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Filtering through the facts on on vacuums and indoor air quality

September 19, 2010
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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside a building can be up to five times as polluted as the air outside. The reason for this highly contaminated indoor air stems from a range of factors, including the tightly-sealed construction of modern buildings, substandard HVAC systems, and the blend of pollen, dander and dust people track in from outside.

Unhealthy indoor air can be the root of many afflictions for workers and occupants, from minor headaches and fatigue to severe allergic reactions — resulting in decreased productivity and missed work days. As healthy indoor air quality becomes more of an issue in the national media and more on the minds of building managers, many are looking to the maintenance crew — and their vacuuming regimen — as a practical solution to solving indoor air quality issues.

Cleaning for health is dramatically different than cleaning for appearance, though the visible outcome might seem the same. So how can you choose a vacuum that gives you the results that really matter? It all comes down to choosing an optimal filtration system, and understanding the real impact of HEPA filters and other “essentials” that might not be so necessary after all.

The facts on filtration
When choosing a vacuum, one of the most important aspects to consider can also be the most difficult to definitively pin down: Long-lasting performance. A vacuum’s body should be durable, the motor should be high-powered and resilient, and the airflow, lift and filtration systems should work together to achieve optimal results.

Look for a vacuum with a high CFM (cubic feet per minute of airflow) and static lift to make sure the dirt in a commercial carpet or on a hard surface is effectively sucked up into the vacuum. The next step, filtration, is equally important. Even if a vacuum works well at bringing dirt in, the effort is useless if dust particles are blown back out through the filter and into the air — where they can linger for eight to 12 hours before settling on the floor, furniture, and other surfaces.

A high-quality disposable micro filter bag captures fine dust and allergens while allowing air to easily move through it. High-quality filters feature multiple layers, providing more surface area to collect dust, dirt and other particles. Micro-filter bags capture nearly 2,400 percent more dust than single-ply bags.

A quality vacuum should also feature multiple levels of filtration to protect the motor and sort through microscopic particles even further. This multi-stage filtration system could include a disposable micro filter, a cloth filter bag, a motor intake filter and a final exhaust filter.

For a simple test of a vacuum’s filtration performance, chart the number of times per week an area requires dusting. If you switch from one brand to another, check to see if a building’s dusting needs decrease.

The hype about HEPA
As cleaning contractors and maintenance managers become increasingly interested in IAQ, many look to HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters as a solution. HEPA filters were originally developed in the 1940s for use in the Manhattan Project to prevent the spread of airborne radioactive contaminants. Today, HEPA filters are still used for sensitive clean-up projects or to maintain “clean room” environments in the technological, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, among others.

For everyday use however, the difference between high-efficiency micro filters and HEPA filters can be very slight, while the cost difference can be dramatic. High-efficiency micro filters, especially when used in a multi-stage filtration system, can filter up to 99.9 percent of particles one micron or larger, which covers dust mites, industrial dust, pollen, pet dander, mold and even a majority of yeast and bacteria. HEPA filters remove a minimum of 99.97% of particles .3 micron or larger, which can include smoke and carbon. However, if the HEPA filtration media isn’t properly sealed (true HEPA-sealed) or disposed of, it won’t offer the added benefits people expect.

The Seal of Approval
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) developed a “Green Label” program that tests vacuums according to high standards for soil removal, dust containment and carpet appearance retention. The CRI “Green Label” seal of approval should be clearly labeled on vacuums that meet these stringent criteria. Since the launch of this test in 2000, CRI has certified more than 100 backpacks, canisters, central systems and uprights.

To find CRI certified vacuums, or to learn more, visit www.carpet-rug.org.
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