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Shopping for a Vacuum Cleaner: Things You Need to Know

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This vacuum is one of the smaller 'stick' vacuums, several of which are reviewed on a blog at '' Stick or not, all modern uprights have this general format

This vacuum is one of the smaller 'stick' vacuums, several of which are reviewed on a blog at '' Stick or not, all modern uprights have this general format

Super-Duper Mega-Booster Extra Filter Vacuum Cleaner!

That's what they all say. If you listen to the ads touting the advantages, each claims that their vacuum cleaner boasts the newest, best, and fanciest technological advances. Each brand claims they are better than all the others.

Naturally! That is the nature of advertising.

However, sifting through those claims laced with hyperbole takes some detective work and straight thinking. It requires thoughtful analysis of the statements made and just plain common sense.

Horsepower = Horse Pucky!

Ah—we all love our powerful machines, and horsepower is the usual rating for motors, be they gasoline or electric. Unfortunately, the vacuum cleaner industry just loves to brag about "peak horsepower." It is equivalent to measurements of "brake horsepower" on a car's engine.

The problem is, peak horsepower and brake horsepower measurements both are totally irrelevant. If you were to run the car's engine out of the vehicle on an engine stand, that's where it's putting out it's maximum power generation--that's what 'brake horsepower' is. The same is true of a vacuum cleaner. If you run the cleaner with the wand held up in the air, that's when you're getting that "peak horsepower."

Since not many of us find it necessary to vacuum the air inside our homes, that measurement is useless. It's actually worse than useless—it's misleading.

What you need to know instead is the horsepower under load, and they don't tell you what that number is. That's when you are actually using the machine on the floor, carpet, or with an upholstery tool on furniture.

We don't really need to worry about horsepower--we're vacuuming our homes--not driving race cars at Indianapolis! Horsepower is only a relative term. For homeowner purposes, It means only that a higher horsepower motor will generally produce more suction than one with less horsepower. That's all you need to know.

If you do stick the wand up in the air, and then use it on the floor or a couch, you'll hear a definite change in pitch of the motor's sound when you use it on a surface. That is the sound of the motor actually working.

Since not many of us have engineering degrees, or the tools to test the motor with assorted gauges and meters, it is best to simply ignore all the fancy claims about horsepower.

Fancy Demonstration: It Picks Up Everything!

Think again. It picks up nuts and bolts? Like the country song by Shania Twain says, "That Don't Impress Me Much."

I have little need to vacuum up nuts and bolts; it actually would not do the machine any good, either. However, as anyone who's ever accidentally sucked up a piece of dropped jewelry, coin or small cat or dog toy knows, most cleaners will pick up fairly sizeable stuff. That's not an issue.

The real issue is how well does it suck things out of the carpet? You see the demos on TV, or in the store. "Here--I'll just sprinkle this coffee can full of dirt, sand, pet hair (or whatever) all over this piece of carpet, and show you how well this cleaner picks it all up."

These are magicians' tricks of misdirection! You'll notice first of all, their sample carpet is usually a very smooth, flat-nap piece. There's really not much of anywhere for the demonstration debris to go but sit right on top. Of course it picks up easily.

Ask them to test it on a shag carpet, or a sculpted pile carpet. Better yet, after they dump their carefully selected dirt onto the sample, walk on it. Twist on it. Grind it in good. Pretend you're doing the old dance, "The Twist." Feel that Chubby Checker moment.!

Now, allow them to proceed with their demonstration. That's more like real life. Stuff comes in on our shoes; kids and pets drag in mud and dirt; it scatters about. The dirt and pet hair doesn't sit neatly on top, it gets worked into the fibers of the carpeting.

Then how well does their fancy machine pick it all up?

Typical cannister type vacuum

Typical cannister type vacuum

We Have Turbo This, That, and the Other: It Won't Lose Suction!

Sorry. Wrong again. They conveniently forget to mention that all suction devices, when subjected to the intake of debris, will eventually need to be cleaned out, because that debris clogs or interferes with the air flow, and the device will lose suction. It's simple physics.

I happen to have one of these highly-advertised supposedly high-end machines that made such claims. All it was, was overpriced.

It does a decent job, sure, and it does pick up the pet hair from our family of six cats very well. But it still must be disassembled and cleaned out every so often, for the performance does drop off after a few months of use.

Luckily, it is designed in such a way that such dis-assembly is really very easy. But that tells you something right there: they knew it would be necessary, and therefore the advertising is disingenuous.

Bagless Convenience

Oh, what a great savings! We no longer have to spend money replacing the collection bags in our vacuum cleaners! How wonderful is that?

And as an added bonus, the collection cup on the new machines is transparent, so we can actually see when it is getting full and needs to be emptied.

Stay tuned.

Allergy Sufferers Delight! Super-Extra, Double-Duty, High-Tech Filtration

Oh, how they love to brag about their advanced filtration. Double, even triple filters. Hepa filters! Cosmic filters! Supersonic filters! Traps particles as small as a micron.

Wow! I no longer own any of my dad's micrometers, but if I did, I'm not sure a particle that small is even big enough to see, let alone measure. And that seems to be the whole point of their promotion.

That's all well and good--the dirt won't be released back into the air. It's all trapped in the filters! Yay!

(..............Insert sound of screeching brakes here...........)

Back up, there, just a moment!

No particles re-released into the air?

All caught in the filters?

No, not exactly.

I'd like to point out three very obvious, overlooked, and glossed-over flaws in those claims:

  1. Those 'bagless collection cups' must be emptied. Where is all that dirt going, then? Right. Back into the air; back in your face without benefit of any filtration at all.
  2. What about when you must take the thing apart for a thorough cleaning? All the dust is lying in wait for you within.
  3. Filters? Guess what? Those filters have to be removed, and, depending upon the unit, thrown away and replaced, or cleaned every so often; that cleaning releases plenty of dust.

Even if you manage to blindly do these tasks inside the confines of a trash bag, or empty the cup inside a bag in slow motion, it is unlikely that all the dirt will remain trapped. Dirt and dust are very, very fine particles, and just the act of trying to close the trash bag is going to push a fair amount back out of the bag.

Most folks don't want to spend the money to take their vacuums to an appliance repair shop just for having it cleaned out every six months or so. They end up simply using them until they break, and buy a new one. That's not very sound financial management, especially these days.

Bagless Convenience? Fancy Filters?

Maintaining the Machine in Good Working Order

Luckily for us, we have plenty of means to do the job ourselves. We have a full workshop, and I can take the thing apart, and blow out the components with 80 psi (pounds per square inch) of air pressure, which is far more than you can blow with your mouth, or get from an aerosol container of "canned air." Those are great for blowing debris out of your computer's keyboard; they are worthless for cleaning out larger machinery.

And yes, it has to be blown out--and you should see the amount of dust that gets blown out into the yard from that operation! It's all in there--in the hoses, in the crevices between the filters, in the filter; in the filter holder.

You cannot vacuum it out, for the machine cannot vacuum itself (in any case, it won't operate while disassembled); you cannot hose it off, for it is an electrical appliance, and water and electricity are not good bedfellows.

Even our big, powerful shop vacuum will not pull out all the dirt, as the attachments are simply too large to fit into the various openings of the household machine.

Filter, Filter, Where's the Filter?

All of that conspires to reduce the suction of the machine, and it also bypasses the fancy filtration. The filters don't catch it all, because some escapes before it even gets to the filter(s).

The 'beater bar' (which is the brush/roller part of the machine) causes dust to be thrown up to some extent, off to the sides or the front, before it can enter the suction area underneath.

You've seen this happen, when you see something on the rug large enough to spot from a standing position, and yet the cleaner just shoves it ahead, or doesn't pick it up right away.

The same happens with dirt and dust. Don't believe me? Someday, when you have nothing better to do, empty the vacuum when you've finished vacuuming. Then, go back and vacuum all over again. You will be amazed at the amount of dirt and dust still lurking about!

We used to be able to toss the sealed bag without touching the contents.

We used to be able to toss the sealed bag without touching the contents.

Let's Time Travel Backwards

I want them to bring back the disposable collection bags (shown above), that had a rubber gasket over the connection hole. You took it out, tossed it in the trash, and were done. No loose dust and dirt to get all into the various parts of the machine; no dumping a canister of un-corralled dirt and debris into the trash can for the wind to toss it back in your face.

The early vacuum cleaners had cloth re-usable bags. I remember my mother having to turn the thing upside-down onto newspapers, and stand on the rim as she shook the contents loose, then bundle up the papers. Dirt always flew loose during this process. Then, they invented the disposable, self-sealing bags. It was a wonderful improvement.

Why have they done away with the bags? Apparently some group of engineers has not learned the concept of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." (sic)

Consumers have allowed themselves to be duped by these fancy, high-tech sounding claims.

Question everything! Demand answers!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 19, 2012:

Hi, ChristyWrites, I'm so glad you enjoyed the article--thanks very much for the complimentary comment. ;-)

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on June 19, 2012:

You took the vacuum, not my favourite thing, and made an interesting hub. I give you props for that!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 07, 2012:

Hello, kartika damon--

Thanks for your comment! I'm pleased that you liked the article and that I was able to answer your questions about these ad claims. You are right--the more questions you ask, the better off you'll be in this world.

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on June 07, 2012:

Love this - I always wondered about bagless vacuums so this answered my questions! You have to question everything this days with all the hype!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 06, 2012:

Hello, b. Malin,

Sounds like you have it all under control. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the article and my attempts at humor. Thanks for the comment and the follow.

b. Malin on June 06, 2012:

I'm down to a Tiny Bissell, now that I have mostly Wood Flooring...I use it on my Furniture...and a Swiffer on the Floors...Life is Good! I Loved your Hub and the Humor you put into kind of writing. I now look forward to Following your Hubs.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 04, 2012:

Hello, shiningirisheyes--

Good for you--someone who knows what they want and goes for it! Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on June 04, 2012:

I just purchased a new one about three months ago. I'm not someone that goes for all that malarky - I just want it to do what it waas intended to do - clean my rugs. I love the humor you use when writing!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 03, 2012:

Hello, Cobra--

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You are right..newer is not always better.

Cobra on June 03, 2012:

Oh so ture, sometime old is better....