A car vacuum is invaluable for cleaning the interior of your car, SUV, or truck. No matter how careful you may be, dirt alway accumulates, coming off footwear, shopping bags, tool boxes, backpacks, pets—just about anything that rides along with you. Today’s top car vacuums are powerful devices that get into every nook and cranny for quick, efficient removal of dust, debris, and hair.
There are dozens of handheld models available, but there are also good arguments for using wet and dry vacuums or even shop vacs. It can be challenging to know which vacuum is right for your vehicle, so we investigated the latest models to describe their various features and benefits for consumers. We also have suggestions for the best car vacuum in a number of different categories. Each of the top picks below was selected after an in-depth review of the market and thorough product vetting.
- BEST OVERALL: BLACK+DECKER Dustbuster Cordless Handheld Vacuum
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Dirt Devil Scorpion Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
- BEST COMPACT: VacLife Handheld Vacuum, Cordless (VL188)
- BEST UPGRADE: Dyson V8 Animal Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner
- BEST WET & DRY: Armor All, AA255 2.5 Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
- MOST VERSATILE: Vacmaster 6 Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
- BEST MULTIFUNCTION: VARSK 4-in-1 Car Vacuum Cleaner, Tire Inflator
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Car Vacuum
The biggest difference between household vacuum cleaners and devices best used for the car is often size. The latter usually needs to be compact to effectively fit into tight spaces inside the vehicle. That said, larger models that offer versatility may work well, provided they have hoses that can reach inside the vehicle, as well as appropriate attachments. Read on to learn about the key issues to keep in mind when choosing the best car vacuum cleaner.
Types of Car Vacuums
Although there are a few overlaps, car vacuums can basically be divided into three types: handheld, wet and dry, and shop vacs.
- Handheld car vacuums are lightweight and highly maneuverable. They may be corded or cordless. Some have high-efficiency HEPA filters to trap the fine dust that can irritate allergy sufferers. Some household stick vacuums can also be used as handhelds.
- Wet and dry vacuums are usually larger but need not necessarily be very bulky. They can be an advantage when cleaning vehicle carpeting or cloth seating, and they’re especially helpful if liquid spills in the car.
- Shop vacs, which may be wet and dry or dry only, have the greatest capacity. While they are often very powerful, they are also fairly large; they won’t fit inside most vehicles, so the hose must have sufficient reach.
Wet and dry and shop vacs are generally more durable than handheld vacuums and often more versatile; however, they are generally more expensive.
Power Source and Battery Life
Both wet and dry vacuums and shop vacs usually run from 110/120-volt household power, which will normally mean they require an extension cord to provide sufficient reach to access the vehicle.
Many handheld car vacuums plug into the 12-volt power outlet (the cigarette lighter) of the vehicle. This is convenient, but the cable is usually thin and may be prone to damage and even breakage.
Some of the best car vacuums are cordless, but battery life can vary tremendously. Some will only run for about 10 minutes before needing a recharge, and as batteries are often an integral part of the machine, it isn’t possible to swap in a spare. So it’s important to check how long recharging takes, which can be several hours in some models.
Suction power would seem to be an important performance indicator, but few manufacturers provide details. Some offer a figure in air watts (AW), combining airflow and motor power. Other manufacturers give the airflow in the measurement of cubic feet per minute (CFM). Kilopascals (kPa), which measure a vacuum’s atmospheric pressure, might also be indicated. Unfortunately most machines are simply described as having “powerful suction” or “strong suction” without any figures to back up the claim.
Motor watts, or voltage on cordless models, may be the only useful point of comparison. A stronger motor doesn’t always mean more suction, but it is often the case.
Household-powered models have the most powerful motors and invariably deliver more absolute suction power than handheld 12-volt or cordless car vacuums. However, the narrow nozzle on the latter can make them just as effective over small areas, such as when removing dirt, pet hair, and other debris from vehicle floors and upholstery.
Our pick for best cordless car vacuum weighs well under 3 pounds, while the model we chose as the best shop vac for car detailing weighs over 15 pounds. While it’s true that handheld models are the most lightweight option, keep in mind that it’s rarely necessary to lift the larger, heavier wet/dry or shop vacs to get the job done. Therefore, a handheld’s lighter weight doesn’t always mean greater ease of use.
Almost all shop and wet/dry vacs have wheels, and while in use, the main unit sits on the ground while a hose with an attachment is used to clean. This may not be quite as convenient as a handheld because the hose can be a bit unwieldy, but folks who need a large model to tackle heavier-duty vacuuming around the home, garage, or workshop may not wish to invest in a handheld just to clean the car. In other words, some additional weight might be offset by increased versatility.
Tank capacity varies considerably, and it can be quite limited with compact car vacuums. As the tank fills, it might also reduce suction. Very small tanks not only fill up quickly and require frequent emptying, but they can also have an adverse effect on performance.
At the other end of the scale, big shop vacs offer a capacity of several gallons—enough to clean a vehicle numerous times. Many have dirt-collecting bags so the machine needn’t be lifted to empty it. Midrange handheld car vacuums are often the ideal compromise. Dirt cup capacities of 20 ounces are sufficient to clean most vehicles, and they are easy and fuss-free to empty.
Attachments and Filters
Even the most basic car vacuums usually offer one or two attachments. Slim crevice tools are great for getting in between seats, and one or more brushes may also be provided. Wet/dry vacs have a nozzle for sucking up liquids, and shop vacs may have an attachment for solid floors, which can be useful for truck beds and van interiors.
In addition to attachments, several models feature LED lights to illuminate dark corners. We even found a model that incorporates a tire pump.
It’s also worth checking the filter type. Very fine dust can go straight through some vacuums without being collected, while HEPA filters trap much of this. Filters may also be washable, thus extending their life.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’ve read through the technical considerations of today’s car vacuums, it’s time to take a look at some of the best models on the market. The following comprehensive selection should provide effective solutions for a wide spectrum of needs.
The popular Black & Decker dustbuster takes top spot for its combination of convenient 16-volt cordless power and efficient cyclone suction technology. Plus, all the accessories—a slender rotating nozzle, a slide-out crevice tool, and a flip-up brush—are built in so there’s no danger of losing them. The bagless dirt cup is translucent to help monitor the fill level, and it’s fuss-free to empty.
Although we consider this to be Black & Decker’s best dustbuster, the cordless machine is constrained by an integral battery that can’t be swapped out for a spare. However, a runtime of 15 minutes or more should be sufficient for most tasks, and the 4-hour charger is faster than many. When not being used, the battery will hold a charge for up to 18 months.
- Type: Cordless handheld
- Tank capacity: 20.6 ounces
- Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Efficient cyclonic action
- 4-hour recharge is fairly fast
- Translucent, bagless dirt cup
- Integral battery
- Defective chargers have occasionally been reported
Get the Black & Decker Dustbuster on Amazon, at The Home Depot, or at Walmart.
Dirt Devil is a highly regarded manufacturer, and the Scorpion is the company’s best handheld vacuum. It offers a low-cost, high-suction solution for car cleaning and light-duty household tasks as well.
The compact body is highly maneuverable, and a quick-flip crevice tool is built in. There’s also a dust brush and a 2.5-foot clip-on hose to extend reach. While some cords can be restrictive, the Dirt Devil Scorpion provides a useful 16-foot cord. The clear, bagless tank is easy to empty, but it’s on the small side, requiring more trips to the trash. Though the filter is rinsable, some users have complained that it doesn’t always trap fine dust.
- Type: Corded handheld
- Tank capacity: 0.45-liter (15 ounces)
- Weight: 3 pounds
- Continuous powerful performance
- 16-foot power cord
- Rinsable filter
- Modest tank capacity
- Filtration could be better
Get the Dirt Devil Scorpion at Amazon, Walmart, or Target.
Despite its small size and weight of just over 2.2 pounds, this VacLife vacuum is an excellent compact model. It’s light, easy to use, and well priced. The lithium-ion battery delivers a very competitive runtime of up to 20 minutes, and a light turns from green to red when it needs recharging. Full charge can be achieved in 3 hours or less.
The VacLife vacuum comes with a decent crevice nozzle and a small brush, and a useful LED lights dark corners. There’s also a HEPA filter to trap fine dust. While this is not a high-performance car vacuum—it can struggle with heavy dirt or deep carpeting—it’s a handy machine for quick cleaning on a regular basis.
- Type: Cordless handheld
- Tank capacity: 0.4-liter (13.5 ounces)
- Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Up to 20 minutes of runtime
- Rapid charging
- LED light
- Small dust tank
- Light-duty cleaning only
Get the VacLife Handheld Vacuum on Amazon or at Walmart.
Dyson is best known for its powerful household models, but this unit, which can quickly transform from an upright stick to a handheld vacuum, can bring deep-cleaning cyclone suction to the car. Four attachments offer versatility, and the washable lifetime HEPA filter picks up fine dust and allergens.
A high-performance rechargeable battery offers up to 40 minutes of runtime, though use of the motorized brush head or the “max mode” will reduce this to around 25 minutes. Charging takes a minimum of 4 hours.
It’s designed specifically to dig deep to collect pet hair, so the Dyson V8 Animal should certainly appeal to those with furry friends who often come along for the ride. It’s costly, though, so while it makes a powerful, versatile household vacuum, it may be a bit too steep a purchase solely for the car.
- Type: Cordless stick/handheld
- Tank capacity: 0.14 gallons (18 ounces)
- Weight: 5.6 pounds
- Outstanding suction
- Up to 40 minutes of runtime
- HEPA filter
Get the Dyson V8 Animal at The Home Depot or Best Buy.
Wet/dry vacuums offer added versatility, particularly for those cleaning work vehicles such as trucks and vans that often get more heavily soiled than family cars. The powerful 2-horsepower motor generates plenty of suction, and the 2.5-gallon tank has the capacity for tough cleaning jobs. Although noticeably larger than portable vacuums, it weighs just 7 pounds, so it’s easy to carry around.
A comprehensive range of accessories ensures the right brush or nozzle for each task, but the 6-foot hose is a bit short. While filtration is good, the reusable cloth filter can clog relatively easily and requires frequent cleaning to maintain performance. The ability to switch from suction to blower mode is a useful extra.
- Type: Corded wet and dry vacuum
- Tank capacity: 2.5 gallons
- Weight: 7 pounds
- High-performance motor
- Onboard hose and accessory storage
- Blower function
- Hose could be longer
- Filter requires regular cleaning
Get the Armor All Wet/Dry Vacuum on Amazon or at Walmart.
The VacMaster is a big, powerful shop vac with a 6-gallon tank and a robust 3-horsepower motor. Between its 12-foot cord and 7-foot hose, it offers plenty of reach. Attachments include two extension wands, a dust brush, a crevice tool, a two-in-one utility nozzle, and a multisurface floor attachment—and they all store conveniently right on the machine.
Added versatility comes from the wet/dry functionality, and there’s also a blower. Although well made and sturdy, the stainless steel finish appears to be merely a coating on a steel body rather than true stainless steel throughout.
- Type: Corded shop vac
- Tank capacity: 6 gallons
- Weight: 15.4 pounds
- Powerful 3-horsepower motor
- 7-foot hose plus extensions
- Large, easy-to-use drain plug
- Quite bulky
- Appears not to be true stainless steel
Get the VacMaster Shop Vacuum on Amazon or at Walmart.
Designed specifically for the car, this Varsk model runs efficiently from the vehicle’s 12-volt DC power socket and has 15 feet of cable, which provides ample reach. It has a 0.6-liter capacity, a useful LED to light up dark corners, a crevice tool, and a brush.
It can also operate as a multipurpose inflator, capable of producing up to 150 psi for motorcycle and car tires, as well as having adapters for sports balls, paddling pools, and other inflatables. Setup is quick and easy via a digital display, and there’s an auto shutoff when the correct pressure is reached. A zippered storage bag keeps everything together.
- Type: 12-volt DC handheld
- Tank capacity: 0.6-liter (20 ounces)
- Weight: 4 pounds
- Combination car vacuum and multifunction inflator
- Auto shutoff at selected pressure
- HEPA filter
- Engine must be running to use inflator
- Cannot inflate high-pressure truck/RV tires
Get the Varsk 4-in-1 on Amazon or at Sears.
We couldn’t find any other car vacuums that can match the Black+Decker for all-round performance, versatility, and value. The Dirt Devil is a quality budget-friendly alternative, though the small tank capacity can be frustrating.
How We Chose the Best Car Vacuums
Given that we have several different types of car vacuums among our top picks, we used criteria that encompassed a variety of characteristics.
- Performance: A shop vac has a bigger motor than even the best cordless handheld vacuum, but each suits different users. What is important is that each device has appropriate power for its size. Lack of suction is hugely frustrating, so models that underperform were not considered.
- Ergonomics and versatility: While weight alone is seldom a problem, poor balance can make a car vacuum awkward to use. Although our main focus was on car vacuums, we considered those that can also be used for household tasks, such as sucking up minor spills or accomplishing heavy-duty cleaning.
- Brand and value: The quality and reliability of cheap car vacuums can be inconsistent. We chose tried-and-tested models that have sold in large numbers, thus ensuring a proven track record.
The guide above offers valuable insight into the various types of car vacuum cleaners and presents several quality models shoppers can consider. Those who still want a bit more information may find it in the answers to these common questions.
Q: Does using a car vacuum drain a vehicle’s battery?
It does if the car vacuum plugs into the vehicle’s 12-volt power socket, though the amount of drain is minimal. If the battery is in good condition, running a car vacuum for a half hour will make no noticeable difference. Doing so every day without running the vehicle could have an impact, though it’s an unlikely scenario, since the battery should recharge every time the vehicle runs.
Q: Can I use a car vacuum cleaner at home?
It is certainly possible if the car vacuum runs off household power or if it is cordless. In fact, we have an interesting article about using handheld vacuums at home right here. However, if the car vacuum runs from the 12-volt DC power socket inside the car, then using it at home wouldn’t be practical.
Q: What is the strongest handheld vacuum?
Since vacuum technology is frequently upgraded, this is a difficult question to answer; however, the Dyson V8 Animal is one of the most powerful handheld vacuums right now. Power, however, is just one of the considerations when choosing the best car vacuum.