One of the most oft-overlooked spaces to vacuum is your car. For millions of Americans, the car is just the transportation vessel. If you have to deal with gridlock traffics and long commutes, the last thing you want to do is pull out the extension cords and find a way to drag a vacuum out to your automobile. That’s why several manufacturers have begun making smaller, leaner vacuum cleaners that focus specifically on car detailing.
A vacuum cleaner designated for the car is going to need either a significant amount of reach from the outlet, a 12V plug for the car’s power outlet, or run on its own power. The best vacuum cleaner for a car is also going to rely on a host of features to pull deeply embedded dirt from floor mats and reach crumbs and other debris that may be pressed in between seats.
While standard uprights and stick vacuums are great for indoor flooring, we believe vacuums that work best for cars tend to fall under one of the three following categories:
- Canister vacuums, for long hoses and varied attachments
- Handheld vacuums, for portability and size
- Wet/dry vacuums, for all types of messes and spills
We’ve picked out four of the highest-rated vacuums that we think are perfect for car detailing and vacuuming. Change to: These options have been selected from some of the best canister, handheld, and wet/dry vacuums in the market today and include a fourth choice that’s especially great for cars.
After going over the products and discussing features and possible problems, we’ll discuss what you need to look out for in a car-focused vacuum cleaner in our Buyer’s Guide.
There’s a lot to keep in mind and much to discuss—so let’s go ahead and get into the lineup:
18ft cord | Bagged | HEPA | 18.7 lbs | 7ft Hose | ✓ Brush Roll | X Car Adaptor
The Miele Compact C2 Electro+ SDCE0 is a premium canister vacuum that uses bags, brush rolls, and HEPA filtration to get your car (and home) as clean as it can be. Its substantial price tag means that the Miele should really be used at home primarily, but when it comes to cleaning cars, the Compact C2 outdoes itself.
- Powerful brush roll
- Great warranty
- Excellent reach
- Stiff hose
- Suction control
- HEPA filtration
- Attachments: Electro Plus floorhead, parquet floorhead, dusting brush, upholstery tool, crevice nozzle
- Warranty: 1-year Limited Parts, 7-year Limited Motor & Casing
This canister vacuum is a little unusual in comparison to our other picks. While you may initially notice the sharp increase in product cost, you may also be surprised (or elated) to know that this vacuum cleaner uses bags to operate. The Miele Compact C2 ignores modern tendencies toward bagless vacuum cleaners and uses HEPA filtration to deep clean your home.
Its canister, which weighs in at nearly 20 pounds, can easily be set aside as you extend the hose and use its many attachments to clean upholstery and carpet. The included Electro Plus floorhead will deep clean your car’s carpets better than any other product on our list. Otherwise, homeowners (and car owners) can make use of the dusting brush, upholstery tool and crevice nozzle along with a 7-foot hose to clean your car better than the local car wash ever could.
Miele protects their customer’s investments with a generous warranty that lasts up to 7 years for certain parts, so there’s little to fear if questioning quality. We also think the Miele Compact C2 is one of the Best Canister Vacuums in the market today, so if you’re interested in checking out the Miele (or its competition), head over to our article on canister vacuums.
When it comes to your car, however, the Miele has more than enough reach and suction power to do its job. If your home needs a new vacuum and you’re looking for features to eliminate the need for a handheld, you can either start with the Miele or check out some of our other picks in our Best Canister Vacuum cleaner article.
Battery 30 minutes | Bagless | Washable Filter | 3.77 lbs | X Hose | ✓ Brush Roll | X Car Adaptor
Dyson’s V7 Trigger features their trademark suction power in a small, easy-to-handle unit, and is our only handheld vacuum cleaner on this list that features a motorized brush tool. However, the short battery life, uncomfortable use, and lack of hose hold it back from being our go-to pick for car cleaning specifically.
- Mini-Motorized tool
- Powerful suction
- Spotty battery
- Uncomfortable operation
- No hose
- Mini-Motorized tool
- Hygienic dirt-ejector
- Attachments: Combination tool, crevice tool
- Warranty: 2-year Limited
Dyson products are known for polarizing public perception as some balk at their high cost while others praise the powerful suction of Dyson models. The Dyson V7 Trigger surprisingly subverts expectations and proves to be one of the best products in the current Dyson lineup.
The Dyson V7 Trigger is Dyson’s current handheld option, which—as the name may imply—only runs when the device’s trigger is pulled. At under four pounds, this vacuum is about as light as possible without sacrificing power. Handheld vacuums are also known for skipping motorized tools in the interest of suction power, but Dyson wasn’t afraid to come up with a proprietary solution to that common problem.
Instead of utilizing a brush roll to stir up dirt in carpeting, Dyson uses a Mini-Motorized Tool that spins a smaller, bristle-free roller that does an excellent job while also saving power. This savings is important, it seems, since the V7 Trigger seems to struggle on managing its stated 30 minute battery life.
While a half-hour of intensive cleaning should be more than enough time to clean out larger cars, the V7 Trigger is often reported to quit quite a bit before 30 minutes have passed. The lack of hose is also a separate issue, since cleaning under seats and around doors will require more careful maneuvering of the motor and bin. However, the crevice tool extends enough to eliminate the worst of the issue.
Turning the machine on and off with the pull of a trigger is a handy design choice, but doing so has been reported by multiple users to make the operation of this vacuum uncomfortable and even painful. In some regard, the spotty battery life is a good reminder to vacuum quickly to save your hands.
Quirks aside, there’s no knocking the Dyson’s power. While this vacuum costs more than other handhelds, it’s surprisingly affordable enough to lure in many that would otherwise never consider the brand. We think the Dyson V7 Trigger is a great tool for upholstery and pet hair. Without the need for outlets and cords, you won’t find a product as powerful and as portable as this one.
If you like the idea of a handheld vacuum cleaner for the car but want to see other options, check out our Best Handheld Vacuum cleaner article.
10ft cord | Bagless | Cloth Filter | 7 lbs | 6ft Hose | X Brush Roll | X Car Adaptor
Armor All’s combination of a wet/dry vacuum with a handheld form pays off with one of the most affordable and consistent vacuums in the market—making it perfect for use when cleaning out cars. Fans of a wet/dry vacuum will appreciate the extra options and long hose, but the short cord and underwhelming performance as a shop vacuum limit this product’s versatility.
- Cleans wet and dry messes
- Great attachments
- Short cord
- No motorized tools
- Weak filter
- Auto-shut off
- Deluxe Car Nozzle
- Attachments: 2-in-1 utility nozzle, crevice tool, blower nozzle, detail brush
- Warranty: 2-year Limited
While we mentioned earlier that canister and handheld vacuums are often the best for cleaning cars, Armor All has made a product that’s not quite a handheld but not entirely a wet/dry vacuum either. The Armor All Utility wet/dry vacuum cleaner is a small, 2 horsepower shop vacuum that seems especially made for cars. In case you aren’t familiar, wet/dry vacuums or shop vacuums are designed to either use filters and bags for dirt and grime, or switch to a simple tank to pick up wet messes without causing damage to the device.
With a 2.5 gallon tank, practically any spill in the car can be quickly sucked up by Armor Alls Utility vacuum cleaner. This product also comes with a host of attachments that can make cleaning up a breeze. These include a 2-in-1 utility nozzle, deluxe car nozzle, crevice tool, blower nozzle, and even a detail brush. Other products on this list fail to feature so many different tools for the car, even when they can run significantly higher in price.
Wet/dry vacuums are only as strong as their motors, so unfortunately a 2 horsepower motor is going to struggle with deep messes. There also isn’t any motorized tool to agitate carpet fibers to get a deep clean, so anyone with an all upholstery interior might be justifiably hesitant.
The deluxe car nozzle and auto-shut off feature are both helpful in their simplicity, but with the cord only extending 10 feet, most people are going to need to pull out the extension cord or utilize a car inverter to get this vacuum up and running. The Armor All Utility vacuum, despite the flaws, is still the most affordable car-centric vacuum on our list, and is our Budget Choice.
A 6 foot hose also means that you won’t be moving the main unit all that much as you effortlessly get into those hard-to-reach places. We think that if you don’t mind a bit of extra work with the extension hose and own a car with leather upholstery, this model is a valuable asset that could even be kept in the trunk in case of emergencies.
If you like the idea of a wet/dry vacuum but need a product with a bigger capacity or higher horsepower, be sure to check out our Best Wet/dry Vacuum cleaner article.
16ft cord | Bagless | 4.2 lbs | 4ft Hose | X Brush Roll | ✓ Car Adaptor
Black and Deckers Flexi Automotive Vacuum is our only choice for a car-centric vacuum cleaner that uses a 12V outlet for use in the car. The low cost and portability mean that this product can be kept in the vehicle at all times, but no carpet attachments and weak power do undermine its overall strength.
- Car adapter
- Long cord
- Weak suction
- No motorized tool
- Awkward debris disposal
- “Motor in the filter" technology
- 12V adapter
- Attachments: Combination tool
- Warranty: 2-year Limited
Back and Decker tends to stick more to power tools and lawn care than vacuum cleaners, but their car-focused variation of the handheld vacuum cleaner is more than worthy of the brand name.
The Black and Decker 12V Flexi Automotive vacuum cleaner is the only vacuum cleaner on our list with a 12V car adaptor. Black and Decker’s focus in this model is on portability, so this adaptor is the only way to operate this product. There’s also only one tool that comes with this product: the combination crevice and brush tool. The hose itself is only a measly 4 feet, but when combined with the 16-foot cord, you won’t need to worry too much about reach. That singular tool is also indicative of the nature of this specific product, because to make a handheld car vacuum cleaner at such an affordable price means a few corners need to be cut.
The lack of a motorized tool and the reduced suction power are two major problems, especially given the fact that this vacuum is supposed to be for all cars. Similarly, the method of debris disposal is confusing at best. A side door is designed to open up, forcing users to carry the entire vacuum with them and shake it sideways over a trash can.
However, a 2-year warranty should keep you covered from manufacturer’s mistakes, so the low cost becomes less of a worry. It is also a huge bonus for many looking for vacuum cleaner specifically for their car to utilize just one tool and a 12V adaptor. Where some see detriments, others would see simplicity.
Overall, the Black and Decker Flexi Automotive vacuum cleaner makes no apologies about what it is or about what it can and cannot do. If your car is light on upholstery and needs a vacuum with it at all times, this product is a clear winner.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, canister and handheld vacuums are best suited for cars. The many cracks and crevices between seats, dashboard, and trunks require crevice tools and hoses to reach them. At the same time, all of that trodden-in dirt on the floors will need extra attention to get clean.
If you’re looking for a vacuum that can either double as a car cleaner or be your dedicated car maintenance product, consider the following before opting for one of our options:
Environment is Everything
The environment of your car is extremely important to keep in mind as you select a vacuum cleaner to maintain it. For instance, homeowners and car owners living in desert climates won’t get nearly as much use out of a wet/dry vacuum as they would a handheld with HEPA filtration. You may notice that only two of our recommendations – The Miele Compact 2 and the Dyson V7 Trigger – fit that description. Meanwhile, rainy climates can allow for passengers and drivers to track in mud, which will need something more powerful than a crevice tool to remove. None of this is considering the interior finish of your car, either. Upholstery will need special attention or bush rolls, while leather interiors may need stronger suction power.
Think about both the environment inside your car as well as outside of it. Play these vacuums strengths to the weaknesses of where and how you live, and you’ll be sure to see stronger results because of it.
Size & Weight
The size and weight of your car-focused vacuum cleaner is another cause for concern. A canister vacuum is a full-sized product that can certainly bring the power, but are you willing to maneuver it outside? Likewise, you’ll be dealing with the lower suction power of some handheld vacuums if you consider size and weight above all other things.
Generally, you’ll want to find your happy medium between portability and power. It does exist, and when you take into account the environment and tools you need, you get a better understanding of where to land on that spectrum.
Attachments, Hoses & Cords
Finally, a car vacuum cleaner is nothing without its attachments, hoses, and adequate cord length. You’ll notice that many of our vacuums feature one or two of these stipulations but lack the third. A lack of hose can be a major problem until an attachment can come in and offset that design flaw. Similarly, a long hose can provide powerful reach until you find yourself out of length on a cord. Consider where your car is located, whether or not a car adaptor vacuum is right for you, and how close the nearest outlet might be.
These considerations will get you closer to the right combination and the perfect car vacuum cleaner for you.
Each of our four picks excels at one main feature. The Dyson V7 Trigger ditches the cord and any worries you may have about the proximity to an outlet. At the same time, the Armor All Utility wet/dry vacuum is the only product on our list that has no fear of mud or spills. Finally, the Miele Compact C2 brings power and deep carpet cleaning, and the Black and Decker Flexi automotive vacuum aims to be portable and simple to use.
The best vacuum cleaner for you is one that can focus on what you need it to. Take some time to consider your environment, and see if you want the simplicity of a wet/dry vacuum, the strength of a canister vacuum, or the maneuverability of a handheld option. Your car—and your passengers—will certainly thank you for taking the time to do so.