How do Vacuum Cleaner Filtration Systems Work?

Vacuum Cleaner HEPA Filters

Whether you use bagless or bag, upright or canister, your vacuum cleaner has a filter system that you might not know very much about.

Ever wonder how it’s possible to suck up so much air and dirt into a specific place without the machine exploding?

Filtration is the basic “magic” behind vacuum cleaners, and it’s a whole lot simpler than it sounds. To understand your vacuum filter system, you need to know a little bit about each of these areas:

  1. The filtration process.
  2. Standards of filtration.
  3. How filtration is applied to your vacuum cleaner.
  4. How to keep it working as it should.

How Filtration Works

Filtration is a relatively easy to understand concept, and most of us have a basic idea of how it works already. It’s easiest to explain in the context of filtering air, as this can be demonstrated by our topic of choice, the vacuum cleaner.

Essentially, when a vacuum pulls in air it also sucks in dirt particles of various sizes. Because the air that is taken in has to be expelled back out of the vacuum without the dirt going along with it, a filter is put in place.

The filter is designed with a bunch of tiny holes in a paper, cloth, or soft plastic surface that will allow the air to be pushed through but will stop the dust particles from passing.

When the dirty air passing through the filter, the dirt is not able to continue because the particles are too large to fit through the little spaces, leaving the machine to expel only the clean air out from the other side.

HEPA Filters

If you have ever purchased a vacuum cleaner or read the paperwork about one, chances are you have seen the term “HEPA” somewhere during the process. HEPA stands for “High Efficiency Particle Arrest”, and it is a certification that must be tested and authenticated.

True or genuine HEPA filters must meet the standard of trapping 99.97% of all .3 micron particles.

This is technical jargon that essentially means it’s a highly effective filter that catches particles of almost all sizes very well.

For this to work, the filter must be sealed so that air is forced to go through the filter and does not escape from around the sides.

As mentioned before, HEPA is a specific certification that proves the filter meets those particle-capturing standards. Some vacuum cleaners will boast “HEPA-like” filters or something of the sort, meaning that they are not certified to the same standards and will not be as effective. They usually offer a price discount, but you must decide whether you want the guaranteed, tested quality of a true HEPA filter or the price discount on a less-than-standard filter.

Types of Filters on a Vacuum Cleaner

Not all vacuums are created equally. They come with various types of filtering systems at different points on the device. The two majorly different models that stay more of less consistent are the bagless versus the bagged vacuums.

Bagless Vacuums

These vacuum cleaners are generally equipped with either one or two filters. If there are two filters, one will be a “pre-filter” placed before the dirt collection area and the second will be a HEPA or HEPA-like filter placed after the collection area to cut down on the particles sent back into your house.

In these vacuums, the collection area for the dirt and dust acts as a sort of filter as well, making use of the different weight of the particles versus the air as the mix is sucked through a circular tube with slots for the dirty particles to fall into the collection area. Because of this, a lot of models only come with one filter which is placed after the collection area and before the air is released.

Bagged Vacuums

This type is different because the bag that collects the dust actually acts as the first filter. It is made of a cloth or soft paper with tiny holes that allow the air and only small particles to escape, trapping larger ones in the bag for disposal.

In some cases the bag is the only filter, but most recent models will also place a HEPA or HEPA-like filter further along the expelling tunnel to cut down on the smaller particles that escape through the sides of the bag with the air.

Maintaining Vacuum Filters

Both types of vacuum cleaners need to be maintained properly in order for the filters to do their jobs well. The bagless vacuums must be emptied out frequently so that the collection of dirt won’t be hindered, and the bagged vacuums need their bags replaced once they are 1/3 or 1/2 full for the same reason.

If the HEPA or HEPA-like filters are made of plastic, they can be removed and washed, as long as you make sure to place them back tightly to keep the seal effective and to dry them fully before replacing them.

If it’s made of paper or cloth, you can use the good old technique of smacking the thing to get dust out before replacing it.

No matter what your filter is made of, you will have to buy a new one every now and then to keep it working as it should.

That is an introduction to your vacuum cleaner’s filtration system. With this new knowledge you can keep your house cleaner than ever before, and maybe even calm those pesky allergies before they have a chance to act up!

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