When you live in a small apartment or house with limited storage space, finding a place to stash a full-sized vacuum can be a challenge. But with improvements in the performance of small stick, hand, and robotic vacuums, you may not have to.

Consumer Reports' recent vacuum tests reveal some pint-sized models that not only punch above their weight but also can be stowed neatly in a closet or, in the case of robotic vacuums, in a compact docking station.

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Granted, smaller vacuums aren't as powerful as full-sized uprights and canisters. But you may not need all that muscle. We found that some smaller vacuums capably clean surface debris, especially when there's little or no carpeting.

“If you live in an apartment with all hard-surface flooring, you could get one of the stick vacuums that are very compact,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees CR’s testing of products for the home. “If you have some carpeting, then you're going to need a vacuum that can deep clean, but you could get by with a bagless upright."

How We Test Small Vacuums

Because we don’t expect handheld or stick vacuums to perform as well as full-sized uprights or canisters, we judge them by different criteria. Instead of using the more difficult embedded-dirt test, in which our engineers remove ground-in sand from carpet, CR conducts a carpet surface cleaning test. Engineers also evaluate how well a stick vacuum picks up sand, rice, and cereal from bare floors and carpet within a certain time frame.

For robotic vacuums, we test each machine for its ability to pick up debris from bare floors and low-pile carpet in a custom-made set in our labs that approximates an average-sized room. Our engineers sit and watch each robot perform a full cycle, carefully tracking every minute of its odyssey. After all, if these robots are meant to make your life easier, they shouldn’t be a hassle to set up, maintain, and run.

Best for Bare Floors

Newer stick vacuums, like the Shark SharkFlex DuoClean Ultra-Light Corded HV391, $300, have some innovative features. The SharkFlex DuoClean, for example, can bend like an elbow to easily help you vacuum under furniture without bending over. This also helps when you’re finished cleaning, because when you fold it in half it reduces the height from 49 to 25 inches, making it easier to store. The Shark does well cleaning bare floors and area rugs, and converts to a hand vacuum for more spot-specific light cleaning.

Best for Carpeting

The bagless upright Dyson Ball Multi Floor 2, $400, is excellent at removing embedded dirt from carpets, picking up pet hair, and cleaning bare floors. We also recommend the less expensive  Kenmore Pet Friendly CrossOver 31220, $250, which is also a capable bagless upright.

Best for Floors and Carpeting

For homes that have similar areas of bare and carpeted flooring, it can be tough to find a smaller vacuum that handles both surfaces well. But the Dyson V8 Absolute, $600, does a terrific job across all floor types, even if it struggles to remove embedded dirt from pile carpet. With a battery run time of 21 minutes, you can tackle most surface debris at one time. Plus this vacuum’s slim profile allows it to easily slide under furniture, an advantage over many larger upright models.

Let a Robotic Vacuum Do the Work
If you'd prefer to take a high-tech approach to cleanup at home, consider a robotic model. Both the Ecovacs Deebot M88, $450, and the iRobot Roomba 890, $500, fared well at rolling under furniture, and they can handle surface cleaning of carpet and bare floors. The Deebot M88 has a little trouble transitioning between carpet and bare floors. The Roomba 890's built-in sensors can detect different surfaces and adjust its cleaning mechanics accordingly.