I'm Allergic to Vacuuming
Can you actually be allergic to vacuuming? This may sound like a ridiculous question, but did you know that vacuuming with a conventional vacuum cleaner will aggravate most allergy sufferers? It becomes obvious when you look carefully at how a conventional vacuum cleaner works. The diagram below shows a conventional upright vacuum cleaner with a vacuum bag.
A conventional vacuum cleaner works like this: 1) an electric motor draws air into the vacuum 2) this air is forced through a bag with really small holes so that dirt and dust are captured into the bag, but air is forced out. One of the obvious fundamental problems with the conventional vacuum cleaner is that as you use the vacuum cleaner it fills up with dirt; and as it fills up with dirt, the dirt clogs up all the pores of the vacuum bag and restricts air flow. The result is a dramatic decrease in the vacuum's "suction" as you use it.
The problem with many allergens is that the particles are small (often between 0-40 microns). So in order to capture the allergens in your vacuum cleaner, you need a vacuum bag or filter that has holes smaller than the size of the allergens. But small holes easily get clogged and also make it harder for air to be forced through the bag. The result is that severe allergy sufferers will buy these fine pore vacuum bags (to catch most allergens) and switch them between 5-10 times per month (to maintain high suction). They will also purchase special HEPA filters and have a friend or family member clean out the vacuum. But this next schematic will show why even using the right bag and following careful precautions may not be enough.
Pumping Allergens into the Air
When you view a vacuum cleaner the way an engineer views it, you'll see that a vacuum cleaner is very effective at pumping allergens into the ambient air and at aggravating allergies. Dirt, dust and allergens are drawn into the vacuum bag by the vacuum motor. Similar to how water in the kitchen sink drains more slowly as food particles fill up the strainer in the kitchen sink, the vacuum bag can be described as a variable flow resistor that makes air flow more and more difficult as dirt is accumulated within the bag. The most unfortunate issue with a conventional vacuum cleaner is that the smaller particles that typically escape most vacuum bags are the ones that cause the greatest problems. Here is a list of size ranges for some typical allergens found in the home:
- Pollen: 10 - 24 microns
- Dust Mite: 10 - 40 microns
- Mold spore: 4 - 5 microns
- cat allergen: 0 - 2.5 microns
The Dyson, however, uses a completely different system for separating dirt. In the first stage, air is sent spinning in a primary "cyclone" where centrifugal force (~500 G) causes the heavier dirt particles to spin to the outside, and drop to the bottom. Some conventional bagless systems use a similar design to remove the heavier dirt particles, but a pleated filter is then used when it it time to filter out the fine particles (see the diagram below showing (a) a conventional bag vacuum and (b) a conventional bagless vacuum).
On the left (a) is a schematic of a conventional bag-type vacuum cleaner pumping small particles into the air. On the right (b) is a schematic of a conventional bagless vacuum pumping smaller particles through a pleated filter. Part I of this article shows the loss in vacuum for these systems. Neither of these vacuums are suitable for serious allergy sufferers since they continue to take fine particles and allergens that have settled onto the carpet or on other items in a room and pump them into the room. These fine particles can remain airborne for several hours and cause much discomfort to the skin and respiratory system.
Unlike the other conventional "bagless" vacuums, the Dyson is totally different because the second stage is a set of 7 parallel tiny cyclones, each spinning at very high speeds (centrifugal forces ~100,000 G). These 7 tiny cyclones force the tiny dust particles to drop out. After the cyclones, the air does go into a washable mechanical pre-motor filter made of foam and electrostatic filter paper, and then into a post-motor HEPA filter that never needs to be changed under normal usage.
The result is excellent suction over the life of the vacuum and containment of particles within the vacuum. The video below is in Japanese, but it does a good job of illustrating the design of the Dyson.
How a Dyson Cleaner Works (in Japanese)
Cleaning out the dirt and dust
Most allergy sufferers know that they should not be the person changing the vacuum bag or filter on a conventional bagless vacuum. There is no easy way to handle a vacuum bag or a filter without getting dirt, dust and allergens all over you with a conventional vacuum. The Dyson does a little better in this area by having a trap door that opens when you pull a lever, but it is impossible to avoid some exposure. When it comes to cleaning the Dyson, my best advice is to
- Empty dirt when the allergy sufferer is not home
- Empty the vacuum cleaner outside the home
- If you must empty the vacuum cleaner within the home, empty it within the gargage can
- Have your family and friends help empty the vacuum cleaner
- Wash your HEPA filter regularly (for the Dyson only)
A Final Note to Allergy Sufferers
No product is ever perfect, but the Dyson is about as close as it gets. Every little detail of the design has been carefully tested and thought out, and the result is just an excellent product that really makes people say "wow" and "ahhh". How many of your household appliances are capable of really doing what they're supposed to do and generate that much excitement in the family?
If you suffer from serious allergies, I can guarantee you that you'll love the Dyson. If I worked for Dyson (and I don't), I would go so far as giving you a 100% rebate if you haven't fallen in love with your Dyson in 90 days. For many people, it's love at first use. I fell in love with my Dyson after cleaning up the mess from my first home construction project.
Are you an allergy sufferer who uses a Dyson Vacuum Cleaner? Share your story.
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