Portable cordless vacuums are ideal if you need a small, easy-to-maneuver vacuum for quick-pickup tasks around the house or for poking into small spaces that the larger accessories on full-sized vacuum cleaners can't access. However, the downside to cordless small vacuums is their relatively short runtime -- you're lucky if you get a full 10 to 15 minutes, reviewers say. If you need more time for cleaning, you may want to consider a corded handheld vacuum instead, and those are covered elsewhere in this report.
When it comes to a basic, highly affordable handheld vacuum for dealing with spot messes, it's hard to beat the Black & Decker Pivot Vac PHV1810 (Est. $60). It earns high praise for its power and suction, and its pivoting head can get into just about any nook or cranny where dirt might be hiding. The Pivot Vac has a nickel-cadmium (NiCd) battery and most users say it has about 20 minutes of total run time; however, they also note that after the first 5 to 10 minutes the power drops off until it gradually peters out -- which is typical performance for NiCd-powered handheld vacuums. However, most agree that it allows plenty of time for scooping up messes like spilled cereal, rice or clearing the leftover debris after sweeping the floor.
The Pivot Vac PHV1910 is reported as extremely easy to use, there's a cover on the side you can remove to dump the debris, or remove the entire dirt cup to more thoroughly clean that and to access the filter, which is both washable and replaceable. Some dislike that this portable vacuum does not include a docking base -- many would like to be able to mount it to a wall when it's charging -- rather, it just has a cord that plugs in to the vacuum and then to an outlet. However, the PHV1910 folds up for compact storage.
The Pivot Vac's cleaning power is reported as very good on both carpeted and smooth surfaces, but it's not quite as good for pet hair, according to reviewers. However, it gets high marks for the included attachments, such as the flip-up brush -- built into the nozzle -- and crevice tool. Overall, the Pivot Vac is a handy gadget if you need a small vacuum for quick cleaning tasks.
It's larger and more expensive, but the Black & Decker Platinum BDH2000FL (Est. $120) gets some of the best reviews we saw of any portable vacuum. Unlike its smaller, cheaper sibling, the BDH2000FL uses a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. Experts and users say it lasts a solid 18 minutes on a charge and, thanks to that Li-ion battery, maintains full power for that 18 minutes -- long enough for bigger cleaning tasks. The Black & Decker Platinum has a long, 4-foot hose that extends its reach to get into even high spots, and comes with a great assortment of accessories, including a pet hair cleaning tool, crevice tool, extended crevice tool and dusting brush. All tools store onboard.
Users say the BDH2000FL is extremely easy to use and is small enough to stow away on a shelf or in a cupboard. They also praise the comfortable-to-hold curved handle, which is a different design than most straight-handled portable vacuums. Quite a few reviewers report that, after several months, the BDH2000FL still holds a good charge, unlike some other portable vacuums they've owned.
Black & Decker gets high marks for its customer service, with owners noting that the company is very accommodating and sends replacements without hassle. The Pivot Vac and the Platinum also come with a two-year warranty, a bonus over the typical one year offered by most handheld vacuums.
Another very highly-rated portable vacuum is the Dyson DC58 (Est. $200). It gets raves from users for its powerful suction, and they say it can handle even the chunkiest of messes, like spilled popcorn kernels. Dyson says it runs for about 20 minutes, with a six-minute power boost mode. Owners say it does run for about 18 to 20 minutes, but if you use the power boost mode you have to recharge it after about 5 or six minutes.
Despite the Dyson DC58's sophisticated, heavy-duty look, at 3.4 pounds it's actually the lightest of any handheld vacuum in this report. The DC58 comes with a combination tool and a crevice tool that store onboard the unit for easy access. It also offers one of the easiest dust-bin emptying processes of any hand vac, simply hold the unit over a trash can and push a button to release the dirt and debris. It doesn't use a filter, instead relying on root cyclone technology to spin dust and hair and push it deep into the dirt canister so it doesn't escape back into the air.
What keeps this powerful Dyson out of our top spot is that it's less versatile than the Black & Decker brand hand vacuums. It doesn't include as many accessories, it doesn't have a hose, and the head doesn't swivel to help you get into tight spots. Some also note that it's uncomfortable to use for long because you have to hold the button down while you use it, which can be tedious. The Dyson DC58 is backed by a two-year warranty.
One area where all handheld vacuums struggle is in picking up pet hair on furniture, which is why we recommend the Hoover Platinum Collection BH50030 (Est. $120) if controlling pet hair is your primary concern. The BH50030 has a pet hair attachment that users say excels in removing pet hair from upholstered surfaces like couch and chair cushions, as well as drapes and curtains. The motorized brushroll also makes it a great choice for cleaning carpeted surfaces in general, and we saw dozens of comments about how well this portable vacuum cleans stairs. The Hoover Platinum also has a retractable crevice tool with a slide-out brush as well as a larger dusting brush.
The Hoover BH50030 includes the Hoover LiNX Lithium Ion Battery BH50000 (Est. $60), a swappable Li-ion battery that owners say lets the BH50030 run for 10 to 18 minutes without gradually losing power the way that NiCd-powered hand vacs typically do. It also recharges quickly. You have to remove the battery to charge it; many say that's handy because you don't need to have to store the vacuum near an outlet. The battery can be used in other compatible small Hoover appliances, and you can also buy a spare to have around and swap out if you need more time for cleaning.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Handheld Vacuums: There's a portable, handheld vacuum for any cleaning need, from quickly sucking up spot messes to detailing your auto. These are the top handheld vacuums for any task.
Best Corded Handheld Vacuums: Corded handheld vacuums can handle cleaning jobs that take longer because they have unlimited runtime. A great car vacuum will keep your vehicle looking sharp.
Buying Guide: There are thousands of options when it comes to handheld vacuum cleaners. Our buying guide will help direct you in choosing the portable vacuum you need for your cleaning tasks.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to determine the best handheld vacuum cleaners. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.