Handheld Vacuum Batteries: What You Should Know

Handheld vacuum cleaners are usually powered by rechargeable batteries. Here's the lowdown.

The Lowdown on Batteries in Handheld Vacuums

Your cordless or handheld vacuum cleaner may be impressively sleek, shiny, and loaded with attachments; perhaps resembling something from the latest Star Wars movie. It can perform versatile feats such as moving from carpet to hard flooring, reaching corners and crevices both above your head and below your feet, and even cleaning your car, and all while quietly cleaning the allergens out of the air you breathe. However, your glossy, high-tech machine is only as good as its battery. If the battery isn’t performing properly, your cordless vacuum may not be as impressive as it looks.

What’s the Big Deal About Batteries?

The first thing to know is that even rechargeable batteries die eventually. No matter how well you care for your machine and its batteries, rechargeable batteries have a limited life span. They can withstand a limited number of charging cycles before they start to wear out. Typical nickel cadmium and lead acid batteries can withstand several hundred charging/discharging cycles. Nickel metal hydride batteries can stand up to 500 cycles. Lithium batteries offer over 1000 cycles before they lose quality.

Batteries will last longer if they are allowed to fully discharge and then fully charge every couple of months, or more frequently, depending on how often your device is used.Nickel metal hydride batteries are the most common type found in cordless vacuums. They have a higher capacity than either nickel cadmium or lead acid batteries. They are also much friendlier to the environment. In addition, they suffer much less from “memory effect” than nickel cadmium and lead acid batteries.

What is Memory Effect?

When a battery is kept fully charged without discharging for long periods of time it can “forget” its total capacity. Batteries that are kept constantly in docking stations, fully charged, will wear out much faster than those that are being completely discharged on a regular basis. While the popular, newer nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries have a lower self-discharge rate, the memory effect is nearly undetectable. However, it’s still a good idea to occasionally fully discharge and recharge your batteries in order to extend their life.

Lithium ion batteries and lithium ion polymer batteries do not suffer from memory effect at all. They are long lasting, and high capacity while also lightweight. However, they are significantly more expensive than other types. Despite the higher cost, most newer cordless vacuum cleaners come equipped with lithium ion batteries.

Why are Lithium Ion Batteries Considered the Best Choice for Cordless Vacuums?

A lithium ion battery uses lithium ions, which move between electrodes to charge and discharge battery power. They contain a monitor for assessing battery charge, a temperature sensor to track temperature, and a voltage tap. They come in a variety of sizes to power many devices, both large and small. The charge assessing monitor is actually a tiny computer, which contributes to the increased expense of lithium ion batteries. These monitors and temperature sensors are necessary because of the greater risk inherent in lithium batteries. Lithium ion batteries are pressurized, something necessary for the chemical reaction of the ions. For this reason, they are made of metal, including a thin metal sheet between ions, and contain a small vent to release any built-up pressure and prevent explosion.

The addition of lithium ion batteries to newer cordless vacuums has given the industry a boost. Previously, one of the drawbacks of cordless vacs was the reduced suction and limited running time between charges. Lithium batteries hold a charge much longer than other types, losing approximately 5 percent per month as opposed to 20 percent per month for other batteries. You don’t need to completely discharge them in order to continue to get a good charge to prevent decreasing run-time, and they are significantly lighter than typical batteries of the same capacity. This allows for a smaller, more lightweight vacuum without reducing power.

There are, however, some drawbacks to lithium ion batteries. For one, they only have a life expectancy of two to three years past the manufacturing date. They are heat sensitive, and more expensive. However, thanks to new technology that allows scientists to witness the behavior of the ions inside the batteries, new advancements in lithium ions batteries promise safer, more efficient batteries on the horizon.It’s critical to be aware of which type of battery your handheld vacuum cleaner uses. Always read the instruction manual to determine what type of battery your cordless vacuum requires, and replace it with the same type. Use only the charger made for your vacuum battery. 

Resources— Pick a Vacuum Cleaner, Spotless Vacuum Co., ScienceDaily