The HEPA vacuum cleaner — an unsung weapon against air pollution

When it comes to creating pure, clean air, most people first think of air purifiers or opening the windows on a rare clear day.  While both of these do play a big role in creating healthy air, the most overlooked secret weapon is a good vacuum cleaner.

Ventilation is important because fresh air dilutes and removes the chemical emissions, carbon dioxide we generate indoors, and other odors and smells.  However, the level of particulates in China’s major cities is on the average between 2-5x the US EPA standards.  If you’ve been reading our blog (or any of the Chinese media lately), you know that fine particles have long been attributed to a wide range of health problems, including low birthweight and size, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and that cough that seems to take forever to go away.  Filtering the air inside a room helps to reduce the particulates.  But, much of that fine dust settles, so a vacuum is one of the only ways to removing this and keeping healthy indoor air at home.

How do you know if you have a bad vacuum cleaner?

A regular vacuum cleaner uses a fan in a canister to suck in air through some sort of filter (if bagless) or a bag filter.  You know it’s working because you see the bag get full. Dirty vacuum bag filled with dust and allergensBut, most traditional vacuum cleaners are designed to pick up big stuff.  The small stuff, which is barely visible, punch their way through fans, filters, bags, and get launched out of the back.  Now, instead of being stuck on the ground, carpet, drapes, etc, these dust mites droppings, insect parts, soot, and bacteria are now airborne where you can breathe them in. If you smell something when you turn on your vacuum cleaner, chances are you’re making your environment less healthy.

We’ve long suggested the use of high efficiency particle arrestor (HEPA) filtered vacuums because they remove 99.97% of all particulates larger than 0.3 microns (for reference, a human hair is 70 microns in diameter)  More than half of vacuum cleaners that we check (complimentary service when we do an air test), produce air out of the exhaust that are in the 60-100 microgram/m2 range.  35 micrograms is considered the maximum limit for healthy indoor air.  In comparison, a HEPA filtered vacuum clean indoor air HEPA vacuum filterswill usually measure in 10-18 microgram/m2.  We usually know to check vacuum cleaners when indoor levels of pollutants test higher than outdoor levels.  Or, when levels spike when people walk around.

Since clients frequently ask us for recommendations, we have provided a review of the Electrolux UltraActive vacuum here.

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