Handheld vacuums are a great option if you're looking to clean small spills around the home. They're lightweight and portable, and due to their small size, they're handy when tackling more difficult or uneven terrain, like inside your car or on your stairs. Some stick or canister vacuums also have a handheld configuration, making them even more versatile if you need to clean larger areas. Unfortunately, handheld vacuums tend to have small dirt compartments. If they're cordless, they may also have a shorter continuous battery life than non-handheld vacuums.
We've tested over 135 vacuum cleaners, and below are our recommendations for the best portable vacuums with a handheld design to buy. These picks are selected based on their performance on different surfaces and their feature set, battery life, and price. For more options, see our lists of the best lightweight vacuums, the best vacuums for stairs, the best car vacuums, the best Dyson vacuums, and the best cordless vacuums.
The best handheld vacuum we've tested is the Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro+. This compact vacuum excels at clearing away solid debris on bare surfaces like countertops, shelves, tile, and hardwood flooring. It's also powerful enough to draw out debris from rugs and carpets. While it's on the larger side for a handheld vacuum, it's still small enough to stow away in most cupboards and closets. Its dirt compartment is also quite spacious, especially for a handheld model, so it won't need emptying at the end of every single spot-cleaning job. The CH951 variant of this vacuum has a crevice tool, a hard-bristle brush, and a miniature turbo brush with a self-cleaning brushroll. Unfortunately, the turbo tool is somewhat unwieldy and ineffective in removing pet hair from upholstered surfaces; you're better off using the hard bristle brush to deal with strands of hair on fabric-lined armchairs and couches.
The vacuum's 10-minute battery life is poor, even by the low standards of other handheld vacuums, so you'll need to work fast when cleaning larger messes. Worse yet, the battery isn't designed for easy replacement, so you can't pop in a new pack if it doesn't hold a charge as well as it used to. It also does a terrible job of sealing in particles like pet dander or dust, with fine particles easily escaping from its exhaust, so there are better options than this if you suffer from allergies.
The Black+Decker dustbuster Hand Vacuum is the best cordless handheld vacuum at a budget-friendly price point that we've tested. It feels less sturdily built than the Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro+ and takes up more room when not in use, but it has a few advantages aside from its lower price tag. Its dustbin is even bigger and won't need emptying as often. The Black+Decker's replacement filters are also less expensive than those for the Shark, so ownership costs are lower. It excels when it comes to sucking up debris on hard surfaces like countertops or hardwood floors and does a good job of dealing with debris in cracks and crevices, thanks to a built-in crevice tool, but it does have a harder time with debris embedded in carpet fibers.
Unfortunately, the selection of attachments is very limited, with only the aforementioned slide-out crevice tool and a flip-out hard-bristle brush; there's no upholstery tool or miniature turbo brush to make cleaning fabric furniture easier. It can only run for a little over 10 minutes on a single charge, which is short, even by the standards of other handheld models. Worse yet, it takes over three hours to recharge. Like the Shark, the manufacturer didn't design its battery for removal and replacement either. You can't easily swap in a new pack if the current unit's performance degrades over time.
If you prioritize portability above all else, the BISSELL AeroSlim/TurboSlim is among the best cordless handheld vacuums we've tested. It's a different type of handheld vacuum compared to something like the Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro+ and Black+Decker dustbuster Hand Vacuum, with a highly compact body a little smaller than a two-liter bottle of soda. That small form factor makes it a cinch to carry around or stow away, but its design has downsides. It has a small, weak suction motor that struggles to lift heavier debris away. It also has a tiny dirt compartment that fills quickly. Bulky debris can also clog its suction nozzle or fall out of the dustbin if you overfill it, so it's a poor fit for dealing with bulkier debris. It's ideal for quick cleanups on hard surfaces like countertops, shelves, or tile and hardwood floors.
It can run for about 15 minutes on a single charge, which is normal for a vacuum of this size and intended use. Unfortunately, recharging via its included adapter takes over three hours, so you'll be waiting for a while if you need to deal with more than one large spill. Its battery also isn't removable or replaceable, so you can't just pop in a new pack when the current one runs dry. While there's no wide-aperture upholstery nozzle or miniature turbo brush tool for cleaning larger fabric surfaces, this vacuum comes with a crevice tool that you can use to extend your reach in tight spots. It also comes with a slide-on soft-bristle brush for cleaning dust off delicate surfaces.
If you suffer from allergies and want a more effective vacuum for sealing fine particles like dust or pet dander, check out the Shark WANDVAC. Compared to the Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro+ and most other handheld vacuums, it has a pretty tiny dirt compartment, so you'll be emptying its dustbin at the end of almost every cleaning session. However, it does a much better job sealing in allergens with the standard filter, which isn't even HEPA-rated. If you want to increase its filtration performance even more, several third-party manufacturers sell compatible HEPA-rated filters. It's also very small, as it's only a little larger than the highly compact BISSELL AeroSlim/TurboSlim, so it's easy to stow away in a drawer or cupboard when not in use. You'll want to go for the slightly pricier WV201 variant over the base WV200 variant, as the former comes with a sleek charging dock with room for its two included attachments, so you won't have to find another place to tuck them away.
While there's no miniature turbo brush for cleaning carpeted or fabric surfaces, the included straight suction upholstery tool is still effective in dealing with messes on furniture. Unfortunately, the Shark's battery performance is poor, even for a handheld vacuum, as it can only run for about 10 minutes on a charge. Like many other handheld vacuums, the manufacturer didn't design the battery to be removed or replaced. You can't swap in a freshly charged pack when it runs out of power or buy a replacement pack if the current unit's performance degrades over time.
Aug 02, 2023: Recategorized Black+Decker dustbuster Hand Vacuum as 'Best Budget Handheld Vacuum' due to current pricing. Recategorized BISSELL AeroSlim/TurboSlim as the 'Best Compact Handheld Vacuum' pick.
Our recommendations are based on what we think are currently the best portable vacuums to buy. We don't just base our results on overall performance but also on factors like availability, price, and reader feedback.
If you would like to do the work of choosing yourself, here is the list of all our handheld vacuum reviews. Be careful not to get too caught up in the details. While no vacuum is perfect for every use, most are good enough to please almost everyone, and the differences are often not noticeable unless you really look for them.