Are you finding yourself struggling with allergies in your own home? This can be due to dust, pet hair, and other particulates that are brought in from the outdoors. If you find that your vacuum cleaner has been slacking a bit when it comes to these allergens, you may want to consider a HEPA vacuum cleaner.
HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air” and is a term used to describe filters that are able to tackle at least 99.97% of particles measuring 03 microns. A HEPA designation isn’t currently a given in the vacuum cleaner world, but it is truly a worthwhile feature. They provide a much deeper clean than a traditional vacuum and are a game-changer for those with environmental allergies.
Though still not the standard, HEPA filters are becoming more prominent. This article will outline just how these filters work and let you know about some of our favorite products with this feature.
What is a HEPA filter, and how does it work?
While vacuums can put a dent in the cleaning process, you need a little more filtration to truly deep clean. That is where a HEPA filter comes in.
Earlier, we mentioned that HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air.” For all intents and purposes, this is correct. However, it is also said to stand for “high-energy particulate arresting,” which can give a better mental picture of how these filters work.
HEPA filters trap debris and allergens that traditional vacuums just can’t. They do so by utilizing fine mesh screens. Air moves through the screens to trap any pollutants 0.3 microns or larger. Because true HEPA filters are meant to collect at least 99% of air contaminants, they are commonly used in medical and industrial spaces – that’s a deep clean!
These filters are gaining popularity now, but the technology behind them isn’t so new. Their origins can be traced back to gas masks developed during World War II and those used by the US Army for nuclear testing. So, this technology began with a lot riding on it. Tack on a few more decades of development, and you have yourself a very powerful filter.
Of course, those used in household vacuum cleaners are a bit different; albeit smaller, they are still very capable. They take down allergens and pollutants just like their larger commercial counterparts. What is more, they do so while cleaning your floors as well, leaving you with a more complete clean than other vacuum cleaners. These little filters are powerhouses.
Why Buy HEPA?
Wanting to own a more powerful, dual-action cleaning appliance is a good enough reason, but a HEPA filter has so many other perks. Aside from their primary purpose – to provide cleaner air – they have several benefits not commonly found in a basic vacuum cleaner.
Allergy symptoms are probably the number one reason people seek out HEPA filters. One of the primary benefits is that these filters are capable of removing particulates like pollen and pet dander from the air, which can really improve the quality of life for allergy sufferers.
Allergies can also be provoked by the vacuuming process itself. So, having a HEPA filter cleaning the air as you go can make the process a lot more pleasant. Those with asthma may experience some relief as well.
Allergens aside, HEPA filters are capable of trapping more dangerous household contaminants like asbestos. If you know that you have asbestos in your home, our recommendation is to call an expert for proper removal; however, HEPA filters are able to effectively contain the particles that make asbestos harmful to us.
Remember how we mentioned that HEPA filters can trap particles that are at least 0.3 microns? This is what allows HEPA filters to trap asbestos, as asbestos particles measure between 0.7 and 90 microns.
Secondhand smoke can cause several health problems, and if you have a smoker in your home, removing that smoke is probably at the top of your list. Luckily, this is another harmful pollutant that a HEPA filter can tackle. Better yet, HEPA filters remove smoke particles and subsequently replace polluted air with fresh, filtered air, effectively eliminating any odors as well.
To take it a step further with cigarette smoke, use an activated carbon filter. HEPA filters do a good job reducing the effects of visible smoke, but activated carbon can remove more of the smaller pollutants left behind.
Mold is another substance we recommend calling a professional to remove. Still, once again, a HEPA filter’s ability to contain it is a testament to its effectiveness. It is worth noting that because HEPA filters can trap mold, that mold can then grow and spread on the filter itself. For this reason, take care to check the filter frequently and perform appropriate maintenance if you are using your vacuum to pick up mold or are using it in spaces that may contain mold.
Additionally, ensure that your filter has been accredited and check the specifications for the safest use.
Types of HEPA Vacuums
HEPA filters aren’t yet the standard, but they are pretty standardized. They are generally the same from device to device, with the only variation being in size, use, or manufacturer. That being said, a giant HEPA filter created for industrial use is functionally the same as one created for your vacuum cleaner, just larger.
When purchasing a HEPA vacuum, the biggest variation will be in the type of vacuum. Your primary cleaning concerns will affect that decision, which will affect the use of your HEPA filter.
Traditional Upright Vacuum Cleaners
These are most likely the vacuum cleaners you think of when you hear the word “vacuum.” Because they are the traditional choice, they come with the downsides of traditional inventions. These devices are generally only capable of cleaning floors. They seldom have additional attachments that can help you clean smaller spaces. Additionally, this prevents you from cleaning vertically, which can be a problem if you have allergies.
Canister vacuums are a transitional step between traditional upright vacuums and the trendier stick vacuums. Canister vacuums tend to be priced similarly to upright vacuums. Often falling under $100 (with a few higher-end exceptions), these vacuums have the same effortless design as stick vacuums. These vacuum cleaners also tend to have versatile attachments and accessories.
The primary cons of this type of vacuum are storage, assembly/disassembly for use, and cleaning of the machine itself.
Stick vacuums are generally regarded as the easiest to use. This is due to their lightweight design and versatility in what they can clean. Due to their minimal design, they can usually reach under surfaces and in spaces other vacuums cannot. They often have detachable handheld components. Many models are rechargeable and, therefore, cordless, which can eliminate some hassle. The main drawback here is that they are generally less powerful than other vacuums.
Due to the compact nature of handheld vacuums, they have less suction power and are not really meant for deep cleaning. These devices are better suited for light tidying and touch-ups or reaching spaces your larger vacuum cleaner cannot. Handheld vacuums are great for cleaning the actual furniture in your rooms, but they cannot be relied upon for your entire home.
Robot vacuums were invented with convenience in mind. Their primary function is to do the whole job for you, without you. These particular devices are the only ones that can operate when you aren’t even home, making them ideal for those with busy schedules. That said, they can only clean level, flat surfaces.
When choosing a vacuum, it’s best to pay attention to your specific needs. Find a vacuum type that fits your budget, is comfortable to operate, and is easily stored. It is also important to determine if you truly need one at all. If your needs don’t seem to warrant a whole new device, feel empowered to skip the purchase – no need to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to vacuum cleaners.
Choosing the Right HEPA Vacuum for You
Once you have considered your own personal needs and determined the type of vacuum for you, assess each product individually. It is important to make sure your vacuum has specifications you’re comfortable with.
To Bag or Not to Bag?
This question is a tough one for sure, as there isn’t really a correct answer. You have to choose for yourself. Vacuums that use bags have been around forever and have gone down in price dramatically. These are definitely the more affordable option. Of course, the bag adds hassle – they need to be purchased and replaced consistently. Bagless vacuums are more convenient because they skip these processes, usually just needing to be dumped out. If a HEPA filter is something that is important to you, a bagless vacuum is the way to go – these reduce the amount of dust and debris your body comes in contact with.
Emptying vacuum bags can be sort of treacherous, with dust and debris being thrown back in the air during the process. If you don’t want to breathe these particles in but must have a bagged vacuum, make sure to seal your bags tightly. Try to avoid going too long between changes as well.
Bagless vacuums do a pretty good job of keeping the emptying process tidy. The dust bin tends to be farther removed from the person emptying it, often relying on a release button to remove its contents. The process becomes a lot more manageable.
Can the filter be washed?
Just like the Bag v. Bagless dilemma, this is a difficult question to answer. You will know your filter is washable by reading the manufacturer’s specifications (or the instruction manual that comes with your device). Typically, it is best practice to regularly wash your washable filter. They are meant to last for the entire lifespan of your vacuum, and proper maintenance can ensure that they do. Due to their longevity, they can cost a bit more upfront, but you end up saving in terms of replacement filters and time spent on maintenance.
On the other hand, disposable filters don’t really need to be washed as they are only meant to last a few years. Some are only meant to last a few months – you can definitely skip washing those.
Is It a True HEPA Filter?
Because HEPA filters are growing in popularity, so too are knock-offs. It is important to beware of items listed as having “HEPA-type” filters, as these are not what you want to purchase. These filters can function very similarly to true HEPA filters, but they just aren’t as efficient. So why waste your money? The only benefit of these “almost-HEPA-filters” is the cheaper cost to the manufacturer.
True HEPA filters are much more efficient. In fact, they have to meet efficiency standards set by the US Department of Energy. If you are not particularly sensitive to allergens or other debris in the air, this may not matter for you in the long run; however, they are incredible at fighting allergies for those who need them.
How is a HEPA device designed?
In addition to its authenticity, the placement of a HEPA filter within a vacuum can affect its efficiency. Reduced efficiency can result from placement in spaces that obstruct the filter’s airflow – having large mechanisms blocking airflow can leave your HEPA filter useless within the larger device. Even worse, if the filter is placed somewhere in the midst of other vacuum parts, dirt can get back into the air that has just been filtered. The filter should be the last portion of the vacuum that air passes through.
How is the filter rated?
Filters are rated in terms of their Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV), which is a rating scale from 1 to 20. As you can probably tell, this measures how effectively the filter cleans the surrounding air, with higher scores denoting higher efficiency. This figure should also be found in the instruction manual included with your device. However, you may be able to find it on the manufacturer’s website.
Best HEPA Vacuums of 2021
Overall, HEPA filters are pretty straightforward, just with a few specifications for best use. Once you have an understanding of how these handy little devices work, they’re a no-brainer.
And to make shopping for a HEPA vacuum a no-brainer as well, we’ve lined up some of our favorites for this year. A lot of dust, sweat, and tears went into this research – as well as thoughts from real customers. The list is as follows:
Miele Complete C3 Marin Canister
This vacuum is incredibly versatile with Miele’s patented Powerhead and Parquet floor brush (with a range of motion of 90 degrees on either side). It can tackle multiple flooring types with ease. Additionally, this model comes with several helpful features: automatic cord wind-up, telescoping wand, four pre-filters, and a genuine HEPA filter. Sixteen filter bags are provided at purchase.
This device is powerful, with a 1200-watt motor, and that power is built to last. Thanks to its specialized plastic and stainless-steel design, this Miele model is meant to help you clean for up to 20 years.
If you have allergies or asthma, this model’s sealed Airclean system is wonderful.
Why We Love It
We appreciate that Miele didn’t cut any corners and included real, quality HEPA filters in its products. This isn’t necessarily a give when purchasing a HEPA vacuum, so we value them going the extra mile.
Excellent for Carpets
If you are an allergy sufferer or live with one, you probably know how carpets can exacerbate any sensitivities. Luckily, this model excels on all carpet types. Pet hair is not a problem either.
Parquet Floor Brush
This addition is kind of like a bonus since the rest of the device is so good at what it does. The floor brush is designed to clean all of the hard-to-reach spots in your home and accounts for a lot of this machine’s versatility.
Things to be mindful of:
Handling Can Be a Bit Tricky
Some customers have expressed difficulty using Miele’s attachments. They say that the attachments sometimes don’t connect very easily or come loose while the device is in use, making vacuuming more of a hassle. Others have mentioned that the attachments can be a bit awkward to use regardless of them staying on properly. Ultimately, however, most customers believe the vacuum’s efficiency is worth it.
In addition to detaching when they aren’t supposed to, the accessories are reported to be of lower quality than the main device. They’ve been described as seeming flimsy, and the durability of these attachments has come into question.
Shark APEX DuoClean Upright Vacuum AZ1002
Shark truly brought their A-game with this model. The APEX DuoClean vacuum comes with Powered Lift-Away technology to make this device more maneuverable, as well as the classic, patented DuoClean technology that Shark is known for.
More on maneuverability: the canister is detachable to allow for further reach. An LED light is also included for better visibility in those hard-to-reach spaces. Additionally, this device comes equipped with the Zero-M brush roll, which is great for pet hair and is even self-cleaning.
Last but certainly not least, the Shark uses Advanced Anti-Allergen Complete Seal technology in combination with a HEPA filter to achieve the best possible air quality.
Why We Love It
Vacuum brush rolls can be a pain to clean, so what could be better than one that cleans itself? Other parts of the vacuum will require a bit more maintenance. Still, it is nice to eliminate this task – especially if you happen to be allergic to pet hair. In addition to eliminating the hassle and possible allergy attacks, the self-cleaning brush roll prevents harmful clogging of the device and cuts down on maintenance time.
What keeps Shark on top is its competitive prices and accessibility? If a good price is your priority, this model may be the one for you.
The Shark does it all: hardwood, carpet, upholstery, you name it. Carpets are deep cleaned, hardwood floors are shined, and your house is cleaner than it’s ever been before.
Things to be mindful of:
Can Be Complicated
A few customers have found it a bit confusing to get started with this vacuum, as some design features can seem illogical. Once you’ve learned your way around, however, it should be a breeze.
It May Be Finicky
There have been reports of the vacuum randomly shutting off in the middle of use. This seems to be a random glitch and not necessarily anything harmful. It’s worth noting that most customers who reported this still found the vacuum cleaner as a whole to be satisfactory.
Shark Navigator NV352 Upright Vacuum
The hallmark of the Shark Navigator is its maneuverability. This model utilizes swivel steering and lightweight design to glide across your floors. What is more, its lift-away technology is perfect for all types of flooring, and its 25-foot cord allows for longer stretches of use.
As with the Shark DuoClean, the Navigator uses Anti-Allergen Complete Seal Technology, as well as a HEPA filter, to eliminate dander, pollen, and other airborne contaminants. And while the main portion of the vacuum can tackle pet hair, the included Wide Pet Upholstery Tool can do even better.
Why We Love It
Perfect for Pet Homes
Pet owners typically have to be pretty picky when it comes to vacuum cleaners, but this one provides everything a pet owner could need in a device. The pet hair-specific upholstery attachment is a game-changer, as you can tackle floors and furniture quickly and easily.
Lightweight and equipped with swivel steering technology, this vacuum cleaner is super easy to move about your home. It glides across floors, effortlessly and precisely removing any and all debris.
25 feet of cording allows for longer stretches of cleaning between switching outlets. Depending on room size, you may not need to switch at all. We previously mentioned the lightweight design, but it is worth noting again: if you do end up needing to move this vacuum from room to room or upstairs, it is no problem at all.
Things to be mindful of:
Though we love the design of this vacuum, it tends to be a bit top-heavy. Customers have commented that it can easily tip over when left standing. It may be a good idea to watch out for pets and small children around this model.
The mechanisms and controls have been described as counterintuitive, with the cord also being oddly placed. A few customers have expressed concern that the cord would get in the way during cleaning.
Consider This Before Buying A HEPA Vacuum
HEPA technology is incredibly useful and can be a game-changer for your household cleaning. However, with great technology comes great responsibility. There are a few important drawbacks to be aware of.
First and foremost, HEPA filters are an added cost to your vacuum, and a pricey one at that. They are not provided in vacuum cleaners today, so you will be up-charged for vacuum cleaners that do include one. That said, depending on your wants, they could be worth the cost. Regardless, they do add value to your vacuum cleaner.
It is important to note, once again, that HEPA filters are supplemental. They can’t do everything. By definition, they trap 99.97% of debris (0.3 microns or larger), but debris smaller than 0.3 microns can still pass through. HEPA filters can kill bacteria, but viruses are among the debris that is capable of passing through. These filters are very helpful and do a great job filtering allergens. Unfortunately, they cannot cure allergies or asthma, so it is important to treat them as the supplements they are.
They also require regular maintenance more often than your vacuum itself does. This involves keeping the filter clean or replacing it if you are using disposable filters.
They still aren’t totally standardized among vacuum manufacturers. Manufacturers have no obligation to regulate or prove the authenticity of the filters they produce. There also isn’t one regulatory body for HEPA filters, so there are few checks and balances. Of course, do your own research on any manufacturers you are interested in purchasing from. The best practice is to test a product before purchasing.
Make The Most of Your HEPA Vacuum
Proper maintenance will keep your HEPA vacuum running efficiently and extend its lifespan. The HEPA filter will most likely require more maintenance than the vacuum itself. By maintenance, we mean:
Monitor the filter for damage, stains, or odors. Periodically checking in on the filter will allow you to get ahead of problems before they get too severe. Wash or replace as needed.
Keep tabs on pre-filters if your vacuum includes them. These should be inspected once every three months, as they can affect the efficiency of the HEPA filter if they become clogged.
For best results, tidy up before vacuuming. Dusting surfaces and generally loosening dirt around your home will allow the HEPA filter to trap more of it when the vacuum is in use.
Avoid moisture. Washable filters can get wet but should be dried completely before being used again. Moisture can promote mold growth within the vacuum and can damage the motor. It is recommended to let the filter dry for about 24 hours before the next use.
That being said, do clean your filters. Don’t neglect your other filters, either. Some vacuums come with activated charcoal filters that require washing as well.
It’s not a great idea to wash disposable filters. They shouldn’t get too wet, but they can still be cleaned. If needed, just wipe them off with a damp cloth, then let them dry as you would for a washable filter.
A HEPA filter is a great addition to your vacuum cleaner and can really enhance the results you get when you clean. They are well worth the price and maintenance if you have pets in your home or allergies, as they put a huge dent in airborne particles in addition to cleaning your floors.
The favorites we listed are some of the best on the market, but we’d love to hear what you think. Let us know if you’ve had any experience with these models or if you have a different favorite.