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What are handheld vacuums best for?

Handheld vacuums are great for households with kids and pets since they can quickly clean up the little messes left behind, tiding you over until your next big vacuuming session.
Handheld vacuums are great for households with kids and pets since they can quickly clean up the little messes left behind, tiding you over until your next big vacuuming session.

When to use a handheld vacuum

Handheld vacuums can be exceptionally useful for some tasks but fall short on others. You might be wondering what handheld vacuums are best for and if you need one? If you hate dragging your full-size vacuum out for spot cleaning a handheld vacuum could make a huge difference in your day-to-day life.

Handheld vacuum features

Crevice tools

Crevice tools are useful for cleaning edges, getting into the cracks between couch cushions, getting dust off blind slats and any other tasks where you need more concentrated suction power.

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Upholstery attachment

As the name suggests, an upholstery attachment is designed for cleaning upholstery, such as couches and comfy chairs. If you plan to use your handheld vacuum to keep a sofa clean, then you'll want an upholstery attachment. You can also use this attachment for curtains and other fabrics.

Motorized brush

Sometimes referred to as a pet brush, a motorized brush is excellent at picking up pet hair, fluff and dust. If you have pets, one of these attachments is ideal for cleaning pet beds or their favorite spots on the couch.

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Flex wand

A flex wand or extendable wand — such as the one you'll find with the Milwaukee M18 Lithium-Ion Cordless Compact Vacuum — is useful for cleaning hard-to-reach spots, like the tops of drapes or under furniture.

Cordless

You can find a large number of cordless handheld vacuums on the market, like the Shark WV201 WANDVAC Handheld Vacuum. Although you're constrained by its battery life, it's hugely convenient — just pick it up and go, without unwinding a cord or finding an outlet. It's also great to use in the car or anywhere else without access to an outlet.

Handheld vacuum pros

Great for spot cleaning

If your child left cookie crumbs on the floor or your dog tracked in a few leaves from the yard, but your floors are quite clean otherwise, you probably don't want to drag your full-sized vacuum out. Instead, you can simply grab your handheld vacuum and get to work. It will only take you a minute or two. Handheld vacuums are ideal for cleaning all those little messes that are an unfortunate part of life.

Perfect for upholstery

Upright vacuums can be a little too bulky to conveniently clean your upholstery, but handheld models are perfect for the job. Upholstery attachments are great for general cleaning of couches and armchairs, but if you have pets that hang out on the sofa, a handheld vacuum with a motorized brush — such as the BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser Cordless Hand Vacuum — is even better.

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Makes cleaning inside cars a breeze

Handheld vacuums are just right for getting in all those tight spots you'll find in cars. It’s great for cleaning down the sides of seats, dusting heating vents and reaching under the pedals. While cordless models are great for cars, you can also find some corded models with 12.5V attachments that fit in the cigarette lighter, though these are often sold as "car vacuums," rather than handheld vacuums.

Compact and lightweight

Thanks to its compact size and lightweight nature, handheld vacuums are easy for most people to manage. The BLACK+DECKER Dustbuster Handheld Vacuum, for instance, weighs less than 2.2 pounds when empty, and that isn't even the lightest model around. It also takes up very little storage space, which is handy in small homes.

Handheld vacuum cons

Not useful for large areas

Handheld vacuums are perfect for quick bits of spot cleaning, but are they any good for cleaning the floor in whole rooms? No, not unless you want to take five times longer than you would with a full-size vacuum, while stooping the whole time. As such, a handheld vacuum certainly can't be your only vacuum cleaner.

Small dust container

The small size of a handheld vacuum equals a small dust container that needs regular emptying. But since you won't be cleaning vast areas with your handheld vacuum, you might find you'll need to empty it less often than you would the dust container of a stick vacuum.

You may get limited use from a handheld vacuum

Let's face it, there are those of us who keep our homes spotlessly clean and those of us who are a bit more lax. If you've never once vacuumed your couch and you're happy to let small messes lie until your next weekly vacuuming session, you probably won't get much use out of a handheld vacuum. There's no shame in that but it pays to be realistic, and not buy a handheld vacuum unless you think you'll use it.

What are handheld vacuums best for?

Handheld vacuums are best for life's little messes and for thoroughly cleaning small spaces or objects, such as your couch or the inside of your car. Handheld vacuums aren't suitable for cleaning all the floors in your home, so it won't replace a full-size canister, upright or stick vacuum. Rather, a handheld vacuum is a compact second vacuum that makes it easier to clean up spills, crumbs and tracked-in dirt without the need to haul a large, heavy vacuum cleaner out of the closet.

Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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