5 Innovative Vacuum Cleaner Features

These sure aren't your mother's vacuum cleaners!
These sure aren't your mother's vacuum cleaners!
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Vacuum cleaner technology has seen some important advancements in the last few years. If you're still yanking an ancient canister vacuum around, consider an upgrade. With vacuums, suction is the name of the game, but you might want a little fun (and fresh, clean air) with your 10-minute parade around the living room. Nowadays, vacuums can do more than just annihilate dust bunnies and coax cat hair out of shag carpet. Let's explore five innovative and useful features you should consider when you buy your next vacuum cleaner.

5
Retractable Power Cord

Yes, this is a small innovation, but an important one. If you've ever gotten exasperated when corralling a long vacuum cleaner cord, looping it around those hooked posts, straightening it when it gets kinked or rescuing it from under the beater brush, a cord that will retract into the vacuum with the slightest tug is almost as nice as having a dog that actually stops barking on command. Don't expect this feature on all vacuums, though. It's more common on canister vacuums than on uprights. Oh, and if you want the most versatile retractable, look for models with 30-foot cords instead of the puny 20-foot lengths. That way you'll be able to get all the way down the hall and into the small bedroom without having to switch outlets.

4
No Bags Needed

Bagless technology has been around a while in light duty stick vacuums, but newer style bagless models have amped up the power with high suction for big jobs like the living room carpet or the man cave.

We'll admit that the idea of bagless vacuuming is appealing. With no bags to buy, these models should be less expensive to operate, right? Well, that notion is a bit deceptive. In a standard vacuum (varieties that don't have special filtration systems), the bag is the filter media. Dirt-laden air passes through the bag back into the room, leaving its load of dust and grit behind. In a bagless vacuum, there is no bag -- but there is an onboard filter that has to be replaced periodically. The replacement schedule will vary from model to model, but it's less frequent than the typical full-bag change out.

With a bagless vacuum, it's easy to see the dust and dirt you've collected, but easy access has its drawbacks. When the time comes to dump the dirt receptacle, it can be tough to pitch the contents without unleashing a cloud of debris that would make Pig-Pin blush. If you love the idea of going bagless, though, it's a good bet you can develop a dumping technique that loses the toxic cloud. It's probably all in the wrist.

3
Robotics
Leave the dirty work to the robots!
Leave the dirty work to the robots!
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You've seen them in ads, those computerized light-duty vacuums that use complicated algorithms to scoot under and around obstacles like chair legs, reclining pets and toddlers. They're actually pretty nifty. They'll do their cha-cha-cha whether you're in the room or not -- or even at home. Some models operate on timers and dock themselves to recharge. If you seldom get under your couch to clean, one nice feature of a robotic vacuum is that it can roll under a large furniture piece with ease (if it has the height clearance to do so).

Robotic vacuums are also diligent. They don't stop for phone calls. They don't take coffee breaks. And even if it takes an hour or more for one to clean a medium sized room, it's not like you're paying overtime.

It isn't all space age technology and less work for the beleaguered human, though. According to Consumer Reports, robotic vacuum cleaners typically fare poorly when it comes to getting into corners or along baseboards. They're also an expensive option for light duty vacuuming. If you don't mind doing a little rearranging to make it harder for your robot helper to get hung up on electrical cords, area rugs and floor vents, robotic vacuums can get into spots you'd otherwise skip. They can also give well-trafficked areas a daily treatment and remove surface dirt before it has a chance to sink deep into carpet fibers.

2
HEPA Filtration

We mentioned that standard vacuum cleaners use the bag as a filter medium. If you've ever noticed dust on your vacuum cleaner after using it, you've seen proof positive that this arrangement releases dust (mites and mold) back into the air after liberating them from the carpet. If someone in your household has allergies or asthma, vacuuming with a conventional vacuum cleaner has the potential to cause health problems. Enter onboard vacuum cleaner filtration. Although HEPA filtration is probably the best known filtering method for vacuums, it isn't the only method. Some vacuums use water as a filtering medium, for instance. Others use the principle of electrostatic precipitation. There are even new technologies that make use of UV light to kill microbes and control odor.

Let's take a closer look at HEPA filtration: HEPA is an acronym that stands for high-efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter is designed to trap a minimum of 99.97 percent of particulates 0.3 microns or larger. That's the optimum or "A" standard, but HEPA filtration in vacuum cleaners may or may not filter that efficiently. Some vacuum filters claim they use HEPA filtration or comparable, but may just have filters that look similar. In some vacuum cleaner models, small amounts of particulate laden air can bypass the onboard filter completely. If you consider air filtration a critical feature in a vacuum cleaner, check out a number of independent testing lab reviews before you buy. A good filter isn't something you can detect from a quick demo on the showroom floor, so defer to the experts.

1
Cyclonic Technology

The new guy on the block in vacuum cleaners loses the vacuum bag in favor of a whirlwind that deposits dirt directly into a holding tray. It's called cyclonic action, and Dyson claims to have invented this revolutionary approach to floor cleaning 30 years ago. There are a number of models using this technology, some better than others. If you're in the market for one, Consumer Reports has reviewed a number of them, giving each one a rating out of 100. All have pros and cons, so do your research before you buy one.

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