Vacuum cleaner

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WW1 hoover 0212-8.jpg

Cleaner Format

Cylinder & Canister

  • 'Cylinder' shaped machines lie horizontally on the round side of the cylinder.
  • 'Canister' type machines have a drum-shaped body sitting on its flat end on the floor (on wheels).
  • Cylinder & canister vacs are slower & less effective on carpets than upright vacs.
  • Rotating brushes are occasionally attached to the cleaning head. Air powered ones are lousy performers.


  • For carpets only
  • Much better carpet cleaning than cylinder vacs.
  • Not suitable for tiles, lino etc, grit stuck in the brushes can scratch the flooring.
  • Some old 1970s vacs also have beater bars, which cause significant Carpet wear

Combination Uprights

Many uprights nowadays also have hoses for cleaning surfaces other than floors. Thus they can do the job of both upright and cylinder types.

Dust Extractors

Dust Extraction blowers for machine shops are intended for debris removal from power tools, and to a lesser extent ambient air filtering.

  • Many have a 2 bag arrangement where the top bag filters, and the debris then drops into the bottom collection bag
  • Wide bore hose enables longer hose runs
  • Some also have power take off
  • These move large volumes of air at low pressure
  • They don't make good house cleaning vacs, and cleaning vacs don't make good sawdust extractors
  • Dust extraction safety issues

Leaf blower

Leaf blowers / garden vacs clean up leaves etc. They use a higher flow with lower pressure than domestic vacs, and don't filter out fine debris.

Hover vacs

Hovering vacs like the old Hoover Constellation used the air output stream to float the machine on. This made manoeuvring very easy, but reduced suction, kicked up dust, and they tended to wander annoyingly. Obsolete now.

Robot Vacs

These clean the floor unattended. Just switch them on and leave them to it. There are 4 main types.


The Roomba is primarily a robotic carpet sweeper with an added very low power vacuum. This compromise is necessary for engineering reasons, but seems to work quite well. It cleans both carpets and hard floors. It is an effective cleaner, but not as thorough on carpets as a conventional upright cleaner, so occasional conventional cleaning is still needed.

  • Very small dust container
  • Not durable enough to last long term when used daily.
  • There are different models of Roomba with varying features.
  • The optional IR beam barrier is needed to stop it diving off steps


The Trilobite is a full size robotic cleaner costing 4 figures. It is used for commercial & industrial premises.


This is a very low cost hard floor sweeper. It uses impregnated cloths for sweeping, which need replacing or cleaning and re-oiling.

The motion is purely random, so a perfect clean is unlikely, but it is able to remove the majority of loose dirt. Its unable to remove stuck dirt as it doesn't wet wash the floor. Its useful to extend times between hand cleans. Its not suitable for carpets.


Various roomba competitors have emerged at prices well below the Roomba, but user feedback so far does not indicate their performance to be adequate.

Floor Sweeper

Floor sweepers are small & light, but not as thorough as a vacuum.

Central Vac

These consist of a fitted vacuum unit plus plumbing that feeds the suction to all rooms in the house. The user only need carry a hose & tools, which are plugged in at convenient vacuum sockets.

Motor placement can be chosen to minimise noise. Because motor weight is much less important, larger quieter motors may be used, a larger collection bag can be used, and if wanted the output can be directed to a compost bin. Central vacs can dump the dirty air outside, eliminating the airborne fine dust that portable vacs produce.

Popular in the US, they never caught on here.

Hand held vacs

Performance and longevity vary widely between different types, and machines with poor performance or longevity are common. Machines that incorporate a rotating brush can give much better carpet cleaning than the usual fixed brush.

Car Vacs

There simply isn't enough power available from a standard 12v cigarette lighter socket for decent performance. Cyclones are the best option with these, as there's no filter performance penalty.

Rechargeable hand held Vacs

All are very low power and limited to clearing up small crumb spills and other small jobs. Some consider them handy for this.

Historic Types

There are some odd historic vacs from the early years. Many machines were unavoidably non-electric, which as you can imagine is a real design challenge.

One of the wackier ones used a tin cylinder in 2 halves built into the handle. The handle was pumped up & down vigorously to create the suction. Its hard to imagine how anyone did this while manoeuvring it around the floor with the same hand.

One of the more sucessful designs used a geared flywheel friction mechanism. Such machines are capable of usable performance if the user is feeling athletic. The picture at the top of the page is one of these.

Electric vacs built into coffee tables to disguise their functional nature were once popular. Dragging a coffee table round the house seems to have fallen out of favour today.


Wet & dry

Useful for clearing up water spills, especially from carpet where suction can remove more water than mopping could. Also useful for removing small amounts of water from pipework e.g. when swapping over a valve live on low-pressure systems.


Blowing ability is useful for:

  • blowing debris away where suction doesn't work (though obviously messier)
  • blowing water out of pipework
  • pressurising pipework to detect leaks
  • inflating garden toys such as large paddling pools.
  • clearing leaves outdoors, but theyre not great at it

Power take-off

Mains power socket outlet on the machine for running power tools so that the vacuum switches on when the tool is operated, and switches off (sometimes after a few seconds run-on delay) when the tool is switched off. Very handy with power tools.

Cable retract

A self retracting mains lead is easier than winding flex onto pegs. It makes the machine easier to carry, no hands are needed for the cable and its neater. Cable retractors cause some failures though, and add weight.

Onboard Tool Storage

Onboard storage for the machine's hose, rigid tubes, floor tools, nozzles etc avoids trips to collect tools left somewhere else, and reduces loss of tools.

Light Weight

Light weight is useful for extended working times, or where the machine needs to be carried up & down stairs. They are also good for people with mobility problems. Oreck is famous for its lightweight vacs, and there are now low cost lightweights available.


On the face of it more power means more suction means better cleaning. However other factors can make a big difference, such as motor efficiency, filter type, and for uprights the design of the cleaning head. More power also means more weight.

Some users may want a low power machine. Oreck make full size uprights consuming less than 300w.

Filter Types

Cloth Bag

  • No bag replacements, no ongoing cost, no searching for the bags
  • Less likely to clog than paper.
  • The bag must be emptied, which can be messy.
  • Performance is middling.
  • Old cloth filters generally need a thorough clean to restore full suction power.
  • You can tell how much loss of suction force the bag causes by squeezing it when its on. The amount of force you need to apply is the amount of force the bag subtracts from the airstream.

Paper bag

  • Disposable bags make emptying almost completely mess free, unlike any other type.
  • A new paper bag each time means ongoing expense. Sometimes this adds up over the years to more than the cost of the machine.
  • Paper filters clog very rapidly on building dust.
  • If paper bags are reused, performance deteriorates significantly.
  • Likelihood of running out of bags at some point


Cyclones are good for building dust, they don't clog. However the machines usually have 1 or more other filters for the finest dust, and some cyclone machines can still clog on building dust.

Some cyclones have additional filters that must be replaced from time to time. Some use a washable foam rubber sponge filter.

Cyclones don't lose the back pressure produced by paper & cloth bags, which only worsens as the bag's pores clog.

Dysons haven't gained a good reputation for reliability or price.

DIY Cyclone

DIY cyclone filters are fairly easy to make, and can be added to an existing hoover or air filtration system.


There are also uncommon vacs that use a tub of Water to trap the dust. We haven't tried these. Presumably the Water needs emptying after each use.

External Links

See Also