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Vacuum Cleaners Can Improve Air Quality

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Asthma is one of our nation's most common chronic health conditions. Many substances in our homes can aggravate allergies and increase the severity of asthma symptoms. Vacuum cleaners can remove many of these irritating particles from the air.

"It's the efficiency of the vacuum cleaner that makes all the difference," explains Debbie Bartman, consumer and family economics educator with University of Illinois Extension. "In order to prevent tiny particles from being re-circulated into the air, the vacuum cleaner's filtration system must be very efficient."

Using a vacuum that has either a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter or Ultra Low Penetration Air (ULPA) filter can help reduce allergens. The HEPA filter meets standards for collecting 99.7 percent of all particles that are 0.3 microns in size. The ULPA filter has a 99.999 percent efficiency rate of trapping all particles to 0.12 microns. A human hair is about 60 to 80 microns, and particles below 10 microns are invisible to the human eye. These filters are disposable and must be replaced every 6 to 12 months.

Some models of vacuums without a HEPA filter have performed just as well in emission tests, conducted by Consumer Reports. It depends more on the design of the vacuum than on the filter.

"A central vacuum is the best choice for families who have someone who suffers from allergies or asthma. The dirt is collected in a container in the basement or garage instead of being circulated back into the indoor air," says Bartman. "A central vacuum is generally more expensive than other vacuum models, and it has an installation cost."

When selecting a new vacuum, Bartman says to look for these features:

- Select a cleaner that has enough motor power to suck up all particles. Most experts prefer 12-amp units.

- Look for a completely sealed unit. Special filters are of no use if particles can escape through the sides of the cleaner.

- Look for a vacuum with an exhaust filter; some even have motor filters.

- Make sure you get a true HEPA filter, not one that just has similar construction.

For more information about vacuum cleaners and filters, contact your local U of I Extension office or view the Solution Series web page at

Source: Debra K. Bartman, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family Economics,

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