you consider a stick vacuum that also doubles as a handheld. It is significantly more comfortable and easier to clean your floors with a stick vacuum over a handheld, and your back will thank you in the long run.

handheld vacuum - depending on your cleaning needs, a good stick vacuum may be a great...
Depending on your cleaning needs, a good stick vacuum may be a great fit.
Credit: Laura Casner

Step 3: Have Any Furry Friends at Home?

Finally, you might be wondering which handheld vacuum will serve you the best if you have dogs or cats running around your home. If that is the case, you will definitely want a model with a rotating bristle brush attachment. None of the other attachments even come close in effectiveness at loosening pet hair from carpet or couch cushions.

handheld vacuum - the motorized brush head on the pet hair eraser is great for...
The motorized brush head on the Pet Hair Eraser is great for cleaning, but it can drain your battery faster than stationary attachments.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman


Hopefully, this guide has helped you figure out what to look for in a new handheld vacuum and narrowed down your options. Check out our How We Test article for a more thorough explanation of how we ranked and scored these products or head on over to our complete Handheld Vacuum Review to see which products we think are the best of the best.

handheld vacuum - happy cleaning!
Happy cleaning!
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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