There are two reasons you might be looking for the best handheld vacuum cleaner. One is that you want a second vac that's kept ready for spills or to use on the car, stairs or motor home. The other is that you want the most compact and lightweight vac possible, due to a lack of space, budget or desire to spend time cleaning.
Handheld vacuum cleaners used to be called things like 'Dirt Devil' and were generally corded. Then Dyson came along and made the compact, cordless vac fashionable. Particularly for small cleaning jobs, or cleaning jobs in confined spaces, not having a cord on your vac makes an awful lot of sense. Nowadays, with cordless stick vacs de rigeur, the lines have blurred between handheld vacs and full-size ones. In many cases, all it takes is the removal of the tubular part of your cordless cleaner and suddenly it is a handheld vac – and vice versa.
What we've gathered together here is a mix of extremely compact handheld vacs – there's one from Roidmi that is no bigger than a roll of kitchen towel – more traditional handhelds and the best cordless vacuum cleaners that can double as full-size floor cleaners and compact handheld vacs.
We also have some other guides you may find relevant. There are top 10 lists for [deep breath] the best car vacuum, the best robot vacuum cleaner, the best Shark vacuum cleaner, the best Dyson cordless vacuum cleaners – try our guide to the best Dyson deals if you seek a bargain – and, of course, the best vacuum cleaner overall. Yes, that is quite a lot of lists of vacuum cleaners. But if you don't wish to get bogged down with heavyweight lists of vacs, try this guide to handheld ones instead.
The best handheld vacuum cleaners we've tried
This fits squarely into the category of a handheld that is also a stick vac, so if you are absolutely determined to not have that functionality, please make your way to entry number 2 on this list. The Omni-glide is a worthy, if slightly pricey, winner of this category however, as it serves up excellent cleaning power. That's not only due to the motor, which provides more suction than its relatively sedate 50W of power would suggest, but also the excellent cleaning heads. You've got the 'Omnidirectional Fluffy' head that gives the device its name, and is superb for cleaning larger areas and a Mini Motorised tool that's perfect for upholstery, stairs and vehicles. The Combination tool – a mix of a brush tool for dusting and a crevice tool for, erm, crevices is less good but I've seen worse.
Overall, this premium cleaner is the best handheld vac we've tested. Thanks to the Omnidirectional Fluffy head, it's also usable as a very capable full-size stick vac. It's specifically for hard floors but can also do a decent job on small-ish rugs that are not too deep pile.
• Find out more in our full Dyson Omni-gllde review
Okay now this is a handheld vac. When I first saw the deodorant can-sized Roidmi P1 Nano Pro I laughed and thought, 'no way is this thing going to clean up anything.' How wrong I was. The P1 Nano Pro, despite its comically small size, is perfectly able to suck up spills such as rice and sugar, pretty much in one pass. Although as the nozzle is so small, it may take a while to deal with larger spills. We've used it for everything from cleaning up ash around a fireplace to sprucing up a motor home and this tiny thing delivers every time.
Of course, if you want to clean up larger pieces of debris, well… that ain't happening. And no way would any sane person attempt to clean their entire house with it. And the bin is quite fiddly to empty as well as being, naturally, absolutely tiny. But for general dusting duties and cleaning up spills of anything that's no bigger than grains of rice, this tiny tube is a near miracle of modern technology. If you want a handheld that is truly compact, look no further. Oh, and it charges via USB-C, just to make it even more convenient to have around.
This handsome looking Shark is, like the Dyson at #1, both a lightweight handheld and a more widely useful stick vac. Not only that, but it comes with one of Shark's patented anti hairwrap cleaning heads, as well as a dusting brush and a small powered tool. Battery life of 16 minutes at most – more like 6-8 minutes if you're using one of the motorised heads and in Boost mode, which surely most cordless vac users are most of the time – isn't amazing. However, it's also by no means terrible, and what's really impressive here is that you actually get two batteries in this package. That's very good VFM, if you ask me, but if you want to get the price even lower you can opt for the WV361UK, which is the same great vac but with only one battery included.
The down sides to this dual purpose WandVac are that is makes a rather shrill noise when doing its work, and has a bin that is considerably more annoying to empty than Dyson's one. Given how much cheaper it usually is, you may find you can live with those minor shortcomings though. The handy docking station is another solid plus point.
Check our Shark discount codes to bag some savings.
Shark has been making this handheld for quite a while now but it still stands up. Someone I know actually uses one to clean up after his rabbit, which is an unusual test for a vacuum cleaner, but one which it passes with aplomb. As with the Roidmi, the great thing about this mini Shark – which is a scaled down version of the WandVac 2-in-1 above – is its sheer compactness. Perhaps because it's a little older, Shark's ultra-miniature vac isn't quite as good at sucking up debris as the Roidmi but it performs a lot better than you'd expect. You just have to be realistic about what something of this size is likely to achieve, ie: it'll do sugar and dust and rabbit poop, but it will struggle with larger debris and long pet hairs.
Yes, the bin is absolutely tiny and the battery life isn't very long. However, 8 minutes – the maximum battery life – is quite enough for most tasks you would use the WandVac 1.0 for. And if it's not, Shark also does a version with two batteries included so you can really go to town on your handheld cleaning.
The Gtech Multi Mk2 has been around for aeons by technology standards – coming up to a decade, in actual time – so why would you still consider buying one? Firstly, Gtech was way ahead of the game when it comes to cordless vacuum cleaners and its batteries still give plenty of cleaning time despite the unit's age. Secondly, it is decidedly less, how can I put it? Less polite than the other vacs here. Where the Dyson, Shark and Roidmi vacs above are refined and sophisticated, the Multi Mk2 is ready to get down and dirty. Its power brush head works well on hard floors and carpets, making Gtech's vac ideal for taking on car cleaning, nasty spills and ground in dirt.
Just be careful when emptying the bin the first few times, or you'll end up with another nasty spill. It's not the easiest thing to empty and you need to develop the knack.
If you'd love a handheld Dyson and don't want to get an older one such as the Dyson V8 and Dyson V7 Trigger, but you also don't want to pay the asking price of the Omni-glide then your obvious choice is the Dyson Micro. As the name suggests, this takes the standard Dyson design and makes it smaller. So the tubes are a bit thinner, the heads a bit smaller and the bin really very small indeed. What you end up with is a very solid performer but for handheld use the Omnidirectional Fluffy (!) of the Omni-glide is much preferable to the Micro Fluffy (!!) head on this one. The Mini Motorised tool is very good, however the Combination tool, as noted in the Omni-glide review above, is a bit of a let down.
Even so, if you want a small Dyson, the Micro is still well worth a look.
- Read our full Dyson Micro review
- If you're looking for older alternatives try these:
- Dyson V8 review
- Dyson V7 Trigger review
Previous Bosch cordless vacs have been a bit iffy in terms of heft and looks. To be brutally frank, they were fatty boom booms. Not so the BCS122GB Unlimited, which is, if I may again speak frankly, a Dyson clone. But a very, very good one.
There are three absolutely fantastic things about the BCS122GB Unlimited and only one egregiously crap one. Firstly, although its battery life is fairly pitiful, Bosch gets around this by the ingenious means of… including a second battery.
As they charge fully in about an hour, these 18v cells should keep you vacuuming indefinitely, so long as you're judicious about charging one while using the other. Interestingly (or not, perhaps), they are also the exact same batteries and charger used in all Bosch's 18v power tool range, so you could use the same cell to drill a hole in a wall, and then suck up the debris.
The other selling points are that cleaning performance on carpet and hard floor is excellent, and well up to Dyson standard in real-life, day-to-day use (I try not to get too bogged down in seeing which vac can suck up one square metre of rice crispies or flour the best.) It's even pretty passable without the turbo mode engaged.
Oh, and the long crevice tool. This looks absolutely ridiculous, turning the vac into a sort of robot anteater, but it is fantastically useful for cleaning skirting boards, footwells, down the back of the washing machine and so on. But seriously, just look at it.
The only real debit, if you ignore the rather premium price and slightly excessive weight, is the duster tool. Dyson has perfected this over the years and it's essential for cleaning dust, crumbs and, I dare say, one square metre of rice crispies off of surfaces in a hurry. The Bosch one is rubbish.
That aside, a near perfect cordless vacuum cleaner, and one that will run and run.
Although you may not have heard of the brand, Tineco is fast becoming a major force in the floor cleaning arena and this mighty white assemblage of high tech wizardry is the Chinese company’s flagship cordless stick.
You certainly get your money’s worth with this futuristic piece of kit since it comes with two batteries, two main brush heads, plus an assortment of five smaller attachments, including one that is designed specifically for cleaning the filter. If you like lots of tools with your vac then this one’s your nirvana, my friend. But that’s just the half of it because there’s a whole lot of science going on under the attractive matt shell of the S12’s admittedly weighty hand unit.
Where other sensor- and processor-based models like the Dyson v11 and Roborock H6 monitor battery usage and the type of surface the brush head is on, this one goes even further to include information on whether the brush roller is tangled or if an air channel is blocked with debris.
However, the really clever bit – which could be construed as a bit of a gimmick – is that it uses sensors to detect the level of dust it’s in the process of devouring. This is beautifully illustrated in real time with a ring of light that surrounds the four-inch circular LED display above the handle. Depending on how much dirt is detected, the circle of light changes from mauve to red, or it stays blue if everything’s spick and span. I tried this out and, amazingly, the motor ramped up the suction and the colour changed from blue to red just as the brush head reached the prearranged section of heavy detritus. There’s even an app for this thing that provides a resumé of its performance though we’re not sure why you’d want to use it.
Unlike the Roborock and Dyson, battery countdown on the S12 is in percentages. I managed to get between 40 and 50 minutes out of each battery, which amounts to a lot of vacuuming.
The S12 always starts up in Auto mode, adjusting suction when necessary. However, you can easily override this by using the tactile finger slide which goes all the way to full power. In fact, it’s only when at full power – which is way too much for most cleaning tasks – that you realise how quiet this vac is. In fact, the main brush head makes more noise than the motor and air flow.
The two main motorised cleaning heads are comprised of the aforementioned noisy brushed version with ribbed spindle that batters along the carpet agitating the dirt in the process, and a smooth velvet roller that is better suited to hard floors. Both rollers picked up everything in their path, including large clumps of dog hair. They’re also equipped with LED headlights – handier than you think.
There’s a lot of other kit involved here, including two nozzles (one extendable), a combination brush and a smaller motorised tool for sofas and stairs. We tried this tool on a dog bed but it failed to make an impression, most likely because the revolving bristles are way too soft. Our final tool is the one that cleans the filter. Simply remove the spare one inside, pop in the dirty one, attach the tool to the handle unit and switch it on. The filter is spun at high speed against internal brushes that remove all traces of dust.
Despite the myriad of bells and whistles, when it came down to the tasks in hand, the Tineco proved to be exceptional in practically all disciplines, whether on carpets, hard floors, curtains, sofas or stairs. If you like tech for the sake of tech even if it’s a bit gimmicky, then this is the vac for you – it’s remarkably powerful, efficient and keenly priced for what it offers.