Inside CR Test Labs: Vacuum regularly to avoid allergies

Consumer Reports News: July 19, 2007 08:08 AM

On sweltering days like those that affected huge swaths of the country last week, warnings about ozone levels and harmful particles in the air abound, highlighting concerns about outdoor-air quality.

But if you suffer from allergies, being indoors might not provide any relief, especially when you vacuum. Allergen-related health concerns have spawned an increasing number of claims from vacuum manufacturers, like the ability to filter “99.99% of particles down to .3 microns,” as the Oreck Web site boasts about the XL Titanium Series cleaner.

For our October 2007 report on vacuum cleaners, the project team decided to check some of the latest allergen-trapping claims from manufacturers. Our testers generally count smaller particles from 0.1 to 5 microns as part of their standard vacuum-emissions testing, according to project leader Deborah Wallace. The smaller particles typically get dispersed into the air and are inhaled. For this test, however, they wanted to count larger particles, in the 10- to 25-micron range, which come from pollen, animal dander, and assorted insect parts and feces from dust mites and other tiny critters. To test this size particles, they used an even more sensitive machine, the LASAIR II model 310A.

(All that counting brought me back to when my kids would watch Sesame Street’s The Count. This cheerful vampire delighted not in biting necks but rather in counting everything he happened upon, as he crooned in “The Song of the Count”:

“You know that I am called the Count
Because I really love to count
I could sit and count all day
Sometimes I get carried away . . . ")

Testers enlisted the Dirt Devil Ultra Vision Turbo, Dyson DC14 Complete, and Electrolux Intensity, all of which make allergen-capture claims. They performed the same tests with the Kenmore Progressive With Direct Drive 35922, the top-rated upright from our last report, once with a HEPA dust bag and once with a standard dust bag. (The HEPA bag has allergen-capture claims while the regular bag does not.)

The testers found that while any vacuuming task produces an initial jump in airborne allergens, relatively large and heavy 10- to 25-micron particles immediately fall back to the floor. The Dirt Devil, Dyson, and Electrolux did trap allergens, but that is not surprising since the particles are large. More important is how well the vacuum captured smaller particles; you’ll find those emissions-test results in the October 2007 issue, on sale in September.

The bottom line? Don’t rush out to buy a vacuum that touts extraordinary allergen-trapping powers. Just vacuum regularly as part of an overall allergen-elimination plan.Ed Perratore

Essential information: For expert advice on choosing a vacuum, see our buying advice and video buyer’s guide. Then refer to our Ratings for upright and canister vacuums (available to subscribers) before you shop. For more on indoor-air quality, use this guide from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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