How to choose the best car vacuum cleaner?

We spend plenty of time in our cars and having 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 need for a good emergency vacuum cleaner and must be ready to use it at the moment notice.

Car vacuum cleaner power sources

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

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Cordless units can be used regardless of availability of car or mains power. Modern units are powered by lithium-ion batteries, while cheaper models have nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries. Some models even use nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries, but IMHO, those batteries should be banned due to environmental impact when not being stored/recycled properly.

Main disadvantage of cordless units is limited amount of energy stored in onboard battery. Larger and better battery increases the weight and price of such vacuum cleaner, but can provide runtime of 10-20 or even more minutes using normal power. Some units feature so-called burst or boost mode, when battery and motor are pushed to the limit for short time, but 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.

Vacuum cleaners powered by 12 cigarette lighter adapter are not limited by energy stored in onboard battery, but their main limit is circuit breaker of the cigarette lighter adapter, which is by default 10 Amps, limiting power of such vacuums to 100-120 watts, which is stronger than most of the cordless units.

Cigarette lighter adapter vacuums draw power from the car battery and when pushed to the limit, they discharge car battery by 1 Ah (Amp hour) for every 6 (six) minutes of operation. So, if you vacuum your car for an hour (some people do that!), you are going to discharge your car battery by 10 Ah – that is nothing for starting and especially dual purpose car battery of at least 60-70 Ah capacity.

Cigarette lighter adapter vacuums main disadvantage is length of the power cord and cigarette light adapter connection, which can get hot very fast is some cheaper models. However, such models can be used at home too, when proper 12V adapter is used.

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Mains powered vacuums can operate only when there is mains power available, but they have best suction, often best attachments 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 main cleaning nozzle/head, one can vacuum car mats much better than with other vacuums (12V or cordless), while using stretch hose and various attachments, one can thoroughly clean whole car – car seats, all possible crevices and edges, air outlets, trunk etc. And one of my favorite features of bagless uprights is –transparent dirt bin. One can see what is inside, including earrings, socks, small toys etc. Seriously, been there, done that : )

Dry vacuum vs wet-and-dry vacuums?

Dry vacuums are optimized for dry debris and when moist or wet debris are cleaned, they can be damaged. Wet and dry vacuums can clean wet debris and some models can vacuum liquids directly. Note that even such vacuums have limits regarding amounts of liquid they can remove before they require empting of the dirt bin, or they can be damaged, too. Most small car vacuums (cordless or 12 V cigarette light adapter vacuums) when cleaning liquids, must be used at certain angle, to prevent liquid to reach the air filter and motor. But they can clean water, mud, coffee, juice, sodas etc.

Personally, if you have pets and small kids, having 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 hose can be used for periodic thorough car vacuuming, while 12 cigarette lighter adapter vacuum will do its job well, especially when not having option of cleaning your car with the mains powered vacuum.

Or, you can take your car to the car cleaners and tell them to disinfect your car : )