While canister vacuums, upright vacuums and stick vacuums (all covered in separate reports) handle the majority of household jobs, a handheld vacuum can fill in the gaps. Handheld vacs can quickly clean up spills and get into hard-to-reach places, and they're ideal for car interiors. They're also very effective at picking up pet hair. Handheld vacuums are more versatile and powerful than ever, and there's a pretty big selection on the market. Handheld vacuums are divided into two main categories: corded and cordless models.
A cordless hand vacuum is more portable and makes it easy to tackle tight spaces. They're especially useful on stairs, where a full-sized vacuum may not fit. Most of these models have a rechargeable battery, but run times are usually limited to 15 minutes or less. Corded handheld vacuums have more powerful motors and therefore better suction, so they're more effective at picking up dirt and debris than cordless hand vacs. Corded hand vacuums are usually less expensive than cordless models. Some units are equipped with a rotating brush that penetrates carpet fibers and sweeps up pet hair for a more thorough cleaning.
With all the models and features available, shopping for a corded or cordless handheld vacuum can be confusing. Here are some helpful tips when shopping for a hand vac:
Even the most effective hand vacs aren't intended to replace full-size models, so most people will prefer one of the vacuums described below for larger jobs like vacuuming entire floors. We cover these models in separate reports.
Canister vacuums: Experts recommend canister vacuums for homes with a lot of hardwood or tile floors, as well as for use on stairs and upholstery. Canisters can be cumbersome to push, especially on carpet, but they do offer more versatility than upright models and more power than hand or stick vacs.
Upright vacuums: Uprights work on hard surfaces, but reviewers say they're best for homes in which most of the floors are carpeted. Because of their size and bulk, uprights are more difficult to maneuver than a handheld vac on stairs, upholstery and in tight corners.
Carpet cleaners: These deep cleaners are used less frequently than any of the other vacuums mentioned here. Most carpet cleaners work by spraying a detergent and water mixture onto the carpet and then extracting the detergent along with ground-in dirt. Some deep cleaners have rotating brushes that help loosen grit in between these two steps.
Stick vacuums: This type of lightweight vacuum works well for quick cleanups on bare floors and area rugs, but because they are narrower and have smaller dirt cups (or bags) than upright vacuums, they aren't a great choice for vacuuming a whole house. Most weigh less than 10 pounds, so they're easy to carry.
Shop vacs: Otherwise known as wet/dry vacuums, these products have historically been relegated to garages and workshops, but some smaller units are useful throughout the home. Design improvements have resulted in better filtration and easier switching from wet to dry pick up, and newer models are more stable, more versatile and easier to empty than their predecessors.