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 before recharging is necessary, 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 CHV1410L (Est. $70). It's named the best budget choice after testing at TheSweethome.com, where Liam McCabe points out that it's not quite as versatile as their top pick, but is plenty powerful for normal use and is a great price for a hand vac with a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. This type of battery is preferable because it holds full suction until the charge fully runs down, as opposed to weakening as the battery discharges.
Owners love it too, and say they appreciate its traditional "dust buster" design. Thousands of happy users make it one of the highest-rated vacuums at Amazon.com. Most agree that it's powerful enough even to pick up chunky items, like cheerios or spilled rice, but quite a few praise its performance on pet hair as well. However, that's generally pet hair on smooth surfaces, like floors; it does not get as good of reviews for removing pet hair from upholstery. In general, it seems that most users find that this dust buster runs for about 15 minutes per charge and takes about 4 hours to fully charge.
The CHV1410L includes two accessories, a crevice tool and a small brush, and one thing users adore is that both store on-board so they're always at hand, and can't be lost or misplaced. The only real complaints we saw about this hand vac are pretty minor quibbles. A few say it's loud, although very few in general comment on its noise, and some would like it if a wall-mount was either included or optional. Still, we saw very few disappointed users, and quite a few say they bought one for their home, and were so pleased with it that they bought another for their office or RV.
Our former Best Reviewed hand vac, the Black & Decker Pivot Vac PHV1810 (Est. $55) is also still a good choice, but it uses a nickel-cadmium (NiCd) battery and, at this price point, it's worth trading up to Li-ion technology. Still, if you can get a deal on the PHV1810 that brings its price significantly down below that of the CHV1410L, 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. 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.
Another very highly-rated portable vacuum, but one that comes at a relatively high price, is the Dyson V6 Trigger (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. Powered by a Li-ion battery, Dyson says it runs for about 20 minutes, with a six-minute power boost mode. Owners say that this handheld vacuum does run for about 18 to 20 minutes, but if you use the power boost mode you have to recharge it after about five or six minutes.
Despite the Dyson V6 Trigger's heavy-duty look, at 3.4 pounds it's actually the lightest of any handheld vacuum in this report. The V6 Trigger 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 other hand vacs costing much less. 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 V6 Trigger is backed by a two-year warranty.
If you need a hand vac that's more than just a basic dust buster-type, you'll want to check out the Black & Decker Platinum BDH2020FLFH (Est. $100). It gets excellent reviews for its versatility and its performance in pet hair pick up. The BDH2020FLFH uses a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. Experts and users say it lasts a solid 16 minutes on a charge and, thanks to that Li-ion battery, maintains full power for that 16 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 brush, stick vac floor head, 2-in-1 nozzle/brush, and extended crevice tool. The smaller tools store onboard, the stick vac attachment does not.
Owners say the BDH2020FLFH is extremely easy to use and is small enough to stow away on a shelf or in a cupboard, although many note that storing the separate stick vac attachment can pose a challenge. They also praise the comfortable-to-hold curved handle, which is a different design than most straight-handled portable vacuums, more like a canister-type vacuum, says TheSweethome.com's McCabe.
The pet hair tool is pretty basic, just a rubberized head, but as McCabe points out, it does its job well on upholstery. He, and a few owners, long for a motorized pet hair brush, but most hand vacs simply don't have enough juice to power one of those for long. Still, pet owners are quite satisfied with this small vacuums performance in picking up pet hair on even plush surfaces.
If you think you'd like something even more versatile than a dedicated hand vacuum, check out our Best Reviewed stick vacuum, the Dyson V6 Animal (Est. $400). This powerful vacuum converts to a handheld and the hand vac has a power pet hair brush attachment that is just phenomenal on fabric surfaces. We have a full review of that vacuum, and other stick/handheld combo vacuums, in our separate report on stick vacuums.
Elsewhere in this report: