I probably use my hand vac more than I use my actual upright vacuum. After all, who wants to bring out the big guns when all you need to do is suck up a small spill? But it’s kind of a pain to keep both vacuums at the ready, especially in a tiny New York apartment like mine, where space is limited. That’s what makes the $179.99 Bissell Bolt Ion 2-in-1 Lightweight Cordless Vacuum so appealing. It’s super small and lightweight, with a hand vac built in. Add to that a highly maneuverable body and good battery life, and it has the potential to be the ultimate apartment vacuum. Unfortunately, poor construction and weak suction power mean I won’t be trading in my current vacuums anytime soon.
Design and Attachments
Sure, the Bolt Ion isn’t quite as compact as the Dyson DC59 Animal, but then again, it doesn’t cost nearly as much. It looks like a fairly typical stick vacuum, aside from all the groovy orange accent coloring, which isn’t really to my taste. It’s almost exactly four feet tall, and weighs just 5.6 pounds, making it extremely easy to tote around the house or up the stairs (but then again, that’s what the hand vac is for). And when you’re done vacuuming, there’s a trigger on the back of the handle that allows you to bend the handle backward for storage (it also bends forward for cleaning under furniture). It’s pretty much the perfect size for an apartment.
There are two buttons on the hand vac; a Power button and a button to eject the dust bin. There are an additional four buttons on the stick itself. From top to bottom you get Power, Suction Power, Brush Roll, and EdgeReach buttons. These are all easy to press, but in the case of suction power, there’s no visual indicator that you’ve actually turned the suction power up or down; you basically have to listen to determine whether it sounds like the vacuum is sucking harder. As for the other buttons, you can see if the brush is spinning, and EdgeReach triggers a blue light at the base of the vacuum.
One downside to the compact design is that all of the suction power comes from the hand vac, and hand vacs aren’t really meant to clean your entire house; I’ll touch on this more in the Performance section. The bigger design problem is that you’re limited to the hand vac’s dust bin. Now, the Dyson cordless vacuums don’t have particularly large dust bins, but the amount you can capture with the Bolt Ion is truly minuscule—about a room’s worth, tops. And emptying the bin is no small feat; you need to pull the hand vac off of the stick frame, eject the dust bin, pull out the filter by hand, and empty the dirt into the garbage. It’s hard to do without getting your hands a little messy.
On the plus side, the Bolt Ion has decent battery life for a cordless vacuum. The 18V Li-ion last for up to 30 minutes of cleaning time, which should be enough for a small apartment. Recharging the battery takes 4 hours. There’s a charging port on the back of the vacuum, and Bissell includes a charging base. But I found the base to be unreliable, only charging the vacuum around half of the time. The Hoover Air Cordless comes with two batteries good for 25 minutes of power apiece, which is a good way to solve the problem of cordless vacuums.
In addition to the charging base, the Bolt Ion comes with a couple of attachments. There’s a crevice tool with dusting brush, as well as a six-inch stair and upholstery tool. Both of these plug directly into the mouth of the, and can be combined to form a longer dusting brush for reaching a (relatively low) ceiling.
Performance and Conclusions
I tested the Bolt Ion against the Hoover Air Cordless, which is a larger upright vacuum, but doesn’t cost much more. On a low-pile carpet I created three separate lines of baking soda, cat litter, and Cheerios, then passed each vacuum over the lines to see how they fared. There was a dramatic difference.
In just two back-and-forth passes, the Air Cordless was able to pick up just about everything. The Bolt Ion, on the other hand, had major issues picking up the cat litter and Cheerios. After 10 consecutive passes, the mess was just smeared around more than anything else. I increased the suction power, but even then, the Bolt Ion only managed to pick up about half of the baking soda, some litter, and maybe a few Cheerios. That’s the worst vacuum performance I’ve seen to date.
I detached the hand vac from the stick, got on my hands and knees, and went at the mess a bit more aggressively, but to no avail. The Bolt Ion simply doesn’t have enough suction power to tackle even mild messes like this one. Yes, the vacuum handles extremely well. Its light weight and 180-degree swivel steering makes it easy to get into just about any corner in your house, while exerting minimal effort. But none of that matters if it can’t actually clean your home. My five-year-old cheapie hand vac is more effective than the Bolt Ion, not to mention every other vacuum we’ve ever tested at PCMag.
To add insult to injury, the Bolt Ion seems rather shoddily made. In addition to the unreliable charging station, I had issues with the vacuum itself. Although it’s meant to swivel, the upright stick portion somehow came detached from base, held on only by some dangling wires. I managed to set it back in place, but it happened again and again, to the point that using the stick seemed futile.
So although the Bissell Bolt Ion seems like it could be a savior for small apartments, it’s actually a lot more trouble than it’s worth. For a little more money, you can pick up the Hoover Air Cordless, which has a bigger dust bin, longer battery life, and is a lot more powerful. It’s bigger than the Bolt Ion, and it doesn’t have a built-in hand vac, but it’s still lightweight and easy to maneuver. Or, you can save some money by picking up any inexpensive, no-name stick vacuum and hand vac. Chances are you’ll get more use out of them than the Bolt Ion.