Hand and stick vacuums are small, lightweight picker-uppers meant for spilled cereal, dirty car interiors, and other messes too small to require lugging out the heavy equipment. They're also designed for quick surface pickup rather than the deep cleaning that upright and canister vacuums are known for. Consumer Reports recently tested more than 20 small vacuums and found eight top picks that start at $35.
Hand vacuums. These small vacuums tend to be lightest and can handle car cleaning. Strong carpet and floor cleanup, even along edges, helped put the corded Bissell Pet Hair Eraser 33A1, $35, on our winners' list. But for cleaning up after pets, we suggest the corded Eureka Easy Clean 71B or the cordless Shark Perfect Pet II SV780; both get very good scores.
Stick vacuums. Stick vacuums take up more space but usually free you from bending. The corded Hoover Flair S2220, a CR Best Buy at $60, cleaned impressively. Paying another $100 or so for the Hoover Platinum LiNX BH50010, $150, or the Shark Navigator Freestyle SV1100, $140, buys cord-free convenience; choose the Shark if carpets trump floors and edges on your list.
Hand and stick combos. Six stick vacuums we tested can double as hand vacuums, but with mostly unimpressive results. The corded Eureka Easy Clean 2-in-1 169B, $30, did better overall as a hand vacuum than as a stick, but its fixed brush head makes handheld use awkward. And turning the same-priced Dirt Devil Simpli-Stick SD20000RED on or off in stick-vac mode requires a long reach down. Keep these other tips in mind:
A motorized brush tends to boost cleaning, especially for pet hair. Most of our top small vacuum picks have one.
Check noise. vacuums that scored poor for noise in our tests were above the 85-dBa level for which we recommend hearing protection.
Don't assume that models with lithium-ion batteries are better; only one cleaned well enough to make our picks. Also, cordless vacuums with lithium-ion batteries tend to operate at full power until they run out, then they stop completely. Models with older battery technologies will rev down gradually.
Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared in Consumer Reports magazine.
Copyright 2005-2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.