If you or your children suffer from allergies, asthma or any respiratory condition aggravated by particle allergens, the type of vacuum cleaner you own can make a huge difference in your quality of life!
Increasingly, studies show that traditional vacuum cleaners can actually make your allergies worse. They redistribute massive amounts of allergens, that have already settled on the floors, back into the air you breathe. A quality HEPA filter vacuum cleaner can help solve this problem by controlling dust mites, pet dander, pollen and other irritants in your home.
The right vacuum can not only remove allergens and dirt from the physical surfaces in your home but can actually improve your indoor air quality and make it more breathable.
So let’s dive into how HEPA vacuum cleaners can lead to relief from allergies and asthma in your household!
Not All Vacuums Are Made Equally
Some vacuum cleaners may be great at removing dirt and pet hair from carpet while spewing the most dangerous particles, fine particles, back into the air you breathe. Uggh, not a great help!
This type of vacuum “cleans for appearances” and, sure, it has your home looking nice. But if you want to have a vacuum that actually allows you to “clean for your health”, you’ll need to consider a HEPA or S-class vacuum cleaner.
These types of cleaners completely remove allergens instead of simply redistributing them back into the air you breathe. Good news for you, when it comes to HEPA vacuum cleaners, there are a lot of excellent choices on the market!
So, how do you know which is the right fit for you?
Below we’ll dive deep into some important factors to consider when shopping for a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
What is a HEPA Vacuum Cleaner Anyway?
HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. HEPA filters can trap large volumes of very small particles that would otherwise be recirculated into the air.
That’s why they’re such a big deal for asthma and allergy sufferers.
However, a shiny label with “HEPA” written all over it is not enough to ensure you get true HEPA filtration and performance. True HEPA filters go through rigorous testing and must meet specific standards.
We’ll get into this in a moment, for now, just know that you should look beyond the marketing hype the manufacturer wants you to believe in order to get the quality you’re after.
Types of Vacuum Filtration
Vacuum cleaners with a standard filter, often foam or polypropylene, or no filter at all (which was the norm for decades) are the ones that simply spread allergens around in the air you breathe.
They pick up particles that have settled in the carpet, or on smooth flooring, then make them airborne again. They cannot effectively filter and trap fine particles like pollen or pet dander, as these particles will simply pass straight through the machine.
The lower level of filtration means there’s nowhere for these allergens to be trapped even if they do get picked up by your vacuum cleaner.
The poor performance of standard filtration in vacuum cleaner technology is what ultimately brings us to S-Class and HEPA filters. The S-Class filtration technology is exclusive to SEBO vacuum cleaners and relates to a European rating that’s equivalent to HEPA.
It can only be reached if the vacuum cleaner meets the following standards:
- Leaks no air
- Includes electrostatic filtration
- Uses statically charged microfibers
- Includes three stage, hospital grade filtration
- Filters all airflow before leaving the vacuum cleaner
The three step filtration process absorbs over 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in diameter. It will also remove 100% of particles that are 1 micron or greater. To give you a comparison, human hair is about 100 microns in diameter.
True HEPA Filtration
Last but not least, this leaves us with HEPA filtration systems, which originated in the US. True HEPA filters must meet rigorous standards of removing at least 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns or larger.
S-Class & HEPA standards are almost identical, so for allergies and asthma, either will work well. Many common brands, including Miele, SEBO, Dyson, Soniclean and some Electrolux models, offer sealed systems with either of these levels of filtration.
Differences Between S-Class and HEPA filtration
We’re about to get all sciency and dig deep into filtration standards – we’re a curious bunch and wanted to look into it, join us for the ride if you like! Or feel free to skip to the next section.
As mentioned above, for a product to meet true HEPA standards, it must filter 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns and larger. This is an American standard that was developed by the U.S. military.
In Europe there are similar standards but a few different classes. You may sometimes see H11, H12 or H13 HEPA. These designations refer to slightly different filtration standards that are commonly used in Europe.
And in recent years, these standards have changed some. While the HEPA standard defines the “most penetrating particle size” to be 0.3 microns, the new EU standards redefine that as just under 0.2 microns.
For the HEPA designation in Europe, filters must now remove 99.95% of particles this size and larger. S-Class filtration, exclusive to SEBO, filters 99.9% of particles 0.3 microns or larger, again, very similar to HEPA (American or EU standards).
When shopping for anything with an S-Class or HEPA filter, make sure to read the label with testing results to be certain that your filter reaches these levels of filtration.
For the vast majority of people, the difference between 99.97% at 0.3 microns and 99.95% at 0.1-0.2 microns is going to be minimal. The key lies in a filter that at least puts you in that range of microfiltration combined with a vacuum cleaner that does not leak unfiltered air and that has also been independently tested.
So at this point you might be wondering how these standards are enforced within products that are available on the market. In short, there are a number of certification bodies which can help verify that the vacuum cleaners work as advertised but they aren’t the be all, end all.
There are certain certifications provided to efficient vacuum cleaners based on established standards. The most common one in the US is the Asthma and Allergy Foundation Certification (AAFC). Over in the UK, we’re looking at the British Allergy Foundation certification.
The important thing to understand is that they may only test vacuums that are submitted to them by the manufacturer. So while the approval of a certification is good, the absence of it does not imply otherwise.
Also note that these certifications test only the emissions of the vacuum and not its performance or utility overall. So this leads us onto the actual vacuum cleaners which work around the filter and what to look for to ensure you get the best model for your home.
Allergy-Friendly Vacuum Cleaner Design
An S-Class or HEPA filter can do a great deal to improve the air quality that is coming from your vacuum, but a filter really is only as good as the system around it. So let’s dig into what features of the vacuum cleaner design can support asthma and allergy sufferers in keeping their homes pristine.
In addition to the S-Class or HEPA filters, some vacuums are beginning to offer “filterbags”. Miele was the first to push past the traditional paper bag and onto multilayer bags that offer multiple stages of filtration. The AirClean filterbags are the latest version of this and feature 9-ply, random weave construction.
With each ply, or layer, designed differently, this bag does the bulk of filtration, even capturing particles you cannot see.
More recently, Soniclean took this a bit further. With their upright vacuum cleaners, there is no HEPA filter. Instead, each features a HEPA bag. In terms of convenience, this is a step in the right direction.
Note though, upright vacuum cleaners lack a sealed system, and though canister vacuums have that feature, they use a more traditional-style dust bag/HEPA filter combo.
Look for HEPA or S-Class filtration either as a filter bag or as a filter. You can rest assured that your vacuum cleaner will effectively trap almost all of the household allergens.
Given that leaking unfiltered air is one of the design features which can worsen allergies and asthma, we need to look into this design feature further.
If air is leaking around the body, the dust bag or the filters of a vacuum cleaner, then even a top notch filter really isn’t going to ensure that the air exiting your machine is actually free of allergens. Leaky systems can also mean reduced suction, as air is not flowing properly through the machine. Think of it like trying to suck through a straw with a hole in it – more work and effort for less results.
To prevent the risk of your vacuum cleaner leaking air, look for rubber seals or gaskets around your vacuum cleaner. In particular, look for these around the lid and filter as the two key areas.
Bagged vs. Bagless: Which is Best for Allergy Sufferers?
Let’s get to the meaty question, is a bagged or bagless vacuum better for allergies?
When it is time for dust disposal after vacuuming, bagged vacuum cleaners are generally a better choice for those dealing with allergy or asthma, because the dust is collected in a sealable bag. Filter bags also provide an extra measure of filtration within your machine.
However, bagged vacuum cleaners can lose suction power as the bag fills up, so with a bagged vacuum cleaner, it’s important to keep an eye on the dust bag change indicator.
Bagless vacuum cleaners have no bags to get clogged, so you do not have to worry about the expense of buying new bags. Bagless vacuum cleaners collect dust in a plastic bin for disposal. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, we recommend getting someone else to empty the dust bin for you whenever possible. And, it is always best to go outdoors to empty the dustbin into the trash.
Upright vs Canister Design
Before we even get into the allergy-friendliness of upright vs canister vacuums, consider how you’ll need to use your vacuum cleaner. If you can’t easily get to hard-to-reach spots because of your vacuum cleaner, you’re not doing yourself any favors!
Upright vacuum cleaners are best suited for cleaning carpet, but this type has traditionally been heavier and more difficult to maneuver than canister vacuum cleaners.
Cleaning in tight spaces and under furniture was difficult with older upright vacuum cleaners, but slimmer uprights have recently been designed to specifically address these concerns. Some uprights can also lie flat and have a slim profile, though they feature a more traditional steering and maneuvering system.
Canisters tend to roll more freely, be lighter in weight, and are often best geared towards smooth flooring like tile, hardwood, linoleum or laminate. More compact, canister vacuum cleaners can often be used with a variety of attachments and because of their compact nature, are often better for steps and other hard to reach places.
Making each more versatile, and building innovative features has made the difference in choosing a canister versus an upright largely a question of simple preference.
When shopping for the best vacuum cleaner for asthma and allergies, you really shouldn’t go past a true HEPA or S-Class filtration system. However, we hope our article has also given you some pointers on what to look for in the vacuum cleaner’s design to further support a super clean indoor environment with superior indoor air quality.
Remember to look out for:
- A HEPA filter that catches 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns or bigger
- A sealed system that won’t leak unfiltered air
- A bagged model if you’re responsible for cleaning your vacuum
- A model with filter bags for extra layers of filtration
- A model that’s easy to manoeuvre as you clean hard-to-reach spaces
And if you’re not sure if a vacuum cleaner model is the right fit, make sure to read the fine print to know exactly how it works! Always go beyond the shiny marketing hype on the front.