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When it comes to cleaning a busy pet hair (and dander, dirt, and allergen) filled household, every harried pet mom or dad needs a secret weapon: a reliable, trusted vacuum cleaner.
But for hard to reach places, overhead areas, upholstery, and the car, a handheld vacuum cleaner specifically designed for pet hair can offer a level of versatility and utility not always matched by typical upright machines.
To find the best handheld pet hair vacuum, we reviewed two of the most highly rated, bagless, handheld vacuums for pet hair on Amazon: the Shark Rocket True Pet and the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser, side by side to see how each performed during what we call the “Sunday morning” test.
There comes a day in my two-cat one-dog household, usually every Sunday, when I look around the house and all I see is scattered dirt, tracked litter, pet hair, dust bunnies, and occasionally a mess-of-unknown-origin-but-I-know-one-of-the-pets-did-it. Fur, dander, and dust is EVERYWHERE: on the furniture, under the baseboards, freewheeling across the hardwoods like little furry tumbleweeds. Did I mention the car?!? (We’ll get there.)
It’s during these times—after I take a deep breath and remember why we choose day after day to live with our mess-making house beasts—that I pull out my trusty Dyson and get to work.
On a recent Sunday morning, however, in the interest of research, I kept the Dyson in the closet and put two of the most highly rated handheld vacuums for pet hair on Amazon—the Shark Rocket True Pet and the Bissell Pet Hair Eraser—to work on some Sunday morning messes both models claim to be designed to eliminate. Here’s how they stacked up.
I began the test in the guest room, aka our cat Matilda’s room, where she spends most of her day sleeping on the guest bed and covering the quilt with her fine, medium-length fur and, as gross as it sounds, occasional litter and dirt tracked in from her paws.
I started with the Bissell on one half of the bed. Weighing in between 4 and 5 pounds, it’s slightly heavier than the Shark (4 pounds), but its smaller profile gives it the appearance of being a lighter machine. It also claims a 4 amp power rating, which isn’t an apples to apples comparison to the Shark vacuum’s 400 watts rating, but works out to be slightly more powerful—in theory.
The Pet Hair Eraser comes with two attachments—both variations of the same wide mouth suction nozzle—and I first used the flexible rubber pink attachment with nodules designed to better lift away dirt and debris and suck them up.
For a machine considerably smaller than an upright vacuum, the Bissell was a lot louder than I expected, emitting a low-pitched whir that quickly became bothersome as, being just an arm’s length away, you get pretty up close and personal with these things. I also found the machine to be overly “blowy” due to the motor’s robust exhaust system, which kicked up hair and dirt as I moved it forward and backward.
After repeated swipes over the same cleaning path (and in spite of a bombast of decibels) the patch of quilt I tested never became entirely pet hair-free (though the few solid pieces of litter on it were sucked up and stayed in the canister). I tried the basic nozzle attachment which seemed promising (it has a contoured head angled to lay flat with the surface of the mess at hand) but that too delivered similar lackluster results.
Here I began developing a handful of theories that I believe hold true for the Bissell vacuum’s overall performance throughout the entire test:
- The first part of Bissell’s problem is that because both attachments affix to the machine itself—not say, via an extension wand that attaches to the machine, which offers better handling under most conditions—the user has less ability to apply firm, direct pressure, and therefore, less ability to achieve better suction action. I found this to be true most often when the machine encountered giving surfaces, such as upholstery and bedding, and less often on bare floors, hard floors, and flat surfaces.
- Secondly, while the Bissell has a slightly higher power rating, it seems much of that power is lost on its rigorous exhaust blower, which unfortunately offsets much of the machine’s intake ability because it sends dirt, dander, and hair flying everywhere.
I moved on to the Shark vacuum cleaner, which, while slightly bulkier in design, was lighter, quieter and, with its multiple attachments (a crevice tool, a motorized brush, a standard upholstery tool, and an extension wand/hose), offered versatile options to tackle my fur-on-quilt situation.
I went straight for the get-’er-done motorized tool (a fancy nozzle attachment outfitted with a lint attracting strip and an interior motorized axle affixed with bristles, similar to many upright vacuum cleaners), which cleared its cleaning path of pet hair and litter in short order. As I would see throughout my testing, it offered far superior suction power when compared to what the Bissell could do with either attachment, though some of my own (loose) long hair was easily tangled on the axle and for maximum efficient rotations I had to clear it a few times.
It had been many a Sunday morn since I last cleaned out our cabinet of dog supplies so this storage area was overdue for a cleanup.
After removing all the contents, jamming the whole Bissell into the cabinet and around its small, cramped shelves was not appealing, so I tacked to the Shark, holding the machine in one hand and the crevice tool, attached to the extendable hose, in the other and went to work swiping corners and crevices. (I even sucked up a penny I thought was a stain on one of the shelves.) The maneuverability and ease of use of the Shark’s crevice tool was a clear advantage over the Bissell for this task.
I also found the Shark’s crevice tool useful for vacuuming our beagle Dosha’s nearby crate, where she sleeps at night and naps when she wants a little cave time. Again, the crevice tool easily navigated all the nooks and crannies.
For her removable, plush crate bed, I tested its reversible sides with both machines. With the bed flat on the hardwood floor, the Bissell did a serviceable job, noticeably cleaning its very furry surface studded with straight, thick, short pet hair, and loose dirt, leading me to hypothesize the Bissell performs better on rigid surfaces (as opposed to “giving” surfaces such as upholstery or mattresses). When it was time for the Shark, the attachment to use again was its motorized brush, which zipped up its share of fur and dirt, too.
While I was on my knees, I decided to pivot a few degrees and vacuum a few swaths of nearby area rug, an antique, low-pile carpet. Here the Bissell underperformed greatly with both the pink nodule-studded and standard attachments (it was hard to tell if it was working at all), while the Shark, again with its motorized brush, made a noticeable difference.
The difference between the emptying functionality of these two bagless machines is drastic, and the Shark wins by a landslide for its simple and easy to use design: Just hold the machine over the garbage, press the canister hatch release button, and empty its contents.
The Bissell is more complicated. You’ll want to have the trash can handy, but first you need to separate the canister from the machine itself, then remove the filter from the canister, then shake the contents into the trash, then reassemble the components. It doesn’t take that much longer than emptying the Shark, but it’s definitely less convenient and if not handled carefully increases your chance of getting dust and dirt all over yourself.
- Washable filtration systems
- Limited one-year warranties
- Long power cords (Bissell’s cord length measures 16 ft, Shark’s cord length measures 15)
It’s worth noting here that the one thing the Bissell offers that the Shark doesn’t is a $5 donation to the Bissell Pet Foundation, an organization that works to end pet homelessness (but it’s not automatic; the donation must be activated online after the purchase).
Now, back to the test.
As I headed downstairs to clean the cat boxes, I first had to vacuum the hardwood stairs leading into the basement. After three steps, I gave up on the Bissell, which scattered litter here and there and deployed dustballs into the atmosphere with, unfortunately, military-like precision.
I finished the job with the Shark, with its better-designed attachments and less motor wind that kept the flying furballs to a minimum (the crevice tool worked best for this task; I thought the motorized tool might be effective but it tended to spread and crush little pieces of litter—not recommended). And I liked having two-handed maneuverability—one to hold the machine and one to operate the hose and crevice tool—especially on the stairs to balance the load and better navigate overhead spaces and corners.
A good test of any pet-centric vacuum cleaner worth its weight is litter scatter. After the stairs, I continued on to our two cat boxes in the basement, each encircled in its own ring of litter plus its own outgoing trail of dust and tracks (please don’t judge, it had been a few days since the last scoop-out)!
The cat boxes are in our laundry room which has a cement floor, and on this surface Bissell’s simple attachment did alright, sucking up most of the litter and not sending too many dustballs into orbit (though in the laundry room, litter is the main issue, not pet hair).
For the Shark, once again I used the crevice tool, which handily sucked up everything it was pointed towards, and because of its narrow size was able to reach around and behind the box to get at some old litter and dust, inaccessible during previous sweeping attempts, that had been accumulating under an adjacent shelf and a folding ladder.
For the various reasons you would want a handheld pet hair vacuum in the cat box room, the Shark had the advantage here as well.
Lastly, I had to try out the vacuums in the car, because if you’re taking the dog to the dog park, on walks, to work, and on trips as much as we are, what pet owner couldn’t use some help in that department? Of all the reasons a pet owner would want a handheld pet hair vacuum, for me, the most important consideration is how much easier it is to use in a car versus attachments on a standard upright vacuum cleaner.
This time, however, I didn’t even want to think about the Bissell; I had a pretty good idea of how it would do. Thankfully, the Shark did the work of two machines easily.
The crevice tool was a revelation in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, where an unholy nest of pet hair, dirt, human hair, and crumbs had accumulated (getting at this area took some time, as I approached it from the back and front seats). The motorized brush zipped nicely along the upholstery, and the crevice tool took on the rest of the job, sweeping over the floors, mats, and hidden corners with vigor.
(Two caveats: a floor-specific or car-specific attachment would have been great, as cars get really dirty and you can’t use the same attachment on a muddy floor and then vacuum your upholstery; and second, as the canister filled up twice during the cleaning, I had to unplug the machine, walk the whole thing to our curbside trash container, and empty it that way; a removable canister would be more convenient.)
At the end of this exhaustive cleaning session (and bonus upper-arm workout!), the best vacuum cleaner was clear—the Shark simply devoured the Bissell. While it’s more expensive, the Shark Rocket is also more versatile, achieves better suction, generates less fan air and noise, works better on different floor types and conditions, and is easier to operate and clean in general.
All in all, the Shark Rocket does more and performs better, which will save consumers in the market for a new vacuum time and energy—valuable commodities that many busy pet moms and dads will likely agree is worth the upfront investment.
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