Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Don't believe the hype!

September 19, 2010

The equation is simple: Particles in, particles out.

A vacuum cleaner that pulls in the most particles (and other soils) and releases the fewest back out into the environment (while also being easy, safe and healthy to use) is the right choice.

Evaluating and buying a vacuum for your facility should be as simple as that, right?

Slicing and dicing the truth
In light of such clear criteria, why are there so many different bells, whistles, sales demos and tricks, colors, designs, and marketing schemes?

The answer is also simple: Vacuum manufacturers are caught in a game of promotional one-upmanship driven by intense competition, a misinformed public, and many irrelevant issues that make it hard for facility service providers (FSPs) and purchasing agents to discern the truth and make wise choices based on correct information.

Everyone loses when ignorance wins
“You have 12 amps? I have 14.”

“You have micro filters? I have HEPA.”

“You have three-level filtration? I have five.”

“Your model is fluorescent blue? Mine is iridescent burgundy.”

“Your vacuum is $299? Mine has all your features and it lifts bowling balls for $249.”

The key to being a good purchaser of vacuum cleaners is knowledge.

Consider the many myths of vacuum cleaner performance.

Myth No. 1 — Amps mean performance
Amps are a measure of electrical current, not vacuuming performance.

Measuring a vacuum cleaner’s performance based on amps is like buying a car based on how much gas it guzzles.

The entire machine’s design, from how it handles and controls airflow to how it incorporates filtration, determines its quality — not the electrical energy it consumes.

Myth No. 2 — Everyone needs HEPA
The indoor environment should have the fewest possible particles released or driven into the air — regardless of whether the vacuum has a HEPA filter or not.

Some micro-filtered systems accomplish this just as well as some HEPA systems.

Find out what the “particles out” count is, and you’ll have the all-important information needed for your purchase.

Keep in mind that even high-end HEPA-filtered vacuums may still drive dust airborne by the beater brush’s impact against the carpet.

With uprights or canisters equipped with power heads, the critical information to have is how much airflow and lift are occurring at the beater brush/floor interface.

This helps to determine whether or not particles are being pulled into the vacuum or driven airborne.

The extra-wide orifice on some upright vacuums and power nozzles results in greatly diminished suction at the tool head, leading to poor soil capture.

Myth No. 3 — Picking up a bowling ball shows cleaning power
The bowling ball trick is just that — a trick.

This sales technique is based on the power of a suction cup.

Have you ever stuck a suction cup on a mirror and tried to remove it by pulling directly away from the mirror?

It’s hard to do because once a seal is created on a smooth surface, the seal is difficult to break.

Does a vacuum tool’s ability to form a seal around a bowling ball and pick it up like a suction cup have anything to do with how well the vacuum can remove soil? No!

Myth No. 4 — All vacuum bags are the same
Again, not true.

Multi-ply micro filters greatly increase vacuum efficiency over generic, single-ply paper filters.

For this reason, micro filters are now increasingly used in commercial vacuuming applications.

Micro-filter bags have greater media density, and thus capture far more fine dust.

One-ply generic bags have relatively large pores that permit fine dust to escape, lower indoor air quality (IAQ), increase health risks, and also increase the need for dusting.

Filter bag size does matter; the greater the “area” of the filter media, the longer airflow, suction and cleaning can be sustained.

For this reason, some major manufacturers of vacuum cleaners promote their filters by measuring and publishing the total area — in square inches or centimeters — of their filter bag media.

Myth No. 5 — All vacuum belts are created equal
A cheap vacuum belt will stretch, slip and wear out quickly, whereas a high-quality belt is geared or sprocketed like an automobile timing belt, and can literally last for years.

In addition, geared/ sprocketed belts do not slip, ensuring better and more consistent soil pickup.

Sprocketed belts help to ensure better overall performance and enable you to spend more time cleaning and less time changing belts.

Myth No. 6 — Cyclonic systems do not use filters and require less maintenance
Virtually all cyclonic or bagless vacuuming systems use a final filter to catch dust that cyclonic filtration cannot remove from the airflow.

This is often a HEPA media filter which will require regular cleaning or replacement to ensure optimal performance.

If the customer fails to perform the needed filter maintenance, the vacuum will not perform as intended.

The cost of replacing a HEPA filter may equal or exceed the cost of using conventional bag filter media.

The quality of cyclonic systems varies widely; do your homework and request the all-important “particles in, particles out” test data from the manufacturer to determine overall performance.

Some vacuum cleaners are actually designed to produce cyclonic airflow, even with conventional micro-filters.

Ribbed panels in the filter containment area create a rotating column of air inside the filter bag so soil deposits evenly on the sidewalls of the filter — where it has the greatest surface area — ensuring longer sustained airflow.

Myth No. 7 — All vacuum cleaners have similar design features and are equally easy to use
Ergonomic design, weight and other factors affecting ease of use vary widely among vacuum cleaners.

Handle weight is a critical factor with uprights, as is ease of rolling and maneuverability.

Canister vacuums vary widely in shape and design which, in turn, affects usability.

One model primarily balances its weight over large rear wheels to facilitate nimble handling and ease of pulling.

Some canisters trip over power cords, while others easily roll over such obstacles.

Design and weight distribution really can make a difference.

Backpack vacuums now weigh in at less than 10 pounds, with precision suspension systems that distribute weight across the hips — and not the shoulders — creating ideal balance and maneuverability.

Myth No. 8 — All upright vacuums are created equal
Does your vacuum have one motor or two?

Generally speaking, single-motor up-rights do not clean as well as two-motor uprights.

Single-motor up-rights must multi-task and be a jack of all trades; they’re less efficient.

A two-motor up-right has a separate motor to turn the beater brush, while the other creates suction.

A two-motor up-right picks up more dirt and dust, leading to a cleaner indoor environment.

Myth No. 9 — Suction alone makes a vacuum work well
Just because a vacuum has good suction does not mean it will work best.

The vacuum system as a whole must be taken into account when considering effectiveness.

Know your principles
The Venturi Principle is an important bit of science to understand.

Basically, the Venturi Principle causes air velocity to increase as the corridor it passes through narrows.

This explains the effectiveness of suction-only backpacks that use a narrow tool opening or orifice, enabling greater suction.

Some upright machines have a very wide tool orifice to accommodate the rotating brush, reducing air velocity and cleaning effectiveness.

The best uprights reach an effective compromise.

They enable effective cleaning of plush carpet by proportioning the orifice opening and beater brush, allowing the rotating brush to perform well while maintaining proper airflow and lift to remove soil and dust and prevent it from becoming airborne.


Allen P. Rathey is president, InstructionLink/JanTrain, Inc., Boise, ID.