Design and other factors in choosing the right vacuum

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 howling 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.”

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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.”

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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.