To learn more about HEPA vacuum cleaners, click here. On this page, let’s have a couple of stories which hopefully will convince you to use nothing but a true-HEPA vacuum cleaner in your home…for mold remediation and for everyday cleaning.
Story: “There has to be mold in this house.”
Kathleen called to say that she was on the highest level of her asthma medication. Even though her house was only two years old, there had to be mold there. So off I went, with all my cases and microscope, to do a full mold inspection, but no mold was found.
Here’s what turned out to be the problem: Their cleaning company was using a vacuum cleaner that was not HEPA quality. The cleaners used the same vacuum cleaner in Kathleen’s house that they used in a house with dogs. Because the vacuum cleaner was spewing dust and other allergens back into room air, Kathleen’s house was getting a dose of dog dander throughout. Kathleen was highly allergic to dogs, and this exposure through the cleaning company was enough to have her on the highest level of her asthma medication.
I suggested that Kathleen get her own quality HEPA vacuum cleaner and insist that the cleaning company use only that vacuum at her home. Kathleen later called to say that within two weeks, she was off all asthma medication.
- Lesson: in my experience, more cleaning companies than not use inferior vacuum cleaners. They believe the wording printed on the vacuum cleaner, i.e., that it is hypoallergenic, or some such thing. They do not know what a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner is. If you have a cleaning company, confirm that they are using a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner, or provide them with your own.
Story: “Every time I vacuum, my asthma kicks up.”
This statement was not from a client of mine. I happen to be doing a mold inspection at someone’s house when their cleaning people were there. Since I had the opportunity, I checked the cleaning company’s vacuum cleaner with a laser particle counter. That means, I held this device up to the exhaust air at the vacuum cleaner, and the device counted the particles in a cubic foot of exhaust air. With a true HEPA vacuum cleaner, the counts are typically close to zero. At this vacuum cleaner, the levels were over 90,000. This cleaning company was spreading dust around and leaving the air dirtier than it was before they cleaned. When I turned the vacuum cleaner side-wards to look at the flow of air coming out the vent, a stream of dust was actually visible. This was one of the worst vacuum cleaners I ever saw, and the chassis was marked “hypoallergenic.”
Who made the statement about her asthma kicking up? … the poor cleaning woman who was assigned the task of vacuuming with this dastardly vacuum cleaner.
- Lesson: don’t assume that a cleaning company’s vacuum is an efficient vacuum cleaner. Follow-up, and make sure. There are two issues with vacuum cleaners, one is with having a quality HEPA filter, and the second is with having a sealed chassis. It is easier to have a sealed chassis with a canister vacuum than with an upright.
Story: The eye surgeon told me how his allergies were worse at the office.
I asked Dr. K. to bring out the vacuum cleaner used for cleaning his office. When I demonstrated with my laser particle counter what the levels of dust were coming out in exhaust air, he couldn’t believe it. He just shook his head and asked me some questions about vacuum cleaner filtration.
- Lesson: Inefficient and leaky vacuum cleaners are used all over the place, in schools, from cleaning companies, at offices. If there is carpeting (one of the worst investments from a health perspective), there could be years of accumulated tiny particulates in the carpeting. Conventional vacuuming just stirs up and releases more tiny particulates back into room air.
Story: A woman called with the complaint that she couldn’t stop coughing in her home and that there must be mold.
I checked the home and there was some mold in the crawlspace, but I didn’t think this was accounting for her symptoms. I asked her to bring out her vacuum cleaner. The laser particle counter confirmed that it was bad. After she upgraded to a Nilfisk Family VAC (discontinued, unfortunately), she called me to say that her coughing was 90% better just from changing vacuum cleaners.
- Lesson: Why wouldn’t all manufacturers make only HEPA vacuum cleaners? Why indeed. I guess this is the free market at work, with lack of regulation relating to filters. Shark, for example, offers HEPA models and even has at least one model with the chassis stamped, “sealed container.” Yet their new space-age design vacuum cleaner, nothing like I ever saw before, is far from a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Most companies seem to offer both HEPA models and non-HEPA models. If you know what the best is from a health standpoint, why would you ever design and produce lesser models? I can’t relate to that at all, and you probably can’t either. This is just irresponsibility and ignorance – and marketing. As far as I can tell, Consumers Reports doesn’t check exhaust air with a laser particle counter, so don’t look to their reports for a healthy vacuum cleaner.
Comment: The one company that I could count on to offer only HEPA models has now disappointed. Nilfisk discontinued the more affordable residential model, the Family Vac. Their GM 80 is a fine unit, a bit pricier than the family VAC, but still available.
However, their reps seem to be suggesting less costly canister models, such as the UZ 934 and similar models. These models have sealed chasses and true HEPA filtration. The problem lies with the placement of the motor in relation to the filter. With the Family Vac, the motor was before the filter, so when I measured with a laser particle counter, I got readings close to zero. With the UC 934 type models, the motor is after the filter, and when I measure exhaust air with the laser particle counter, my readings are up in the tens of thousands. Granted, these units are used successfully in mold remediation projects, but for a homeowner, I hesitate to recommend a unit where laser particle counter numbers are so high. I’ve been gravitating instead to Miele, but you have to be careful because Miele, too, offers non-HEPA models. I’ve seen some Miele vacuums where the filters could have been upgraded to HEPA filters.
Dyson is a pretty much a HEPA unit (sometimes with a little air leakage where the hose meets the chassis) but it is bagless, which is not recommended, because you are exposed to dust when emptying the collection cup. If you have a Dyson, empty the cup outdoors, standing upwind and wearing a P100 or N95 mask.