Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

Airflow, Lift, Filtration, Design and Other Factors in Choosing the Right Vac

October 1, 2012

All the competing claims today from different jansan manufacturers about the power and performance of their vacuum cleaners can cause a lot of confusion for cleaning professionals, especially when they decide that it’s time to select a new machine. Rather than discuss terms such as “HEPA filtration,” “amps,” “airflow,” “particles out,” “particles in,” “true-HEPA,” “ergonomics,” etc., many have just about given up and decided to go back to the old “bowling ball test” to determine which machine to select.
You remember the old bowling ball test: Years ago, some manufacturers of consumer vacuum cleaners demonstrated on television how an 8-pound vacuum cleaner was able to pick up a 16-pound bowling ball. The ad was designed to show the suction power of the machine. However, this unfortunately turned out to be one of the best examples of “don’t believe everything you see” in the history of TV. 
What’s really being demonstrated is the power of a suction cup. Just as removing a suction cup from a window or mirror can be hard, once a seal similar to a suction cup has been created between the vacuum wand and the bowling ball, that seal is also pretty hard to break. But creating suction cups has very little to do with how well a vacuum cleaner will perform or if it is the best selection for your specific cleaning needs.
If it’s not all about suction, what features should cleaning professionals look for when selecting a new vacuum cleaner? 
Daniel Frimml, technical service coordinator for Tornado Industries, a leading manufacturer of professional vacuum cleaners, suggests cleaning professionals should focus on the following four key areas: airflow, lift, filtration and design.


Airflow is generally defined as the movement of air from one location to another. However, when it comes to vacuum cleaners, cleaning expert Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc. of Boise, ID and the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), says airflow can be defined as the amount or volume of air moving through the vacuum. This is typically measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and is an indication of the amount of soil that can be carried with this airflow into the vacuum cleaner and contained there. Airflow ratings are usually obtained by measuring the airflow through the vacuum cleaner with no hose or attachments connected to it. 
Some might believe the bigger or more powerful the vacuum motor, the higher the CFM. However, this is not necessarily the case. The CFM can be affected by the amount of air turbulence within the vacuum cleaner caused by hoses and tubing, restrictions when nozzles and wands are attached to the machine, and the filtration system. While this may be the case, Frimml suggests that cleaning professionals select machines with the highest CFM ratings possible. 


Closely related to airflow is what is termed “lift,” “static lift,” or “water lift.” This is a measurement of the strength of the vacuum provided by the vacuum motor. Lift is measured in “inches of water lift,” or simply “water lift.” To understand how this works, picture a clear tube being placed in a container of water. The tube is attached to a vacuum cleaner hose at the top. When the machine is turned on, the water rises in the tube. “How high it rises helps determine the water lift of the machine,” says Frimml. “In most cases, the higher the CFM and water lift, the more effective the vacuum cleaner.”


According to Rathey, filtration refers to the machine’s ability to capture soils and is mainly responsible for reducing “particles out,” which, working together with the airflow and lift of the machine, ensures that particles or soils are trapped in the machine without airflow impacted. Most experts indicate this is best accomplished using HEPA filters, originally developed during World War II for military purposes. These filters are capable of stopping and trapping 99.97% of particulate matter 0.3 microns and larger. “However, it is important to look for true-HEPA vacuum cleaners,” adds Frimml. “The benefits of HEPA filtration can be defeated if air escapes through crevices in the machine. A true-HEPA machine is designed to prevent this.” 

How Do You Know When
it’s Time for
a New Vacuum Cleaner? 

Vacuum cleaners have a way of telling you that they are getting old, worn and in need of replacement. One indication is noise level. If a machine is noticeably louder than it once was, this can be a sign that the vacuum motor or inner components are beginning to wear. While the machine may still be repairable, because of the cost factor, users have to decide if it is better to service or replace the machine.
If you notice tiny particles of dust in the air as soon as the machine is turned on, this can be a sign of problems with the filtration system or with the casing of the machine. If the casing is beginning to wear, this often cannot be repaired.
Frequent changing of vacuum cleaner belts indicates an upright vacuum cleaner is an older machine. With some newer uprights, the belts are designed more like automotive timing belts, sprocketed so that they do not slip or stretch. They last far longer than older vacuum belts.


Because the overwhelming majority of vacuum cleaners used in the professional cleaning industry are uprights, the following section will focus on these types of machines. Along with looking for upright machines that are designed to be true HEPA systems, Frimml suggests cleaning professionals look for the following features in an upright vacuum cleaner:
  • Ergonomics: An ergonomic upright vacuum cleaner would be a machine this is lightweight, 8 to 17 pounds, has a lightweight, contoured handle that fits comfortably into the user’s hand and is easy to roll over carpets and maneuver. All of these factors can vary significantly in different upright machines, which means users may have to test drive different models to select the one that works best for them.
  • Height adjustment: Carpets found in different settings can have different piles. Carpeting in a hotel guest room may have a far different thickness and pile than carpeting in an office or school, for example. While some machines are designed to automatically adjust to different carpet heights, it is often best to select equipment that can be manually adjusted to the variety of carpets encountered in professional cleaning.
  • Low profiles: Many newer vacuum cleaners are designed with low profiles so that they can easily reach under hotel beds, cabinets, furniture, etc. Some machines are even designed so that the entire vacuum can flatten to reach under furniture. 
  • Mechanicals: To help protect the vacuum motor and other mechanicals, some upright vacuums have clutch systems that disengage the roller brush if an object becomes trapped in the machine. Similarly, attachment hoses on some machines are designed with “strain relief” so that they can better withstand bending, making them more durable.
“There are many other design issues to be concerned about,” adds Frimml. “Everything from how quiet the machine is [a quieter machine causes less fatigue and can be used in daytime cleaning situations] to how long the power cord is [working with a 50-foot power cord, the user can clean longer distances without stopping, improving worker productivity] can improve the cleaning experience.” 


In recent years, most major manufacturers of professional vacuum cleaners have had their machines independently tested by such organizations as the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). Additionally some floor covering manufacturers and other organizations also test vacuum cleaners. These tests look into such things as how effectively the machine removes soil from carpets, how well it protects indoor air quality, and how well it improves and protects the appearance of the carpet. “Always look for machines that have been independently tested and approved by these organizations,” says Frimml. “Having this certification is critical to any vacuum cleaner selection.” 

 Types of Vacuum Cleaners

There are several types of vacuum cleaners to choose from: wet/dry, wide-area, uprights (dual and single motor), canisters and backpacks. Which type to use depends on what type of floor covering is most prominent. Uprights, canisters and backpacks are the most common. If just carpeting is to be cleaned, an upright should be selected. If a combination of hard and soft flooring is to be vacuumed, a canister or backpack might be best. 
Upright vacuum cleaners are either single-motor or dual-motor machines. With a single-motor machine, one motor generates suction, drives the roller brush and impels dust and debris into the machine’s filter bag. A dual-motor machine has one motor for driving the roller brush and a separate one for generating suction and depositing debris into the filter bag.
Canisters can be used to clean both hard and soft floor surfaces as well as upholstery and draperies, under furniture, in hard-to-reach areas and for high and low dusting. Their flexibility means they can help improve worker flexibility and productivity considerably.
Backpacks are often used in specialty cleaning situations where people work together in cleaning teams. Like canisters, they can be used to vacuum many hard and soft surfaces and are designed to be worn on the back using a harness.

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