Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum Systems

There are a variety of surfaces which need to be cleaned in your home by your vacuum cleaner. You have weekly cleaning tasks, special tasks which are done infrequently, and tasks which require daily time and attention. People also have differing cleaning styles and preferences. For these reasons, the vacuum cleaner industry has developed many types of vacuum cleaners. Thus, the challenge is for consumers to select the best vacuum cleaner for their individual needs.

If you are an allergy and/or asthma sufferer, choosing the best vacuum cleaner to help control the indoor air environment is even more critical.

Match Type Vacuum to Cleaning Task

For deep cleaning of carpeted floors, use a vacuum cleaner with plenty of air flow and a revolving brush roll which will agitate the fibers to aid in removing the dirt and grit. Traditional uprights, “clean-air uprights,” two-motor uprights, two-motor power teams, and central vacuum systems with power nozzles meet this requirement.

Wooden, vinyl, and ceramic tile floors need a floor brush with soft bristles and concentrated air flow to pick up the small grit and stones, which are heavy compared to their small surface areas. The canister type vacuum cleaner, sometimes in the form of a power team or central vacuum system, with its strong suction, works well for this task. A variety of attachments can be fastened to the end of a hose and/or wands. The standard canister houses the suction motor and filtering system in a somewhat square or rectangular container. It usually has wheels which allow it to be pulled after the user by its hose. It normally has a “clean-air” system.

For “above the floor” cleaning and small, hard to reach floor areas, the canister vacuum works well. Uprights that have on-board attachments are not as desirable or convenient for this type of cleaning due to their shorter hoses, less powerful suction, and inability to be easily pulled around the house by the hose.

The hand-held vacuum cleaner with motor driven revolving brush rolls works well for safe and easy cleaning of stairs and upholstered furniture.

The electric broom and non-electric push sweeper work well for quick touch up of your kitchen or bath floors. These vacuum systems are light weight and can be electric or battery operated or non-powered.

The wet/dry utility vacuum is necessary for cleaning up wet spills or cleaning flooded floors. It is specifically designed to safely vacuum large volumes of water or efficiently pick up large debris or large volumes of dirt without the cost of disposable paper bags. It works well for these specialized uses, but it is not as powerful nor does it filter as well as the average household vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum Cleaner Features to Consider for Allergy Sufferers

Central vacuum systems are often highly recommended by allergists since the main air flow is typically exhausted outside the house, preventing the recirculation of fine dust and allergens within the home. The cutting edge of vacuum cleaner technology is in the area of high filtration. While a number of portable vacuums are now equipped with high filtration which meets the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) (99.97%) or Ultra Low Penetration Air (ULPA) (99.999%) specifications, the central vacuum system prevents 100% of all sizes of dust particles from recirculating into your home when the exhaust air is vented outside your home.

As you vacuum, your vacuum should not exhaust the dust and allergens you have collected back into the air. The average vacuum cleaner only filters particles from 30 to 50 microns, thus exhausting harmful respirable allergens back into the air. In order to prevent this, one can use a high-filtration vacuum with ULPA. ULPA is a filtering efficiency specification for filters used in environments where the highest degree of clean air must be maintained. An ULPA filter must retain all particles as small as 0.12 micrometers in size at an efficiency rate of 99.999%. Certified ULPA filters are tested and marked with a certification number which gives the user the assurance that the ULPA specification is actually being achieved by the filter.

The next level of filtration is the HEPA filter. A HEPA filter must retain all particles as small as 0.3 micrometers in size at an efficiency rate of 99.97%. Certified HEPA filters are tested and marked with a certification number which gives the user the assurance that the HEPA specification efficiency is actually being achieved by the filter.

A HEPA type filter is type of filter or paper bag which uses similar construction or fibers to those used in a true HEPA filter. While being a significant improvement over regular filters, it doesn’t actually meet the HEPA specification. Some have an efficiency of about 98% at 0.3 micrometers, while others have a much lower efficiency rate. Some of the filters are constructed to trap fine dust and to cause an electrostatic charge to be created as air passes through them. This charge causes the fine dust to cling to their fibers. Filters of this type are sometimes called micron filters or electrostatic filters.

A micrometer, formerly referred to as a micron, equals one-millionth of a meter. The following list contains the particle sizes of some common household pollutants. Particles below 10 microns are invisible to the human eye. The most common airborne particle size is 2.4 microns. The most harmful Respirable Size Particle (RSP) is 0.3 microns.

  • Human Hair – 60.0 to 100.0 microns
  • Dust mite – 125 microns
  • Dust mite waste – 10.0 to 24.0 microns
  • Mold – 4.0+ microns
  • Pollen – 10.0 to 40.0 microns
  • Bacteria – 0.3 to 50.0 microns
  • Asbestos (fibers) – 3.0 to 20.0 microns
  • Fungal spores – 2 to 10 microns
  • Tobacco smoke – .09 to 1.0 microns
  • Viruses – .01 to .05 microns


By selecting and correctly operating vacuum cleaners that have filtration systems which accommodate your specific needs, one can help control and reduce the source of allergens and pollutants in the home.



  • Ristenbatt Vacuum Cleaner Service.
  • “Understanding Buildings,” a presentation by Dr. Richard Shaughnessy, The University of Tulsa, Department of Chemical Engineering.
  • “Why Should I Use an ULPA-Filtered Allergy Vacuum Cleaner?”


This fact sheet was adapted from the references cited by Janie L. Harris, M.Ed., CRS, former Extension Housing and Environment Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System. January 2000.


Last updated: July 3, 2015

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