Chief among the pesky drawbacks of pet ownership is the reality that there is pet hair everywhere. It covers everything at all times and is somehow wildly resistant to most cleanup efforts.
Floors are hardly pet hair’s hangout of choice. That’d be too easy. Instead, it’s on your clothes or your couch, and in a pet-shaped crop circle made out of pet hair on your bed, serving as a lasting reminder of their favorite sleeping spot. No one is questioning the plausibility of fur tumbleweeds shoving themselves into the most awkward crevices when you’re not in the room, Toy Story style.
Of course, none of this is enough to make us not want pets. But that doesn’t mean we need to succumb to a house full of pet hair — not with the right squad of cleaning gadgets. A robot vacuum or upright vacuum has the floor covered for the most part, but for furniture, the car, and all of your home’s awkwardly-shaped crevices where pet hair loves to congregate, a reliable handheld is the vacuum of choice.
Hot take: The best handheld vacuum is usually a convertible stick vacuum
Is a new full-sized vacuum on your radar? If so, a handheld vacuum probably doesn’t need to be a side quest. Unless you’re looking for a handheld vacuum to keep in the car, the wisest move is actually to just invest in a cordless stick vacuum that converts into a handheld.
This could mean splurging on a Dyson or opting for a more budget-friendly pick from Black+Decker or Samsung. Either way, pet hair that’s all but woven into the threads of upholstery or the pile of carpet stands much less of a chance against the suction power that fuels a full-sized vacuum, just more centralized through attachments for cleaning on a smaller scale. Bigger, juicier batteries allow for 40 to 120 minutes of cleaning compared to the 15 minutes max churned out by a handheld.
With a convertible stick model, you’ll also score a full-sized dustbin, and likely a built-in HEPA filter that traps allergens like dust mites and pet dander entering the vacuum.
What makes a vacuum cleaner good for pet hair?
If you’re set on getting a standalone hand vacuum, here’s what to consider:
Ergonomic design and weight: A handheld vacuum works best when — you guessed it — it’s comfortable to whip around in one hand. Portability is the whole point, so there’s no reason to shop for a handheld vacuum that’s not cordless. However, modern handheld vacuums vary between ultra-slim designs (around 1.5 pounds) that charge on the countertop to larger designs that are compatible with multiple attachments and have larger dustbins (around 3.5 pounds). Your personal cleaning circumstances will determine how heavy-duty you’ll need to go.
Attachments: Worthy handhelds come with at least one or two attachments to customize cleaning to specific surfaces, like an extender tool to reach into corners or an upholstery brush for couches. A motorized pet brush is easily the most valuable in homes taken over by shedding, though that attachment is a rare inclusion with budget-friendly handhelds. (And that’s another point to convertible cordless stick vacuums.)
Battery life and charging: The one downside of going the cordless route is not having an outlet as an unlimited power source. Handheld vacuums are, obviously, small on purpose, which means that they often don’t have room for a big motor with a hefty charge capacity. However, the average eight to 15-minute battery life should stretch long enough for your daily spot cleaning (if not, refer back to the “just get a stick vacuum” section.) The best docking stations for charging will also have spots to stash the attachments.
Here are our top picks for the best handheld vacuums for pet hair in 2023: