What to Look For
Vacuuming regularly will do wonders to improve indoor air quality and reduce the tiny pollutants that trigger allergies and asthma. The most common offending particles are microscopic, measured in microns (.0004 inches). They range from fine particulates, such as tobacco smoke (0.1 to 1 micron) and cat dander (0.5 to 1.5 microns), to coarse particulates such as dust (10 microns and up), dust mite droppings (10-20 microns) and pollen (15-25 microns). Such tiny particles can penetrate deep into sensitive airways, triggering allergic reactions and asthma attacks, so vacuuming is key to maintaining healthy indoor air.
However, if an old, inefficient vacuum is spewing just as much dust out of a back vent as it’s sucking up, it’s probably doing little good to clean your carpets. Here are a few things to look for when upgrading to a better model.
The vacuums of choice for many allergy and asthma sufferers are those that use High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which trap 99.97 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns in size. To be effective, HEPA filters are installed inside over a backdraft vent, blocking vacuumed particles from spewing back out into the air. In addition to cutting down on allergens, HEPA filters help trap the brain-damaging flame retardants, hormone-disrupting phthalates, possibly carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid (the chemical used to make Teflon) and toxic pesticides that bind to household dust.
There are multiple types of vacuums, but you’ll most likely be choosing from uprights and canisters. Hand-held vacuums and Dustbusters are good options for stairs or area rugs, but since few reliable ratings systems exist for these, we haven’t included them in our Product Comparisons.
Uprights are ideal for deep cleaning medium- and deep-pile carpets. The entire unit is pushed during cleaning. Uprights generally require attachments for narrow and hard to reach places.
Canisters are ideal for cleaning carpets as well as hard floors, stairs, drapes and upholstery. The head fits under furniture and allows for easier access to hard-to-reach spots, but canister models tend to be less effective on carpet.
Bags or Bag-less?
Bag-less vacuum cleaners help lighten the load of vacuum bags that go to landfills, but because emptying bag-less dust compartments can disperse dust and allergens back into the air, severe allergy sufferers should opt for cleaners with bags.
Heavy vacuums can be difficult to maneuver. Most upright models weigh around twenty pounds, but lighter options are available.
Consumer Reports Rating
Consumer Reports gives vacuum cleaners a rating from 0 to 100 based on how well they clean carpets and hard floors, how well they pick up pet hair, how noisy they are, and the quantity of dust and particulate emissions they release when in use.
Shopping and Usage Tips
- The most efficient HEPA filters trap 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 microns in size and are often referred to as “true” or “absolute.” If you decide to buy a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum, watch out for terminology such as “HEPA type” or “high efficiency” filters, which can actually be up to 55 percent lower in efficiency than true HEPAs. If a vacuum cleaner is advertised as having a HEPA filter, check the manufacturer’s efficiency test results (often in the product brochure).
- Ultra Low Penetrating Air (ULPA) filters supposedly do an even more thorough job, trapping 99.999% of airborne particles down to 0.12 micron. However, they are expensive and hard to find, and for those without severe allergies or asthma, other options may work just as well.
- Some vacuum cleaners are better for carpets, while others are ideal for upholstery. Look for a model that best suits the type of cleaning you will most frequently use it for.
- Choose a vacuum with a long (or even lifetime) warranty, to avoid buying a junker that will be landfilled after only a few years of use. And if your vacuum breaks, don’t throw it out. Instead, call the manufacturer to order new parts or be referred to a local repairman. If you’re simply upgrading to a newer machine, donate your old vacuum to a local charity thrift store.
- Whenever possible, repair broken vacuum cleaners before investing in a new one.
Home Maintenance: The Best Way to Clean
Vacuuming is only a partial solution to ridding a home of allergens. If allergies are an issue, take the following extra steps to reduce indoor air pollution:
-Regularly damp-wipe all hard surfaces.
-Wash bedding and curtains in hot water to kill dust mites.
-Use a dehumidifier if mold is a problem.
-Check the air filter of your home’s HVAC system every three to four weeks and clean it or replace as necessary. Dirty air filters are a primary source of dust and allergens entering the home.
-If you’re a serious allergy or asthma suffer–and if it’s economically feasible–consider replacing your carpets with hardwood flooring and decorate them with washable, natural-fiber area rugs.