We evaluated over 100 handheld vacuums before purchasing the top 10 contenders for extensive hands-on testing. A high-performing and versatile handheld vacuum that can conquer big or small messes can be a game-changing addition to your cleaning product arsenal. So, in our quest to determine the best, we rigorously tested and scored each model on their performance attributes, such as how well they clean light dust, caked-on mud, and how effectively they cleaned 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're seeking versatile performance, our top recommendation is the Black+Decker Flex Vac BDH2020FL. This vacuum handles everyday dirt and dust with ease and can tackle bigger messes adeptly, too. 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 noisier and heavier than some competitors, and its battery life was 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 cleaned 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 team searches the market for top options before selecting and purchasing products for head-to-head testing. We take on the entire process, from unboxing to in-house and real-world testing. We design tests to push product boundaries and see where they falter. Using side-by-side comparisons, we examine how well each vacuum cleans up pet hair, dust, dirt, and caked-on mud and 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 and 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 13 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 and dirt hold 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 various 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.
Our handheld vacuum team is lead by Austin Palmer and David Wise. They are both veteran tech reviewers, having tested over 400 different products over the past few years. Austin has spent more than 500 hours evaluating vacuums of all types, from upright, top-ranked stick vacuums, 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.
In the most recent update of this review, Nick Miley and Jessica Riconscente joined the team. Jessica has cleaned her way around the world, scrubbing hostels and polishing millionaires' homes. She is the undisputed expert on vacuums, having tested every category of thebest vacuum cleaners on the market. She also has a degree in manufacturing that sharpened her keen sense of design and production quality. Nick has been writing consumer reviews for over a decade and has a background in experimental research.
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 and Dirt, Tough Messes, Hard-to-Reach Areas, Battery Life, Convenience, and Pet Hair. While testing, we score the competition; 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. 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 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 and 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 Max Pivot, Black+Decker Flex Vac, Black+Decker HHVI315JO42, Bissell AeroSlim, and Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro Plus are our favorites when it comes to dust and dirt. The Max Pivot leads the pack, though it isn't the best in corners. These units quickly and efficiently cleaned up all the flour, though the Pet Pro Plus left 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. Surprisingly, the Max Pivot struggled in this portion of the assessment.
Next, the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser had a respectable showing for its dust and dirt-sucking abilities. It doesn't have a great 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. We also measured and compared 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 cleaned.
The Black+Decker Max Pivot leads the class in this metric, but the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser is close second when it comes to cleaning tough messes. Both models smoothly handled the flour and oats on both surfaces, quickly and efficiently cleaning up everything. However, the Bissell has a smaller door to the collection bin, so larger objects, like Mini-Wheats, can jam. The Max pivot did not have this problem though it struggled somewhat at cleaning oatmeal off couch cushions.
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 performed well picking up 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, Bissell AeroSlim, and Wyze Handheld 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 4 inches when we halved the size of the gap. The AeroSlim reached 9.5 inches into larger slots and 5 inches into smaller spaces. The Wyze cleaned up with a hose extension that exceeds our testing rig's depth by almost double at more than 28 inches of reach. However, the Wyze struggles with the window slide, bringing it down some in the rankings.
The Black+Decker HHVI320JR02 and CHV1410L also performed above average in this test. 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 tested models only have a single cleaning mode, but a few have high and low power modes. We based our score on a 70/30 split between low and high power modes 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 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 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.
This test metric will likely influence your decision-making if you're looking for the best pet vacuum. We 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 the Black+Decker Flex Vac and Black+Decker Max Pivot. While neither of these models has a motorized brush, the prior has a special pet hair attachment, and the latter a stiff-bristled brush. Both tools work quite effectively, though not as proficiently as motorized attachments.
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 pets. We found the Wandvac most effective for this task by 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.
Austin Palmer, David Wise, Jessica Riconscente, and Nick Miley
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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.