When your regular vacuum doesn’t get the job done, it’s time to enlist the help of a reliable handheld vacuum.
Handheld vacuums capture tiny debris particles from furniture, baseboards, and carpeted corners. You can also use a handheld vac in your automobile.
Not sure which handheld vacuum deserves a spot in your appliance collection, or are you simply struggling to figure out what to do with the vacuum you already own? We’ve got detailed info on everything from vacuum features to maintenance, so browse our extensive Q&A below!
What is a handheld vacuum?
A handheld vacuum is a small vacuum that’s ideal for cleaning furniture, automobiles, and compact spaces. As the name implies, you hold it in your hand as you clean. Some handheld vacuums are battery powered, while others are corded.
How is a handheld vacuum different than a regular vacuum?
A handheld vacuum typically weighs less than a regular vacuum. You hold a handheld vacuum in your hand and maneuver it around small areas rather than gripping a long handle and pushing the appliance around the room.
Unlike traditional vacuums, many handheld vacuums have cord-free capabilities. That’s because they’re powered by disposable batters or a rechargeable power supply.
Regular vacuums are usually much bigger than handheld vacuums, and they can grab more debris at one time. This makes them ideal for large spaces, such as carpeted living rooms or vacuum-safe area rugs. Handheld vacuums are best for hard-to-reach spots that you can’t get with a regular vacuum, such as chair cushions or the corners of carpeted stairs.
Why would somebody buy a handheld vacuum?
Lugging around a large, heavy vacuum can cause neck and back pain, so some people prefer a handheld vacuum. People also buy handheld vacuums so they can easily clean areas that are difficult to access with a regular vacuum, including:
- Automobile interiors
- Couch cushions
- Chair cushions
- Carpeted stairs
- Vacuum-safe bathroom rugs and toilet seat covers
- Areas behind and under furniture
- The gap between your oven and the kitchen floor
These aren’t the only areas you can clean with a handheld vacuum, of course. Handheld vacuums may also be useful at schools and businesses as well.
Do I need a handheld vacuum and a regular vacuum?
Possibly. Does your regular vacuum come with attachments? If not, it can be difficult to reach all of the dirt and debris in your home.
Also, it’s super tricky to vacuum your vehicle with a regular vacuum (although one Faveable writer confesses she attempted it before a road trip). A handheld vacuum is ideal for capturing crumbs from all the snacks you swore you’d never let your kids eat in the van.
If you’re a self-described neat freak, we recommend investing in a traditional vacuum and a handheld vacuum. That pet dander on your sofa and the crumbs under your kitchen stove aren’t just going to disappear on their own.
Can you use a handheld vacuum on wet or dry messes?
Both, if you buy a wet/dry vac. The BLACK+DECKER 1-Cup Cordless Wet/Dry Hand Vacuum and the Dirt Devil Extreme Power Wet/Dry Bagless Cordless Hand Vac are suitable for wet and dry messes.
Avoid using a dry vac on spills, as liquid can clog the filter or cause the interior to mold. It’s also a safety hazard; would you toss a hair dryer in the tub? It’s important to exercise caution with a vacuum that isn’t specifically designed for wet messes.
Can you use a handheld vacuum on hardwood floors?
Yes, unless the instructions for your flooring or vacuum state otherwise. Be careful, though - some hardwood floors scratch and dent easily. Also, if you’ve got film on your hardwood floors from mopping or polishing them, the film may clog your handheld vacuum’s filter.
We suggest using a soft-bristled broom or sweeper on your hardwood floors. After you get your floors fairly clean, you can grab any remaining debris with a handheld vac.
Do handheld vacuums have a cord?
Some handheld vacuums, like model 71B of the Eureka EasyClean Corded Hand-Held Vacuum, have a cord. A cord gives you a steady stream of power for as long as you need it, but it can get in the way while you’re cleaning.
Some handheld vacs have detachable cords. The cords are used for charging the power supply, but you don’t need to keep the vacuum plugged in while you clean.
There are also battery powered vacuums that never require a cord.
Choosing the Right Handheld Vacuum
What features should I look for in a handheld vacuum?
We all have different needs and expectations from appliances, so what’s important to someone else might not matter to you. With that being said, here are some common features that handheld vacuum buyers appreciate:
- Clear container - so you know when to empty it
- Motorized brush - removes tough debris without extra effort on your part
- Bagless waste compartment - eliminates the need to replace the waste area
- Quiet operation - lets you clean without waking the neighborhood
- Cordless design - perfect for automobiles and areas that aren’t near an electrical outlet
- Three-stage filtration system - keeps debris in your vacuum rather than sending it back into your home
If you’ve got allergies, you may also want to look for a handheld vacuum with a HEPA filter. It helps capture microscopic allergens, which may improve symptoms related to allergies or asthma.
The voltage rating is another factor to consider when you buy a handheld vac. A high voltage rating often leads to a better performance, so look for a motor that has at least 20 volts if your budget allows it.
Is it better to get a handheld vacuum with a bag or without a bag?
Some people feel bagged vacuums are outdated, but there are several benefits to using a handheld vac with a bag:
- No need to clean a filter after each use - it’s usually built into the bag
- Better for people with allergies because less debris escapes
- HEPA filtration system (to be fair, many bagless vacs also have this)
However, you have to replace the bag regularly, and that can get expensive if you have pets or messy family members. Also, your handheld vacuum may not work as well when the bag is almost full.
Many ecofriendly folks prefer bagless vacs because you’re not creating extra waste by tossing out bags. Also, you can empty your vacuum before it gets full, which helps keep your device running smoothly.
What is the best handheld vacuum for pet hair?
Pet hair can be difficult to remove, especially if you’ve got multiple furry friends in your home. Our experts recommend the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Handheld Vacuum if you’ve got cats, dogs, or other cuddly creatures. It’s around $30, which is a steal for this powerful device. It even removes pet hair from fabric!
If you’ve got a larger budget, consider the BLACK+DECKER BDH2020FLFH Flex Vacuum. It costs around $100 with tax and boasts a 20-volt motor that runs for up to 40 minutes without being recharged.
Oh, and consider using a lint roller no matter which vacuum you buy. Run it over your furniture before you vacuum to loosen hair, or use it after you vacuum to grab the hair you missed.
What is the best handheld vacuum for a car?
Our experts believe the Dirt Devil Scorpion Quick Flip Corded Bagless Handheld Vacuum SD20005RED is the best handheld vacuum for a car. It’s lightweight and easy to maneuver under seats and between cushions, and it can handle everything from stray French fries to gritty gravel.
What is the best handheld vacuum for someone with allergies?
If you’ve got allergies, look for a handheld vacuum with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter traps microscopic allergens, including ones that traditional filters may miss.
You may also want to consider a handheld vacuum with a bag rather than a bagless model. When you empty a bagless model, the allergens may float back into the air. A bagged vacuum traps the allergens inside rather than sending them on a journey throughout your home.
In general, what’s the best handheld vacuum?
We highly recommend the Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX Lithium Pivot Vacuum. For starters, it’s got a 20-volt motor (remember, we talked about why that matters in the question titled “What features should I look for in a handheld vacuum?”).
Here are some other reasons why we love the Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX Lithium Pivot Vacuum:
- Long-lasting lithium battery
- Pivoting head eliminates the need for attachments
- Built-in brush and crevice tool
- Compact design folds easily for storage
- Consistent, dependable performance
Not quite what you need? Here are 5 of our other favorite handheld vacuums:
- Dirt Devil Scorpion Quick Flip Corded Bagless Handheld Vacuum (model SD20005RED)
- Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Handheld Vacuum
- Dyson V6 Cord-Free Vacuum
- BLACK+DECKER BDH2020FLFH MAX Lithium Flex Vacuum
- Eureka EasyClean Vacuum 71B
Operating a Handheld Vacuum
How do I turn on my handheld vacuum?
Depends on which brand and model you have. There should be a switch or button somewhere on your vacuum. Start by flipping that up or down or pressing it gently. If nothing happens, you may need to plug in your vacuum, replace the batteries, or charge the power supply.
How do I charge my handheld vacuum?
Follow the instructions that came with your handheld vacuum. If you don’t have those, flip over your vacuum and see if there are any instructions on the bottom. You can also examine the power supply box if you’ve got one.
In general, you charge a handheld vacuum by connecting it to an electrical outlet. Some vacuums require you to remove the power supply (which is usually a black box) and place it in a separate charging compartment.
Can I use my handheld vacuum while it’s charging?
We don’t recommend it unless the manufacturer’s instructions say it’s okay. Using a vacuum while it’s charging is a potential safety hazard.
Even if the manufacturer says you can safely use it while it’s charging, you won’t get the same performance as you will from a fully charged device. It’s best to let your vacuum completely charge or buy an extra battery dock so you never have to wait.
How do I clean with a handheld vacuum?
Start by making sure your handheld vac is fully charged or plugged into a compatible electrical outlet. Once the device is ready to go, gently move it back and forth (up and down, not side to side) across the area you want to clean. Repeat this process until you’ve captured all of the debris.
If you have trouble grabbing some of the dirt, you may need to empty your container, replace the vacuum’s filter, or try a different vacuum. Some handheld vacuums can’t pick up large, heavy debris (like rocks).
Do I need attachments for my handheld vacuum?
Not if you’ve got a device with a pivoting head and built-in tools like the Black+Decker BDH2000PL MAX Lithium Pivot Vacuum (our favorite!). If not, then yes, you may need some attachments to get your home, office, or vehicle clean.
Attachments help you loosen caked-on dirt and grab debris from tight spaces. If you’re cleaning a light mess and have plenty of room to maneuver your handheld vac, you probably don’t need attachments.
Cleaning/Maintaining Your Handheld Vacuum
Do I need to clean my handheld vacuum?
You don’t need to do much to the interior, but it’s a good idea to wipe down the exterior regularly. You can remove dirt from a vacuum’s exterior with an all-purpose spray or a cleaning wipe.
You can also use a cleaning wipe inside of the vacuum if you want to wipe out the waste compartment. Let the compartment dry before you use the vacuum again.
Traditional vacuums require you to clean the brush roll regularly, but your handheld vacuum may not have a brush roll. If it does, use a small pair of scissors to cut loose threads and hair out of the rollers.
Your vacuum might have a small filter that requires a gentle wash a few times a month. Review the instructions for your handheld vacuum to determine whether you’re supposed to clean or replace the filter.
Oh, and make sure you unplug your handheld vacuum and/or power it off before you perform any of the cleaning tips above. We don’t want anyone getting hurt!
What should I do with the debris inside of my handheld vacuum?
Throw it away! If you’ve got allergies, empty the dust in a separate bag and place it in your trash can. Yes, this creates more waste, but it also keeps allergens from emerging each time you open your trash can.
We’ve heard that some people bury vacuum waste outside. Depending on where you live, this could be an acceptable option.
When should I replace the filter in my handheld vacuum?
It depends on the type of filter you have. Are you able to clean your filter regularly, or does the manufacturer recommend replacing it after a set period of time?
If you gently clean your filter with soap and water, it may last for months - or even years. If you have a disposable filter, you sould replace it whenever you feel the performance of your vacuum isn’t as good as it once was. You’ll notice plenty of debris left on your carpet or furniture, which is a sign that your vacuum has less suction than it originally did.
It’s also time to replace your filter if it’s damaged or has excessive wear. A filter doesn’t work properly if it’s not in good condition.
Authentic HEPA filters generally have a recommended replacement date imprinted on them. You can also review the instructions from your manufacturer (for either the vacuum or the filter) for info on when it’s time to get a new filter.
When should I replace the bag in my handheld vacuum?
In general, you should replace a vacuum bag when it’s 2/3 full. Don’t wait until your bag is stuffed full of waste to remove it from your handheld vacuum!
If you wait too long to replace the bag in your handheld vac, it may burst. This can damage the interior of your vacuum and release dust and debris into your home.
An overly full bag can also impact the performance of your vacuum because it affects air circulation. In other words, your vacuum won’t have powerful suction.
How long does it take to recharge my handheld vacuum?
Depends on the model. Many have a light that lets you know when your vacuum is done charging.
We’ve seen handheld vacuums that charge in 15 or 30 minutes, as well as models that take an hour or two. Review the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you’re charging your handheld vac for enough time.
Also, make sure you fully charge your battery before your first use. Some manufacturers recommend charging the power supply overnight or for a full 24 hours before you use the vacuum.
Should I recharge my handheld vacuum after every use?
You can recharge your handheld vacuum after every use unless the manufacturer has a different recommendation. Some companies suggest waiting until your battery completely dies rather than recharging it whenever it gets a bit low. This is because constantly charging a battery that isn’t dead can affect its ability to hold a full charge.
Why do I sneeze so much when I use my handheld vacuum?
Well, take a look at all the gunk you’re sucking up into your vacuum. You’re breathing some of that in, either as you vacuum or when you go to empty the waste compartment.
Also, you may be close to the ground while you vacuum, making it easy for you to breathe in pet dander, dust mites, and other icky allergens embedded in your carpet.
If the sneezing makes it difficult for you to complete household chores, talk to your doctor. He can prescribe meds that help you survive adventures with your handheld vacuum. You can also look for an allergy-friendly vacuum with a HEPA filter; this may reduce your symptoms.
My pets are scared of my handheld vacuum - what should I do?
This is a common issue that pet owners face. You have a few different options in this situation:
- Place your pets outside
- Keep your pets in another room
- Look for a quieter handheld vac
- Turn on the television or radio in an attempt to drown out the sound of the vacuum
Avoid petting your cat, dog, or other four-legged friends until you’re done vacuuming. Scared animals may attack their loved ones out of fear or attempt to destroy the handheld vac in an attempt to protect you.
Is it safe for my child to use a handheld vacuum?
Do you feel like your child is ready to use a handheld vacuum? This is something you can discuss with your kiddo’s pediatrician if you’re not sure.
There may also be a recommended age in the instructions that came with the handheld vacuum. We’ve seen some vacuums that say they’re safe for kids age 3 and up, so your toddler can probably safely use a handheld vacuum.
Make sure you explain how to use a vacuum safely (don’t use it in water, for example), and keep an eye on your little one while they vacuum. Handheld vacuums are fairly safe devices, but an unexpected malfunction can still happen.
Several toy companies make kids’ vacuums that look and sound real. If you don’t feel comfortable letting your child use a real handheld vacuum, look for a toy one.
Why can’t I turn on my handheld vacuum?
Sounds like your vacuum needs more power. Have you charged the battery or power supply lately? If it has a cord, make sure the electrical outlet is working. Perhaps a family member accidentally hit the “reset” button or flipped off the power supply to an outlet.
Contact the manufacturer if none of these tips help get your vacuum going. Many vacuum companies have a technical support team that helps customers troubleshoot issues.
You can also try fixing the issue yourself by watching YouTube videos or reading online articles. Keep in mind this might void your warranty if you’ve got one. If you’re unsure, contact the manufacturer.
Why is my handheld vacuum making a loud noise?
Did the noise appear out of nowhere, or has your vacuum gradually become louder over time? A new noise might be the result of something getting stuck in your vacuum, like if you accidentally sucked up a rubber band or a large rock. Turn off your vacuum and look inside for signs of the culprit.
A vacuum that gradually became louder over time may need a new fan, hose, or motor. It may be cheaper to just buy a new handheld vacuum, but check with your manufacturer. Some companies replace parts for free, especially if your vacuum is under a warranty.
Why is my handheld vacuum getting so hot?
Were you using your handheld vacuum for a major cleaning spree? It might just need a break.
Unplug the vacuum for at least 30 minutes and give it time to cool down. If that doesn’t solve the problem, your vacuum’s motor or fan might have issues.
The issue could also be a faulty battery or power dock.
I accidentally sucked up something important - help!
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who’s done this! Your handheld vacuum doesn’t send waste into an inaccessible abyss, so the odds are in your favor.
Turn off the vacuum and unplug it, then remove the waste compartment. Empty it into a bag rather than your trash can so that you can sort through it. We recommend wearing gloves and a face mask if you’ve got these items.
Look in the brush roller and other parts of the vacuum if you don’t see your item. Remember, it’s in there somewhere! You can also contact the technical support team for your vacuum’s manufacturer for tips on locating your sucked-up item.
Who do I contact if my handheld vacuum isn’t working the way it should?
Contact the technical support team for your handheld vacuum’s manufacturer. If you don’t see a number listed for tech support, contact customer service.
When you contact the company, they’ll probably ask you for the following info:
- Model number
- Serial number
- Specific details about the issue (so rather than saying “my vacuum is loud”, you would explain that it makes a humming sound when you move it forward)
You can also contact a local appliance repair company, but try your vacuum’s manufacturer first. They typically have employees who deal with vacuum-related issues.