So you can breathe easy
Vacuuming regularly is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep your home healthier. That's because household dust is a nasty mix of insect parts and feces, molds, hair and skin flakes from people and pets, and lots of other tiny particles you'd probably rather not think about. Keeping dust levels down is particularly important for people who are allergic to dust mites and mold, and for the 20 million Americans--including 6.3 million children--who have asthma.
If you're in the market for a new vacuum, there's a lot to choose from: traditional uprights and canisters, stick vacs and hand vacs, wet/dry vacs, central vacuums, and even robotic devices that do the work for you. But for thorough, deep cleaning, uprights, canisters, or vacuums built right into the walls of your home are the way to go.
- Use doormats. As much as two thirds of the dust and dirt in our homes is tracked in on our feet. Make sure you have doormats inside and outside your doors, ideally long enough to come in contact with your shoes for several footsteps. Vacuum the mats frequently.
- Shoes off, please! Taking your shoes off as you enter your home is even more effective than doormats at keeping dirt out. Make shoe removal convenient by putting a bench or chair near the door.
- Dodge the dust. It's best if asthmatics and people with dust allergies not be in the home while it's being vacuumed. If you're bothered by dust and have to do the vacuuming, wear a dust mask.
- Check the bag and the filter. If your vacuum has a bag, check it regularly and change it as soon as it's full. Check the manufacturer's recommendations on the frequency with which to clean or change the filter. When it comes time to change it, protect your indoor air by taking the vacuum outside if it's portable.
- Spare the landfill. If your vacuum breaks and it's less than seven or eight years old, have it fixed rather than replacing it, assuming you're satisfied with its performance.
When shopping, look for
- Quality. Well-made machines require fewer repairs and have longer lives. That saves you money and hassles and keeps broken vacuums out of landfills. You may also want to look for a machine no louder than 85 decibels to protect your hearing and keep stress levels down.
- Strong suction. A good vacuum is all about strong airflow--to extract embedded dust and dirt, keep your home healthier, and extend the life of carpet and other flooring surfaces.
- Low emissions. Top-quality vacuums reduce the amount of fine particles spewed back into the air while you're vacuuming. Look for machines with the Carpet and Rug Institute's new Seal of Approval/Green Label, which have been independently tested to meet CRI's standards for soil removal and dust containment.
- Bagless vacuums mean no bags wind up in the trash, but these machines can kick up a lot of dust and other allergens when you empty their bin. Also, most of them have a filter that needs to be cleaned and periodically replaced, and doing so can cost more than buying the bags you'd need with a different machine. Another advantage of a bag is that it acts as prefilter, extending the life of the vacuum's filter.
- To keep fine particles from escaping out of the vacuum and back into your home, you'll want a high quality filter bag, a separate prefilter, or both. High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and filter bags are supposed to do the best job of filtering fine particles. Brands with microfiltration are generally the second-best option. But a little brand research on emissions can pay off, because vacuums' performances vary. In fact, Consumer Reports says that certain models with standard filters do just as good a job as those with HEPA filters for less money.
- If you're building a new house or doing a major remodel, think about having a central vacuum installed. They cost somewhere between $800 and $2,000--significantly more than portable machines. But they are convenient to use. Rather than hauling the whole vacuum around your house, you just plug a long hose into outlets in different rooms. And they're quiet and great for indoor air quality. Dust and dirt get sucked through tubes inside your home's walls and collect in a central vacuum unit that's usually located in the garage or basement, so there's no re-emission of dust into your living spaces while you're vacuuming.
...to your health
Quieter vacuums protect your ears. Low-emission vacuums protect your lungs, and are particularly important if anyone in your home is allergic to dust or has asthma. Good filters are essential for maintaining indoor air quality.
...to the Earth
Energy consumption is not a big issue when comparing vacuums. For one thing, you use them only for a short while each week. And the machines' efficiencies are all similar.
Soot busting. If you use a regular vacuum to clean soot out of a fireplace, you may clog the motor. The soot can also be reemitted into the air when you vacuum other areas of the house.
- If you're buying a new vacuum and the old one still works fine, donate it to a local thrift store or charitable group rather than tossing it.
- Test vacuums in the store before you buy. And make sure the store has a good return policy so that you can get your money back if you're unhappy with the vacuum once you get it home.