/ Health, Home & Energy

Achoo! Would you buy a vacuum cleaner for your allergies?

Does dust really get up your nose? According to the NHS, one in five of us could be suffering from indoor allergies. But does this matter when you’re buying a new vacuum cleaner?

Some vacuum cleaners are better than others when it comes to vacuuming up particles and then keeping them locked in.

If your vacuum is ‘leaking’ it could be undoing all your hard work and letting out those aggravating allergens. Our tests at Which? assess how well vacuums retain the dust they pick up, but how aware are we of the vacuums that do this best? Does allergen retention feature in your vacuum buying considerations?

It’s a sore subject

I never used to suffer from hay fever, nor was I affected by dust mites. Growing up I only had a slight touch of asthma. And, if I’m honest, this only ever came to light when I was facing the school’s dreaded cross country run… where I felt lying in the sun was a better use of my time.

Sadly, this is no longer true. Perhaps as atonement for my sins of PE avoidance, my body has decided it no longer likes to associate itself dust. Pollen is also apparently in my bad books, with the mere thought of pollen causing itchy, swollen eyes and a runny nose.

Today, I’m forced to take preventative measures, such as buying hypoallergenic products and maintaining a small pharmacy of medication to acclimatise to the now hostile environment. But I haven’t changed my vacuum cleaner, and I’m wondering whether I should.

Allergen-fighting vacuum cleaners

If you’ve perused our selection of vacuum tests, you may have noticed that we test vacs for the retention of fine particles. This includes how well the offending dust and dirt is taken up, and how well the vacuum copes at keeping the offending particles in the machine.

You can also buy vacuums with special filters, or retro fit them later. Allergy UK recommends a high filtration vacuum cleaner, preferably with Hepa or S-class filters (both designed to retain particles), to control the amount of allergens inside your home.

So, the question is – do you consider the allergen-fighting capabilities of vacuum cleaners when you’re shopping for a new one? And if you don’t, will you from now on?


Basically I only consider the sucking power and reliability – So my 30 yo Goblin is excellent – but I don’t suffer any allergies except with “Ingram Shaving Cream” which I used just once in 1961 – a massive instant rash so never used again. My only other reaction is to sunlight – I sometimes sneeze once going into sunlight.

As I’m surrounded by dogs – I really don’t think I’d consider allergen-fighting capabilities of vacuum cleaners at any time.- I’m more interested in their dog hair capability.

I have had an allergy to dust for many years and modern vacuum cleaners with paper bags and filters are much better than old cleaners with cloth bags.

What the manufacturers forget is that the air exhaust blows dust round the room even if the carpet and furnishings are quite clean. This can sometimes be seen in strong sunlight. Diffusing the exhaust air to minimise disturbance of dust is just as important as good filtration.

I am very happy with my Miele cylinder-style cleaner.


You are the only one who can tell whether it would be a good idea to change your vacuum cleaner. If you are having problems when you use your present cleaner it could be worth trying. Good filtration is the most important factor, but not the only one – as I have mentioned above.

You may have exercise-induced asthma for life, but hay fever and other allergies often become less of a problem as we get older.

Anyone with breathing difficulties and/who may be susceptible to dust should NEVER have a bagless vacuum. The BAF seal approvals make no sense at all on any bagless vacuum. Instead of just relying on a bagged vacuum alone, filters do make a big difference BUT whilst all brands sport HEPA filters, it doesn’t justify having clean air alone.

Only a few brands produce vacuums that have been built with SEALED suction so that no dust in the air is emitted from any where else on the vacuum other than the exhaust. Bosch, Miele and SEBO are good in this respect as they all produce good vacuums AND SEALED suction which eliminates poor air filtration.

However! Failure to change the filters and to clean out the exhaust periodically means even having a HEPA or hospital grade S-class filter doesn’t purge the vacuum properly. You don’t have to spend massively either. SEBO’S K1 and Miele S2 are pretty cheap to buy compared to other spec models and by buying their hospital grade or higher filters, you’ll get a better healthier chance of being able to vacuum without being affected by the air the machine produces.

Miele and Bosch are good, but their exhausts are located right beside their suction controls. The SEBO design is better with the Airbelt design where air is emitted out of the sides of the vacuum away from the main user controls. But if you have an allergy to dust, you need to buy an air purifier rather than rely on your vacuum cleaner alone.

I am an asthmatic who had to keep well away from vacuum cleaners before disposable bags were introduced. I have no problem with my current Miele cleaner despite the fact it does not have a HEPA filter and do not mind paying for the expensive manufacturer’s bags.

Early cylinder-type cleaners that blew exhaust air across the floor were very good at stirring up dust, even in rooms that were cleaned regularly. We have moved on.

Even with a HEPA filter installed into a vacuum cleaner, dust will always be stirred around a room due to the exhaust on a vacuum cleaner. I agree that whilst early types may emit dangerous levels of allergen around a room, the existing dust in a room BEFORE vacuuming still gets blown around, even today. Any machine that generates air from an exhaust will unsettle dust that is clinging onto upholstery and other fabrics.

I forgot to add that even opening a window brings dust into a home very easily. Last year around winter time we left one of our windows open slightly only to find a thin coating of sand around the frames. We had been warned about “sahara dessert dust,” which in Scotland, we round rather puzzling – but geographically, and with certain streams of wind and weather, it eventually made sense. The bin outside also got caked in sand – it was very strange!

Generally though, I find replacement filters far easier than washable types. I like the fact that some brands offer washable filters but I am never that sure that they are completely clean. Miele and SEBO don’t offer washable filters because both brands believe that purging the vacuum cleaner completely refreshes the vacuum for the next usage.

However, what a lot of pet owners don’t realise in particular is that even with the most expensive vacuum cleaner they buy sports a HEPA filter, it isn’t going to save them from the smell of pet hair. I can’t abide the smell and whilst the HEPA filter or one suitable for pets in general might absorb the majority of pet hair, it comes down to washing out the hose and tools, or any where where the airflow of suction is concerned. Owners have to clean out their vacuums to allow the filters a chance to clean the air – otherwise it is a bit pointless.

Whilst cleaning out tools and hoses etc are periodic, I find that it helps massively that these days, dust bags have moved on from the paper types to disposable synthetic material. Miele make them, SEBO make them and Numatic also. Only a few other brands are beginning to see the light – the dust bags last longer plus they absorb the smells better – the material also doesn’t burst when high suction is forced upon it.

Catherine says:
18 February 2017

I use a Miele Total Solution for my severely dust mite allergic son and this works well with dust mite bed covers. He has recently had a recurrence of his asthma at school and I had to ask the school to get a special filtration hoover. Once this hoover was in place, his asthma cough disappeared. The same has happened to a lady who lives close whose daughter was in hospital due to asthma. She changed her hoover and introduced dust mite covers following Allergy UK guidance and asked the school also to change the hoover to a Sebo industrial vacuum. Her daughter is much better. We are now campaigning for schools to have special filtration hoovers in schools where we live.