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How We Tested Handheld Vacuums

Wednesday February 6, 2019

How do we test handheld vacuum? First, we did tons and tons of research, combing through existing reviews, user experiences, and manufacturer's marketing claims to find the portable products that showed the most potential, then bought them all to test head-to-head. We evaluated and scored each product on it cleaning performance, looking at everything from easy to clean messes, like dust and dirt, to much harder ones, like pet hair or flour. Additionally, we also compared how easy each one is to use, looking at how well it can clean in difficult areas, how convenient it is to operate, and its battery life. We divided up all of our tests into six weighted rating metrics, with our full testing plans and procedures discussed below. However, you can also check out our comprehensive Handheld Vacuum Review if you want to skip right to finding out which products we think are the absolute best you can buy.

Dust & Dirt


For our first set of tests, we compared and scored how well each vacuum did at cleaning up some of the most commonly encountered messes around your home, as well as how well brush fit into corners and cracks. We used the bristle brush for each of these tests, or the upholstery attachment if the vacuum didn't have a bristle brush, but did not use any motorized attachments. Altogether, these four tests account for 20% of the final score for each product.

Starting off, we looked at how each cordless handheld vacuum did at dusting. However, we did want to make a consistent test for each vacuum, so we substituted sifted flour for dust, as this allowed us to easily control the amount of mess each vacuum was expected to clean up. We took a nylon photoscreen, statically charged it by rubbing a pair of wool socks over it, then sprinkled sifted flour over it. We shook off the excess, then timed each vacuum on how long it took to clean it satisfactorily, then scored them on that.


We moved on to assessing how well the brush for each vacuum cleans along small ledges and in corners. We spread out some coffee grounds on the top of a sections of baseboard and on a windowsill, then rated how well the bristles fit into the spaces and freed the debris to be vacuumed away. Additionally, we also awarded point based on how well each one cleaned in the corners of the windowsill.

The 'JR02 does a fairly good job at cleaning cramped areas.
The 'JR02 does a fairly good job at cleaning cramped areas.

Finally, we tried out each vacuum with a mess that was a bit harder to clean up: dirt and mud. We made a mixture of dirt and mud, then spread it out across a section of linoleum floor and let it dry. After sufficient time had passed, we tried cleaning an area with each vacuum and ranked them on how long it took to clean. Most of these vacuums aren't rated for wet/dry operation, so make sure you check the manufacturer's instructions before cleaning up anything wet, or risk damaging your handheld vacuum.

Tough Messes


For our second metric, responsible for 20% of the total score, we continued to escalate the difficulty of our cleaning challenges, testing out how well each vacuum did at cleaning up flour and crushed up oats from different surfaces, as well as how effectively each handheld vacuum can pick up larger particles. We also measured the amount of air each product can move using a sealed chamber and an anemometer. For these tests, we picked the attachment that was the most appropriate for the task — whichever one was the perfect balance between cleaning performance and convenience.

We spread out a tablespoon of flour on a section of replacement car carpet, then scored each vacuum on how much it picked up after a single pass and how much it picked up after multiple passes (8).

The BISSELL removed flour much faster than the Dyson  but in the end  they were about the same after 8 passes.
The BISSELL removed flour much faster than the Dyson, but in the end, they were about the same after 8 passes.

In our oatmeal test, we mixed up our testing procedure a bit. We spread out two tablespoons of oats on a couch cushion, then allowed each vacuum 20 seconds to clean it and scored them on how well it did. We took the amount collected, the amount remaining, and the amount flung aside into account when scoring these products. We then repeated this test on the car carpet, averaging the results.


Next, we attempted to suck up a handful of mini-wheats with each vacuum, noting if they could actually suck up any mini-wheats and if they could make it past the gate into the collection bin.


Finally, we measured the airflow caused by each vacuum using an anemometer mounted in a sealed chamber. We sealed one end of the chamber around each handheld vacuum, then recorded the airspeed on the anemometer and based scores off of that.

The hose attachment on the Dyson lets you clean even the hardest to reach places.
The hose attachment on the Dyson lets you clean even the hardest to reach places.

Hard-to-Reach Areas


Next, we considered how easy it is to clean cramped areas with each handheld vacuum, which also accounts for 20% of the final score. We tested out how well each vacuum cleaned in small cracks and how far under furniture it could easily reach.

Our first test focused on cleaning out the tracks for a sliding window. We sprinkled a bit of oatmeal in each one, then scored product on how much it effectively sucked up.

The integrated hose on the Flex Vac requires two-handed operation  but you can reach almost anywhere in your home with it.
The integrated hose on the Flex Vac requires two-handed operation, but you can reach almost anywhere in your home with it.

For our next test, we scored each product on how far under a nightstand or similar piece of furniture it could clean. We used a shelving rack with a 3" gap at the bottom, then attempted to clean as far as possible underneath.

Even with the crevice attachment  the Pet Hair Eraser didn't have a great reach.
Even with the crevice attachment, the Pet Hair Eraser didn't have a great reach.

Our last test for this metric built upon the previous and assesses how well these handheld vacuums do at cleaning under an appliance, like a fridge or oven. We reduced the gap from the last test to 1.25" high, then repeated the same procedure, again scoring each vacuum on its maximum reach.

Battery Life


All of the products in this review are cordless, so it only made sense to compare and score the battery life of each model. We looked at how long each vacuum lasted to determine scores. Most of these products only have a single cleaning mode, but a few of them have a low and high power mode. For those products, we calculated total runtime based on 70% usage on the low power model and 30% usage on the higher power mode, as this seemed fairly representative of typical use, based on our testing experience. This test accounts for 15% of the final score for each handheld vacuum.

Convenience


Also worth 15% of the total score, our next metric focused on how easy and convenient to use each of these products are. In particular, we focused on how much each vacuum weighed and how it felt to hold, its bin capacity and ease of emptying, and if it had a convenient option for tool storage, as well as how noisy each one is.

We weighed the base of each vacuum without a tool and with the heaviest tool attached as the main component of our weight score. However, we also took into account how balanced each vacuum felt to hold with normal use.


To compare the ease of emptying the bin, we scored each product on the mechanism that opens the bin and on how easily the dirt and debris comes out of it — whether it always falls out on its own or if it need assistance to be emptied. We also awarded points based on the size of the collection bin.

The V7 is also one of the easiest handheld vacs to empty.
The V7 is also one of the easiest handheld vacs to empty.

Finally, we compared the ease of storing and swapping all of the different attachments that each of these products come with. We gave the most points for integrated tools and the least for vacuums that required another whole box to store all the different attachments.

The pet hair tool on the Flex Vac was surprisingly effective at cleaning up pet hair  even though it isn't motorized.
The pet hair tool on the Flex Vac was surprisingly effective at cleaning up pet hair, even though it isn't motorized.

Pet Hair


For the last 10% of the total score, we compared how well each vacuum performed at picking up pet hair. We spread out some pet hair from a local groomer on the car carpet and on a couch cushion, then rated how well each vacuum cleaned both of these when using the most appropriate attachment.

Conclusion


Hopefully, this article has made it clear exactly what we did to compare these products and why you should put your faith in use when picking a new handheld vacuum. For our analysis of how different products perform, head on over to our comprehensive Handheld Vacuum review to see which is truly the best bang for the buck or best of the best. Alternatively, check out our Buying Advice guide for more information on how to actually use these products and why you might want one.