Battery-powered or electric motor
With handheld vacuums, you can choose between battery-powered motors or motors that use electricity and need to be plugged into a power source. The advantage of cordless vacuums is that you have a wider cleaner radius and can vacuum your car without running an extension cord everywhere. Battery-powered vacuums typically use lithium batteries, which are powerful and can be recharged on a base. Lithium ion battery chargers are especially useful because they protect the vacuum and automatically shut off when the batteries are charged, making it possible to store your vacuum on the charger. Lithium batteries are also the best because they do not have the “memory effect,” which is what happens when batteries are not used all the way between charge cycles, and the batteries “remember” their shorter cycle, reducing the amount of time you can use the vacuum. Vacuums with corded motors are typically less expensive than battery-powered handheld vacuums, but also less powerful, especially with brands like Dyson which uses a patented digital motor that spins at 104,000 RPMs.
Enough voltage or amp-power
If a vacuum is battery-operated, its power is measured in volts, while corded vacuums use amps. Good battery-operated handheld vacuums range from 15-20 volts, with some brands tipping close to 22 volts. With corded handheld vacuums, you’ll see the power measured in amps or even watts. Corded vacuums can go up to 12 amps, with the 4-6 range being more common. In terms of conversion, 20 volts has 35 air watts and 1.75 amps, while 12 volts (not very powerful) equals 11 air watts and .9 amps. This doesn’t mean that a 20-volt vacuum is weak because it converts into low amps, it’s just another way to look at the power from all angles. As a general rule, you need at least 15 volts on a battery-operated model, or 5-7 amps on a corded for a really good clean.
Strong vacuum suction
The power on a handheld vacuum (volts/amps/watts) plays a big role in vacuum suction, but it is not the only factor. Features like filter design and how the vacuum responds to incoming debris have a lot to do with suction. One of the popular suction technologies today is centrifugal action, which spins the dirt at very high speeds so they separate from the air and go into the canister bin. This negates the need for bags, and prevents the loss of suction that is so common with older models. Some vacuums even use up to 15 “cyclones” arranged in two tiers, which increases airflow. This helps the vacuum trap extremely small particles of dust. For very tough vacuuming chores (pet hair, ground-in stains, many handheld vacuums include a Boost button which gives you 5-6 minutes of maximum suction power without the risk of overheating the motor.
Most handheld vacuums today do not use bags, because it is more convenient for consumers and allows for more powerful suction. All bagless vacuums need filters, because there is not a bag that contains the dirt. The filter acts as a bag replacement in terms of capturing the dirt and preventing it from going back out into the air. Vacuum filters are made from paper, cloth, or soft plastic and are designed with holes small enough so only air gets expelled. Many vacuums have two filters: a pre-filter and then a HEPA filter, which prevents up to 99% of dirt from re-entering the air. To protect and extend the life of your filter, many of them are removable and can be washed. Keep an eye on the filter and when it looks pretty clogged, it’s time for a wash. Most filters can be cleaned about 3 times before you’ll need to completely replace it. This keeps your vacuum performing at its best.
Hygienic dirt canister
Handheld vacuums either use bags to collect dirt or a plastic canister, which is more common now. This bagless method is more convenient since you don’t have to keep buying bags. Most dirt canisters are translucent so you can see when you need to empty it. As a handheld, the dirt canisters are not very large. 12 ounces or so of dirt is pretty common, while the larger ones can hold around 15 ounces. Using a button or hinged lid, you just open up the canister over the trash, and the dirt comes out. No need to come into contact with the grime, which is especially important for people with allergies.
Versatile vacuum nozzle
The nozzle on a handheld vacuum factors into where you can use the vacuum and how fast the chore goes. Nozzles with wide mouths are best for quickly picking up large debris, though more narrow ones are great for getting into tight spaces. Think about what you’ll be using your handheld vacuum for, and if a wider mouth is best for you, or a more narrow one that can get places an upright vacuum can’t. Pivoting or rotating nozzles also allow for more cleaning versatility when you’re getting into nooks and crannies. For extra cleaning power, some nozzles include brush rolls that flip down, so you can clean upholstery, stairs, and so on.
Wide cleaning radius
Battery-operated handheld vacuums offer an essentially unlimited cleaning radius because you do not have to mess with extension cords. Features like a long hose also extend your reach and allow you to clean places like stairs, drapes, and under car seats. For corded models, the cleaning radius is extended using long hoses and cords, so you do not have to be constantly unplugging and moving when you are cleaning one room. In terms of weight, most handheld vacuums are extremely light so taking them up and down stairs is not a problem. The lightest can weigh as little as 3 pounds when empty, while heavier ones are still only around 5 pounds.
If you do not have a lot of storage, handheld vacuums are great cleaning tools that do not take up much (or any) floor space. Since they are so compact, handheld vacuums can be stored just about anywhere, like in a closet, in a cupboard, or on top of a cupboard. Many have foldable handles, cords that wrap around, or even hooks that allow them to stored vertically or mounted on a wall.