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By Liam McCabe
For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.
We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.
Who needs a portable vacuum?
A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.
(That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)
Why we like this handheld vacuum above all else
The Black & Decker 20 V Max Lithium Flex Vac BDH2020FLFH looks more like a miniature canister vacuum than an old-school Dustbuster, but it’s a much more versatile cleaner because of that. The 4-foot stretchable hose can unwrap from around the body, making it more adept at cleaning at weird angles, in tight spaces, or above your head—i.e. the exact types of tasks you’d want a hand vac for. Since the hose unwraps from the body, it’s lighter and easier to wrangle than a regular all-in-one portable vac (and it’s actually smaller than it looks in pictures, too).
The BDH2020FLFH and (l-r) the crevice tool, combo brush (attached), and pet hair tool attachments.
The design advantages really stand out when the BDH2020FLFH goes to work where other hand vacs struggle—like under car seats, for example. Of course, you can also swing it around all in one piece like any other handheld vacuum, too.
A bunch of the Flex Vac’s cleaning prowess comes from its attachments. The combo brush helps knock loose the particles that want to cling to fabric or carpet, a task where other hand vacs can struggle. The crevice tool is helpful even just as a wand extender, but also makes it easier to get in nooks like the storage compartments built into car doors, the tight areas around car seats, and between the columns of old-school radiators, where decades of dust can build up.
And if you’re a pet owner, the pet hair removal tool is a big help. It’s nothing fancy: just a textured, rubberized head with a hole in the middle. Ideally, you’d use a mini turbo brush tool for hair, but not many hand vacs come with one of those, and this simple design does the job just fine. It’s not perfect, but it works better and faster than trying to pick hair up with a regular vacuum head, lint roller, or masking tape.
None of this versatility or thoughtful design would matter if the vacuum lacked the power to suck up what you put in front of it. Fortunately, it has plenty of it, producing 25 air watts (a metric used to measure the movement of air through a vacuum cleaner) of suction. On paper, that’s a bit stronger than last year’s version and many competing models, which already had plenty of suction, so anything extra is gravy.
Black & Decker claims that the BDH2020FLFH takes 4 hours to recharge and has a 16-minute runtime. In our testing, that was pretty accurate.
Once you’re done cleaning up whatever mess you’ve made, the BDH2020FLFH’s dirt canister is easy to clean out: pull a latch on the side of the vacuum’s body, tip it into the garbage, give it a thwack, and you’re done. It’s also washable, which is important for keeping airflow going strong since the filter gets dirty pretty fast.
The Flex Vac’s dust bin swings open for easy emptying, and can be removed from the vacuum for cleaning.
Flaws (but not dealbreakers)
The BDH2020FLFH pulls a respectable 25 air watts of suction, but that’s not quite as powerful as some cheaper Dustbuster-style models, which can hit 35 air watts. Sure, more suction works faster, but the Flex Vac’s other upsides meant that it cleaned more completely in our tests.
Other things to consider
In a nutshell, our favorite handheld vacuum is right for most. But we have other picks for people who need to spend a little less or want specific things out of theirs. The Dyson DC34 has even more suction than our pick, but at $185, it’s a little rich for a portable vacuum. The best $50 pick is the Black and Decker PHV1810 18V Pivot Vac, even if it can’t deal with pet hair very well and batteries are weaker and take longer to charge. For a specific corded handheld vacuum to deal with pet hair, the Eureka EasyClean 71B for $38 is a good pick.
After a lot of time researching testing handheld vacuums, its pretty clear to us that the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac is the handheld vacuum we’d get, however.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com