Everyone likes a clean house. But getting it clean? If it isn’t exactly fun, it shouldn’t be drudgery either. That’s where the cordless hand vacuum comes in. It’s a fast way to pick up spills, touch up dirty areas, clean under sofa cushions, grab dust bunnies from under a bed, and dozens of other jobs. Since Black and Decker introduced the Dustbuster in 1979, these small appliances have become as common as full-size upright vacuums. Knowing how important these machines are for those in search of quicker and better cleaning, we tested a range to determine the best.
Take a look below at quick info of the top performers, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these models.
Features and Specs to Consider
All the vacs here are cordless, battery-powered models; the industry is moving in that direction. The advent of the lithium-ion battery, the same platform used in power tools, has increased the power to weight ratio of these tools and improved their run time. You can get real cleaning done with these things. Battery-powered vacuums are also fast and convenient. Leave them on the charger, and they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice when something spills or you get the urge for a quick cleanup. If you need power for heavier-duty cleaning, generally a corded model will offer greater motor torque, which helps move more air and creates more suction. If you’ve got a lot of pet hair to cleanup or need that extra power for professional cleaning, corded is an option you should consider. More battery voltage is good, too, but you don’t need brute force. For dust pickup and pulling in light debris, all you need is an appliance in the range of 7 to 12 volts. Go with a 20-volt machine if you want cleaning speed or you find yourself using the same machine in the home and the shop.
How We Tested
First, we used these vacuums like we would in our day to day: around our home and shop, on hard surfaces like concrete and vinyl floor to soft surfaces such as carpet. We picked up hair, dust, dirt, and sawdust. The final portion of the test was the most rigorous. We mixed one pound of sawdust, floor sweeping compound, small nuts and bolts, washers, and dried kidney beans. Then we timed how quickly each vacuum pulled in this test material. Small models typically reached capacity in about eight seconds, while those with larger debris containers took about 20.
Black+Decker Dustbuster HHVK515J
Weight: 2.6 lb. | Built-in battery: Yes | Volts: 20 | Accessories: Nozzle slides out, but no accessories
Light, easy-handling, and plenty of power: Those were the three strengths that helped this 20-volt Dustbuster ride to victory. Sure, other vacs we tested had more power, but the Dustbuster has more than enough oomph to get the job done. In fact, we think it’s an excellent product to cross among jobs in the home, the shop, and cleaning out the car’s interior. Its nozzle extends an additional 7.5 inches—all you have to do is pull it forward. Although we did notice that the sliding action of the extension is a bit sticky, and coarser particles left scratches on the nozzle. But it’s still a very helpful feature. Like its smaller 12-volt colleague below, the HHVK515J is easy to empty and has low and high speed settings.
―GOOD FOR MINOR TASKS―
Weight: 1.8 lb. | Built-in battery: Yes | Volts: 7.2 | Accessories: None
As we mentioned, our test proved battery voltage isn’t everything. Still, this Eureka clearly represents an earlier era in the development of handheld vacuums. It has enough power to pick up dust and tidbits, but that’s about all it can handle. Yes, it sucked up the sawdust–slowly. It picked up some of the kidney beans but not any of the nuts, bolts, or washers. Clearly that strained the machine and that part of the test protocol was asking too much of it. You would turn to the NEH100 for modest cleaning and its light weight and low noise; this was the quietest of the vacuums tested. But if your needs are heavier in the home, shop, or garage, you need a more aggressive vac.
Black+Decker Spillbuster BHSB320JP
Weight: 4.2 lb. | Built-in battery: Yes | Volts: 12 | Accessories: None
Black and Decker made consumer products history with the Dustbuster, and it may have done so again with the Spillbuster. It’s a versatile little cordless cleaning tool, both a dry vacuum and mini carpet extractor. The lightweight workhorse performed well around the house on everything from dust and dirt to sawdust and food stains on carpet. We found it was easy to pour carpet cleaning solution into its tank; to apply it, we just pulled the squeeze trigger and a sufficient amount squirted out. Two or three squirts is enough for the average small stain. Continuing with the ease-of-use theme, the Spillbuster pulls dirty water into a debris compartment, which is simple to dump. We are particularly impressed with the brush roll at the machine’s front, a combination of synthetic bristles and mini rubber paddles. Work slowly back and forth over an area, and you’re rewarded with a clean surface.
Weight: 3.2 lb. (with 2-AH battery, not included) | Built-in battery: No | Volts: 18 | Accessories: Crevice tool
Ryobi’s version of the hand vac is slightly heavier than a Dustbuster but not as much as Spillbuster—we see it as a mid-duty vacuum that’s positioned and performs between those two (not counting the Spillbuster’s wet capabilities). It’s suitable for work in the shop, in the garage, or vacuuming under the sofa cushions. Like the company’s power tools, the P7131 has excellent ergonomics. The textured grip surface, balance, and proportions are all excellent. There’s no sense that you’re handling a clumsy cleaning device here. Given that you can find one of these for roughly 30 bucks, that’s a fair amount of cleaning capability for your dollar.
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