Size and Type
Of course, when we say handheld, there are actually a few different types. There are handhelds where the whole body is one piece, including the handle, there are those that have a canister and then a hose, and then there are lots of 2-in-1 styles such as those based on the stick vacuum shape.
Most will be good for stairs, but if there are other things you’d like to be able to do, then you might wish to choose something flexible. One-piece handhelds are fairly limited in their use – they’ll only be able to clean small, flat areas like stairs. Those with hoses and other attachments will also be good for the car and upholstery like sofas and curtains. Fully detachable uprights like the Shark Navigator are great for the whole house but naturally carry a higher price tag.
There are a few other things that you should consider that just make a vacuum that little bit easier to use. The main one, of course, is how easy it is to empty and clean. Nobody likes having to empty dust and debris from a vacuum, so you may as well choose a unit that isn’t going to give you any trouble.
The best units will just have a simple button or clip that allows all of the dust to drop out into the bin, but others might require the removal of the dust cup. This is OK if it’s mostly enclosed, but be aware that more awkward designs can mean dust getting out into the air as you’re emptying.
Not all vacuums come with filters, and some come with multiple filters. In some cases, these filters will be replaceable, which can be annoying as it’s not always easy to get a replacement. Instead, you ideally want a vacuum with a washable filter. These are usually quite easy to take out, and just require a rinse to get them back to their best.
While we’re on this subject, it’s also worth thinking about bag versus bagless. Most vacuums have no bag these days, as it means you don’t need to purchase any replacements. In some cases, and on high-end models in particular, you might find that the unit uses a bag because this is believed to be more effective in ensuring you don’t have to come into contact with the dust. This is something to think about if you or a member of your household has particular allergies.
In any specification sheet, you should quite easily be able to find the reach for any corded vacuum that you’re looking at, and this could well be something that’s important. It’s often the case that power outlets aren’t found all that close to staircases, so you want to be sure that your chosen vacuum can reach to clean the whole staircase at once without having to swap part way through.
The reach is usually calculated by adding the length of the power cord to any hose attachments that the vacuum comes with, so bear in mind that the overall reach might be shorter if you don’t plan on using the hose.
Of course, you can eliminate much of the concern over reach by choosing a cordless vacuum cleaner. These are charged at the mains and can then be used without any wires. They last long enough for a reasonable amount of cleaning, but you do need to remember to keep them charged. Some poorer quality batteries also don’t put out enough power for acceptable suction either, so again, check the reviews.
Attachments are really important for handheld vacuum cleaners because they’re most commonly used for cleaning things other than just flat floors around the house. Generally, you’re going to want to try and get as many attachments as you can for your money, unless you genuinely only need basic functionality. There are a few different ones to consider.
Firstly, there’s the brush. If you’re cleaning a carpet, then a good brush attachment will be essential, because they’re good at getting into the fibers and getting dust and debris out from between them. Ideally, you want a motorized brush, because the added power really helps with cleaning. In a lot of cases, the vacuum will have the brush as a fixed part of the vacuum, but in other cases, such as with the Shark Rocket, they can be taken off.
Next is the crevice tool. This is very useful for stairs because it’s not always possible to get a standard brush roll right into the corners of the staircase. Crevice tools are usually small and pointed, and almost all vacuums will come with one in some form.
Aside from these two, there might be all kinds of specialized attachments, such as the ingenious rubber nozzles that Bissell use, which are excellent for pet hair. There are also wide mouth nozzles for sucking up debris from hard surfaces.
Think about what you’re going to use the vacuum for, and then ensure that any you’re considering buying have the appropriate attachments.
Suction power is naturally going to be important. The stronger the suction, the better the vacuum is going to be for picking up dirt and debris. You’ll often find that manufacturers give a power rating for their products, which is intended to show how powerful the suction is. Usually, this is given in volts or amps.
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The power rating for the motor doesn’t always translate to the same amount of suction. There are lots of different things that can affect it, such as the build quality of the machine and more. That’s why it’s important to check reviews like this one and to see how other people have got on. Use the power rating as a general guide, but don’t rely on it.
There’s also the loss of suction to consider. Some products do lose suction both as the cup fills up, and as the unit gets older. As a result, it’s always worth checking out reviews from other people that have bought the vacuum to ensure you’re not going to be disappointed a few weeks or months into your purchase.
It’s also worth noting that attachments and heads such as motorized brushes will help the vacuum to be more effective, regardless of suction power.