TechnologyCorded vs Cordless Handheld Vacuum Cleaners

Corded vs Cordless Handheld Vacuum Cleaners

Guide to Choosing Dyson, Shark, Eureka, Black, and Decker

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Manufacturers naturally emphasize the advantages of their products. However not educating consumers on their limitations only creates disappointed customers.

Cordless Vacuum Cleaners

Cordless (rechargeable) vacuum cleaners should be seen as an alternative to brooms and dustpans, not an alternative to regular vacuum cleaners.

They are convenient for small ad-hoc jobs but lack the power and endurance for heavy use. Their input electrical power can range from 20 to 200 watts.


  • Convenient. Can be easily used anywhere without having to deal with power cords.


  • Limited power. Not suitable for deep-pile carpets.
  • Limited endurance. 5 to 20 minutes is common. Recharging takes hours. The more powerful models normally have the shortest run times.
  • To maximize available power, many use coarse filters which blow out fine dust into the air.
  • Batteries last only a few years. Replacements, if available, are expensive.

Most brands and models are roughly comparable, differing mainly in power and reliability.

The Dyson DC16 series is an interesting exception. It filters well and is powerful. However, some users complain about its large size and limited 6 minutes run time (the trade-off for having a 200-watt motor and a good filter).

To maximize battery life, some models have a button that has to be continually pressed (so that it is quick to switch on and off). Releasing the button will switch off the power. Some users find this tiring and prefer an “always-on” switch.

Corded Handheld Vacuum Cleaners

These small vacuums can be almost as powerful as regular vacuums. Their input AC power can range from 400 to 1000 watts (regular canister vacuums are typically 1000 to 2000 watts).


  • It can be powerful enough to replace regular vacuum cleaners, for small apartments.
  • Not limited by battery life.


  • The power cord is inconvenient.
  • It can overheat and automatically shut off after 5 to 10 minutes, especially the more powerful models. Cleaning can resume after cooling down.
  • It can be noisier than regular vacuums, requiring the use of earplugs.
  • Their small dirt cups or bags quickly fill up and may need to be emptied every few minutes.
  • Small filters and bags get clogged up with fine dirt more quickly than regular vacuums. May require cleaning every few minutes to maintain acceptable suction power.

Like cordless vacuums, most brands and models are roughly comparable. Homeowners should decide on which features are important and search the Internet for complaints of reliability. Low reliability is one common complaint from users.

Electrical Watts and Air Watts Vacuum Power

More electrical power (watts) generally means

  • better suction
  • less battery life for cordless vacuums
  • more overheating problems

If the amperes are given instead of watts, the electrical power can be calculated by multiplying the current (amperes) with the voltage.

Air watts are a more accurate measure of suction power. When comparing models it is important to compare electrical watts with electrical watts, and air watts with air watts. The 200 watt Dyson DC16 is rated at 36 air watts.

Rotating Beater Brush (Beater Bar)

A rotating brush to dig up dirt from carpets is a popular feature. Unfortunately, there are few good implementations.

Some brushes are powered by the vacuum’s airflow. They can lack the power to turn when pushed into the carpet.

Belt-driven brushes are more powerful, being powered directly from a motor. However many suffer from reliability problems, with the belt needing occasional replacement. Some models don’t even have replaceable belts.

Whatever the mechanism, the hair will get caught in the brush and will need to be manually removed.

Handheld versus Regular Full-Sized Vacuum Cleaners

Anyone buying a handheld vacuum should be aware of their inherent limitations. Unrealistic expectations are one major cause of buyer dissatisfaction.


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