4 Best Handheld Vacuums (2020): Cordless, Pet Hair, Portable

Your life’s probably a mess. Unless you’ve got maid service, your place is full of dust, dirt, pet hair, and doughnut crumbs like the rest of us. Even if you employ a maid, they won’t be around when you fumble popcorn into your couch on Netflix night. And if you have a robot vacuum for routine cleanings, they can’t (yet) climb your couch or tables for dribbled cookie crumbs. A good handheld vacuum is incredibly useful.

Handheld vacuums exist along a continuum. The larger, powerful vacs work great if you have deep carpeting or routinely vacuum staircases or cars. For most of us, a smaller model is enough for the little spills that typically bring out a hand vac—one that’s easy to wield and doesn’t take up much space at home. I tested these five in an apartment with hardwood floors, a lot of dog hair (but no dog), and shallow, medium, and shaggy carpets. No, I don’t live in a thrift shop. My place is just … well equipped for this sort of test. Whichever end of the vac continuum you’re on, we’ve got a recommendation for you.

And since you’re here, check out more of our guides to in-home gear, such as the six best TVs for every budget and the best indoor air purifiers, and take a look at all the rest of our buying guides.

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  • handheld vacuum

    Photograph: Shark

    Best Overall

    Shark Wandvac

    WIRED: The Wandvac is my favorite. It wasn’t the strongest performer, but for the price, its tiny size, charging station, and surprising performance made it the best companion to an upright or robot vacuum. For a slim bullet-shaped vac, it elbows in on the power of the larger handheld vacuums I reviewed (10.8 V). Unlike the Eufy H11, the Wandvac made easy work of dislodging crumbs and little bits of paper from my carpets too. Occasionally I’d have to go back over an area to grab stubborn specks, but I was impressed. The base station docks the Wandvac and recharges it, which means it was always charged. It keeps the attachments organized and nearby as well.

    TIRED: The attachments felt kind of cheap in comparison to the other vacs tested. There’s a wide nozzle with a shallow, scratchy fabric for scrubbing, and a long narrow nozzle with a flip-out brush. The bristles are sparse and too floppy to be of much use if you need to scrub hard into a baseboard or a carpet to jar debris loose, but the slim head is good for reaching into tight spaces. It runs for 15 minutes on a full charge, about typical for a slim hand vac.

  • Photograph: Black & Decker

    Best for Pets

    Black & Decker Dustbuster AdvancedClean+ 20V

    WIRED: Black & Decker’s AdvancedClean+ is great for pet-filled homes. Its huge dust canister can gobble up a lot of fluffy fur. The filter takes up less space inside the canister than the other big vacuums I reviewed, so you won’t be running to empty it as often either. Releasing the canister flap and swapping the filter were easy. I tested the 20 V version, although it’s available in cheaper 12 V and 16 V versions. There are two power levels, the higher of which sucks the battery dry in about 24 minutes (not bad!).

    There’s a built-in retractable nozzle that slides out from the body of the vacuum for extra reach. It’s a long, slim, plastic tube with no particularly exotic features, but it’s good for necking into couch cushions and giving you extra reach for the tops of door frames.

    TIRED: It’s damn loud—louder than most blenders. With the brush-head attachment, this was the loudest vacuum I tested, though none of them were particularly quiet. I also expected a little more from the battery-powered brush-head roller attachment. It did fine on shallow carpet but chugged on medium carpet, and I had to make a few passes to pick up all the small specks of lovely NY that I track in every day.

  • Photograph: Amazon

    If You Have a Serious Need for Suction

    Dyson V7 Trigger Handheld

    WIRED: The V7 Trigger (20 V) is a seriously powerful vacuum. It’s the vacuum I grabbed to go over areas that the other hand vacs struggled with. It performed even better than the 20 V Black & Decker, with and without brush-head attachments. It lasted longer too—up to 30 minutes per charge.

    Like the Black & Decker, it’s also good for pets. The included wide, battery-powered brush roller had no problem sucking up anything in its path on the first go, even on thick, shaggy carpet. The other attachment is a narrower, flatter nozzle that can be used on its own or as a manual-scrubbing head, if you slide the retractable brush over the tip.

    TIRED: Like any Dyson, you’re paying a premium for the name. Dyson does love to make things a little more complicated than necessary too. To empty its cavernous debris canister, you have to hold the V7 over a trash can, press a release lever, and simultaneously pull the canister upward. A hatch on the bottom propels the collected dust and debris downward in a high-powered plume, the likes of which would be right at home in a Three Stooges short film or a cartoon. You’ll certainly have to re-vacuum all that dust the first time you empty it, but you won’t forget to hold it down inside the trash can the next time.

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