The Vacuum Cleaner: Evolution of a Truly Amazing Machine

October 7, 2009
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Industry professionals are consistently searching for cleaning methods and equipment to provide their clients with textiles that are clean beyond appearance; today’s professional cleaners clean for health.

High-performance HEPA-filtration vacuums remove 74 percent to 79 percent of dry particulates found in carpet. The majority of carpet soil is insoluble and must be dry-vacuumed from the carpet before the cleaning begins to ensure the healthiest clean possible.

Today’s micro-filtration vacuums will remove dry particulates from textiles without re-distributing particulates back into the local environment, thereby improving indoor air quality.

Source: IICRC

A History of the Vacuum Cleaner

Researching vacuums and their history is extremely interesting for an overzealous educator like myself. Research in itself keeps a person on the cutting edge and makes you realize learning is a lifelong pursuit.

Even as early as the 1800s, individuals in society recognized that cleaning was important to keep a home not only looking nice. It was important for one’s health and well-being.

The only problem was the only way at the time to clean your carpets was to remove them to outside and physically beat the dirt and dust out of them. This was a very tough job, quite time consuming, and therefore only done once a year during spring cleaning.

In the mid 1800s the small engine revolution hit and, desperate for a better way to remove dirt and dust from carpet, an air compressor type device was employed; unfortunately it made things worse by distributing the particulates into the air.

Many researchers and inventors will tell you Hubert Booth invented the first working vacuum cleaner in 1901 (even though Ives McGaffey developed a hand-cranked vacuum, the Whirlwind, in Chicago in 1869).

The machine Booth invented was huge, larger than a truckmount and run by several individuals. Though a valiant attempt, the system was too large and cumbersome and in no way user friendly.

In 1905 Chapman and Skinner in San Francisco really built the first portable vacuum that was electric. The vacuum, at over 90 pounds, was difficult to push and, as you can imagine, was not very well received in the marketplace.

The vacuum business went into high gear in 1907 when James Spangler finally invented a user-friendly upright that was lightweight and actually fun to use. Spangler patented his vacuum and sold the rights to his cousin William Hoover.

History is made in 1908 when Hoover made his first commercially rated upright vacuum with a filtration bag.

As you can imagine the next 10 years vacuums were literally revolutionized as far as engineering goes, and by the 1950s vacuum made of plastic were developed. These vacuums had re-usable paper bag filtration.

Self-propelled vacuums hit the market in 1969. Consumers raved over these units that actually propelled themselves, making vacuuming for the busy consumer a chore that people actually really enjoyed and loved to talk about. This new space-age technology really made life easier from a cleaning and maintenance perspective.

England, the 1970s. James Dyson, an inventor who created a wheelbarrow with a ball for a front tire, was determined to come up with a better way to clean his home and business. As the story goes, a cyclone-type devise used to clean air contaminated with epoxy paint odor was in use at Dyson’s wheelbarrow company. This device worked similar to a turbocharger in a diesel engine, except the devices forced exhaust gases from the engine to spin as they exit the exhaust system. The centrifugal force will cause soot and other particles to be ejected from the stream of gas before it reaches and ventilates into the air.

It’s the early ‘80s. The microprocessor-controlled vacuum hits the market. The processor could control the power of the machine as for as suction and carpet grooming were concerned. Eureka!

Dyson kept at it and, after many attempts, he discovered how to replace the vacuum bag with a cyclonic air purifier. Dyson’s invention used two cyclones, one inside the other; this meant no more vacuum bags. Dyson’s invention took the vacuum cleaning industry by storm, and by 2000 the cyclonic vacuum was No. 1 in England. The rest is history; everyone now knows the power and suction potential of the cyclonic vacuum, which quickly dominated the European market.

2001: A Robotic Vacuum Odyssey. Does technology ever rest? Robotic vacuums hit the market for consumer use. Several companies jumped into this technology. Now you don’t have to be home to vacuum! The Roomba vacuum, for example, can be placed in the middle of the room and will move in circles; when it contacts a wall, it follows the wall and crosses the room in both directions until the room is complete.

Around the same time, the LG Company develops a vacuum that talks, literally telling you when to change the power mode or if the plastic bin needs to be emptied.

Believe it or not, this is just a brief history (I really wish we had the space to do justice to a piece of cleaning equipment that has to come to mean so much in our profession).

The right vacuum is essential to accomplish the best possible results on the surface being cleaned. Choose your weapon carefully; there is an arsenal to choose from.

For example, upright, canister, bagless, HEPA, hard floor, stick, wet dry, hand held, cordless, shop vacs, robotic, the choices are endless. The vacuum must be chosen for the type of floor you desire to clean.

Upright Vacuums

Originally, uprights were developed to clean carpets. Today’s professional can purchase an upright that can also clean hard surface floors with a flip of a switch.

The vacuum used for both carpet and hard surfaces should have a special soft brush with bristles that do not scratch hard surfaces. Uprights require very little bending relating to user friendly on your back when cleaning wall-to-wall carpet.

To vacuum upholstery or stairs, etc., choose a vacuum with a comfortable extension wand with on board accessories like a crevice tool and wand attachments for dusting hard-to-reach areas.

Photo courtesy of ProTeam

Canister Vacuums

This configuration works well for both carpets and hard surface floors. Most canister vacuums come with a power head for improved performance when vacuuming carpet.

The canister vacuum can be purchased with filter bag filtration or bagless models are available. Canisters run the gamut when it comes to air filtration technology. In a canister vacuum the base unit houses the vacuum motors and filtration system.

Canister vacuums come with cleaning attachments and extension hoses to clean stairs, drapes; versatility is the canister vacuum’s middle name.

Source: IICRC

Hard Floor Vacuums and Vacuum Sweepers

Carpet sweepers are great for convenience. The benefit of not having a cord is obvious. Several models of carpet sweepers have suction for carpet or bare floors. There are models that use brush-roll technology that captures dirt from the carpet into a tray for disposal.

Both hard floor/stick vacuums and vacuum sweepers are good for the professional or homeowner that needs to accomplish light cleaning tasks.

Commercial-grade Vacuums

These vacuums are used most often by professionals to deep clean carpet and upholstery. There are also commercial-grade vacuums for hard surface work, like the versatile backpack vacuum used for both carpet and hard surfaces with the proper attachments.

The backpack vac is extremely versatile, with great power and a variety of high-tech filtration systems available. Upright and canister vacuums for commercial work have more power to remove deep down embedded dirt from carpet and are designed for the rigors of daily work.

Commercial upright and canister models will be more expensive due to the power necessary to handle heavy duty cleaning situations in addition to the advanced filtration systems necessary to capture and retain micron size particulates.

A revolution in healthy cleaning facilitates the need for the professional textile cleaner to be well educated in vacuum technologies in order to continually be progressive in improving indoor air quality while striving for the cleanest clean. Choose your vacuum wisely for the task at hand.

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