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How we test handheld vacuum cleaners

By Matthew Knight

Every handheld vacuum we review is put through rigorous lab tests - find out more about them below.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

What makes a Best Buy handheld vacuum?

We put each handheld vacuum cleaner through more than 30 tests in our lab before we give our Best Buy recommendation, so you can be assured that a Best Buy will make a real difference in your home.

Our handheld vacuum reviews reveal the truth behind manufacturers' claims, exposing the poor quality cleaners that don't get the job done and highlighting the top handheld vacuums worthy of our Best Buy recommendation. 

Each of our reviews answer the most crucial questions about handheld vacuums, including:

  • How well does it clean?
  • What's the battery life like?
  • Does it take long to recharge?
  • Is it quiet and easy to use?
  • Should I buy it?

Go straight to our full handheld vacuum cleaner reviews to see which models topped our tests.

How well do handheld vacuums clean?

We test the suction of each handheld model on two different surfaces and with four different types of mess so that we can simulate the types of spills that you would use a handheld for in your home. 

Fine dust pick-up

We sprinkle down fine Arizona sand onto Wilton carpet and measure how much each vacuum cleaner is able to pick up. The very best pick up almost all of it and the worst leave up to 25% behind. 

Dealing with a large spill

To mimic the type of incident which may call for a clean up with a handheld vacuum, we time how long it takes each model to pick up a large spill of cornflakes and then a large spill of cat litter from a hard floor. The best pick up a large spill of cornflakes in almost no time the worst actually fail to pick up any of the cornflakes as they become clogged in the nozzle and need to be removed with your fingers.

Sucking up pet hair

Many people use a handheld vacuum to pick up after their pet when it has been on a sofa or in a room it shouldn't have been. We time how long it takes each handheld model to suck up pet hair that we have combed into carpet. The best suck it all up in less than 20 seconds, the worst leave hair behind even after two minutes of continuous cleaning.

What's the battery life like?

There are big differences between what manufacturers claim and the reality of handheld vacuum battery life, which is why we measure the time it takes to charge each handheld vacuum and how long it can run for.

Although many manufacturers base their running time claims on the standard suction setting, we test each handheld's running time on its most power-hungry setting as well as the standard setting and publish the results of each.

We also carry out our dust pick-up cleaning test when the battery is at 100% and then again when the battery is run down to 80%. The best handheld vacuums maintain their suction even as the battery depletes, the worst lose up to half of their original debris pick-up.

Is it quiet and easy to use?

An independent panel of experts assess how easy each handheld vacuum cleaner is to use. The panel rates how easy it is to use on carpets and hard floors, how easy it is to vacuum above head height on shelves and in the corners of ceilings, how easy it is to get into the nooks and crannies that you would find in a car or down the back of the sofa and even how easy it is to clean and empty after the hard work is done.

If that wasn't enough, we also assess how easy each is to assemble and dismantle each handheld vacuum for storing, what the grip of the handle feels like, how useful each of the attachments are, as well as what it's like using all the switches.

Finally, we measure in decibels how loud each handheld is - the worst get up to 82 decibels, which is the same as the noise from a busy road.

Should I buy it?

All of the assessments listed above go towards the final overall score we award to each handheld vacuum cleaner we review. Some factors are more important than others when buying and using a vacuum, so they carry different weights.

  • 75% suction and battery
  • 22.5% ease of use
  • 2.5% noise

65% the score a handheld vacuum cleaner needs to earn our Best Buy logo

A model has to achieve 65% or more to earn our Best Buy recommendation, and anything scoring below 40% is highlighted as a Don't Buy that we think you should avoid.

Improvements to our testing

In 2016 we updated our handheld vacuum cleaners test program to better reflect how our members use their vacuums. As a result handheld vacuum cleaners tested before 2016 are not directly comparable to handheld vacuum cleaners tested after this date. 

Is the battery replaceable?

Lithium-ion batteries always deplete and eventually die over time, and at Which?, we believe that cordless products should last longer than the batteries they come with. That's why we no longer give handheld vacuum cleaners Best Buys if spare batteries cannot be bought from the manufacturer – no matter how good the handheld vac might be.


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