The Best Car Vacuum Cleaner - How to Choose One?

We spend plenty of time in our cars and having a clean car is, first of all, important for our health. Also, you never know who will soon sit in your car, so it is vital to keep it as clean as possible. People with pets and kids often have a need for a good emergency vacuum cleaner and must be ready to use it at the moment notice.

That is why having a good and reliable car vacuum cleaner can come in very handy in many situations.

Updated: November 7, 2020.

Car Vacuum Cleaner Power Sources

Car vacuum cleaners can be powered by an onboard battery (cordless units), by a 12V cigarette lighter adapter, or can be powered using mains (110 V or 220 V) power.

Cordless Car Vacuum Cleaners

black decker chv1410l 16v mCordless car vacuum can be used regardless of the availability of cars or mains power. Modern cordless units are powered by powerful and lightweight lithium-ion batteries, while cheaper models still have nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries. Some older models even use nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries, but IMHO, such units should be avoided due to the environmental impact of the batteries when not being recycled properly. Also, NiCd batteries suffer from the 'so-called' memory effect, have a rather low number of charging and discharging cycles, have lower capacity than modern NiMH, and especially lithium batteries, etc.

For short, if somebody offers You a cordless vacuum cleaner powered by NiCd batteries, no matter how cheap it is, avoid it.

The main disadvantage of cordless units is the limited amount of energy stored in the onboard batteries. A larger and better battery increases the weight and price of a vacuum cleaner but can provide a runtime of 30-40 or even more minutes using normal power/standard suction.

Some units feature so-called burst or boost vacuuming mode when battery and motor are pushed to the limit for short time, but the suction is greatly increased. Such boost mode shortens operating time several times, but suction can be compared with the suction of mains powered units. And yes, such units cost some decent money.

dyson v11 outsize h300pxSuction power depends on the vacuum cleaner model and suction setting but varies from 15-20 Air Watts in entry-level models to 220 Air Watts found in the convertible Dyson V11 Outsize Cordless Vacuum Cleaner.

Very often, home handheld cordless units are carried on longer trips and used as car vacuum cleaners, and vice versa, cordless car vacuums are used as home cordless units.

One of the most important issues with cordless car vacuum cleaners is the safety of the batteries during summer and winter.

If the vacuum cleaner is left in the car during winter, low temperatures can shorten the lifetime of the batteries and decrease their capacity - which is not good.

However, during summer, if the car is left outside, the inner temperature can increase significantly, damaging the batteries even more. And if the cordless car vacuum is left directly exposed to sunlight, its temperature can increase so much, that the batteries, although rarely, can burst into flames.

So, if You have a cordless vacuum cleaner that you want to keep in the car year long, check if the manufacturer allows such practice. If not, keep such vacuum cleaner at home at room temperature and keep it in the car only during trips when the car's inner temperature is regulated by the car's AC unit.

Thanks to compact dimensions, missing power cord (hence 'cordless' vacuums), availability of various cleaning tools, cordless car vacuums are commonly used for vacuuming car interiors, especially awkward and hard to reach areas and surfaces.

12V Car Vacuum Cleaners

car vacuum cleaner 1Vacuum cleaners powered by 12 volts cigarette lighter adapter are not limited by energy stored in onboard battery, but their main limit is circuit breaker current of the cigarette lighter adapter, which is by default 10 Amps, limiting power of such vacuums to 100-120 watts. Even so, 100-120 watts motors create suction that is stronger than the suction of the most common cordless car vacuums.

Cigarette lighter adapter vacuums draw power from the car battery and when pushed to the limit, they discharge the car battery on average by 1 Ah (Amp hour) for every 6 (six) minutes of operation.

For example, if You vacuum your car for an hour(!), you are going to discharge your car battery by 10 Ah – that is not an issue for a fully charged starting and especially dual-purpose car battery of at least 60-70 Ah capacity.

Another important disadvantage of 12V car vacuums is the length of the power cord and cigarette light adapter connection, which can get hot very fast is some cheaper models.

In order to be able to vacuum the whole car, the power cord must be at least 15-16 feet (~4.6-4.9 m) long. Such power cord allows the user to vacuum the trunk of the larger SUVs and caravans, while using a 12V car port located usually in front of the front seats.

Note: some 12V car vacuums come with 110/220V AC adapters, allowing such units to be used at home as well.

Corded 110/220V AC Car Vacuum Cleaners

shark apex duoclean ax951 tableMains powered vacuums can operate only when there is a mains power available, but they have the strongest suction, often the best cleaning attachments for car detailing, and can do their job properly on various surfaces.

Common upright vacuums are not very well suited for the job, but upright vacuums with hoses are excellent – using the main cleaning nozzle/head, one can vacuum car mats much better than with other vacuums (12V or cordless), while using a flexible cleaning hose and various attachments, one can thoroughly clean the whole car, including car seats, all possible crevices, gaps and edges, air outlets, trunk, etc.

Similarly, canister vacuums can be used as excellent car vacuum cleaners if the mains power is present and if the vacuum features suitable cleaning attachments intended for detailed cleaning of various surfaces found not on in the cars, but also at homes.

Carpet washers/shampooers can be used for deep and thorough cleaning of car mats (if the mats are intended for such cleaning) while the mats are out of the car, but after the cleaning, the car mats must be dried first and only then put back into the car.

Carpet spot cleaners/washers are intended for deep cleaning of carpeted stairs, upholstery, smaller carpets, and area rugs and can be used for cleaning of the car seats and mats.

Also, cordless carpet spot cleaners can be very useful for cleaning stubborn pets and kids stains and dirt - just be sure to use them according to the instructions, especially when using detergents and cleaning formulas.

Dry Vacuum vs Wet-and-Dry Vacuum Cleaners?

Dry vacuums are optimized for dry debris and when moist or wet debris are cleaned, they can get damaged.

Wet and dry vacuums can clean wet debris and some models can even vacuum liquids directly. Note that even such vacuums have limits regarding amounts of liquid they can remove before they require emptying of the dirt bin, or they can get damaged, too.

Most 'wet-and-dry' small car vacuums (cordless or 12 V cigarette light adapter vacuums) when cleaning liquids, must be used at a certain angle, to prevent liquids from reaching the air filter and motor. But they can clean water, mud, coffee, juice, sodas, etc.

Unless the vacuum is labeled as 'wet-and-dry vacuum' by its manufacturer, the vacuum cleaner should be used only for vacuuming the dry dirt.

Car Vacuum Cleaner Attachments

While compact and lightweight vacuum cleaners can directly access and clean most car surfaces, in order to clean the car interior in greater detail, one needs several cleaning attachments, including:

- Flexible Cleaning Hose increase the reach of the user and allows the user to clean awkward and hard to reach areas.

- Crevice Tool is a long and narrow cleaning tool, intended for vacuuming edges, gaps, crevices (hence the name), corners, and similar areas. Some crevice tools come with a flexible center section, allowing the tool to bend and clean areas that are not accessible by rigid crevice tools.

- Dusting Brush features rows of gentle bristles that agitate the surface dust and other similar dirt, which is then vacuumed by the strong suction.

hv32x motorized brush- Pet Turbo Tool features a small brushroll that is powered by an air turbine. As the brushroll spins, it pulls out deeply embedded hair, lint, fibers, and other similar dirt, which is then vacuumed into the unit by the strong suction. Pet Turbo Tool is one of the favorite cleaning tools of many pet owners, not just for vacuuming cars, but also for vacuuming pet beds, sofas, stairs, and similar surfaces.

- Upholstery Tool is intended for deep vacuuming of sensitive car seats and mats that can't be vacuumed by the Pet Turbo Tool. Upholstery Tool is not as thorough as Pet Turbo Tool, but since it lacks moving parts, it is very gentle to the cleaned surfaces and much easier to maintain.

Most manufacturers offer their vacuums with a set of cleaning tools suitable for vacuuming homes and cars, but they also offer special car cleaning kits, intended for detailed car cleaning.

If You have a vacuum cleaner that doesn't feature such cleaning tools, there are many car cleaning kits with standardized attachments that can fit your vacuum cleaner - one just have to find a compatible car cleaning kit.


Long Story Short: Personally, if you have pets and small kids, having a good cordless unit can be of great help – you can keep it in the car or take it with you (kitchen emergency vacuum?) when traveling with pets and kids and you can use it within seconds.

Upright vacuum cleaner with the cleaning hose or canister vacuum can be used for periodic thorough car vacuuming, while 12 volts cigarette lighter adapter vacuum will do its job well, especially when not having the option of cleaning your car with the mains powered vacuum.

Or, you can take your car to the car cleaners and tell them to clean, vacuum, and even disinfect your car, while you sit and relax :)