How Does a Vacuum Cleaner Work?

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At any given moment, your house is completely dirty. It might not look like it, but there are particles of dust and dirt that are everywhere. They just can’t be seen because they are too small. With a vacuum cleaner in hand, many of these dust and dirt particles can be removed from the environment. We all know the basic concept of the vacuum: it sucks up dirt. How does it do that?

The basic technology of the vacuum cleaner is that it creates suction. It’s not really a vacuum by definition since there is still air involved in the process. It’s a lot like putting a breathable mask over the nose and mouth and wearing it all day. The outside of the mask collects impurities that become noticeable as they build up because of the suction that happens when there is an intake of breath. The vacuum cleaner just takes those impurities and puts them into a storage bag.

How Does a Vacuum Cleaner Generate Suction?

There is a motor in the vacuum cleaner that typically needs about 1000w of power to run. Smaller models can operate on as little as 500w. There are battery-powered models available today, but most vacuums are operated with a power cord that attaches to any standard outlet. Once the vacuum cleaner is turned on, the motor creates suction through air circulation from the base of the unit into the bag or container.

Depending on the design of the vacuum cleaner, there may be what is called a “beater bar” in the base of the unit. Backpack vacuums don’t typically have this, but the standard household upright vacuum cleaner will. This bar spins rapidly along the carpet and has brushes affixed to it. The bar “beats down” the carpet and the brushes lift up dirt into the suction mechanism of the carpet. A rubber belt that is powered by the motor helps the beater bar to spin.

There will also be a fan that is powered by the motor. This helps to funnel the dirty air into the bag or the container. Once the bag or container fills all the way up, suction is reduced because there is no longer room for the dirty air to deposit its contaminants.

What About the Filtration Vacuum Cleaners?

Some vacuum cleaners today come equipped with a series of filters that are able to “purify” the contaminants as they are deposited into the bag or container. These small screens help to filter out some of the allergens or other specific materials that may be removed from the carpet. Typical filters include pet hair or dander, dust mites, or specific materials like sand to better remove them from the environment.

Filters keep the materials from entering the environment again after they’ve been removed. If allergens were directly deposited into a bag or a container, once that bag was removed or the container was emptied, the allergens would come just go back into the air once again. Filters help to remove these items and store them until they are cleaned out. Some filters can be used again, while others need to be replaced 2x-4x per year.

Each brand of vacuum cleaner typically has a specific set of filters that can be used for their equipment only. Although generic filters exist, it is important to make sure they have been approved for use with a particular vacuum before installing them. Otherwise, damage to the vacuum, the filter, or both may occur.

What About Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaners?

One of the great marketing tools of Dyson and other vacuum cleaner manufacturers is the power of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner. Some vacuums offer “double cyclonic action” for extra power. This is just a function of how the air flows down to the carpet or floor to suck up the dirt and debris and then bring it up into the bag or container. Imagine a tornado touching down on the ground. The middle of the tornado is calm and the outward edge of the tornado is extremely windy. In-between these two actions is natural upward sucking motion that is very powerful. This is the science behind the cyclonic vacuum.

The advantage of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner is that it is very strong. More suction power, combined with beater bars, will help to make a carpet extremely clean. Add in HEPA filters and the environment can be quite clean. The disadvantage of this technology is that it tends to come at a premium price. Double cyclonic vacuums can easily run in the $300-$500 price range.

Is the Technology For Wet/Dry Vacuums the Same?

Some vacuum cleaners are approved to remove fluids from an environment in addition to dirt and debris. The average household upright vacuum cleaner is not, but it can also suck up water if you really wanted to let it do it. What wet/dry vacuums do is help to waterproof the appliance so that water and electricity don’t mix together. This is then combined with a holding tank that is watertight so that the fluids can be disposed of properly later on.

Can you imagine the mess of putting water into a paper vacuum bag?

The one difference is that the humid air, which is vacuumed up with a wet/dry vacuum, must be rapidly spun to make sure all moisture has been removed from it. Once the fluids have been sucked up, the moist air will circulate through the holding tank. This creates clean air that is free of impurities as it passes through a filter and it is expelled back into the environment at that point in time.

The basic concept of the vacuum cleaner is that it creates suction and this helps to remove dirt. Brushes, bars, and sweepers help to bring up extra dirt and it also creates nice patterns in the carpet. To decide which vacuum cleaner is right for you, it is important to evaluate strength first, then size, so the science behind the vacuum can help to create a clean home that your lungs will enjoy every day.