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A meticulous guide to buying a Vacuum Cleaner

After the hustle and bustle of the day, it’s one’s home where one finds the sense of absolute respite in. As soon as one steps in, the only desire one has is to have some filling refreshment and spend time with one’s loved ones or take a peaceful nap. This perfect wish of homecoming withers down as one finds belongings covered in a layer of dust and floor lying untidy with some debris scattered in every nook and corner. Instead of spending quality time with loved ones, one often finds oneself mopping the floor and dusting the odds and ends with a dusting cloth to make the home a livable place.Maintaining the sanitation of home would not have been so much of an issue had cleaning/dusting were a one off event and once done would not require any more effort. However, that is not the case. Keeping the house in a habitable condition is a job in itself and requires continual effort, therefore one typically employs a maid to take care of the various aspects of cleaning.

However, with rising work responsibilities and long, inflexible work hours, one often finds accommodating the maid’s work schedule in one’s work routine an impossible task as majority of maids tend to provide their service late in the morning or in early afternoon, when most of the office-goers would be at their workplace. Additionally, the quality of work done by maids might not be up to one’s liking either. So in this situation what alternative does one have?

Apparently, there is an alternative, rather, a better alternative – A vacuum cleaner.

Now, if you are a frequent visitor to the posts on this blog, you might be probably aware that we take each topic from the grass root level and we will do the same with this post as well. We will begin with the basics first, understand how a vacuum cleaner works. Then, we will discuss the different types of vacuum cleaners available in the market along with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Following which, we will proceed onto discussing how some brands try to cut manufacturing costs and manufacture below par products that have a very short shelf life and require frequent service. After which, we will move onto deciding which are some of the best vacuum cleaners available in the market that are not only made of high-quality durable components but are also efficient in their working and thus offer most value for one’s money.

You might be glad to know that my father works at a company that manufactures home and kitchen appliances like washing machines, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, air fryers, etc. So, at home, we frequently have a conversation about these appliances, what goes into making them, how some brands try to cut manufacturing costs to increase their profit margin etc.

Today, I will try my best to pass on the knowledge that I have acquired from my father over the years, to you so as to help you make a good buying decision.

So without further a do, let’s begin…

THE BASICS
A vacuum cleaner is a home appliance that relies on the principle of suction of air to collect dust, debris and other fine particles from the floor and other surfaces such as carpets. The movement of particles from one site to the other when pressure difference is created between two sites forms the basis of the working of a vacuum cleaner.
Based on the configuration of components, vacuum cleaners can primarily be classified into two types, namely:-

  1. Bagged Vacuum Cleaners
  2. Bagless Vacuum Cleaners

Bagged Vacuum Cleaners
This configuration of vacuum cleaners typically makes use of five components to get the entire cleaning operation done. Those are:- An intake hose, An electric motor, A fan, A collecting bag and An exhaust port.

As the vacuum cleaner is turned on, an electric motor starts spinning at high RPMs. The electric motor is attached to a fan that creates low pressure towards the suction side of the intake hose. This pressure is significantly lower than the atmospheric pressure present in the surroundings, and because of the low pressure inside the suction hose, air from the surroundings is sucked into the intake hose, as air moves from area of high pressure to low pressure, thereby taking the dust and debris up the hose towards a collecting bag or a bin.

The collecting bag is made up of porous woven material which acts as an air filter. The pores on the bag typically range between 0.3 to 1.5 micron in diameter thereby trapping all the dust and debris from the air. This relatively clean air makes its way out of the bag into the surroundings through an exhaust port.

In some models, a HEPA filter is also brought into use to further cleanse the air moving out of the collecting bag, before making its way into the surroundings via the exhaust port.


(Image of installation of dust collecting bag in a Bagged Vacuum Cleaner)

Now, having learnt the working of Bagged Vacuum Cleaners, let us proceed to discuss their Pros and Cons.

PROS:-

  • Hygienic. Since all the dust, debris and contaminants get accumulated inside the collecting bag, once full, the user can safely dispose of the bag and replace it with a new one. This is by far the safest and most hygienic method of waste disposal as one does not have to manually clean the mess accumulated in the vacuum cleaner, thereby preventing the potential allergens from making their way back into the air. Furthermore, the bags are airtight in nature, which implies that once dust or debris enter the bag, they can not escape into the surroundings again. This makes bagged vacuum cleaners an ideal choice for families having infants or elderly people at home.
  • Requires less maintenance. The collecting bag of the vacuum cleaner can easily hold up to one week’s worth of dust and debris. Apart from the periodic replacement of collecting bag, bagged vacuum cleaners are virtually maintenance-free appliances.

CONS:-

  • Recurring expenses. Since bagged vacuum cleaners require periodic replacement of collecting bag, this adds up to the operational cost of the vacuum cleaner. Though, the bags are quite inexpensive, over a period of years, the total of initial and operational cost of the vacuum cleaner might go beyond one’s liking. However, in recent times, some vacuum cleaners are being manufactured with reusable collecting bags, where the user just needs to empty the collecting bag after use and re-install it in the vacuum cleaner for next use.
  • Performance dips as bag fills. The suction and cleaning performance of bagged vacuum cleaners are dependent upon the available space inside the collecting bag. When the bag is fresh, one would get the most optimal performance in terms of cleaning efficiency from the vacuum cleaner. However, as the bag starts to fill up with debris, the cleansing performance significantly drops. As a rule of thumb, one should replace the collecting bag once it is filled with dust and debris up to the three-fourth level in order to derive the best performance out of one’s vacuum cleaner.

So, having understood the advantages and disadvantages of Bagged Vacuum Cleaners, let us proceed to analyze the Bagless Vacuum Cleaners.

Bagless Vacuum Cleaners
The working principle of bagless vacuum cleaners is very similar to that of bagged ones, except for the fact that instead of a collecting bag that collects all the dust and debris, bagless vacuum cleaners make use of a collection bin known as a canister to collect all the mess.

Bagless vacuum cleaners can be sub-categorized into three types based upon their cleansing mechanism:-

  1. Wet & Dry vacuum cleaners
  2. Cyclone vacuum cleaners
  3. Robotic vacuum cleaners

Wet & Dry vacuum cleaners
This sub-category of bagless vacuum cleaners has a HEPA/special cartridge filter fitted inside the canister which filters out dust and debris before they get accumulated in the canister.

The fan driven by an electric motor creates low pressure towards the suction side of the intake hose. Due to significant difference in the atmospheric pressure and the pressure created by the fan, air along with all the dust and debris gets sucked into the intake hose and moves towards the dust holding canister. The air, free from dust and debris is expelled out of the exhaust port after passing through a HEPA filter that virtually traps all the microscopic and large particles, including allergens and mould before expelling them out through the exhaust port, thereby facilitating sanitized air in the home.

As the name suggests, Wet & Dry vacuum cleaners can work efficiently, both for cleaning dry mess as well as liquid spills. In some models, one might need to remove the HEPA filter when requiring to clean liquid spills, whereas, in others, special wet/dry filter is used which caters to both solid as well as liquid debris simultaneously, thereby not requiring any human effort to add/remove a filter.

In recent years, considering the hygiene factor that the dust collecting bag offers, some manufacturers of Wet & Dry vacuum cleaners have started to offer in their products, a dedicated collecting bag to gather dust, in addition to a canister which is used solely to accumulate liquid mess. Depending upon the specific model, one might need to remove the dust collecting bag when using the vacuum cleaner for cleaning liquid spills.

Related image
(Image of a Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner working on liquid mess)

Cyclone vacuum cleaners
Cyclone vacuum cleaners are a very popular choice among buyers. They work on the principle of centrifugal force to eliminate dust and debris from the sucked air.

Air along with dust and debris enters the intake hose pipe because of the low pressure created by the fan. At the other end of the intake hose, air laden with dust and debris encounters a vertical cyclonic separator which is a cylindrical device with a conical bottom. The mixture of air and dirt enters the cyclonic separator from an inlet port located on its wall and travels down the cavity of cyclonic separator at high speeds in a helical fashion. Dust and debris being heavy in comparison to air are unable to follow the helical path and rather strike the walls of the cyclonic separator, thereby losing all the momentum, which results in them falling towards the conical bottom of the cyclonic separator where a canister is attached to collect all the mess.

The air, free from dust and debris reaches towards the bottom of the cavity where it changes its direction and starts moving upwards and finally exits from an outlet port located at the top of the cyclonic separator. This relatively cleaner air is then fed into a HEPA filter which sanitizes it by removing the microscopic contaminants and allergens.

Robotic vacuum cleaners
This category of vacuum cleaners has gained lot of appreciation in the past few years, and perhaps for all the good reasons. Robotic vacuum cleaners rely on their multiple onboard sensors to help them determine the path they are following and the area of the floor they need to clean. One of the onboard sensors, the pizeo-electric sensor, generates electrical impulses when something strikes it, in this case, dust and debris. When dust strikes the pizeo-electric sensor, the sensor directs the robot to move slowly over that region such that dirt can be effectively cleaned. The robot can effectively clean the locations that conventional vacuum cleaners can not, such as, beneath the tables, under the beds, etc.

The greatest advantage of robotic vacuum cleaners comes from the fact that they do not require any sort of human intervention. Once directed to perform the cleaning operation, they autonomously get the job done. Robotic vacuum cleaners work wonders in homes where working members have a hectic work schedule and remain at workplace for most part of the day. However, they are not a substitute to conventional vacuum cleaners and should be used for minor cleaning purposes and for catering to the difficult sites that the conventional vacuum cleaners can not reach.


(Image of a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner)

Now, having examined the three types of bagless vacuum cleaners along with their working, let us proceed to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of bagless vacuum cleaners.

PROS:-

  • Cheaper maintenance. Perhaps the greatest advantage of bagless vacuum cleaners is the fact that that they do not have any disposable elements which need to be replaced periodically, unlike collection bags in the case of bagged vacuum cleaners. Mess is accumulated in the canister which can be disposed of as and when required. Though, one might need to replace the HEPA filters of bagless vacuum cleaners from time to time, in most cases, the frequency of requirement of replacement would not be more than once a year.
  • Reusable and washable canister. The canister, unlike collection bags in case of bagged vacuum cleaners can be emptied and washed as per one’s discretion. This functionality facilitates the user to dispose of the mess after every use or as per one’s liking. Whereas, in case of bagged vacuum cleaners, one does not have this liberty. Since collection bags come at a price, one would not want to throw away the bag unless full. Therefore, if one does not wish to store the mess for several days, and desires to get rid of all the litter as soon as the cleaning process is over, bagless vacuum cleaners provide that facility.

CONS:-

  • Slight exposure to Allergens. As previously discussed, one needs to periodically empty the canister to get rid of the accumulated mess. While emptying the canister, allergens as well as various pathogens in the dust particles might get suspended into the air forming a cloud of dust, which, if regularly inhaled over a period of years may lead to breathing issues. People suffering from asthma and/or other lung diseases should avoid cleaning the canisters.

So, having learnt about the three types of bagless vacuum cleaners along with their Pros and Cons, let us proceed to discuss the ways in which some manufacturers (names not taken) try to cut manufacturing costs in order to maximize their own profits and in turn deliver a sub-standard product to the customers, the components of which have a very short shelf life and may require frequent servicing.

COST CUTTING TECHNIQUES

  • Low-grade overheating electric motor. The electric motor rotates at very high RPMs to power the fan that creates low pressure inside the intake hose for suction to take place. This makes the electric motor one of the most crucial components of the vacuum cleaner and therefore accounts to almost 30 per cent of the entire cost of the product. Hence, it is one of the favourite areas of some manufacturers to cut costs and increase their profit margins. Some manufacturers resort to using a below-par electric motor that is not powerful enough to keep the fan rotating at high speeds for long periods of time. After only a few minutes of use, these electric motors tend to get extremely hot. As you might be aware that metals expand on heating, which causes the copper windings in the motor to initially distort and then finally melt, thereby leaving the vacuum cleaner unit out of operation. Cost of repairing the motor might range from a few hundred bucks to more than a thousand bucks and this process is recurring.
  • Inefficient rubber gasket and seals. To facilitate airtight operation so as to prevent dust and debris from leaking out of the canister, rubber gasket and seals are provided around it. These seals and rubber gasket do a fantastic job of withholding the mess inside the canister and prevent it from going back into the surroundings. However, high quality seals and gaskets are costly. Therefore, in order to reduce the initial cost of the vacuum cleaner so as to lure the customers, some manufacturers resort to using inferior quality rubber gasket that starts to develop cracks and incompetent seals that lose their adhesive characteristics only after a few months of use. This makes the canister lose its airtight properties. As a result, the accumulated dust and debris might escape back into the surroundings, rendering the cleaning operation less effective.

Now, having learnt how some manufacturers cut costs, let us proceed to zero down on some of the best vacuum cleaners available in the market that not only offer great cleaning capabilities, but also make use of components which offer reliable and long-lasting service and thus provide the most value for the money spent.

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