In the last section, we saw that the suction created by a vacuum cleaner's rotating fan creates a flowing stream of air moving through the intake port and out the exhaust port. This stream of air acts just like a stream of water. The moving air particles rub against any loose dust or debris as they move, and if the debris is light enough and the suction is strong enough, the friction carries the material through the inside of the vacuum cleaner. This is the same principle that causes leaves and other debris to float down a stream. Some vacuum designs also have rotating brushes at the intake port, which kick dust and dirt loose from the carpet so it can be picked up by the air stream.
As the dirt-filled air makes its way to the exhaust port, it passes through the vacuum-cleaner bag. These bags are made of porous woven material (typically cloth or paper), which acts as an air filter. The tiny holes in the bag are large enough to let air particles pass by, but too small for most dirt particles to fit through. Thus, when the air current streams into the bag, all the air moves on through the material, but the dirt and debris collect in the bag.
You can put the vacuum-cleaner bag anywhere along the path between the intake tube and the exhaust port, as long as the air current flows through it. In upright vacuum cleaners, the bag is typically the last stop on the path: Immediately after it is filtered, the air flows back to the outside. In canister vacuums, the bag may be positioned before the fan, so the air is filtered as soon as it enters the vacuum.
Using this basic idea, designers create all sorts of vacuum cleaners, with a wide range of suction capacities. In the next section, we'll look at a few of the factors that determine suction power.