Cordless handheld vacuums are ideal if you need a small, easy-to-maneuver vacuum to clean your car or for quick-pickup tasks around the house. Many people also use these smaller vacuums for removing pet hair from furniture. The biggest downside to cordless hand vacs is that they're restricted by battery run times and require several hours to recharge. The Black & Decker Pivot Vac 18V Cordless Pivoting Hand Vac PHV1810 (Est. $60) , our best-reviewed pick, has about 16 minutes of continuous run time, according to Seamus Bellamy, who reviews the Pivot Vac for TheSweethome.com.
However, editors for another consumer publication, based in the U.K., say the Pivot Vac runs for about 10 minutes on full strength and dies completely in 13 minutes in their tests. Editors at Good Housekeeping also note short battery life as one of the cons of this hand vac. Owners posting feedback to consumer review sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com report run times of 15 to 20 minutes in some cases, while others complain that after extended use they get less than five minutes of suction from the Pivot Vac.
These issues are potentially related to the Ni-Cd battery, which suffers from the "memory effect" if it's recharged before the existing charge is fully depleted, causing a shortened run time. The battery isn't replaceable, so if you're not careful, you'll be replacing the whole hand vac if the battery wears out.
Battery aside, the Black & Decker Pivot Vac has a few features that make it incredibly versatile. The pivoting nozzle, for instance, moves in various directions. The nozzle is also long and narrow, so it can reach into typically tough-to-access areas -- like cleaning under car seats. It also has a washable filter, so there's no ongoing expense for replacement filters. Though not a HEPA filter, it does function to remove some of the dust and debris that may otherwise re-enter the ambient air.
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 also has a two-year warranty, a bonus over the typical one year offered by most handheld vacuums.
The Pivot Vac's cleaning power is spot-on, according to editors of Good Housekeeping who say it offers "standout performance on bare floors and carpet and with very good pet hair pickup." They also point out 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.
Another cordless hand vac with outstanding performance on pet hair, bare floors and edges is the Shark Cordless Pet Perfect II Hand Vac SV780 (Est. $60) . The Shark Pet Perfect II is the top-rated hand vac in one comparison test of nine handheld vacuums conducted by a leading consumer publication. It earns a good score for noise, although it's not the quietest hand vac in this test.
Like the Pivot Vac, the Shark uses a Ni-Cd rechargeable battery. It suffers from the same charging and run-time issues as the Pivot Vac, although the Shark gets more complaints related to this issue. Owners posting feedback to sites like Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and Kohls.com say it lasts a mere five to 10 minutes before losing significant suction power or draining completely. The Shark recharges in about 16 hours after its initial 24-hour charging requirement, whereas the Black & Decker Pivot Vac requires a full 24 hours for each charge. With both of these handheld vacs, you should run them until the battery is completely drained before recharging to avoid the memory effect.
The Shark Pet Perfect II doesn't have a pivoting nozzle like the Pivot Vac, but it does include a number of tools for versatile cleaning, including a motorized pet hair brush, dusting brush and crevice tool. The Shark claims to be effective at picking up pet hair, and most owners agree. One owner posting a review to Amazon.com says, "The larger attachment with the brush works wonders on fabric and carpet to remove pet hair and dirt," adding that she's amazed at how much pet hair it removes from her cars and stairs.
Black & Decker's handheld vacuums get positive ratings overall, and two other models are mentioned in several reviews. The Black & Decker 14.4V Cordless Hand Vac CHV1410 (Est. $40) and Black & Decker 15.6V Cordless Hand Vac CHV1510 (Est. $45) both get positive feedback from owners on consumer review sites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Lowes.com. The two are nearly identical in design -- the primary difference is the voltage. The CHV1510 boasts 15.6 volts of power, whereas the CHV1410 has just 14.4 volts. The CHV1510, being more powerful, is a more popular model and costs just $5 more than the CHV1410.
Both have an elongated, slim nozzle with a wide mouth for sucking up larger debris and onboard brush and crevice tools for versatile cleaning. They also use cyclonic action to spin the dust and debris away from the filter, leaving the filter clear to capture smaller particles from the air. Both the transparent dirt canister and filters are washable. These hand vacs have a three-stage filtration system, and owners say they're easy to clean. One reviewer posting feedback to Amazon.com says, "It comes apart into three pieces pretty easily: a nozzle area, the main canister area and the motorized portion. This makes it a snap to get things clean and to empty into the trash."
The Black & Decker CHV1410 and CHV1510 are some of the lightest hand vacs available, weighing just over 3 pounds. Both charging systems are Energy Star-rated, and they're backed by a two-year warranty. Complaints are similar to those we found for most cordless hand vacs, centering on the battery life and suction power. Several users complain that these hand vacs offer just 20 seconds of full suction before weakening, and there are numerous complaints about short battery life. However, like most other cordless models, there are an equal or greater number of users who say the battery life isn't a problem as long as you follow the proper charging procedures and take care to preserve the battery.
Dyson is primarily known for its upright vacuums, but the company also makes a few handheld vacs. The Dyson DC34 Cordless Vacuum Cleaner (Est. $200) lands at the other end of the price spectrum as the most expensive hand vacuum we encountered in our sources. Dyson claims the DC34 Cordless Vacuum Cleaner has three times the suction power of a standard handheld vac -- attributed to the Dyson digital motor -- and that it recharges three times faster.
Despite the Dyson DC34's sophisticated, heavy-duty look, it's actually the lightest of any handheld vacuum we found, weighing less than 3 pounds. The dual-power mode lets you choose between 15 minutes of constant strong suction or six minutes of Max mode for heavy-duty cleaning tasks. It runs on a Li-ion battery, so the suction strength doesn't weaken as the battery runs down -- instead, it operates on full suction power until it's completely drained. This differs from the Black & Decker models and the Shark, which both run on Ni-Cd batteries that tend to lose suction power and have memory issues.
The DC34 comes with a combination tool and a crevice tool that store onboard the unit for easy access. It also offers one of the simplest 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.
The Dyson DC34 also earns its share of negative feedback in reviews. While there are fewer complaints about the battery losing effectiveness over time, we still read some reviews noting very short run times due to malfunctioning batteries or chargers. The most common gripe is that it's uncomfortable to hold and use. One owner posting feedback to Amazon.com says, "You have to hold the button down while you use it, [which is] painful and uncomfortable. The shape is awkward and twists your wrist funny, too. Suction [is] not that strong." The Dyson DC34 is backed by a two-year warranty.
Handheld vacuums don't all look the same. In addition to more sophisticated designs with long, slender nozzles for better reach, there are some portable vacuums that take a completely different approach. Mini-canister vacuums are tiny versions of a full-sized canisters, with a separate unit for collecting dust and debris and an extendable hose with a cleaning nozzle at the end.
These portable vacuums are convenient for longer cleaning tasks, such as vacuuming stairs, when even the lightest hand vacs can become cumbersome. The Black & Decker Flex Cordless Mini Canister Vac FHV1200 (Est. $60) is one of the first of its kind to hit the shelves, and it's getting rave reviews from both professional testers and owners. While it's not included in one professional roundup of nine hand vacs, editors at a U.K.-based consumer publication test this model in an individual review. In the U.K., this model is known as the Dustbuster Flexi PD1200, but its design is identical to the U.S. model.
Editors say this mini-canister vac's flexible, extendable hose is convenient for maneuvering around car seats and in other tight spaces. It simply wraps around the main unit and easily snaps back into place for convenient storage -- more convenient than wrapping a 16- or 20-foot hose around a handheld vacuum. Seamus Bellamy names a more advanced model, the Black & Decker Platinum 20V Max Lithium Flex Vac BDH2000FL (Est. $110) , as the best handheld vacuum of 2013 in a review for TheSweethome.com. It has a similar design to the more affordable FHV1200, but it's part of Black & Decker's premium Platinum collection of products -- boasting a 20-volt Max Li-ion battery that claims twice the suction power as a standard handheld vacuum.
The Platinum has the same 4-foot extendable hose as the Flex, and both include a crevice tool, combination brush and a pet-hair attachment. Both models also use a three-stage filtration system with dishwasher-safe filters. Black & Decker claims the Platinum uses 25 percent less energy and the battery will hold a charge for up to 18 months when it's unplugged.
Owners posting reviews to Amazon.com praise both of these mini-canister vacs. The main downside noted for the Platinum is its high price tag. Most owners say they get about 18 to 20 minutes of continuous run time out of the Platinum, but do appreciate the Li-ion battery, which doesn't suffer from the same memory effects as Ni-Cd batteries. The Flex, on the other hand, is the brunt of many complaints that it only runs for five to seven minutes before a drastic loss in suction power. The Platinum recharges in about four hours; the Flex requires 20 hours.
Both Black & Decker models feature Energy Star-approved charging systems. The Flex is backed by a two-year warranty, while the Platinum offers a three-year guarantee. Both are said to be somewhat noisy, but not unbearably loud. One owner posting to Amazon.com says the Platinum is "messy and tedious to clean," a sentiment that's echoed in reviews for the Flex. Overall, these two nearly identical mini-canister vacs differ primarily in their charge and run times, as well as the price. The decision is one of whether a quarter of the charge time and twice the run time is worth paying twice the cost. Depending on the types of cleaning tasks you perform with your handheld vac, the Platinum could be a worthy investment.