Car Vacuum Cleaner

Car vacuum cleaners are designed for cleaning cars, trucks, boats, tents and other often hard to reach and clean surfaces. Often, these vacuums are used in emergencies and must be able to clean various types of debris, both dry and wet.

If you are looking for a good car vacuum cleaner, before buying one, here are few things to consider.

Published: March 1, 2019.

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Car Vacuum Features and Specifications

Most important features of car vacuums are:

- Suction: if the vacuum doesn't have suction, it is not able to clean the dirt. Suction is often given in Pascals (Pa) and it represents the pressure in Newtons per square meter. Good car vacuum cleaner should have at least 2-3 kPa, preferably more. For example, large home vacuums powered via mains power often have 20 kPa ili even stronger suction. Note: suction of the vacuum cleaner is static value - it is the maximum suction that vacuum can achieve.

- Air Flow is amount of air that vacuum produces with clean filters and with no clogs, blockages or obstacles. Air flow is given in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and varies greatly from model to model. After all, it is really hard to compare small cordless unit with large, mains powered vacuum.

- Air Watts: perhaps the best measure of vacuums power and its capabilities to clean is its 'Air Watts' value, which is actual power of the air flow (hence the name 'Air Watts' - AW) created by the vacuum cleaner. Air Watts of most good cordless units are usually between 20 and 50 AW, with some models reaching 100+ AW in burst mode. Also, large home vacuums can easily produce 250+ AW.

- Air Filtration: vacuumed dirt should stay in the vacuum - it should not be released back into the car via expelled air. High quality car vacuums feature 'true HEPA' air filtration - they are able to filter out at least 99.97% of 0.3 microns or larger particles. Since such filters are not cheap and because they create relatively large pressure drop, good vacuum cleaners trap 99.9% of small particles.

- Bagless or Bagged: most car vacuums are bagless vacuums. Dirt is stored in rigid dirt bin, which is occasionally emptied into the trash can. Most vacuums feature transparent dirt bins, allowing the user to see type and amount of vacuumed dirt. Bagged car vacuums are not common - they are mostly home bagged canisters used for vacuuming the cars, not purposely built car vacuums.

car vac 120v wet dry- Wet or Dry: most of the car vacuums are dry vacuums - they are designed for vacuuming dry dirt and if they are used for vacuuming moist/wet dirt or even liquids, they may malfunction, catch fire or even worse. Wet vacuums are designed for vacuuming both dry and wet dirt safely.

- Power Source: depending on their power source, there are generally three types of car vacuums: cordless car vacuums, 12V car vacuums, mains powered car vacuums.

- Cleaning Tools and Attachments: in order to be able to clean various types of dirt from various types of surfaces, car vacuums require different cleaning tools and attachments, including crevice tool, dusting brush, flexible cleaning hose, upholstery tool and similar.

Of course, there are other features involved, but these are the most important ones.

Cordless Car Vacuums

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Cordless car vacuums store required energy in onboard batteries. They are full autonomous vacuums and can be used at the moment notice - they are excellent 'emergency' vacuum cleaners.

Although most modern cordless vacuums are powered with power fade-free lithium ion rechargeable batteries, their autonomy is limited by the amount of energy stored in the battery.

Good cordless units can operate 5-10 minutes using so-called 'Boost Mode' and 15-30 minutes in 'Normal Mode' of suction, which is more than enough to vacuum even larger car or a truck on a single battery charge.

Thanks to their design, handheld cordless vacuums can reach and clean awkward places, especially with the proper car cleaning set available.

Note: don't leave cordless units in the car during summer heat, unless its battery is designed to withstand such high temperatures. High temperatures can significantly shorten the number of charging/discharging cycles of its battery and decrease its capacity. Not to mention that lithium batteries can even burst to flames when exposed to high temperatures, and that is not something one would like to happen in the car.

12V Car Vacuums

car vac 12v 1Due to the internal battery, cordless car vacuums are fully autonomous regarding external source, but their operating time is limited by the amount of energy stored in onboard batteries.

12V car vacuums solve this by using energy stored in car battery. They are commonly powered via long cable equipped with cigarette lighter adapter. Since lighter adapter ports are generally protected by 10 Amps circuit breakers, 12V car vacuums feature 90-110 W motors that can operated practically as long as there is charge in the car battery. In theory.

In real life, due to their small dimensions and relatively strong motors, these vacuums tend to overheat after 10-15 minutes of constant operation. When 12V car vacuum cleaner, equipped with 8 Amps (96 W) operates for 15 minutes, it discharges car battery by 2 Ah, which is practically nothing for modern days car batteries which generally have 50-70 or even more Ah.

12V car vacuums are designed for car use and are very heat tolerant and most of them can be left in the car even during hot summer days without adverse effects on their performances.

Although these handheld vacuums are compact, they usually feature small car cleaning kits containing dusting brush, crevice tool, small flexible cleaning hose and similar.

Wet-dry 12V car vacuums are common in this class, but they are often limited by the amount of liquid they can clean while keeping the unit in proper position to prevent the liquid reaching air filter, motor and other parts of the vacuum.

Again, before the very first use, be sure to thoroughly read the manual.

Mains Powered Car Vacuums

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Mains powered car vacuums are home vacuums equipped with flexible cleaning hoses and cleaning tools suitable for cleaning car interiors.

Large upright vacuums without flexible cleaning hoses are not suitable as car vacuums, but uprights with cleaning hoses, especially with Lift-Away and similar pods are excellent choice, especially when featuring proper cleaning tools.

Canister vacuums, drum vacuums, backpack vacuums and similar units are suitable as car vacuums as long as they can reach the car interior (flexible cleaning hose) and clean various surfaces and various types of dirt (proper cleaning tools and attachments).

Spot cleaners are special type of wet-dry vacuums, designed and optimized for cleaning small (hence the name), very dirty areas.

Mains powered vacuums are much stronger than cordless or 12V car vacuums, with units easily reaching 1300+ Watts.

Such motors create suction of 250-300+ Air Watts allowing these vacuums to clean even the most stubborn dirt like sand, gravel, pet and human hair and similar. And when cleaning more delicate surfaces, power can be adjusted as needed.

These car vacuums depend on the mains power, but they can operated almost indefinitely, as long as there is a suitable wall power socket nearby.

Cleaning Tools and Attachments

Although there are many cleaning tools and attachments available, these are the most common ones:

Crevice Tool is long and narrow cleaning tool, allowing the user to reach and clean tight and narrow gaps and crevices, like between seats, along the edges, in the corners and similar.

Dusting Brush is used for cleaning the dust off the various surfaces like leather surfaces, car dashboard, gloves compartments and similar. Dusting brushes feature one or more rows of bristles that agitate the dirt which is than vacuumed by the air flow into the car vacuum. Often, dusting brushes are integrated with crevice tools into 2-in-1 cleaning tools.

Flexible Cleaning Hose enable the user to connect other cleaning tools with the car vacuum itself, helping the user to clean hard-to-reach areas and surfaces, like below car seats and similar. Flexible cleaning hose is part of most car cleaning kits.

Upholstery Tool is used for cleaning car seats, car mats and similar. Often, upholstery tool is designed as 2-in-1 tool, for cleaning different, including delicate surfaces, without making scratches. car detailing kit

Note: if you already own a vacuum cleaner, and would like to use it to vacuum your car, getting a car cleaning kit is often the best idea, just be sure to order a car cleaning kit that can fit your vacuum.


Long Story Short: Which car vacuum cleaner is the best is really hard to tell, since many people have different requirements. So, be sure to choose according to your own preferences and requirements.

Or take your car to the professional cleaning shop for a thorough cleaning, while you drink coffee or some other favorite beverage :)

Personally, small 12V car vacuums are relatively strong, don't require much space, come with their own storage bag, they are rather cheap and can be left in the car and used as needed.