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 Kohls.com. Reviewers on Target.com 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!