For spring cleaning week, I’ve pitted three of the best handheld vacuums against each other for a cleanup smackdown that sucks.
A great handheld vacuum should deftly suck up both rogue pet hair and Skittles, not run out of charge five minutes after I finally start cleaning my throw rugs, and make cats run like the devil (hey, isn’t that how you recognize a good motor?).
But as it turns out, just because a handheld vacuum looks good and makes noise doesn’t mean it can really clean. If you’ve ever pushed a piece of dirt in front of a handheld and watched it fail to budge, you know what I mean. (Yes, I should pick up that piece and put it in the trash at that point, but sometimes, you just want to see the darned machine make it happen.) So how do you avoid bringing home something that looks great in the store but doesn’t do the job at home?
Personally, my life changed when I bought a cordless handheld. Prior to, the vacuum cleaner was only dragged out when I was set to clean the entire house. A handheld is so easy to grab, it makes quick work of tidying tracked-in dirt, cereal spills, and for that time during dinner prep when an entire cup of couscous rolled into three rooms of my house (don’t ask).
They range wildly in price, and it’s always tough to know whether you’ve got to make a giant investment to get good results. So with that in mind, here’s my hand vacuum smackdown, with pros and cons for each.
Dyson V6 Trigger
Mention Dyson at a cocktail party and you’re bound to hear some swoons, which is saying an awful lot about a vacuum (seriously, since when do people love their vacuum?). The Dyson V6 Trigger ($200) is a powerful machine with unique technology. The 350-watt motor spins twice as fast as most other handhelds, and uses a patented form of “cyclone technology” to whirl in dust and debris and keep what’s been sucked in from blowing back into your house (you know all of this if you’ve ever been mesmerized by one of their commercials). It also has HEPA filtration, which can collect bacteria and allergens down to 0.3 microns—for perspective, that’s 33 times smaller than a speck of pollen. At 3.4 pounds, it’s easy to maneuver, and the trigger-style switch is easy to grip and use, plus it makes you look a little like Barbarella with a ray gun.
An optional brush head slides out of the way when you don’t need it, but remains attached to the unit so it won’t get lost between uses. It also comes with a crevice tool. The vac isn’t offensively loud (though it isn’t gonna whisper). It keeps its charge for about twenty minutes on the regular setting and six minutes on the noisier but powerful “boost” setting. Our tests have seen it grab everything from hair to small toys. It’ll easily vacuum pet hair right off your microfiber sofa, or pull crumbs from the crevices in a textured mat. The sizable canister is transparent, so it’s easy to see what’s in there, and a press of a button releases all the dirt straight into the trash (but be careful—before one tester understood the machine, she pressed that button and released all the dirt onto the floor). The filter is washable, which is a nice cost-effective feature on an already pricey machine. The whole thing comes with a two-year warranty. Still, at $200, its strength is matched by its price, and Dyson controls that number across all retailers, so you won’t see it for less until one of Dyson’s occasional sales.
Black & Decker Platinum Flex Vac
Looking like a cross between an engine and something out of The Terminator, the Black & Decker Platinum Flex Vac ($119) is Dyson’s closest competitor, at about half the price. Unlike Dyson’s machine, it comes with a four-foot hose, which can be handy for cleaning blinds and upper moldings, but to use it, you’ll need to tote both the five-pound machine and its hose while you work. The machine comes with a dedicated tool for pet hair-cleaning, and has a translucent, bagless canister like the Dyson does. On the base, you’ll find a charge indicator, and a “filter refresh” knob knocks dirt off the filter to boost suction power between cleanings. It advertises a “three-stage filtration system,” but no HEPA. It won’t run quite as long as the Dyson (about 16 minutes on a charge), but running four-fifths as long for the aforementioned half price seems to equal one’s money’s worth. It also comes with a two-year warranty.
The new Hoover Air ($129) looks more like the old Dustbuster, but compares in power and price to the Black & Decker Platinum. The battery promises to run for 15 minutes, and at less than four pounds, the machine is easy to wield. It’s also bagless with a transparent canister, and has a two-year limited warranty. Still no HEPA, but it specializes in picking up pet hair, and also has a battery charge gauge. Like the Dyson, it comes with both a crevice tool and a brush attachment.
Dyson is the Apple Computer of the vacuum world— they capture people’s hearts and minds with their fresh take on a forgotten but essential piece of technology. They also do exhaustive research, focus heavily on design, and product development, and are true innovators in the field. In other words, you’re gonna pay extra to have one of their products, but you’ll fall hard for it when you do, both for its form and its function. If you’re looking to save money, the other two competitors come in neck and neck with features, though their design is different— if you’re looking for something that’s easily grabbable in a pinch, the Hoover Air wins out, but the Black and Decker is a bit more versatile for that not-quite-thorough-but-a-bit-more-than-a-spot clean. Dyson is the only one with a HEPA filter though, so if you have bad allergies, that might be the deal-breaker.
Which handheld do you think blows away the competition? Let me know in the comments!