This article takes a look at the effectiveness of vacuuming in removing allergens in the home. Allergens are substances that cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma symptoms in some people. Allergen particles are carried in the air and settle onto furniture and floor surfaces. The most common sources of allergens in the home can be divided into four types: dust mites, pollen, pet hair and mould spores.

Regardless of the type or source of allergen that we are talking about, there are some general principles that should be considered when assessing the effectiveness of vacuuming in removing these threats to our health. Firstly, it is clear that not all vacuum cleaners are equal and fit for purpose in dealing with allergens. Research shows that all models of vacuum cleaner release some bacteria, dust and allergens back into the air, although newer and more expensive models that are specifically designed to deal with allergens generally cause less indoor air pollution than older, cheaper models.

The importance of Vacuums containing HEPA Filters

HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. According to NIOSH (the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), a proper HEPA filter is one that can trap 99.97 percent of dust particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter (a micron is one millionth of a meter). A genuine HEPA filter is much better equipped at dealing with allergens than an ordinary one because of their ability to capture microscopic particles even smaller than dust mite droppings, mould spores, pet dander and pollen allergen particles. The most common airborne particles are about 2.4 microns in size, however allergen particles are commonly found down to 0.3 microns. The average vacuum cleaner without HEPA filtration only captures particles from 30 to 50 microns in size, blowing the rest of the particles back into the air. Particle size matters for people who are sensitive to allergens because the smaller the particle, the deeper it can travel into the lungs, even reaching delicate areas of gas exchange. Vacuum cleaners with ordinary levels of filtration will simply re-circulate these tiny allergenic particles back into the air, often exacerbating allergy symptoms further.

It would be reasonable to assume from this that vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters release lower levels of dust and bacteria than vacuums that do not use these special filters. However, a 2012 study of 22 vacuum cleaners from 11 manufacturers by Australian Researchers (1) showed that some models employing HEPA filters released only slightly lower levels of dust and bacteria than vacuums that did not use these special filters. The vacuums were six months to 22 years old, and ranged from less than $100 to almost $800. Brands included Dyson, Electrolux, Hoover, iRobot, and Sanyo.

So not all HEPA vacuums are equal and the following points are important if a HEPA vacuum cleaner is to be effective at removing allergens:

  • The HEPA filtration system must use genuine HEPA filters, which need to be regularly cleaned and replaced when degraded.

  • The filtration system including the filters have to be specially designed to channel all of the dirty air through the HEPA filter. This requires a powerful motor so not all vacuums do this, which results in allergens being released back into the home

  • The entire airflow route through the vacuum must be properly sealed to prevent dirty air from bypassing the filter and dispelling back out into the home. Look for thick rubber seals around the intake, door, exhaust, bag compartment etc. which will ensure that the air and dust will not leak out of the machine before it reaches the filter. The filter housing should also be a solid structure and be surrounded by rubber seals to ensure an airtight fit into the vacuum.

  • Vacuum cleaners with rotating brushes in the head remove more dirt and allergen from the carpets than those without. However, rotating brushes may serve to kick dust up into the air if the suction component of the cleaner is not operating properly.

  • Regular servicing of the vacuum cleaner is critical to ensure continued efficiency in allergen removal. Servicing will ensure the maintenance and integrity of seals and gaskets.

  • Studies have shown that vacuum cleaners with two or three layer bags perform better than those with a single layer bag.

Allergy Certified Cleaners

There are several organisations that provide certification of products, including vacuum cleaners as meeting certain standards and performance in relation to reduction of allergens. Look out for vacuum cleaners carrying the following certification logos from the leading organisations across various parts of the world:

Improvement of allergy symptoms occurs as a result of massive reduction in allergens in the home. In order to be truly effective in reducing allergens as far as possible it is important to consider other factors in addition to regular vacuuming. Click on the tabs below to discover further tips for the most common allergen sources:

  • Dust mites
  • pollen
  • pet hair
  • Mould spores

In addition to vacuuming, you can reduce the build up of these allergens in the home by not letting it in in the first place:

  • Close windows and doors are closed during high pollen seasons and put on the airconditioning instead.
  • Replace your heating/cooling air filters regularly and consider using a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter
  • Change & wash your clothes as soon as entering the house and leave your shoes outside
  • Shower after coming home and wash or at least rinse your hair.
  • Dry all your laundry indoors during the pollen season.
  • Pets bring in pollen on their fur - Brush them thoroughly before they come in.

Summary

To wrap up, it is clear that regular vacuuming, when performed thoroughly using a good quality, well maintained vacuum cleaner with HEPA filtration is an effective and essential activity in reducing allergens in the home. However for severe allergy sufferers additional measures may be necessary and we’ve touched on a few of these for the most common types of allergen source in the home.

If you're looking for a new vacuum cleaner that is effective in tackling allergens be sure to check out our review of the best vacuum cleaners for pet hair, which has some good options to suit all budgets. Dyson and Shark are two well known vacuum brands that have gained a good reputation at dealing with allergens and we compare their latest models in this article. If you're in the market for a canister - our best canister vacuum reviews provides our top 5 recommendations and all of these will help you in the removal of allergens from the home.

1. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20120106/are-vacuum-cleaners-bad-for-health​