Choosing a Handheld Vacuum
It's a hassle to get out a large upright vacuum to clean up a small mess. This is where a cheap handheld vacuum comes in, er, handy. If something spills or breaks, you can pull out a handheld vacuum and leave the upright in the closet until the whole house is due for a cleaning.
Prices for handheld vacuums range from about $20 to more than $200, which gets you a top-of-the-line Dyson. We looked at cheap handheld vacuums between $20 and $60, both corded and cordless. Models in this price range have limited features and moderate suction power. Higher-end vacuums give you more suction power, more accessories, and lighter weight for added convenience. They also can clean up both wet and dry spills. The good news for frugal shoppers is that there are cheap handheld vacuums that will meet most users' spot-cleaning needs. Although Dysons are out of our price range, popular brands including Bissell, Dirt Devil, Black & Decker, and Eureka offer inexpensive options.
The biggest decision to make is whether to look at cordless handheld vacs or corded models with a wall plug. Both options have pros and cons.
Cordless Handheld Vacuums.A cordless model is convenient because you don't have to worry about plugging it in and moving the cord as you go. That being said, cordless handheld vacuums won't just keep going and going; they have to be charged by plugging the charger into a power outlet. Battery life and charge time are the main drawbacks for budget shoppers. Manufacturers don't often specify either one, so we gleaned our information from reviews. Some models reportedly provide 15 minutes of run time on a full charge, while others offer a mere five minutes. Cordless handheld vacuums tend to have a harder time holding a charge the older they get, and few models come with a replaceable battery, so eventually the entire machine must be replaced.
The latest crop of cordless handhelds feature lithium ion batteries. This technology holds the battery at a steady level of performance until the juice runs out; this is often referred to as “fade-free” power. Lithium ion batteries also charge way faster than the larger, heavier NiCd batteries found in older models.
Corded Handheld Vacuums.Despite the convenience and easy maneuverability of cordless vacuums, for the most part, users give higher ratings to models with cords. Corded handheld vacuums generally have stronger suction than their cordless counterparts. Although you're tethered to an outlet, these models provide unlimited run time, as they are constantly connected to a power source. For these machines, cord length comes into play. If the cord is too short, you have to either use an extension cord or move the cord from outlet to outlet to reach all the spots that an upright can't.
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Handheld Vacuum Reviews: What We Considered
Handheld vacuum reviews and testing by Consumer Reports, TopTenReviews, Engadget, and Wirecutter informed our picks, as did user reviews on the websites of manufacturers and retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, Walmart, and Target. Consumers generally don't have super-high expectations for handheld vacuums. Most just want a machine that thoroughly cleans up those small messes and reaches spots that many full-size vacuums cannot, like tight corners, cushion crevices, and stairs. Cordless models should hold a charge, and the vacuum should be easy to use and maneuver whether or not it has a cord. Consumers also pay attention to attributes such as the weight, filter, included attachments, and warranty.