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Reviewing The 10 Best Car Vacuums of 2020

A guide to help you shop for a great car vacuum and a list of our top picks

Best Budget Choice
BD Compact Vacuum by Black & Decker

Black & Decker BD 12V Compact Handheld Vacuum

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Best Premium Choice
V6 Cordless stick vacuum by Dyson

Dyson V6 Cord-Free Stick Vacuum

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Best Overall Choice
Lite Professional wall-mount car wash vacuum by Prolux

Prolux Lite Professional Wall-Mounted Garage Shop Vacuum

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Garage Wall-mounted Car Wash Vacuum by Bissell

One of the fastest growing segments in the automotive cleaning supply industry is the car vacuum segment.  Traditionally, almost all Americans have gone to their local or commercial car wash to get a good interior carpet cleaning.  However, the typical American can spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars throughout their life when they could be saving some serious cash over the next decade by owning their own car vacuum. We have put together a guide that will help you find the best car vacuum for your needs.

Is it worth it to buy your own car vacuum?

As I mentioned, most vehicle owners in the United States have frequented the car wash.  Even if you’re not one to clean your car much, some minor disasters have surely brought you to pay a visit to these businesses, often taking all of that spare change you had been acquiring in your console.  Still to this day, there are car washing businesses that charge up to $3 for 5 minutes or less of car wash vacuum service.  A few dollars may not sound like all that much, but rest assured, you’re paying some serious money over the duration.  You’re also rolling the dice when using a car wash vacuum cleaner because many of them are poorly maintained which kill their suction performance.

A friend of mine’s family owns multiple car washes in the United States.  Recently, I spoke to him and told him that I was considering an article about car vacuums. He said that there is serious thought that goes into pricing car wash and vacuum services.  Not only do they factor in demand, the number of competitors, the prices those competitors charge and quality of the car wash vacuums, they also do a sampling of how often customers visit the car wash, which helps them set up their long-term budgets for the car vacuum service. To sum it all up, you’ll spend a lot of money and since it’s so spread out over time, you probably won’t even realize how much you’re paying. My friend also mentioned that they filter out the vacuumed contents because finding diamond rings and other valuables is extremely common.

In more recent years, there has been an influx of car washes that offer vacuum services. However, don’t think for a second that they’re just being kind. This is another pricing strategy. In the long run, you’ll pay for this service as well.

What are the benefits of frequent car vacuum use?

After hearing about how much car washes charge for vacuuming services, and after giving it some thought, you’re probably thinking “I’m not going to the car wash again!” However, it’s not a one-way street when using a car vacuum at the local wash.  Vacuuming your car frequently comes with a list of benefits that are well worth the charges rendered.

One of the most obvious of these benefits is the increased value of your vehicle. Our lives are full of objects that lose value, and of those objects, automobiles depreciate particularly quickly. Just think about it – you buy a $30,000 vehicle and 5 years later, you’re very lucky to get half of what you paid for it ($15,000).

Another friend of mine’s entire family is in the wholesale auto sales business.  I knew that as long as I’ve known her, she’s gotten her car detailed at least once every 2 – 4 weeks by a portable detailer that came by our office that offered a $100 detail.  I remember thinking that she’s easily spending $1,500 a year on detailing services, which sounded crazy to me.  My curiosity continued to grow over time and I asked her about spending this much on car cleaning.

She told me that there are basically three things that affect the value of a vehicle (in the eyes of the purchaser). The first thing is exterior damage and the paint job. The second turn-off is mechanical problems. Lastly, she mentioned the state of the vehicle’s interior. Because of her regular detailing, she could get full resale value versus up to 35% less.

Since the resale of her car would be around $20,000, the cost of the detailing would basically cancel out the reduction in the resale price.  Then, she totally shut down my initial thoughts by telling me that she also got to drive a car that looked as good as it did when she bought it (inside and out) and that it was always spotless.

So it is worth it to vacuum and wash your vehicle frequently. It can increase the value of your ride and allow you to live in a cleaner environment too.Vehicle interior carpet, similar to the carpet inside your house, is a great stomping ground for tiny mites and other critters that are basically naked to the human eye.

Many people with allergies are allergic to mite droppings. You’d be surprised just how quickly mites can turn your car’s interior into a mite litter box when you do not vacuum your car frequently.  This is especially true for those that let their dogs or other animals ride around in the car.  These mites generally latch onto pet hair and hitch a ride inside your vehicle.

A vehicle’s interior also collects dirt, dust, pollen, and other small particles that often cause allergy and asthma issues with both children and adults.  These particles are able to enter the vehicle when driving around with the windows down or tracking them in from the outdoors on your shoes or clothes.

Finally, mold can be a threat to your health or your children’s health as most types of mold are mildly neurotoxic and may contribute to breathing problems and fatigue as well. There are more species of mold than there are plants on Earth.  Spores are basically tiny little fungus seeds.  Most spores are extremely difficult to see with the human eye, but it’s safe to assume that there are spores located all over the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

Anytime your carpet is exposed to moisture and not dried within a reasonable amount of time, the spores are basically germinated/activated.  From there on out, the mold spreads and usually diffuses new spores in the process. If a liquid such as a soft drink, milk, coffee, or a glass of water is spilled, you should dry it up as soon as possible with an absorbing towel or a wet/dry vacuum to prevent mold growth.

Once mold starts to grow and spread, it can be difficult to remove and stop the growth. Some cases of mold infestations can only be removed by replacing the entire carpet interior which can cost a fortune.

What features should I look for in a car vacuum?

Today, there are many types of car vacuums to choose from. This is extremely relevant because people have specific needs for a car vacuum.  Most of you that are out there reading this are probably shopping for a vacuum for personal use, while others are shopping for a car vacuum for their car cleaning or auto detailing business.  The first step that you should take before shopping for a car vacuum is listing out all of the different features you need a vacuum to have.

For instance, if you’re a real estate agent that frequently walks customers around properties, it’s likely that you frequently track in dirt and leaves from your shoes.  However, you do not have children and rarely have instances that trash your vehicle.  Most likely, you’ll want to go with a portable handheld vacuum so that you are able to store it in your truck or in front of your passenger seat.  Then, as you see you’ve tracked in a mess, you can quickly vacuum the dirt and leaves up in seconds.  If you live in a rainy or snowy area, you may want to get a portable vacuum cleaner that is rated “wet/dry” so that sucking up liquids will not damage the vacuum.

If you work in the construction industry, your vehicle’s interior probably attracts dirt. Many work in muddy conditions, often tracking mud into the vehicle on their boots.  Your truck may be overexposed to liquids (if working out in the rain, around pools/lakes, etc.).  If this more closely resembles your scenario, you may want to start by shopping for a powerful and heavy-duty shop vac or possibly even a wall-mounted vacuum for your garage.

What are the most common types of car vacuums?

Common Household Vacuum

Example of a Household Vacuum Cleaner

Some people use their household vacuum to vacuum their car’s interior. However, this typically isn’t the most convenient option.  Not only can they be a pain to haul around and down to the garage, but you also may need an extension cord. You need a vacuum that is equipped with a suction hose (and different attachments for the different types of surfaces your vehicle’s interior has). Some vacuums have poor suction when using a hose attachment and can be tricky to maneuver.

Shop-Vac

Example of a Shop Vac style car vacuum

This style of vacuum is the way to go for many consumers.  Shop-Vacs typically come equipped with a very long suction hose and a large reservoir for the dirt and other particles to be captured.  Most do not require vacuum bags – they can simply be dumped into the trash can when full or when you’re finished vacuuming.  Most are built to be able to handle wet and dry conditions. Some shop vacs are used in conditions where a shop, garage, room in your house, etc has become flooded.  These vacuums can suck up dirt, mud, debris, and liquids. Lastly, you can use these to clean just about anything – not just your vehicle.

They can be heavy to haul around and maneuver because they’re equipped with heavy motors for high suction power. Most come seated on casters so that they can be pulled in the direction that you need them. Most of the shop-vacs are also short and bulky which can take up a bit of space when it comes time to store them. Lastly, these car vacuums can be pricey, especially for the ones equipped with higher horsepower.

Wall-Mount Car Wash Vacuum

Example of a Wall Mount car wash vacuum

These vacuums are high-powered with long suction hoses that provide plenty of power, but they also come with very large reservoirs and only need to be emptied once in a blue moon. Because they can be mounted high up on the wall, storage space usually isn’t an issue, either.

The obvious list of downsides to the wall-mount car vacuum includes the inability to transport the device outside of your garage or shop. For a car vacuum they can be expensive. They often run up to around $300 for a basic model.  However, if you’re a mechanic, own a car wash or detailing business, or if your family has several cars that you’ll be cleaning often, this may prove to be a viable option that will quickly pay itself off!

Handheld Portable Car Vacuum

Example of a Handheld Car Vacuum

I’ve got to say that this is the way to go for most vehicle owners. You can store them in your vehicle as well. Most are equipped with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Many handheld vacuum owners even use these in place of a dustpan (when sweeping) and use them to clean other vehicles like RVs, boats, etc.  If you can live with a power cord, there are cheaper vacuums available with more power too.

Some handheld car vacuum cleaner models have less suction power (this is where it’s really important to buy a model with good ratings), however, this is not an issue with most models/brands of car vacuums. Some can also suffer an early death that is usually caused by the battery dying. However, this is an issue that can be avoided by purchasing a good model of hand vacuum. Because of the size, they require emptying more often than other vacuums. However, most manufacturers make the reservoirs large enough to get at least one full vacuuming of a vehicle before needing to be emptied (if not multiple vacuum sessions).

Our Top Car Vacuum Cleaner Picks

To get this list together, we considered several variables such as the most reputable brands, motor power and suction power, features, tools, attachments, wet/dry capabilities, price, value, and most importantly, customer experiences and reviews.  For your convenience, we have also included links to the product pages so that you can check out all of the features and product reviews for yourself in order to be sure you’re buying the right vacuum for your needs.

Best Budget Choice

1. Black & Decker BD 12V Compact Handheld Vacuum

BD Compact Vacuum by Black & Decker

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The Black & Decker 12-volt Compact Auto Vacuum Cleaner is an all-around vacuum made by an American company that provides value for a low price. This vacuum does have a cord, but it’s a 12V DC adapter that plugs into your vehicle’s power socket and the cord is 16-feet long. The handheld vacuum has a double-action filtration system and it is very easy to dump vacuumed contents after cleaning. The kit comes with cleaning attachments, such as a crevice tool, and a brush attachment too.

2. Black & Decker MAX Lithium Pivot Vacuum

MAX lithium flex handheld vacuum by Black Decker

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Another product offered by Stanley Black & Decker is the MAX Lithium Pivoting Vacuum which is powered by a 20-volt lithium-ion battery that delivers plenty of suction power. The vacuum is completely cordless and the battery is rechargeable. The head of the vacuum pivots for cleaning hard to reach areas, and adds to its design making storage space-efficient. This cordless hand vacuum has a spin cycle that spins debris away from the filter so that the suction power lasts throughout the vacuum session. The vacuum design also features a 3-stage filtration system. This vacuum has some good consumer ratings with many speaking of the suction power and battery, even after 5 years of usage. Thanks to its portable size, it’s one of the best car vacuum cleaner models out there.

Best Premium Choice

3. Dyson V6 Cord-Free Stick Vacuum

V6 Cordless stick vacuum by Dyson

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Dyson has always been considered one of the top brands for vacuum technology. All of their parts are quality, made by some of the most innovative engineers out there. Most of their vacuums look entirely different than traditional vacuums, and there’s no exception with this model.

The V6 cordless stick vacuum was designed to clean anything. However, it has been designed to clean hard-to-reach areas, making it suitable for vehicle cleaning as well as general household cleaning. The V6 stick car vacuum cleaner features a digital V6 motor, providing plenty of suction for any surface. The motor is shut off after releasing the trigger, saving battery power. The battery itself provides up to 20 minutes of strong suction that never fades.  The kit comes with a docking station to store the vacuum while charging the batteries at the same time. The wand detaches for handheld cleaning and the vacuum also comes with a powerhead attachment and a crevice tool attachment.  The debris is delivered to a hygienic bin with a quick-release button for fast and easy dumping.

4. Dyson V7 Car & Boat Compact Vacuum

V7 Handheld Car vacuum by Dyson

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The Car and Boat Compact Vacuum is powered by the Dyson digital motor V7 which is small, light, and spins at up to 110,000 rpm to create enhanced suction. This model also has 15 cyclones that create extremely strong centrifugal power to capture debris, dirt, and other objects. The V7 is cordless and comes equipped with a battery that can last up to 30 minutes per charge. The battery can be recharged by using the 12-volt accessory slot charger.

The Car and Boat Vacuum also comes with a variety of attachments like an extension hose for longer reach, a dirt brush to knock dirt clumps loose, and a mini motorized tool that has a spin-powered brush bar to capture hair and dirt in tight/narrow spaces. The motor has a variable speed switch to control vacuuming (to conserve battery power) as well as a “MAX” mode that delivers more suction. This vacuum doesn’t use bags – there is a chamber where debris is stored. Once the reservoir is ready to be emptied, you empty the contents out without having to touch anything.

This hand vacuum does cost more than most cleaning vacuums; however, you’re getting value for money. If you have a car or boat that you want to keep spotless, consider the V7.

5. Armor All Utility Wet/Dry 2HP Vac

Utility vacuum by Armor All

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This is a compact shop vac. The Armor All Utility Vac has a 2-horsepower motor that provides all of the suction you’ll ever need. It has a 2.5-gallon filtered reservoir and rarely needs to be dumped. The vacuum has wet/dry capabilities so that wet surfaces can be vacuumed, as well as dry surfaces. This vac has a 10ft power cord that wraps around the handle for storage. The utility vacuum also has a 6ft hose to reach surfaces all around your vehicle’s interior. The vac features built-in hose storage as well! As if that wasn’t enough, Armor All’s Utility Vac also features a built-in air and noise diffuser with blower function capabilities. Considering the features on offer, this vacuum is priced well.

6. Metro Vac 'N Blo Canister Vacuum Cleaner & Air Blower

Vac n' Blo Canister Vacuum by MetroVac

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The Vac ‘N Blo Canister Vacuum, made by MetroVac, is one serious automotive cleaning kit for only those that are serious about keeping their vehicles spotless and shining. In fact, many car detailers and automotive shops use this exact model. It’s not wall mounted or a hand vacuum cleaner, but it certainly does the job. The canister vacuum is powered by a twin-fan, 4-horsepower motor which provides suction power capable of 95 inches of water lift. The Vac N’ Blow Canister kit comes with a 6-ft long flex hose, as well as two 40” hose extensions. This kit comes with several attachments for cleaning all types of automotive surfaces. The kit includes an upholstery tool, dust brush, crevice tool, blower nozzle, and more. This canister vacuum kit offers everything you’ll need for a professional-level detail and for a great price!

Best Overall Choice

7. Prolux Lite Professional Wall-Mounted Garage Shop Vacuum

Lite Professional wall-mount car wash vacuum by Prolux

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This rig easily mounts to any wall in your garage and barely takes up any space at all. It’s powered by a high-power 12 amp motor, producing over 155 cubic feet per minute of airflow. It’s rated for both wet and dry use and comes with a whopping 30 feet of flexible air hosing. This kit also converts to a blower and can be used as an inflator. The Prolux Lite kit comes with a range of connectors, tools, and accessories to tackle any job. Some of these accessories include a crevice tool, upholstery tool, duster brush extension wands, detailing tools, inflating tools and a squeegee.



How To Choose The Best Vacuum Cleaner For Your Car – Buying Guide

Here are the most important features to look for in a car vac:

Evaluating the enemy

You have decided that you want to lead the battle but are you ready for it? Choosing the right tool is essential to a positive outcome and this is directly linked to the type of dirt you want to get rid of.

For example, if you are driving a commercial car, you will need to keep the seats clean in between the picking and dropping off passengers, so a compact, easy to use the handheld vacuum that doesn’t take up much space and is cordless could be ideal for that.

However, if you live in an area that rains and snows a lot or you need to deal with some stubborn dirt and debris, you may want to consider a wet/dry vac, a corded heavy-duty vac or even a wall-mounted model.

Suction power

The suction power of the motor is a very important factor to consider in terms of vac performance. Normally, the higher the suction, the deeper and more efficient cleaning you will get.

Lower suction models can remove dust and other superficial dirt but they may not remove stubborn impurities such as dirt from your car interior mats.

In addition, corded vacuum cleaners have a higher suction performance than cordless vacuums, which also means that more energy is spent. In the manufacturer’s specs, you can see the suction power provided in various ways and by units such as Amps, Watts, CFM or AW.

Corded vs. cordless vacuum

As the name clearly states, corded models feature a cord that requires a power outlet to connect to. Some of these cords can be connected to an AC or DC power source and others may need an adapter.

Cordless models use batteries, which limits their runtime. It also affects their cleaning power, but it saves energy.

Here is a comparison between the two options:

  • Corded vacuums have a stronger power suction than cordless and therefore they are more efficient at cleaning.
  • The lack of cord makes cleaning easier especially when it has to do with nooks and hard-to-reach areas such as those under or between the seats.
  • Corded appliances are more bulky and heavier to lift, which reduces their portability.
  • One of the biggest disadvantages of the wireless options is that they have a limited runtime and need to be recharged. Having the battery charged at all times isn’t as simple as you might think.

In addition to these two types, there are also machines that integrate both corded and battery options.

Weight and size

Vacuums can be heavy. Generally, you’ll want something that weighs less than 5 lbs. Bulky models can be more difficult to handle.

Battery life

Running out of battery in the middle of a cleaning session can be annoying especially when you are on the go.

Depending on the size of your car and the dirt you need to tackle, you will want to go for a model that its runtime is adequate for your needs.

Typically, most lithium-ion batteries have a 15-30 minute run-time but there are few exceptions with longer runtime.

Choosing a product with an alert system such as an LED indicator allows you to monitor the status of your battery and improve the functionality of your device.

Tank capacity

If you don’t like emptying your vacuum too often, you may want to go for a big capacity tank. This varies with different products but a good size canister would be between two to six gallons.

Going for a big capacity tank can obviously make your machine bulkier, so if portability is an issue for you, choose a model that doesn’t feature a big canister.

Noise

Generally, the higher the suction power, the noisier the vac becomes. It also consumes more energy, hurting both the environment and your wallet.

General efficiency

The general effectiveness of your machine is not only directly linked to its high suction power but is affected by other factors including:

  • Quality of the filter: A quality filter, such as a HEPA filter, picks up even the smallest particles.
  • An ergonomic design makes it better to maneuver and use the device for longer periods of time.
  • Good brushing action.
  • The velocity of the airflow which together with the brushing action determines how successfully the dirt is collected.
  • Maintenance:  Proper maintenance of your appliance will extend its life and increase its efficiency.

Length of warranty

The length of the guarantee is a good way to check the confidence a company has in their product.

Easy to clean

A vac needs to be disassembled so you can clean the filter and empty the tank.

In terms of cleaning, small models take less time, but bigger ones will need cleaning less often.

Attachments

The variety of attachments may improve your cleaning experience. To clean difficult to reach areas or tight spaces, you will need a long flexible hose, a crevice tool, and a hard bristle brush to scrub off stubborn dirt in certain spots.

For a leather interior, a soft brush accessory paired with a cleaner designed for leather makes a great duo whereas if the material is fabric, the combination of a good brush, a strong suction motor and a cleaning product for car upholstery can do wonders.

A pet hair removing tool and replaceable filters are additional attachments you may want to consider if you or any of your family members are allergic to pet fur or hair.

Generally speaking, high-end machines are equipped with a broader variety of attachments.

Price

The cost is a factor you will want to consider. Putting it at the end of our list does not undermine any of its importance.

The price for portable models is normally under $100 while the wet/dry types can go up to $200 depending on the specific model or brand.

Some Dyson models can go as high as $570 while there are wall-mounted commercial vacuums that can be purchased for a little more than $1,000.

How To Vacuum A Car

How to vacuum a car

Here are the steps to use a car vacuum to clean your car:

  • Connect your vacuum to a power outlet. If there isn’t any nearby, consider using an extension cord.
  • Open the doors; this gives you access to the interior and increases ventilation to get rid of any odors.
  • Remove any litter.
  • Remove the car floor mats.
  • Start vacuuming the floorboards using the brush attachment.
  • Vacuum the upholstery paying attention to the crevices.
  • Clean the vehicle mats.
  • Gently go over the dashboard and display covers if necessary.
  • Check out the trunk and remove any clutter. Then, vacuum the whole compartment.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a 12-volt car vacuum cleaner?

12-volt car vacuums are portable devices that run using the cigarette lighter socket of your car. They can only be utilized in a car. Their suction power cannot compare to that of a corded or a lithium-ion battery vac, so they are not suitable for deep clean.

On the bright side, these are small portable machines that are very handy to use if you don’t have access to the main power and you need a small portable device to do some basic cleaning.

They are suitable for spot cleaning and difficult locations. They are reasonably priced and often come with extras. Two popular 12v vac brands are Black & Decker and Vonhaus.

What is the best handheld vacuum for pet hair?

Picking up cat or dog hair is one of the most difficult jobs for a vac. Handheld devices are practical to use, and some models can remove pet fur but they may not be so efficient getting rid of stubborn dirt such as mud.

Factors that you would like to consider when choosing the right model include:

  • Cleaning efficiency: A good vac performance does not depend only on its suction power but a combination of factors such as the nozzle shape, internal sealing or whether it is equipped with a powered brush bar.
  • Corded or cordless: Most handheld devices are cordless and they normally run up to 20 minutes whereas corded designs are more powerful and they don’t have the limitation of time.
  • Capacity and weight: These tools typically have a small and lightweight design, but you should check for the specifics of each model.
  • Price: Pet hair vacuums may cost no more than $50 but there are also some expensive options out there such as Dyson.

Many handheld devices struggle to remove pet hair, but here are 2 top options we recommend:

  • Dyson V7 Trigger
  • Bissell Pet Hair Eraser

What is a wet-dry vacuum?

A wet-dry vac is designed to tackle dust, dry dirt and liquid spills. For this purpose, there are two separate compartments, ensuring that all electrical components are insulated and safe to use.

Some of these models also come with a deodorizing feature that removes foul smell from the fabric. They can be used inside and out, and for your car, home, basement, yard or garage floor.

How often should I vacuum my car?

There are no specific rules for that, but as a general rule of thumb, vacuuming your car thoroughly twice a month should be enough. Dusting should be done on a regular basis.

There are different factors that do affect how often you should clean your vehicle though and they have to do with:

  • How often you use your car or you leave the windows open since this can lead to a lot of dust getting into the car.
  • Weather conditions.
  • Having pets or children.
  • The material of upholstery. For example, vinyl material becomes brittle from the dust while the fabric is a magnet for pet fur. The leather interiors need special cleaning and treating to prevent them from drying and cracking especially during those cold winter months.

Cleaning your car regularly takes less time and effort than doing it once in a blue moon. It also increases your vehicle’s resale value.

Why does my car vacuum have no suction?

There are two common causes of suction loss, either the filters or the vac hose is blocked. Here is how to fix this problem:

  • Unplug the machine.
  • Remove the filters and clean them properly, making sure you are following the manual instructions. Some filters can be washed while others may only need brushing.
  • Detach the hose and check if there is any blockage. Also, check the base of the vac for blockages and make sure that the belts are not damaged.
  • Bagless models require regular emptying of the dust container to keep maximum suction whereas, for bagged devices, you just need to check if the bag is full.


Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.