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Do Not Judge a Vacuum by its Suction Power

A good vacuum cleaner does not need a massive amount of suction power in order to work well. Think of the cordless rechargeable hand held vacuum that you love so much. As long as you’re using it on a hard surface, it picks up everything you need it to because you do not need a lot of suction to pick up debris off a hard surface. In fact you do not need a lot of suction to pick up small loose debris off a soft surface either.

There are characteristics that make carpet surfaces different than hard surfaces when vacuuming. Soft surfaces such as carpet pile is made up of a lot of twists of threads for each pile thread, and those pile threads have an irregular notched surface. Dirt also has irregular surfaces, generally smoother than the thread surface, but still irregular. As a result the two are ideally matched to hold on to each other.

Agitating the carpet surface with a moderate shake or a mild brushing, small debris and pieces of dirty can be loosened from the carpet pile and then if there is some air flow for the dirt to freely fall into and go with the flow; it will. If you simply try to suck the dirt straight up without agitating the carpet, it is more likely you’ll just end up wedging the dirt more tightly into the pile.

Many years back, my older brothers and my father would (under mother’s close supervision) remove our large living and family room area rugs, hang them over the clothes line in the back yard and my dad would beat the dickens out the carpet, raise great clouds of dust and the breeze, sometimes wind would take the dust away. He would continue this process until the beating raised virtually no dust. Only then, would the carpets be placed back on the floor.

Shortly thereafter, mother purchased a Hoover canister style vacuum. It was the color of milky cocoa and slid on skids. My mother was proud of that appliance. She used it daily. After she purchased the vacuum, the next time dad and my brothers removed the area rugs to the clothes line for their semi annual beating, there was almost no dust. Thus ended the semi annual rug beating ritual in our house.

Now this is relevant to our discussion of the fact that suction is not as crucial as some vacuum advertisers would have you believe; as long as you understand that the area rugs in the discussion here were very light weight. They had virtually no nap/pile. They were only slightly heavier than upholstery fabric sewn/glued to a backing, and my mother vacuumed them daily.

That’s important because there wasn’t much more than surface to these carpets/rugs, and what debris did land on them was vacuumed daily so the dirt did not have the opportunity to be driven deep into the pile/nap. Consequently, a suction only vacuum, used daily was quite sufficient to keep these carpets/rugs clean. Nowadays, in most homes where there are still two parents it is likely that both work outside of the home and the vacuuming cannot be done daily and surely in single parent households, daily vacuuming is near impossible. Also, carpets/rugs come in a wider variety of materials and surfaces than they used to.

It is easy to believe that great suction power is necessary because there is less vacuuming going on and it is equally likely that the pile/nap of the modern carpets is heavier/denser/plusher and therefore perhaps more efficient at holding on to the debris that falls or is driven upon/into it. Not so! The beating example is still useful. You will clean the carpet more effectively beating it and letting the breeze take the dust away than by simply sucking the dirt up.

How effectively you clean the carpets will be determined by how dusty/dirty they were in the first place and that is largely determined by the density of the pile/nap, how often they were or were not vacuumed, how much traffic the home has, and the nature of the traffic.

If the carpet/rugs are not vacuumed to clean or near clean, their useful life (or at least attractive useful life) is shortened. Dirt (or even shampoo residue) has sharp edges. When the dirt is sucked up into the pile and then driven back down again or when it’s just sitting in the pile, it’s abrading and cutting the threads of the carpet pile. The weekly vacuuming then sucks up almost as much of the cut pile threads as it does dirt. Over time this shows up as flattened areas of the carpet that clearly identifies traffic lanes. In some older homes, I am sure you are familiar with hallway carpet runners worn through to the backing. That is an extreme result of incomplete, or poor vacuuming.

So when the kindly cultured gentlemen show up on the television advertising their powerful vacuums, remember this: the most critical cleaning element of the vacuum is not the suction but the brush roll and its profile as related to the type of carpet pile/nap you have. If you own a handmade carpet, such as the gorgeous and costly rugs from Iran, India, Pakistan and other areas throughout Central, Southern and far Eastern Asia you will be advised to vacuum with suction only. Sadly, unless you do that very frequently and also have these fabulous pieces hand cleaned they will ruined by standard vacuuming.

When you visit the department store, the big box store, the discount store and select a vacuum based on some magazine or web site reviews how will you know which type of bristles on the brush roll are appropriate for the carpet surface you have, the traffic in your home and the frequency or not of vacuuming in your home.

You cannot go to the hardware store and select any screwdriver for any screw driving job. You need to know which type of head is being driven, and how much torque may be necessary before you select that tool. No different for pliers, wrenches or….vacuums!

Visit your local independent vacuum store. Seek the advice of an expert in vacuuming and carpet care. Your carpet will last longer, you’ll not have to replace the vacuum as frequently and you may experience a marvelous side benefit of having less dust airborne and settling in your home.


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