Methodology for handheld vacuum reviews

You’ll find expert star ratings on our handheld vacuum comparisons and reviews. Here’s how we came up with them.

Handheld vacuums are handy tools for cleaning up mess, but they vary in price, quality and features. To help you choose the right one to clean your home, we rated them based on our hands on tests of each one, features, attachments charge-to-run time, and a consensus of user reviews.

So what goes into the Finder score?

We rate handheld vacuums using a system of 1 to 5 stars:

★★★★★ — Excellent
★★★★★ — Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Subpar
★★★★★ — Poor

We round ratings to the nearest half star.

For each handheld vacuum, we evaluate a range of metrics to determine the star ratings. We aggregated our own tests with the vacs spec and curated user reviews and came up with the average score.

Test ratings

  • Performance. This is the most important factor before buying a vac and we tested out each one on various surfaces picking up different debris. We tested each one on carpet, hard floor, sofa and in crevices to see how well they picked up grains of rice, biscuit crumbs, Cheerios and pet hair. (50% of test score)
  • Actual charge-to-run time. We tested this out by cleaning and timing the vac from fully charged to fully depleted. If the vac has a short charge time and a long run time, that’s ideal. If it’s the opposite, it won’t score well in this category (15% of test score).
  • Convenience. If a vac has a small capacity, is difficult to empty and is difficult to get clean fully, it will score poorly here. We tested this out by seeing how each coped when cleaning a large handful of debris and emptying it into the bin. (15% of test score).
  • Cleaning heights. Handhelds may not seem intuitive to this given their small sizes. But some have stretchable hoses and have long attachments to boot. The lighter one weighs, the better. We tested if each one was easy to hold, and could reach tricky areas without any dust falling out. (6% of test score).
  • Manoeuvrability. The main cleaning will be done at ground level, so this is important. The smoother a vac glides on different surfaces and around furniture, and if it isn’t bulky, the better it scores here. (5% of test score).
  • Crevice cleaning. We tested crevices with biscuit crumbs on a sofa, but if a vac has a dedicated crevice tool to poke behind a tight cabinet, it’ll score well here. (5% of test score).
  • Noise. No one wants to cover their ears when tidying up. We tested noise out by standing 1 metre away from it whilst cleaning. If we heard each other, it’d score well. The more muffled our conversation was, the lower the score. (4% of test score).

    Spec and customer ratings

  • Positive and negative user reviews. This is typically based on hundreds of user reviews on Amazon. These touch on performance and individual pros and cons (40% of the spec score).
  • The stated charge-to-run time. If the brand states its vac has a short charge time and a long run time, that’s ideal. If it’s the opposite, it won’t score well in this category (20% of the spec score).
  • Warranty. A long warranty from the manufacturer is always better. They range from 1 to 5+ years (10% of the spec score).
  • Does it have replacement batteries? If so, that’s a win. You don’t want to be buying a whole new appliance when you can just get a new battery pack (8% of the spec score).
  • How many useful accessories does it come with? Handheld vacs come with helpful nozzles and tools for the narrowest of corners. The more the better (8% of the spec score).
  • Stated capacity. Does the vac store plenty of dust before you have to empty it out according to spec? If so it gets a slightly higher score (7% of the spec score).
  • Pet hair. Some vacs are built for sucking up those fur balls and strands of dog fur (4% of the spec score).
  • Does it have a dirt release button? For ease of emptying dirt, a quick-release button is convenient (3% of the spec score).
  • We averaged the two sections’ scores and this is our Finder star rating.

    What goes into our category ratings?

    At a glance, you can see scores for important categories a handheld vacuum should excel in: performance, run time, and convenience. If a vac has strong suction, doesn’t clog and picks up most of the debris in 3 sweeps, it performs well. If a vac has a good charge-to-run time, it means you can get more cleaning done without having to wait ages to recharge it. Convenience encompasses a few aspects: The larger the capacity, the better, so you don’t have to empty the dust chamber often. A dirt-release button is handy to dump dust without getting into a faff. If you can replace the vac’s battery if it goes kaput, that’s a bonus. If it has a charging dock that’s an added minor convenience.

    What our ratings don’t cover

    Because the same handheld vac can be sold by 20 different retailers at 20 different prices (or even second-hand), we don’t factor the price into our ratings (although we do consider it for any model we recommend for those on a budget). However, we regularly scour prices and highlight good deals from specific retailers where you can pick up a highly rated handheld vacuum below a specific price point. The general price range of the product is taken into account when we choose models to review.

    The bottom line

    Our ratings are here to provide you with a quick assessment of handheld vacuums. It’s key to read our individual reviews of them, including reviews from owners, before making a choice.

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