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1 October 2020

How to buy the best handheld vacuum cleaner

We explain how to pick a handheld vacuum that will do the job well, and what features are worth paying more for.
Matthew Knight

Handheld vacuum cleaners are handy for those quick cleaning tasks where you don't want the hassle of dragging your main vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard. 

Prices range from just £20 to around £200 or more, so knowing what to look for and how much to spend to get a good handheld vacuum isn't easy. What's right for you depends on what you want to clean and how.

A good cordless vacuum cleaner may be a better investment if you want a vac that's versatile enough to handle all cleaning tasks, but if you want a specialised tool for cleaning your car or quickly cleaning small areas of your home, we can help you find the best handheld vacuums.

See which handheld vacuum cleaners we recommend, based on our independent cleaning, ease of use and battery tests, in our round-up of the best handheld vacuum cleaners.

Handheld vacuum cleaner features and prices

The most crucial spec to check on a handheld vacuums is the battery life. This dictates how much cleaning time you'll get - some can give you as little as five minutes.

If you want to clean your car, stairs or awkward spaces, look out for these accessories, which should make tackling tricky corners easier:

  • Crevice tool - for getting between upholstered seats, picture rails and edges
  • Turbo pet tool - handy for clearing stairs and upholstery of dust and fluff
  • Extendable flexi hose - good for reaching into tricky spaces, such as under car seats or cleaning up high

Cheaper cordless vacuums tend to have a more traditional ‘dust-buster’ design, which makes them all-rounders that come with fewer specialist tools and attachments. That doesn’t always mean they suck up less dirt and grime or that they are more difficult to use, but they might not be as versatile. They may have a shorter battery life too.

You don't always get what you pay for though. We've tested pricey handheld vacuums that can't suck up a simple spill, and cheaper options that are a true helping hand around the home.

See our handheld vacuum cleaner reviews to compare cheap and pricey models and find the best for your budget.

Key things to look out for

Battery life and charge time

Battery life typically varies from a blink-and-you'll-miss it five minutes, all the way up to a more respectable 30 minutes. 

You should also consider how long it takes the vacuum cleaner to recharge, as some can take a whole day or more.

  • Look for an indicator to let you know when the battery is running low, so you know if you're short on cleaning time.
  • Some handheld vacuums come with a charging docking station (which can be fixed to the wall for easy storage), while more basic versions simply charge through a plug-in cord.


The main point of a handheld vacuum cleaner is convenience, so weight and size are of paramount importance. Handheld vacuum cleaners vary in weight, from about 0.7kg up to 2.3kg - although most are around 1.5kg.

If you can, it's worth holding and lifting the handheld vacuum you're thinking of buying to get a feel for whether it's comfortable to hold and use.

Dust capacity

The amount of dust handheld vacuum cleaners can hold varies. Most can hold around 0.5 litres, compared with around 0.7 litres for cordless stick vacuums and 2.1 litres on average for a full-sized corded vacuum cleaner.

This is pretty tiny, but should be fine for small jobs such as cleaning the car. However, it's worth looking out for the highest capacity if this is an important consideration for you. The higher the dust capacity, the longer you'll be able to clean for without having to empty your vacuum.

See our handheld vacuum cleaner reviews to find the model that suits your needs.

Cordless vacuum cleaners vs handheld vacuum cleaners

Cordless stick vacuums can clean floors as well as tackling smaller jobs, so you might find they offer a more flexible way to clean your home, and you'll usually get a longer battery life too.

They can be much more expensive, but it's worth considering if a cordless vacuum might be a better long-term investment for your home. Most convert from a stick cleaner to a compact handheld vacuum, with accessories for tackling smaller jobs.

See our round-up of the best cordless vacuum cleaners for our top picks, including some models around the £200 mark.

View all Handheld vacuum cleaners