"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."
We all know how annoying vacuuming your vehicle can be. There always seems to be dirt that won't come up or a few stray Cheez-Its under a seat, just out of reach. Worse yet is trying to accomplish this with a clumsy oversize shop vac or even your home upright vacuum. Good luck!
We set out to find the best car vacuum cleaner available to solve your car-cleaning needs. We lined up a test for the ages, pitting 14 vacuums of varying shapes and sizes against each other on as even a playing field as possible. The tests included noise readings, suction power, ease of disposal, battery life, and of course, how well they suck up different kinds of debris on a floor. Here's what we found.
Purchasing a vacuum specially designed for a car is a worthy investment, no matter how often you clean your ride's interior. They're usually lighter and more compact than a standard vacuum and come with attachments that allow you to get in the toughest nooks and crannies. Better yet, once all the Cheerios and beach sand are sucked up, dirt disposal is typically much easier than with larger vacuums. But there are a few things you should know before you buy one.
Things to Consider
Does It Have to Be a "Car Vacuum"?
We set out to answer this question by pitting a few auto-oriented vacuum cleaners against some typical household models, and also included a few garage/shop-centric vacuums. Bottom line: Whichever one works best for you is the best car vacuum you can buy.
For example, we gave our "Best Overall" award to a typical Black+Decker Dustbuster mainly because of its versatility around the home. Meanwhile, the #1-selling, top-rated "car vacuum cleaner" on Amazon only plugs into a 12V cigarette lighter port, won't work unless the engine is running, and in our test could barely suck up anything beyond some grains of sand. Get the car vac that best suits your needs; it may already be in your home.
Ahh, the age-old question. When it comes to car vacuums, size doesn't matter—in terms of performance, that is. We tested tiny handheld models that had impressive suction power, not just for their size but relative to the competition. We also evaluated a few larger, bulkier models and found that most of them weren't as effective at cleaning a car as smaller, more nimble models.
As for versatility and usefulness—yes, size matters, but not in the way you might think. Larger vacuums usually boast more suction power than handheld models but may be difficult to move around the car or to get into the nooks and crevices of your car or truck's cabin. Strive to find a car vacuum that's lightweight and maneuverable enough to get behind and between your seats—and anywhere else you might need to suck up dirt.
Look for a vacuum cleaners that has a few attachments; most importantly a crevice tool but also a brush for things like a/c ducts. If using a household vacuum, look for one that lets you remove the end tip completely, so you get maximum suction where you need it straight from the hose. Some household vacuums have large or oddly shaped nozzles that make it difficult to get into small spaces. Versatility is key.
Corded or Cordless?
Corded vacuums provide the longest-lasting power, but can limit mobility in and around the vehicle. Moreover, some corded car vacuums use the vehicle's 12V power port, and will only operate with the engine running.
Cordless vacuums are the best for cars. If you buy one from a brand-name tool company like Ryobi, Milwaukee, or DeWalt, be sure you have the right battery pack and charger.
How We Tested Car Vacuums
We wanted to test these different car vacuums as thoroughly as we could, so we organized a gauntlet for them. We used six different metrics to determine the best:
Ease of dirt disposal
We lined up five different kinds of contaminants: fine sand, Cheerios, crushed-up Cheez-Its, potting soil, and pet hair. Then, in an effort to keep the test uniform and fair, we equipped each vacuum with a crevice attachment—whether built in or included separately. Because it's the most popular attachment to use when vacuuming your vehicle, we felt that it made sense to test them with that exclusively. Also, some of the smaller vacuums come out of the box with small mouth openings, so to test those against ones with larger mouths wouldn't have been fair.
It should be noted, then, when looking at the photo results of the floor-mat tests, that many vacuums came with attachments that would have easily handled the larger chunks. While small crevice-tool openings produced higher suction readings, they really struggled against larger debris.
So if you seriously want to cut down on time and effort when it comes to vacuuming out your ride, it's time to pony up some cash for a car vacuum. Some messes demand a more powerful machine, while for others a compact unit will suffice. Either way, it's better than lugging the vacuum cleaner out of your hall closet.
Surprised? So were we. But there's no doubt—this is the best car vacuum we tested. While it lacked gold-star status in the suction and battery-life test, the trusty Black+Decker Dustbuster reigned supreme in our real-life floor-mat test. Black+Decker's renowned portable vacuum features a large mouth that had zero issues cleaning up all five of our test contaminants—just the sort of mess that's often found on a car floorboard. The opening was wide enough to avoid clogs and the collection chamber handled it all with ease. Dumping it is a breeze, too—without leaving anything stuck around the filter. We also liked the design of the stand-up charging base.
That said, it's not perfect. The battery life is low compared to the other contenders, so you'll have to hustle if you want to vacuum your entire interior. The Dustbuster is also on the loud side, with a high-pitched whistle that might make your dog squirm.
Despite those drawbacks, we chose the Dustbuster as our Best Overall Car Vacuum for its successful blend of price, performance, and household versatility.
Despite its relatively short battery life and high-pitched whine, the trusty Dustbuster really aced our floor-mat test. It's great for around the house. And the price is right.
Black+Decker performed well in our tests, as shown by its occupation of the top two spots. Again, the wide-mouthed crevice opening did very well against our five contaminants, but the most attractive feature is the pivot function, hence the name.
The long crevice opening, paired with up to 200 degrees of pivot angle, allows the Black+Decker Pivot to get into typically unaccessible places. Battery life is so-so, coming in at just around 11 minutes, and the noise level is pretty average.
Our one knock on the Pivot comes when dumping the dust. Due to its design, the small intake channel gets clogged with large particles quite easily as they try to get around the filter. Be prepared to empty it a few times if you're tackling big chunks.
Aside from that, the Pivot does an excellent job cleaning cars quickly, and the pivoting function offers unique angles.
The Pivot worked well—until it inevitably became clogged. We like the clever design and extendable crevice tool, though.
Vac N Blo Compact Wall Mount
You'll feel like Rambo throwing this bad boy over your shoulder, but—by golly—it does the job. Resembling some sort of jet engine activated by a chunky, old-school toggle switch, the MetroVac Vac N Blo Compact Wall Mount is a true beast.
While it's meant to be mounted onto your garage's wall, this vacuum comes with a handy shoulder strap that we prefer. (Make sure you don't bonk it into the vehicle as you work.) The vacuum comes with a plethora of attachments, but we used the crevice tool for our floor-mat test—where it underachieved against the big pieces.
When it comes to power, the Vac N Blo scored highly while somehow keeping the noise levels lower than most of the handheld vacuums. However, the 10-pound weight does get heavy, and emptying the filter is a chore—we had to manually remove it and shake the pieces out, which proved to be an endeavor on its own.
If you're not playing around and need to clean your car with power, look no further.
The Vac N Blo is ideal for vacuuming van/RV interiors and truck beds. It's bigger and heavier than most, but the blow-drying function is a feature you don't get from most handheld vacs.
The Dyson V8 gets brownie points for also being usable in the home; only needing one vacuum to clean everything is a plus in our book. While there are plenty of bright spots—it's quiet, emptying the waste is a breeze, swapping attachments is simple—it underwhelms as a standalone car vacuum.
The battery life is the big negative on the V8. It's equipped with two different power levels, and max power lasted just under eight minutes in our test. Shocked, we charged the battery again for 24 hours, and once again, it lasted the same amount of time. This is a problem, as the weaker, longer-lasting power isn't sufficient enough to get most sand and dirt out of carpeted floor mats when used with the crevice tool—let alone vacuum more than a room or two in the home.
Speaking of crevice tools, the V8's is criminally small and really struggled against large pieces. For a home/car vacuum, it works—but we wouldn't recommend dropping this kind of cash to use it strictly for your vehicle.
Despite its unique design and around-home functionality, when it comes to cleaning up floorboards the Dyson V8 doesn't quite live up to the hype surrounding the brand.
M18 Cordless Vacuum
Milwaukee really makes everything these days, so we had to try the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Vacuum. Right off the bat, you're looking at the winner of our battery-life test—the M18 RedLithium XC5.0 beating all of the contenders with a healthy 23-minute, 24-second time.
The collection chamber is nice and large, and emptying it is simple. The vacuum doesn't produce that much noise either—but all of the excess air blows out from the top, so expect a warm breeze as you use it.
The crevice attachment is sadly skinny, and it struggled against Cheerios and Cheez-Its, as seen in the photo below. Weighing in at nearly six pounds, it does get the forearms burning after extended use.The other knock is you'll need Milwaukee's proprietary M18 battery and charger, sold separately. But if you already have other Milwaukee M18 tools, the battery works with this vacuum like a charm. For a long cleaning session, this is the way to go.
If you're already a Milwaukee acolyte, you're good to go. If not, you'll need to purchase an M18 battery and charger separately. The same holds true with all rechargeable tool systems—components sold a la carte usually don't include a battery or charger.
20-Volt Max Cordless Vacuum
The DeWalt 20-Volt Max Cordless Vacuum competed nicely with the Milwaukee vac, but the yellow machine was edged out in certain areas. Notably, battery life from the 20V Max XR Lithium Ion was not as impressive as the Milwaukee M18's, but it was still good enough for a comfortable second in our testing.
The DeWalt's crevice tool also struggled against large chunks, and emptying the vac was a tad trickier. However, the DeWalt is lighter, and more of the weight is over the middle of the machine—which helped with wrist fatigue.
Our verdict? Get whichever machine you already have batteries for—the DeWalt and the Milwaukee are similar enough in price and performance. Even companies like Bosch, Makita, and Ryobi offer handheld vacuums along with the power tools in their respective proprietary rechargeable-battery lines, and most offer optional power packs that increase run time even further. These rechargeable-battery systems really work—but they only make sense if you go all-in on one brand.
If you already own a system of cordless rechargeable Li-ion hand/power tools, then that's the brand you should go with when buying a car vacuum. They generally outperform household handheld vacs but require a proprietary battery and charger, sold separately.
HomeVac H30 Venture
If there were a prize for the best packaging, the Eufy by Anker HomeVac H30 would take the cake. Getting this thing open was like unboxing a royal relic. Luckily, the sleek machine within backed up all the fuss, ranking as our best wand-style vacuum.
Immediately, the narrow opening gave the vacuum issues with big chunks, causing clogs. However, it handled the small stuff with ease. Surprisingly powerful in its high-power mode, the H30 also produces higher-than-average noise levels.
Battery life on max power lasted 10 minutes, 6 seconds; in Eco mode, it lasted just over 22 minutes. Emptying the dirt from the vacuum is a tad tricky the first time, but once you figure out how the machine comes apart, cleaning the filter is a piece of cake.
Due to its simple usability, light weight, and powerful suction, the Eufy by Anker HomeVac H30 is our choice for quickly taking care of small messes in your car.
The HomeVac H30 features a sleek design and a cool, pseudo-carbon-fiber finish. Even the box it comes in is clever.
Ultralight Pet Pro, Corded
The Shark Ultralight Pet Pro competed with the Dyson V8 for the title of dual-use champion. (They both also feature a fun, gun-like design that resembles a blaster from a sci-fi movie.) The Dyson emerged victorious for one reason—it can do everything the Shark can, without a power cord. The one bright spot? The Shark's crevice tool is far superior to the Dyson's, as shown in the picture below—the Shark left nearly nothing behind.
While it's fun to point and make pew-pew noises, the Ultralight proved to be heavy on the wrist, as all of the weight is in front of the hand. At 25 feet, the cord is plenty long, but yanking it all over the car as you work gets old quickly. While it performed well in our testing, the corded Shark seems stuck in the past when it comes to portably vacuuming your car.
If it weren't for its power cord, the Ultralight would have competed for Best Overall on our list. It is fun to play with, however, which might inspire the kids to help out when it comes time to clean the minivan.
Most of us aren't professional car cleaners or shop owners. But if you are, it might be time to upgrade to the Bissell Garage Pro. This wall-mounted wet/dry vacuum/blower isn't portable in the slightest but makes up for it with supreme power and a 32-foot-long hose.
Once the Garage Pro is mounted, the professional-grade features become available. The hose is more than long enough to wrap around a vehicle and comes with tons of attachments. The dirt tank is simple to empty, and a nice protective cover over the power button is designed to keep it clean.
It's the loudest vacuum of the bunch, but that's expected because of the fantastic suction power. It sucked up just about everything with the crevice tool, leaving behind only a few stray chunks.
The Garage Pro won't be for everyone, but it's a great investment for professional detailers, shop owners, or someone who cleans cars frequently.
If you've been thinking about a wall-mounted wet/dry vacuum/blower for your garage or shop, the Garage Pro is a solid investment.
The Shark WandVac is another lightweight wand vacuum with a hot, sleek design that excelled with small messes but struggled against anything beyond that. The battery life is quite poor, but the noise is tolerable. The vacuum's mouth opening just isn't designed to handle Cheerios or any other modestly sized objects that may end up on your floorboard. It's great for home or office, but not so much for the car.
One note we had is that small bits of dirt and other debris sprinkled out the bottom when we powered off the vacuum. This seemed to be due to some sort of issue with the seal around the dirt-chamber-release door on the bottom. It is possible that we received a faulty unit. Again, it's usable for small touch-up messes on your dashboard or seats but not much else in a vehicle.
The WandVac couldn't pick up Cheez-Its, Cheerios, or even potting soil. It did well with the sand and pet hair, though.
20V MAX Cordless Flex
One member of our testing team bad-mouthed this vacuum from the moment it arrived, speaking from previous bad experiences with the unit. Well, either he got a bad vacuum back then or this device has been seriously upgraded since, because the Black+Decker 20V Max Cordless Flex performed quite well in our floor-mat test. It ate up everything but large Cheez-It pieces, and it wasn't significantly louder (or quieter) than much of the competition here.
Dumping out the junk is quite simple, but there are a lot of nooks and crannies inside the machine that collect dirt, which can be a pain to empty completely. Battery life was good enough for third best in our test, and it clicked into the charging dock easily.
However, we have to knock the hose—the wraparound design looks clever out of the box, but it's actually quite tricky to get the hose to nest snugly back onto the main body, which is necessary for it to nest on its charging dock (unless you just leave it to the side). If it were not for that one struggle, the Flex would rank much higher on our list, as its performance was impressive.
The Flex performed admirably against the competition. While we wanted to like the hose, we found it hard to wrap it back around the body and get the unit to nest on its charger. Fix that, and we've got a contender for Best Overall.
At just over a foot long, the Bissell AeroSlim is easily the smallest vacuum we tested—and the results are a reflection of that. The AeroSlim should fit snugly into the glovebox or center console of most large pickups and SUVs and easily in the trunks of smaller cars. While its portability is unmatched, the AeroSlim's overall cleaning ability is lacking for big messes.
The suction power is decent, but the collection chamber fills up very quickly, and the narrow opening clogs thanks to even the smallest chunks. Battery life is impressive for something so small, but we'd avoid it for anything besides cleaning seats or cupholders.
The size, power, and battery life are surprisingly impressive for a household handy vac that measures about a foot long and weighs less than two pounds. On the floor mat, though? The AeroSlim couldn't measure up.
MultiClean Wet/Dry Vacuum
It wouldn't be a true car vacuum test without a corded shop vacuum entry, right? The Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Vacuum was our choice this time, and it boasts features most roller vacuums don't have. It's not short on attachments, but the included crevice tool struggled a bit against Cheerios.
It exerts some excellent suction power and rolls easily. Paired with a rotating nozzle, we didn't find ourself adjusting its position too often. The main gripe? There's no easy way to dump the dirt without tipping the 14-pound unit completely upside down. While this is relatively common when emptying shop-vac-style machines, it just goes to show that there are easier ways out there. Oh, and the barrel design is pretty cool.
Bissell is one of the most recognizable names in vacuums, and the company's 55-gallon drum-looking shop vacuum worked great for what it's designed to do, rolling far more smoothly than other shop vacuums we've used. Does that make it a great car vacuum? The large size and unwieldy power cord say no.
Car Vacuum Cleaner
So much for "real reviews by real users." If you've ever needed evidence of dubious Amazon reviews and ratings, this lousy vacuum is a first-class example.
The ThisWorx Car Vacuum Cleaner does not work.
It's bay far the bestselling car vacuum on Amazon, with more than 25,000 reviews and a four-star rating. And it's extremely affordable, with a low retail price that's seemingly always on sale for even less. So we bought one and put it to the test. As you can see from the image below, it did okay with sand. Everything else? A complete and total failure. It'll suck up light surface dirt and debris on hard floors, but against anything else, or on carpet? Forget it.
We narrowed its poor performance down to weak suction and a thin opening. The thing got clogged if it even smelled a Cheerio.
There were some bright spots. It's small, light, and easy to use. It was the quietest of the bunch and quite easy to empty. And the 12v, 16-foot power cord means it's specifically for the automobile, RV, or boat, since it doesn't come with an adapter. That said, it's the ultimate irony: Here's a car vacuum that sucks because a) it only works in the car (or RV/boat), and b) it just doesn't suck.
Considering its awful performance, cheap construction, flimsy materials, and that pesky, one-job power cord, we strongly advise that you pony up an extra 20 bucks and get a Dustbuster.
The ThisWorx Car Vacuum Cleaner doesn't work, so it sucks. Spend a little more, and you'll get a lot more car vac.
How We Tested Car Vacuums
To test the noise levels of each vacuum, we set up a decibel meter an arm's length away. We then ran each vacuum at maximum power for 30 seconds. Interestingly, larger did not always equal louder.
To determine maximum suction readings, we purchased a vacuum meter that measured inches of water—essentially, how much suction power the vacuum's motor makes. Since not every vacuum featured a circular opening on the inlet side, we taped each opening with painter's tape, punched a pencil-size hole in the middle to match the inlet hole on the vacuum meter, and measured maximum suction.
To measure weight, we simply placed each vacuum—fully assembled—on a postage scale and recorded the reading. We definitely found some discrepancies with our weight measurements compared to the manufacturer's specifications listed online.
Ease of Dirt Disposal
To test the ease of dirt disposal, we dumped each vacuum after completing our floor-mat test and noted how many steps it took, how easy it was to remove and clean the filter, and how well the dirt compartmentalized in the collection chamber. Some vacuums feature a simple one-button press to dump, while others require some more labor-intensive disassembly.
To test battery life, we charged up each cordless vacuum overnight and ran them all at the same time while keeping a timer going and noting when each vacuum completely died. We were definitely glad to have hearing protection.
In the spirit of keeping the playing field even, we equipped each vacuum with the crevice-tool attachment—what you would typically use when vacuuming out your car. We then had each vacuum attempt to suck up lines of fine sand, Cheerios, crushed-up Cheez-Its, potting soil, and pet hair with one even stroke. The pictures next to each vacuum speak for themselves on the results.
We discovered quickly that it wasn't necessarily the suction power that was important in a car vacuum. Rather, the size of the mouth opening was the real key to coming away with a clean floor mat.
Cars, particularly family cruisers, can accumulate a wide variety of dirt and debris, and every single small-mouthed crevice tool simply got clogged up by big chunks—usually (parents, take note!) by the Cheerios.
Once the tests were complete, we felt confident and satisfied that we had tested each vacuum as fairly and exhaustively as we could and that we judged without bias to determine the results.
Are car vacuums worth it?
Using a car vacuum saves you the time and struggle of pulling around a big shop vac or forcing your home vacuum into a tiny space it's not designed to clean. Car vacs are quick, compact, and typically come with attachments that allow you to get into tight spaces, like under seats or around the dashboard. If you clean your car on a regular basis, yes, they're worth it.
Can I use my regular vacuum to clean my car?
In theory, yes. However, your conventional home vacuum probably has a power cord that will limit its (and your) mobility. It also might not have the reach or attachments to get into all of your vehicle's nooks and crannies properly. Moreover, many home vacs have large, unwieldy heads. Good luck cleaning your floorboards with that sucker attached.
How much does a car vacuum cost?
We tested a wide range of vacuums with prices all over the map. In our findings, we didn't really see a notable correlation between price and performance. In other words, the cheapest vacuum we tested did not perform well at all, but the most expensive vacuum didn't massively outperform the rest.
The prices ranged from $40 to $450, and the sweet spot seems to be right around $100. It all depends on what you want from a car vacuum—for us it's power, performance, and versatility—and the price will reflect that.
If you already own and use power tools with a proprietary rechargeable battery system, like with Milwaukee or DeWalt, we recommend buying the vacuum in your system. These units work nearly as well in vehicles as any car-specific vacuum, but the added cost of a battery and charger (if you don't already own those) can really jack up the overall price.
Are stick vacuums good for cars?
Most stick vacuums, like the Dyson V8 and Shark Ultralight, disconnect from the main unit, so they will work in cars. However, the head unit often enhances the suction power and effectiveness of stick vacuums, so performance could be compromised with it removed.
If you own an RV or motorhome, a stick vacuum might be the way to go. They're fantastic for these because of their versatility, and they're portable enough to pack.
While you'll likely never use the stick and/or floor attachments when cleaning your car, a vacuum that cleans both house and car is handy.
How often should I vacuum out my car?
A good rule is once a month, but this depends on how much use your vehicle gets. To prevent buildup, it might be smart to perform a simple touch-up vacuuming every week or two, which will save you from getting into the dirty trenches caused by neglect over time. This approach could justify buying both an inexpensive, lightweight vacuum to keep in your car as well as a larger garage unit or shop vac.
Why Trust Us?
Car and Driver and its sibling brands at Hearst Autos represent three of the most influential automotive publications in the world. With the legacies of Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track behind us, the Hearst Autos Gear Team doesn’t need to worry about getting clicks or padding our coffers. Gear Team picks and recommendations are based on testing and knowledge, not hype.
For consistency, this test was conducted in an environment that provided equal testing procedures for each product: the Car and Driver garage. We tested the car vacuum cleaners on sound, suction, weight, ease of dirt disposal, battery life at full charge, and a floor-mat challenge to see how well they sucked up different debris. Once all the data was collected, we determined which car vacuums were best for different scenarios.
Upon tallying up our findings, we agreed that our test was fair, legitimate, and provided the most complete information for us to recommend our picks to our readers.
Read more about our product testing and evaluation process here.
You Might Also Like