On the hunt for a handheld vacuum that isn't going to completely blow your budget? The BLACK+DECKER Flex Vac is a solid, all-around vacuum at a great price, earning it the Best Buy Award. This vacuum does a great job at getting into all of those difficult to clean places and is great at cleaning up all sorts of different types of messes from around your home or car. On top of that, this handheld vacuum is great at cleaning up after your furry friends, collecting most of the pet hair in our test without any issues. However, this vacuum usually requires two hands to operate, is quite loud, and has a lackluster battery life, making it a bit more of a hassle to operate than some of the other products. Regardless, it's a great vacuum with relatively minor drawbacks, especially when you take its much more reasonable price tag into account, and we highly recommend it to those budget-conscious shoppers out there.
BLACK+DECKER Flex Vac BDH2020FL Review
Pros: Great for getting those hard-to-clean areas, good value
Cons: Lackluster battery life, two hands to operate, obnoxiously loud
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This handheld vac finished a ways behind our top pick overall, the Dyson V7 Car+Boat and just barely ahead of the BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser. The Dyson does have the edge when it comes to cleaning and convenience, but both the Flex Vac and the V7 are equally good at getting in the hardest to clean areas. Additionally, the Flex Vac is a much better value, priced much less than the Dyson. The BISSELL isn't as good as the Flex Vac at typical dusting and light messes, but it is much better with tougher messes and picking up pet hair. The BISSELL also has a much battery life, but it a bit of a pain to use to clean in the tightest of places. It also costs almost half as much as the Flex Vac, making it a better option if you are on the tightest of budgets.
In our quest to find the best handheld vacuum of them all, we compared the specs of tons of different products, then bought the best ones to test head-to-head and see which vacuum really came out on top. We grouped our tests into six different weighting metrics, with the Flex Vac's results outlined below.
Dust & Dirt
Our first testing metric deals with the kinds of messes most commonly encountered: dust and dirt. We scored each vacuum on how long it took and how well each one cleaned fine particles off a statically charged plastic photo screen and accumulated mud and dirt from a hard surface. We also ranked how well each one did at cleaning dust off a small area and in a corner. The Flex Vac did fairly well, meriting a 7 out of 10 for its performance in these tests, which constitute 20% of its overall score.
The Flex Vac tied for the runner-up position in our dusting test, cleaning the sheet of flour in about 21 seconds with its medium-stiffness bristle brush attachment.
Unfortunately, this vacuum didn't do as well with the caked on dirt and mud, taking around 20 seconds to clean it all up in our test — one of the longer times compared to the group.
However, the Flex Vac did redeem itself in our last assessments in this metric, easily cleaning the top of a baseboard and a window sill with its bristle brush attachment, even getting all the way into the corner.
Our next metric also looked at how well each of these products clean up more difficult types of messes from more difficult surfaces, like carpet or upholstery fabric. The BLACK+DECKER Flex Vac earned a 6 out of 10 in this series of tests, which also accounts for 20% of its overall score.
Our first test of this group was testing out how well each vacuum did at cleaning up flour from a section of low-pile, automotive-style carpet. We used the nozzle of the nozzle/brush combo for this test, with the Flex Vac doing about average. It left a decent amount of flour behind, but we eventually got it pretty clean with tons of passes.
For our next tests, we crushed up oats and spread them out on both an upholstered cushion and on the same car carpet. Using the same tool, the Flex Vac did a bit better on the cushion, getting the vast majority of the oats and only leaving a bit of dust behind. However, it would occasionally suck down to the fabric, flinging some oats to the side. It didn't fling any oats to the side on the carpet sample, but there were still plenty of leftover oat fragments lodged in the carpet fibers that the Flex Vac couldn't extract.
The Flex Vac finished out the last cleaning test of this metric with a strong showing, sucking up all of the mini-wheats without any clogging problems. Finally, we measured the air speed each vacuum generated with an anemometer. The BLACK+DECKER Flex Vac did above average, with the anemometer reading 1427 fpm in our testing apparatus.
Moving on, we looked at how effective each of these products is at cleaning deep with cracks, crevices, and other difficult to access areas. The Flex Vac did a phenomenal job, meriting a 9 out of 10 in this metric, which is also worth 20% of the total score.
The Flex Vac got off to a great start in our first evaluation of this metric, easily cleaning out the small gap in the track of a window. We filled it with crushed oats and the BLACK+DECKER sucked them all out without any signs of struggle using its crevice tool.
This vacuum continued its excellent performance in our crevice tests, easily reaching 36" into a 3" gap, effectively cleaning the entire way. Basically, if you can fit your hand in the gap, you can fit the Flex Vac.
The Flex Vac finished this metric with a strong showing when we cut the size of the gap down to 1.25". It was only able to reach about 7.5" when using the crevice tool, but this is the furthest any of the products we have tested could.
Unfortunately, the performance of the Flex Vac plummeted in our battery life metric, which is worth 15% of the overall score. The overall runtime of this vacuum is quite mediocre, earning it a 4 out of 10.
This vacuum only has a single cleaning mode and you can expect it to last for about 15 minutes on a full charge. It then takes about 4 hours to completely recharge, making it difficult to clean larger areas with this product.
Our convenience metric also is responsible for 15% of the overall score and encompasses how easy it is to empty the collection bin, store the various attachments, and the weight of each vacuum, as well as how loud they are. The BLACK+DECKER Flex Vac gave another relatively lackluster showing in these tests, earning a 5 out of 10.
The Flex Vac is far from the lightest handheld vacuum that we have tested, weighing in at 3 lbs. without any tools, but at least the tools are all fairly light.
It also lost some points by being one of the noisiest handheld vacuums we have tested — definitely too loud to carry on a conversation over and would certainly disturb someone else working on a computer or watching TV in the same room.
We did appreciate that it is very easy to empty the collection bin on the Flex Vac and that it is fairly good sized at 0.5 L.
The Flex Vac includes 3 tools, but doesn't really offer a convenient way to store them on the main unit, though it does have places for them on the charging base. The main vacuum does have charging dock where you can simply set the vacuum on it to recharge, which is a tiny bit more convenient than having to plug it in each time.
Our remaining metric assessed how well each vacuum did at picking up pet hair. Worth the leftover 10% of the score, we graded each vacuum by spreading out pet hair on both carpet and cushions and seeing how much each vacuum successfully collected. The Flex Vac did quite well, receiving an 8 out of 10 for its efforts.
This vacuum lacks a powered bristle brush attachment, but does have a dedicated pet hair tool with stiff rubber bristles. While we were initially a little skeptical, this tool proved its worth, with the Flex Vac collecting close to 95% of the hair from both surfaces without too much work.
This vacuum is a sold value, coupling an overall great performance with a reasonable price tag, earning it the Best Buy award.
All in all, the Flex Vac is a great handheld vacuum and we would recommend it to anyone that is shopping on a budget but doesn't want to make too many sacrifices with regards to performance. It's not the best if you are on the tightest of tight budgets, but offers the best balance of performance and a low price tag.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer