The Best Car Vacuums

By Jacob Black

February 17, 2021

Anyone who has ever tried to use a gas-station car vacuum knows one thing: They suck. And not in the way they’re supposed to, either. A clean car is one of life’s little pleasures, so it’s worthwhile to invest in a cleaner you can rely on, and one you know you’ll use often. There are a lot of options on the market, everything from corded to cordless, units that use your 12v DC power outlet, as well as units that use 12v, 18v, or 20v batteries. Most drivers who live in wintery regions will want a wet/dry vac to tackle snow and sleet.

Your vacuum should be powerful, versatile, and easy to use. It should store well, and not gum up from regular use. If you have kids or pets, regular cleaning of your seats and floor mats is a must. Here are some of the best car vacuums available right now.

1. Editor's Pick: Dyson V11 Cordless Trigger

ProsCons
  • 2-year warranty
  • Lots of accessories
  • Most powerful cordless vac available
  • Expensive

Key Specs

Cord Length: N/A
Hose Length: N/A
Power: 525 w
Air flow (CFM):59
Capacity: 0.75L (25 oz)
Wet/Dry: No
Features: Operates as a home vac also

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It really doesn't get better than this car vacuum, which can also be used at home.

Dyson claims their V11 has the most suction power of any other cordless vacuum on the market – and I believe them. The company rates the vac at 185 air-watts, and air flow in cubic feet per metre is 59 at the nozzle. Technically, the V11 is a cordless stick vac, designed for homes, but because it operates as a small handheld it is great for using in the car as well.

The mini motorized tool is great for automotive carpets and can even manage pet hair. There is a brush for stubborn debris, and a crevice tool for the tighter spaces between and under seats. Dyson fans love the easy-empty canister, that allows you to keep the dust trap at arms-length while you empty it.

There are less expensive Dyson variants, including the well-rated V7, but if you want the absolute Rolls Royce of car vacs – the V11 is where it’s at.

2. Most Convenient Car Vac: ThisWorx TWC-01 Handheld Car Vacuum Cleaner

ProsCons
  • Convenient
  • Attractive
  • Lots of accessories
  • Small capacity
  • Moderate power

Key Specs

Cord Length: 16 ft.
Hose Length: N/A
Power: 12v, 8.8 amp, 106w
Air flow (CFM):N/A
Capacity: 0.3L
Wet/Dry: Yes
Features: HEPA filter

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This car vacuum is portable enough to store, easy to use, and draws power from the 12v DC outlet in your car.

TWC-01 from ThisWorx produces a nifty little car vac that comes complete with an extension tube, a flathead hose brush, and a special brush for cleaning the in-built HEPA filter. The HEPA filter (high-efficiency particulate air filter) traps even finer dust and particulates, and is a good feature for those with pets. The TWC-01 is also a wet/dry vac, meaning you can use it on snowy residue, or on spills from the kid’s juice boxes. The metal impeller blades should prove reliable even with regular use.

ThisWorx designed this vacuum from the outset to be a permanent fixture in your car, and the storage case, car-focused features, and solid motor that draws from your car’s power supply make this a handy asset to keep onboard. It is affordable enough that you could use it as your daily car vac, and still splash out on a shop vac to have on hand for seasonal deep cleans.

3. Best for Best Friends: Shark UltraCyclone Pet Pro Plus

ProsCons
  • Great for pet hair
  • Lots of accessories
  • Low on power
  • Small capacity

Key Specs

Cord Length: N/A
Hose Length: N/A
Power: 8 amp, 80w
Air flow (CFM):N/A
Capacity: 0.4L
Wet/Dry: Yes
Features: Pet hair brush

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Doggo likes the car. Doggo loves the car. Unfortunately, doggo’s hair loves the car too, and seems to always want to stay behind. That’s where this car vacuum comes in handy.

Like all the handheld vacuums on this list, Shark’s UltraCyclone Pet Pro Plus has a crevice tool for the hard-to-reach places, and also has a scrubbing brush to help pull up the clingiest of fibres. The brushroll on the UltraCyclone is designed specifically to prevent hair tangling in the roll as it cleans. At just 80w, the UltraCyclone isn’t the most powerful vacuum on this list by any stretch, but it fits its purpose well.

4. Best for the Tradesman or Mechanic: Milwaukee M18 2 Gal. 18V Cordless Wet/Dry Vacuum

ProsCons
  • Decent power
  • Functions as a blower
  • Can be used with M18 batteries
  • Short battery life

Key Specs

Cord Length: N/A
Hose Length: 6"
Power: 8 amp, 80w
Air flow (CFM):45
Capacity: 7.5L (2 gn)
Wet/Dry: Yes
Features: Toolbox-style storage, functions as a blower, compatible with Milwaukee M18 tools

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Milwaukee tools are regarded for their class-leading power and performance on the job site or in the garage. This car vacuum lives up to the hype.

The M18 18-volt Cordless Wet/Dry vacuum is another addition to the potent M18 lineup, and a worthy addition to this list. The best part of this rig is the clever toolbox. It is an entirely self-contained storage system and tool in one, so you won’t go losing the crevice tool, wide nozzle, or the hose. This unit also operates as a blower and contains a certified HEPA filter. In short, it packs a lot of punch in a very well-thought-out package. Because it is a part of the Milwaukee M18 series, the battery pack is compatible with existing Milwaukee tools including their industry leading M18 impact wrench. If your garage already includes a suite of Milwaukee cordless tools, then their portable vacuum is a natural inclusion.

5. Best Hassle-Free: Black and Decker BDH2000PL Pivot Vacuum

ProsCons
  • Convenient
  • Stylish
  • Fun to use
  • Weak suction
  • Small capacity

Key Specs

Cord Length: N/A
Hose Length: N/A
Power: 35w
Air flow (CFM):N/A
Capacity: 0.4L, 15oz
Wet/Dry: No
Features: Onboard accessories

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This is a light-duty tool for those who just need the occasional go-over of their already spotless interior.

Storing the loose attachments, hoses, and nozzles needed to perform the intricate vacuuming tasks inside your car is one of the big pain points for users. The Milwaukee example above has a neat approach to storing its accessories, but the Black and Decker Pivot Vacuum does it one better – by integrating them into its core design.

The Pivot Vacuum does just that, tilting and readjusting the nozzle to fit into areas. There’s even an extendable crevice tool that telescopes out from the vac’s snout like an anteater’s tongue. Unfortunately, the innovative design is let down by an asthmatic motor, and rapid battery drain. This is a light-duty tool for those who just need the occasional go-over of their already spotless interior.

6. Best Happy Medium: Dirt Devil Scorpion Quick Flip Corded Handheld Vacuum

ProsCons
  • Great value
  • Reasonable power
  • Onboard accessories
  • Is a compromise
  • Requires an extension cord for car use

Key Specs

Cord Length: 16 ft (5 m)
Hose Length: 2.5 ft (0.8 m)
Power: 7 amps
Air flow (CFM):N/A
Capacity: 0.45L, 15oz
Wet/Dry: No
Features: Onboard accessories

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The biggest problem with cordless handhelds is their lack of power. Batteries can only do so much, for so long. That’s where this car vacuum shines.

The 16 ft (5m) power cord provides 7 amps of power to the motor. Unfortunately, there are no published wattage or airflow numbers for the Dirt Devil Scorpion but reviews and testing show a better-than-average amount of suction. That cord is also too short for driveway use, so you need an extension cord to use this vacuum in your car.

The Dirt Devil features a 2.5 ft flexible hose, a flip-down crevice tool, and an easy-clean cup. This is a medium duty vacuum that strives to bridge the gap between handheld convenience and suction power. It’s also a great value proposition, making it a handy addition to your garage’s detailing kit – so long as you have an extension cord.

7. Best Small but Mighty: MetroVac Metropolitan Evolution Handheld Vacuum with Flex Hose & Strap

ProsCons
  • Great power
  • Shoulder strap
  • Selection of automotive-focused attachments
  • Short cord
  • Awkward to store

Key Specs

Cord Length: 12 ft (4 m)
Hose Length: 20 inch (50 cm)
Power: 500 W
Air flow (CFM):70
Capacity: Not published
Wet/Dry: No
Features: Shoulder strap

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This car vacuum is a corded handheld with an impressive 500 W motor and 70 CFM of suction power. It’s a robust unit with a clever selection of attachments, including a brush for stubborn mess, detachable flex hose, and a crevice tool.

The MetroVac Metropolitan Evolution is the only handheld on this list with a shoulder strap. On paper, this unit looks like a mighty little unit, and MetroVac claims this is “pound for pound the most powerful handheld on the planet”. It is worth noting that some reviewers were underwhelmed by its performance in the field. Others say that this funky and potent vacuum is a champion for cleaning the interiors of cars, boats, and RVs.

How Do I Know if a Car Vacuum is Powerful Enough?

This is a tricky one, because the types of power differ widely, from AC to DC, corded to cordless, and because there is more to suction power than just the raw output of the motor driving the suction blades. The shape of the nozzles, the blades, and other factors all have an impact on whether or not your vacuum sucks, or just… sucks.

There are some methods of measurement that you’ll find commonly, the first involves the measure of power. Shop vacs will often list a horsepower number, while other handheld vacuums might list a wattage. Generally, the higher of either, the more powerful the motor. In this list, we’ve tried to include wattage where possible, but again, note that’s not a pure expression of power – and certainly not suction force.

One way you can measure suction force is in airflow over Cubic Feet/Meter (CFM). Comparing apples to apples, the Ridgid 5 hp motor has a wattage of 900 and a CFM rating of 110, only 10 fewer than the 6 hp/1000 w motor in the 4010 model. Meanwhile, the 525 w Dyson V11 has a 59 CFM rating. Looking closely at the examples on this list, you’ll notice there is about a 10 CFM difference in every 100 w.

Air watts is another common measure, but the formula is complex and not universally applied, so we’ve largely ignored that measurement in this list.

Ultimately, if maximum power is your concern, you want a shop vac. If you don’t need bulk power, but do want convenience and ease of use, smaller handhelds are your jam. A corded vacuum is more of a pain to use, but will almost always deliver more grunt than a battery-powered alternative.

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