Most everyone prefers a clean house, but few people like to clean. A technological solution to the problem comes in the form of a hand vacuum (or hand vac, and often referred to incorrectly as a Dust Buster after Black & Decker’s iconic appliance, which invented the category in 1979). These are so small and light, making it easy to clean everything from broad, flat surfaces to corners and overhead areas.
Take a look below at quick info on the top performers from our test. Then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these models and a look at a couple of vacuums that we haven’t tested yet but look promising.
Features and Specs to Consider
The vacs here are battery-powered. The advent of the lithium-ion battery—the same power source used with cordless drills, saws, and sanders—has increased the power-to-weight ratio of these tools and lengthened their run time. Leave them on the charger, and they’re ready for a quick cleanup or whenever something spills. If you need power for heavier-duty cleaning, a corded vacuum offers more motor torque, which helps move more air and creates more suction.
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 need to do heavy-duty cleaning in the home, shop, and garage.
Dealing with pet hair is a cleaning category unto itself. If this is your main concern, buy a machine with a motor-driven brush attachment. If most of the tool’s job will be cleaning auto upholstery or vacuuming crevices under a sofa cushion, select an appliance with a crevice tool accessory.
How We Tested
First, we used these around our house, on hard surfaces like concrete and vinyl floor to soft surfaces such as carpet. We picked up hair, dust, dirt, and sawdust. Then we timed how quickly each vac would pick up a one-pound blend of sawdust, floor sweeping compound, small nuts and bolts, washers, and dried kidney beans. Small models typically reached capacity in about eight seconds, while those with larger debris containers took about 20.
As we worked with these vacuums, we looked at features such as their balance and whether it was easy to change their air filter or dump their debris container. These are important attributes, because clumsy design results in a vacuum that’s not used as much as it could be. Of course, your house won’t be as clean as it could be, and that’s why you bought the vacuum in the first place.
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 oomph, but the Dustbuster has more than enough to get the job done. In fact, we think it’s an excellent vacuum 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 CLEANUP―
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 managed 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 we were maybe 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.
—SMALL AND LIGHT—
Weight 1.4 lb | Built-in battery: Yes | Voltage: 12 | Accessories: Crevice tool, brush
We think you’re going to like this little hand vac. We did. It’s incredibly svelte, but it does grab up dust in a hurry. When we ran it through the mixed materials test, it sucked up the sawdust mixture in seconds, instantly filling its small dust cup to capacity. On that point, it doesn’t hold much. On other fronts, we went around the house with it using the nozzel and the brush attachment; again we found it effective. For wider areas, a pair of wings (to call them that) slide out and pivot down from its nose.
Weight: 5.2 lb | Built-in battery: No | Voltage: 20 | Attachments: None
It’s right to ask what a mini shop vacuum is doing in this test. The answer is that it’s only slightly larger than the biggest hand vacuum here. We admit, however, that it’s a good bit heavier, owing to the hefty 5-Ah battery we slid into it to run it. On the other hand, it also provides superior vacuuming power and the ability to tackle anything from a bowl of breakfast cereal dumped on the floor (milk and all) to a handful of metal shavings on top of your work bench. Its HEPA air filter is incredibly robust, and the on/off switch looks like it belongs on a table saw. This is to say that though this is a small vacuum, it’s DeWalt through and through and built to stand up to the job. If you’re already on the DeWalt 20-volt platform, buy the bare version of the tool. If not, you can buy the DCV517B as a complete kit (vacuum, charger, battery).
Black+Decker Spillbuster BHSB320JP
Weight: 4.2 lb | Built-in battery: Yes | Volts: 12 | Accessories: None
Black+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’re 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.
Other Great Options
Weight: 2.0 lb | Built-in battery: No | Volts: 20 | Accessories: Crevice tool, dust brush
Hart is Walmart’s line of power and hand tools, and we like what the company is doing with its 20-volt cordless system. We’ve found it delivers reasonable power for the money. Although we haven’t tested this vacuum, our prior experience with the Hart line including its cordless stick vacuum suggests that it’s a safe bet. The 1.5-Ah battery that comes with it is rated for 11 minutes of continuous run time. That’s not much, but if you happen to own other Hart power tools, you can just as easily slide on the larger 4-Ah battery. Walmart says that gives you 30 minutes of vacuuming power, in exchange for the added weight of the larger battery.
Weight: 2.8 lb | Built-in battery: Yes | Volts: 10 | Accessories: Crevice tool, dust brush, pet hair nozzle
We emphasize here that we haven’t tried this tool, but there’s one feature on it that attracts us to it: Shark says the pet hair attachment is self cleaning. The drive roll on the attachment isn’t a brush (the fibers of which have been known to accumulate hair, sometimes winding around the brush so severely they can stop it dead); rather, it cleans with a series of helix-shaped paddles that scoop up the hair and are wiped clean as they spin. The hair is sucked by a pair of cyclones into the dust chamber. Hit the eject latch, and the chamber door falls open, discharging dust and hair. You don’t have to touch anything. We also like how the design uses a two-stage filter to protect the motor and fan assembly, which are located well away from a dirty airstream.