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Pet hair, spills and dirt are child's play for these powerful handheld vacuums. Lithium Jump Starter
Cars are chock-full of nooks and crannies where dirt, food and other debris like to settle, and the compact nature of most automobiles makes using a full-size canister vacuum or an upright vacuum almost impossible. To get into the tight areas under seats, between leather seams and into little compartments, the best car vacuums are handheld cordless vacuums. Trust us: If you decide to get one, it'll be your new best friend. With new innovations in the market launching all the time, handheld cordless vacuums are quickly rising up to rival their larger counterparts in terms of dirt pickup and overall performance, and their condensed size makes them a cleaning asset both in your car and in your home.
The Good Housekeeping Institute's Home Care & Cleaning Lab has tested a wide range of vacuums over the years, from stick vacuums to robot vacuums. Our rigorous testing on different surface types, like hardwood floors, and with different dirt types, like pet hair, has helped us continue to make the most relevant and up-to-date recommendations in the field. With special attention to the needs of car cleaning, here are our top picks for the best car vacuums.
Stick around after reading our list to find out how we test car vacuums, get answers to common questions about car vacuums and learn why you should trust Good Housekeeping's picks.
DEWALT's cordless hand vac packs a real punch when it comes to suction power. In our tests for dirt pickup, it was consistently able to remove more than 90% of debris in just one back-and-forth swipe from low-pile carpet. Plus, because it comes with a wide array of attachments, this vacuum makes cleaning between difficult-to-reach crevices and small nooks a snap.
With suction strength as powerful as this vacuum's, unfortunately this model is particularly heavy, making maneuvering it a little more difficult than some of the more compact models. Nevertheless, an extra pound and a half of weight means nothing considering how well it picks up dirt. Testers also noted that the vacuum doesn't come with its own battery pack. However, if you already own any other DEWALT lithium-ion-powered hand tools, you'll likely have just what you need to get up and running.
Clocking in at under $50, this vacuum shows that you don't need to spend a fortune to make your car's more modest messes disappear. For the price, this vacuum has impressive suction and was able to clean up smaller messes quickly. The USB feature also makes charging in the car convenient, so you can keep it in your vehicle.
Despite its suction power, this vacuum features a very small dust cup, meaning that for bigger messes you may need to stop and empty it more frequently than some other models. But for the price, an extra trip to the trash is worth it.
Worx had a stroke of genius with this vacuum. Rarely do we see a handheld vacuum that features a hose instead of being a self-contained unit, and, wow, are we excited about it. The hose stretches four feet, and with several attachments it can easily pick up dirt in the most hard-to-reach places of a car. This vacuum also performed exceedingly well in our suction testing, removing an average of 94% of dirt in one swipe — without even being on its highest setting.
The one quibble we have with this vacuum is the dust compartment. Unlike some other models, this vacuum's dust cup isn't removable, so you have to bring the whole vacuum with you when you go to empty it, and cleaning it can be a little intensive. That said, the dust cup is sizable compared with the overall volume of the vacuum, so you may not need to empty it as much.
Pet hair gets everywhere, and if you've ever traveled in the car with your pet, you know how much they can shed on your seats and floor. What sets this model apart is its ability to pick up pet hair, due to its motorized pet brush attachment with rubber bristles. The AdvancedClean+ Pet Hand Vacuum earned a spot on our list of the best vacuums for pet hair, competing right alongside upright and stick vacuums, which is impressive considering its size.
Our testers also loved how quiet this vacuum is. In fact, after being examined by the independent certification program Quiet Mark, it received a three-star rating, the quietest rating a vacuum can get. It should be noted that the air vents on the sides of this model push out air pretty strongly, so you may have to pay attention as you vacuum to make sure you don't accidentally blow your mess to another location.
Ridgid's cordless vacuum has some serious power, getting perfect marks in five out of seven of our performance evaluations and earning a spot on our roundup of the best cordless handheld vacuums. The powerhouse vac features a large dust cup and long battery life, so you don't have to worry about constantly stopping when you're tackling a big mess. If you register your vacuum within 90 days of purchase, you can receive a lifetime service agreement, which offers free servicing and replacement parts for life.
This model achieves much performance-wise, but it leaves something to be desired in terms of ease of use. It received a one-star rating from Quiet Mark, meaning it's louder than its counterparts, and its bulky chassis makes maneuvering in smaller crannies a bit more difficult. It's also worth noting that this model requires a battery that's sold separately. However, this allows you to decide exactly how much power you need and customize your vacuum for how often you'd like to charge it.
This hand vac from Shark has a sleek, minimal design that sets it apart from the rest. This lightweight model could fit neatly inside a seat-back pocket or the glove compartment. This vacuum performed nearly as well as some of the bulkier options at picking up crushed cereal, dry oats and baking soda.
Although the smaller size might not affect the suction power, it does come at the cost of a smaller dust cup compared with other models. Furthermore, the dust cup isn't removable, making cleaning between pickups more of a chore, but we still like how easily you can remove dirt from hard-to-reach places due to its slim chassis. An absolutely worthwhile trade-off.
Hoover's handheld vacuum makes light work of getting into the crevices of your car's seats and interior with its onboard crevice tool. The model performed well in picking up both smaller and larger particulate matter across a variety of surfaces. Granola crumbs, begone!
Like a few of our other picks, this vacuum requires a separately sold battery, and depending on that battery's capacity, will have varying run times before needing to be recharged. Testers also noted the lack of attachments (aside from the crevice tool), making it less versatile than some other vacuums, but we found that it was so excellent at detailing that the lack of other attachments could easily be forgiven.
This car vacuum test involved collecting data on five of the newest models, then reviewing our previous data points for handheld vacuums, taken during years of vacuum testing: In our last test of handheld vacuums, the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab tested 19 models from 14 different brands. We test all handheld vacuums on bare floors and low-pile carpets for how well they pick up light debris like sand, baking soda, dry oatmeal, orzo pasta and pet hair. We also test suction with heavy items, like screws and nuts.
This round of car vacuum testing took more than 10 hours of dedicated testing, in which the five different tests performed yielded more than 40 data points. All vacuums were tested on low-pile carpet to mimic the texture of car rugs, and different types of debris, including crushed cereal, baking soda and almost two pounds of oats, were cleaned using the vacuums. We also weighed the vacuums, assessed their ergonomics and measured their loudness when operating to determine how easy and comfortable they were to use.
When weighing your options, factor in these four important elements to find the right car vacuum for your needs:
✔️ Run time: A vacuum with a longer run time means fewer charges between cleanings and not having to worry about charging every time you use the vacuum. For vacuums that have separately sold batteries, choose a battery with a larger capacity to keep your vacuum running clean after clean.
✔️ HEPA filtration: Though not always necessary, a HEPA filter in your vacuum can help prevent small particulate matter, like pet dander, pollen, dust mites and ash from smoke, from being recirculated into the air as you vacuum. People with allergies or air-pollution sensitivities should look for vacuums that feature HEPA filters to better capture irritating particles.
✔️ Attachments: When you're cleaning a space that has lots of tight crevices and is made from a variety of different materials, like the interior of a car, attachments are your best friends. Look for a vacuum that has a crevice tool to get into the little nooks where dirt likes to settle, and consider one with a rotating brush attachment to easily remove hair from fabric materials.
✔️ Charger type: If you plan on keeping your car vacuum in your car, you'll want to find a vac that features a USB charger. That way, you'll be able to keep it charged with the auxiliary power outlet found in most cars, so you're prepared when a mess arrives.
If we want to get super technical, according to ASTM F558-13, the standard test for measuring air performance of vacuum cleaners, the air power (reported in watts) of a vacuum is a description of the net time rate of work performed by an airstream while expending energy to produce an airflow under specified air-resistance conditions. In other words, a vacuum with a higher air power will have greater suction power.
When you're looking for a car vacuum, the most important thing is not to confuse air power with electrical power (reported in volts). A vacuum with higher electrical power will not necessarily provide greater suction. Air power is often not reported by vacuum manufacturers, whereas electrical power typically is.
Due to the complex nature of calculating air power, and the fact that not all manufacturers report air-power wattage, we measure vacuum pickup in a more practical way: The Cleaning Lab uses pickup tests to approximate suction power as a percentage of deposited matter that is recovered by the vacuum after one forward and one backward pass of the vacuum. All vacuums featured in this article had an average pickup of more than 80% of deposited dirt after just one complete pass, meaning they're powerful enough to clean up most messes with minimal effort.
Nikolas Greenwald has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and, as such, has a breadth of experience working with various vacuum and pump systems in the unit operations laboratory setting. He helps refine and develop novel testing protocols and data systems across the Good Housekeeping Institute based on industry standards and his knowledge of thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and data science.
Jump Starter Pack Carolyn Forté has tested and reviewed hundreds of vacuum cleaners, carpet cleaners, mops and other major (and small) home appliances as executive director of the Home Care Lab. She oversees all testing done in the Cleaning Lab and recently tested all of the handheld, stick, upright and canister vacuums that were submitted for consideration in the most recent Cleaning & Organizing Awards. She is an active member of the ASTM Committee on vacuum cleaners and chairman of the consumer information sub-committee.