Bissell's lightweight stick vac ranks among the worst vacuums we've ever tested.
Sisyphus would bond with anyone who uses the Bissell Bolt Ion 2-in-1 Lightweight Cordless Vacuum. The Greek mythological figure was condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down each time. The Bissell Bolt Ion adds a lot of unnecessary tedium to the chore of vacuuming, and because it spreads and tangles as much mess as it picks up, owners will be forever stuck in a futile quest for cleanliness.
The point of a stick vacuum is to provide a quick and easy method of spot cleaning between more thorough runs with a full-size upright. The Bissell Bolt Ion fails in every aspect of that mission. It has a powerful battery, nice maneuverability, and an effective method for cleaning edges, but its features only briefly hide its incompetence at all of the basics. For the same $180 price point, I recommend the excellent Hoover Linx .
The Bissell Bolt Ion actually makes a great first impression. It's the simplest assembly I've encountered while testing vacuum cleaners. Snap the handle into the vacuum head and you're done. Within a few seconds of getting all of the pieces out of the box, the Bissell Bolt Ion stood ready and waiting.
The thin frame and orange coloring reminded me of the Nerf guns I played with when I was younger. It looks fine, but there's no subtlety here and I can see how some people might be put off by using a vacuum cleaner that looks like a toy.
It stands on its own when resting, converts into a hand vac for those hard to reach areas, comes with two attachments for added versatility, and includes a charging stand and a port on the back of the vac so if you don't want to use the stand, you can plug in the vacuum directly.
The Bissell Bolt Ion provides plenty of features for its reasonable $180 cost. In addition to the above, four buttons on the handle let you turn the vac on and off, change from normal suction to high suction, spin or stop the brush roll, and activate EdgeReach.
Press the last button, and a plastic lip on the front of the vacuum head lowers to help focus suction to the very edge of the cavity. It works surprisingly well at letting you push the vacuum all the way up to a wall and get the dirt along the side of your floor. For corners, three bristles protrude from either side of the vacuum head to help you scrape them.
At first glance, dimples in the design above those side bristle look like holes, and I hoped the EdgeReach feature would actually divert some suction to the side of the head. Unfortunately, those dimples are cosmetic only. The side bristles help a little, but it's still quicker to use a separate tool to get the dirt out of corners.
At just over 5 pounds, the Bissell Bolt is light. The head swivels nicely for maneuverability, and the handle has a trigger on the back, letting you fold it behind the body for storage. Cleverly, you can also fold the handle forward, giving you an easy way to hold the vacuum as you push the rest of the flattened body under furniture. I thought that was a great, simple solution for getting your vacuum to limbo.
Finally, the 18V battery life lasted a great 38 minutes with normal suction and the brush roll on. With high suction, it still ran for 24 minutes. Comparatively, both the Hoover Linx and the $550 Dyson Motorhead last 15 to 20 on normal. The Motorhead offers a turbo mode to increase suction, but the battery dies after 6 minutes of high-powered run time.
The Hoover Air might offer the best battery solution by including two that each last 25 minutes, but the Bissell Bolt still vacuums for an impressively long time on a single charge.
The battery takes a long 4 hours to fill up from empty, but I'd call that forgivable given the run time. The Linx and Motorhead each take 3. An LED bar fills up to keep you posted on its progress.
You can purchase the Bissell Bolt Ion now on Bissell's website as well as from Amazon, Lowe's, Target and other vacuum retailers. You can get the 18V model I tested in a variety of colors depending on the retailer, and the Bolt series includes other colors on different model variations. The main difference among each model is the size of the battery, and pricing runs from $90 for 12V to $230 for 25V.
In Australia, you'll pay AU$229 for the 18V and AU$299 for the 25V. In the UK, the same series is sold as the Bissell MultiReach with the following price points -- £150 for the 12V, £220 for the 18V, £260 for the 25V.
The specs and features make the Bissell Bolt Ion seem like an appealing stick vacuum, and after assembling it and getting a feel for it, I liked it and was excited to start testing it.
The Bissell Bolt Ion looks like a toy and feels like a toy. Perhaps that's why I found it fun at first glance. Vacuuming with it certainly isn't any fun at all. And once testing started, all good will I felt toward this vac vanished quickly.
Issues pop up constantly to undo just about every advantage this vac gains from its features. The vacuum head is very maneuverable, but poor wheels make pushing it sluggish on carpet. Try to stand it up between runs, and the joint that allows the vac head to swivel will cause the handle to tip over from one side to the other unless you carefully place it exactly in the middle. It'll lock upright front to back, but won't lock to the side. As a result, the Bissell Bolt took quite a few tumbles while I tested it.
Even front to back, it's not properly balanced. The whole machine tipped over backward more times than I could count as I used it. Remove the hand vac, and the balance issue gets worse. On carpet, I'd try as gingerly as I could to get the handle to stand, and it would just keep tipping.
Removing the hand vac isn't an optional feature, either. You need to do so to empty the small dust bin. And getting the hand vac free from the handle is an unintuitive, arduous process. I had to look at the instruction manual to figure out what to do, and once I knew the answer, I asked every other editor in the office to see if they could figure it out just by looking at the machine.
The result -- well, don't lose your instruction manual. Each editor tried for an admirable amount of time before quitting. Check out the footage in the video review. I get a kick out of watching them struggle, but they weren't the problem.
The hand vac comes free only with a forceful tug. That's the answer. You just pull it, but you need to pull hard enough that you almost feel like you're going to break it. Even knowing the answer, my fellow editors were surprised by how much force it took. Stick vacs should be easy to use; you definitely don't want to give this one to an elderly parent. They won't be able to access the hand vac, which in turn will stop them from getting to the dust bin.
Cleaning the dust bin, once you finally get to it, proves just as painful. The container pulls loose from the filter with the press of a button that's actually intuitive, but a nozzle for airflow sticks up into the bin, making it very difficult to reach the corners if the dust doesn't dump out and you want to wipe them down.
The filter dirties quickly as well. Taking it apart is simple, but it's not fun to clean it after every single run.
When you're done using it, setting the vacuum on the charging stand proves hit or miss. I often had to pull it free and set it down again for it to start charging, with no indication as to why one missed and one was successful.
Again, stick vacs should be easy to use. That's the point. With a stick, you should save time and energy over pulling out the full-sized upright. The Bissell Bolt Ion adds tedium to every step of the vacuuming process. Using it made me wish for a bulky, corded machine.
Its terrible performance across all three tests puts the final nail in the coffin of the Bissell Bolt Ion. Given the battery life and the features, if it proved a competent stick vac when it came to cleaning, it might have been worthwhile to put up with its usability issues. Not only does it not clean well, on two of the three tests, it makes the mess worse.
To test our vacuums, we run them across low- and midpile carpets as well as hardwood floors. On each surface, we spread pet hair, Fruity Cheerios and sand to gauge the vacuums' ability to pick up different types of dirt. Pet hair also shows how easily it tangles. Fruity Cheerios give a great sense of how vacs handle large particles and whether or not they're inclined to clog. Sand acts as a stressful deep-cleaning trial intended to show how well the vacuum will pick up fine dirt.
The Bissell Bolt did worse with pet hair than any vacuum we've ever tested. It picked up less than the others, and what it didn't pick up, it ground into the carpet or tangled in the brush roll. The brush roll comes loose from the vacuum head to help with cleaning, but just like with a lot of the other pieces, the notch that holds it in place sticks, making what should be an easy process a royal pain.
The brush roll tangled up so badly on one test that the engine shut down because it was overheating trying to spin it. The Bissell Bolt Ion simply can't handle pet hair.
It did better with Cheerios, not clogging at the very least and earning a spot above the Hoover Air and the Motorhead on our charts. That said, it still doesn't do well. It pushes and flings the Cheerios it doesn't grab on a regular basis. Worse -- it crushes others and leaves the crumbs behind. We've seen other vacs fling Cheerios, but the Bolt Ion is the first to leave a significant amount of crushed pieces in its wake.
The Black & Decker Lithium Ion Stick Vac only finishes slightly above the Bissell Bolt, because it couldn't pick up Cheerios on hardwood without its brush roll turned on. That's our default because the spinning brush can occasionally scratch hardwood. However, the Black & Decker vac creamed Cheerios once we turned the brush on, finishing second behind the Linx with the adjusted numbers.
We turned the Bissell brush on for a second run with both pet hair and Cheerios, and it didn't make a significant difference. The Bissell Bolt Ion makes a mess with both pet hair and Cheerios, making bad numbers even worse in practice.
Thankfully, the Bissell Bolt doesn't make more of a mess with sand. That's not a ringing endorsement of its performance by any means, but it's a step up from the results of the previous two tests.
The Bissell Bolt still finishes near the bottom with fine cleaning. The Hoover Linx struggles with this test as well. Stick vacs tend to be better at spot cleaning than deep cleaning, and the Linx plays that part. The Bissell Bolt can't do either.
Given the fine performance of the Bissell PowerGlide Deluxe we tested previously, and the promising amount of features of the Bissell Bolt Ion, I was disappointed to find it such a lackluster vacuum. It won't stand on its own without undue finesse, getting to the dust bin proves laborious, cleaning all of the pieces is time-intensive and you'll go through all of this for consistently terrible performance that won't reliably pick up any type of dirt.
The Bissell Bolt Ion isn't worth the $180 you'd need to pay for it. In fact, I wouldn't recommend paying any price for this particular machine. The Hoover Linx outclasses it in every single way for the same cost, but even if you received the Bissell Bolt as a gift, you'd be hard-pressed to find a way to use it where it actually made your life easier. More likely, you'd end up frustrated and with dirtier floors than when you started.