Saturday, February 19, 2011

Finding a HEPA Vacuum Cleaner

Did you know that the dust inside your home can be pretty toxic?  Chemicals from plastics, furniture, electronics, and more "shed", releasing toxic particles into the air and dust in your home.  PBDEs  are one particularly toxic class of chemicals that are plentiful in household dust.  PBDEs are flame retardants used in everything from electronics to couches and pajamas.  The chemicals build up in people's bodies over time and have been clearly shown to cause problems in lab animals.

"In minute doses they and other brominated fire retardants impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in laboratory animals." link

The Environmental Working Group recommends using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air).  I've been doing some research on this recently and wanted to share what I've found and what you can look for if you are interested in purchasing a HEPA vacuum cleaner.

HEPA filters remove 99.97% of airborne particles at .3 micron size.  According to this source "The most common airborne particles are about 2.4 microns but the average vacuum cleaner only vacuums up particles from 30 to 50 microns in size, blowing the rest of the allergens back into the air. The most harmful sized particulates are about .3 microns in size." link  In addition, in order for the HEPA filter to be effective, the vacuum cleaner needs to be sealed, so that all of the air is forced through the filter.  I noticed that many vacuum cleaners throw in the word HEPA, but it takes a closer look to see if they are actually offering sealed HEPA filtration.  HEPA media filtration is not the same as sealed HEPA filtration.

Here is another thought - If I am buying a vacuum cleaner to help keep my home free of PBDEs, I need a PBDE-free vacuum cleaner.  I contacted a few manufacturers to find out what they had to say about this.  Apparently, there is a standard in Europe called the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS.  (I'm rolling my eyes and won't even comment on how once again we have to look to Europe for the safer standards.)  RoHS limits lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PBBs, and PBDEs.  Although it does not completely ban these chemicals, it limits them to .1%.  Look for a vacuum cleaner that is RoHS compliant.

There are other considerations that I'll leave up to you - canister or upright, bagged or bagless, and so on.  Some allergy websites that I read recommend vacuum cleaners that use a bag to further contain allergens.  Other things I read suggested that when a vacuum cleaner bag is about half full it starts to drastically reduce suction power of the vacuum cleaner.  I also happened to read that Eureka has teamed up with Arm and Hammer to offer odor free bags and filters without the use of harmful chemicals.  ...which makes me wonder, are there chemicals in vacuum cleaner bags to keep them odor free?  Probably.  I'm leaning toward a bagless option.

Looking at a few of the manufacturers, this is what I found through looking at their websites and contacting customer service:

Bissell - all of Bissell's products are RoHS compliant.  They offer Airetight HEPA filtration on both the Powerclean Multi Cyclonic Bagless Vacuum and the Healthy Home Vacuum.  The Healthy Home Vacuum contains the chemical Microban, which is a negative in my opinion.  The Powerclean appears to be a good option, but doesn't have stellar reviews on Amazon and  Reviewers on seem to like it.

Eureka - sells RoHS certified vacuum cleaners as well as sealed HEPA filtration vacuums, but not both in one model.  They told me that their Clean Living and Comfort Clean lines are both RoHS certified.  The Boss (4870) vacuum cleaners have sealed HEPA filtration.

Hoover - says that they are RoHS compliant with 99% of their models, so I suppose you would still have to ask them about a specific model.  This canister vacuum cleaner is the only one I can find that says "sealed HEPA", but I have an email in to their customer service again about this.

Kenmore - I found the Kenmore website hard to navigate.  Their customer service told me that they are not compliant with RoHS.  They do sell vacuum cleaners with some type of HEPA filtration, but I did not feel like searching their website and viewing each individual vacuum cleaner to try and find the right one.  Customer service was unable to tell me if they offered sealed filtration.

Dyson - appears to have its own mini-following.  They have plenty of good reviews on Amazon, and do offer sealed HEPA filtration, although I am unclear on whether this refers to all of their vacuum cleaners or not.  I am awaiting a reply on the RoHS issue.  I am interested in looking into Dyson vacuums further so I'll let you know what I find out.  Update: Dyson is compliant with RoHS and offers sealed HEPA filtration.

Shark - at first glance appears to be a great vacuum cleaner.  However, only the direct purchase model comes with a HEPA filter, which I think is really shady.  They also have a terrible reputation for customer service.  I wrote a separate post about Shark here.

Miele - Customer service told me that all of their vacuum cleaners are compliant with RoHS.  They offer HEPA filtration on some models.  Meile vacuum cleaners are unique in that the vacuum cleaner itself is a sealed system, which would make the HEPA filtration fairly effective.  They are on the pricier end, but could be worth looking into.

As you can see, I am still waiting to hear back from a few of these manufacturers to complete my research on this.  I will update this post when I find out more.  Many of the websites did not have a way to search for "sealed HEPA" filtration or single out the vacuum cleaners that offer this, so it was hard to clearly see all the options.  If you are considering a particular unit, you may want to contact the company and ask a few questions yourself.

To recap: look for sealed HEPA filtration.  Consider whether or not the company is RoHS compliant.  After that, read reviews on Amazon and elsewhere to find out more about the model you are considering.  I am not sure we will be able to afford a new vacuum cleaner any time soon.  The idea of sucking up all of those toxins and sealing them away is extremely appealing though.  For now I'm trying not to think to hard about my extremely old beat up vacuum cleaner that probably spreads more toxins than it picks up.

Do you have a vacuum cleaner that you love or are you ready to toss it and get a new one?

Update: Read here to find out which vacuum cleaner I chose!


  1. As far as smell factor goes we have owned each filtration system, even water filtration, and each system has the potential of smelling bad no matter what route you take. Especially with owning a dog. In my experience, bagless would be my last choice for the smell factor, but perhaps that is because I haven't tried the top quality ones.

    My success with bagged Bissell PowerGlide Platinum Upright Vacuum: Containing the dust and the smell can be kept down I change the bag often enough. I have wanted to try the arm and hammer oder control bags.

    What would be best for dog hair and ridding your air of all "nasties"(imo): A water filtration that has an easy to clean out canister. If the canister is not easy to empty and clean it adds a lot of work to the process. Sadly, a vacuum like this doesn't really exist. Even the top quality Rainbow vacuums are awkward to dump out and are a pain to clean out. They need some sort of "grid" to catch the hair and larger items that are picked up. They also need a solid handle for dumping the water. I think I have just designed the next awesome vacuum.. all royalties can be sent to...;)

    Looking forward to hearing what vacuum you choose. :) I'm sure it will be an awesome one.

  2. lol K, we moms should totally be the ones to design vacuum cleaners! I wonder if a sealed HEPA vacuum wouldn't smell because only the clean air is supposed to escape from it? I can see how bagged might be better for odor control though. Hmm...

  3. The Amazon description of my bagged Bissel says "The unit monitors airflow and indicates when it's time to change the bag in order to maintain suction power, while its HEPA media filter captures over 99.9 percent of dust and other airborne allergens such as dust mites, pollens, and ragweed."

    1) My indicator does not sense the big puff ball of dog hair in my bag
    2) Although it may trap all the allergens as it says, it still smells bad if my bag is full of dog hair. The smell is probably coming out from another place in the vacuum such as the brush from all the friction with the dog hair and carpet.

    Just a couple more observations. :)

  4. Interesting that it doesn't sense the dog hair. We definitely have plenty of dog hair here so that is a consideration! As a side note, a HEPA media filter is not the same as sealed HEPA filtration. While the HEPA filter itself captures that percentage of allergens, if the vacuum isn't sealed, many of the allergens do not go through the filter and fly back out into the house.

    Ross is always putting a drop of tea tree oil or lavender oil on our vacuum cleaner bag, that does help the smell a bit. :)

  5. Hi Christy--This seems off topic but really it's not (too much) :)---what are your thoughts or experiences (if any) with air purifiers? I have been thinking about researching those, because no matter how much I vacuum my house, there still seems to be dust on every surface within minutes of cleaning. Maybe some nice air purifier company could let you do some reviews and giveaways???

  6. Renee, I'm interested! I've looked at these a bit, but not extensively. I did look up HEPA furnace filters when I was researching vacuum cleaners. I guess a regular furnace isn't strong enough to pull air through a HEPA filter, so they sell these add on machines that pull the air out and through a HEPA filter and then back.

    I did read a comment where someone compared a sealed HEPA vacuum cleaner to an air purifier and made the point that while air purifiers clean circulating air, a vacuum cleaner picks up settled toxins and puts them through the HEPA filter. I think having both an air purifier and a sealed HEPA vacuum cleaner would be ideal. I'll let you know what I find out when I get a chance to look into these. :)

  7. I can't wait to see what you find--thanks!

  8. You should look int a Patriot hybrid Clean air system, This meets and exceeds most standards. As with the other vacuums if the filter but dont clean what good are they.

  9. Thanks for this post. I had bought a Hoover WindTunnel with HEPA filtration, and was wondering why it still smells so bad when I vacuum, when it has a HEPA filter. I didn't realize that one should look for a sealed HEPA system.

  10. I think some of the Kenmore vacuums are RoHS compliant. These are the ones made by Panasonic, which include the higher priced models. Unfortunately it's tricky to get verification on this. If anyone knows speak up!

  11. The Patriot hybrid is a sealed hepa filtration system that filters to .3 microns. The U.S. postal service uses them to filter risen and anthrax in mail sorting rooms. The also run at 100 cfm's which is more air flow then any cleaner I can think of. Not to mention they have a 35 year warranty and they're made in the USA!

  12. Thank you so much.