How Effective is Vacuuming in Removing Allergens?

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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
  • mould spores

Regardless of the type of allergen that we are talking about, there are some general principles that should be considered when assessing how effective vacuuming is 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. However, newer and more expensive models that are specially designed to deal with allergens generally cause less indoor air pollution than older, cheaper models.


What is a vacuum cleaner HEPA Filter?

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. This is because they capture microscopic particles even smaller than dust mite droppings, mould spores, pet dander and pollen allergen particles.

Allergen Particle Size

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. As a result, these vacuums will blow 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. Vacuum cleaners with ordinary levels of filtration will simply re-circulate these tiny allergenic particles back into the air, often exacerbating allergy symptoms further.

Vacuum Cleaner Dust Retention

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.

Results from a 2012 study of 22 vacuum cleaners from 11 manufacturers by Australian Researchers (1) are very interesting. They 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 has 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
  • Ensure the entire airflow route through the vacuum is 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. This will ensure that the air and dust will not leak out of the machine before it reaches the filter. Additionally, the filter housing should 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 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

Several organizations provide certification that vacuum cleaners meet certain standards and performance in relation to reduction of allergens. Look out for vacuums with these certification logos from the leading global organizations:

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 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:

Sources of Allergens in the Home

  • Dust mites
  • pollen
  • pet hair
  • Mould spores

Dust mites are microscopic eight legged creatures which feed on flakes of shed human skin. Considering that the average human sheds around 1 million skin cells in a 24hr period it is not surprising that their major habitats are our bedding and mattresses where they have plentiful supply of food.

Bed mattresses are reported to contain anywhere between 10,000 and two million dust mites that produce around 40 million droppings per day! It is actually these droppings that are the cause of allergy symptoms (known as Der p 1). They are also found in high numbers in carpets and soft furnishings and so reducing dust mite population numbers in all of these areas is key to reducing allergens.

In addition to regular thorough vacuuming of floors (carpets twice a week), mattresses and soft furnishings (once a week) to remove the allergy producing mites, their food supply and their droppings you should consider:

  • Keeping your mattress cool by airing your bed everyday and pulling the covers back
  • Reducing soft furnishings that accumulate dust and provide habitat for dust mites
  • Using washable allergen-impermeable covers for your mattress, box springs, and pillows and wash these regularly
  • Lowering relative humidity inside the home if you live in a high humidity location. House dust mites struggle to survive when the relative humidity is below 50 percent


Regular vacuuming, when performed thoroughly using a good quality, well maintained vacuum cleaner with HEPA filtration is effective in reducing allergens in the home. However, for severe allergy sufferers additional measures may be necessary. 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 reviews of the best vacuum cleaners for allergy sufferers.

Moreover, Dyson and Shark are two well known vacuum brands that have gained a good reputation at dealing with allergens. We compare their latest models in this article.

However, if you're looking specifically for a canister vacuum; 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.

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