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Does your vacuum cleaner suck too much?

vacuum cleaner

A vacuum cleaner that excels at picking up pet hair from carpets and fine dust from hard floors is all well and good, but not when the suction is so powerful it’s impossible to move when it’s switched on.

In the past few months, we’ve tested vacuum cleaners with push forces exceeding 80 newtons.

Put another way, it takes as much force to push some models a single stroke as it does to lift an Olympic-standard shot put or eight bags of sugar.

While improving your physique might be a desirable consequence of vacuuming for some, we think this level of heavy lifting is more suitable for the gym.

Why is this happening?

As far as we can tell, this strange phenomenon is an unwanted consequence of the vacuum cleaner energy label.

Introduced in September 2014, it restricted the motor size of vacuum cleaners to 1600 watts to save energy, and introduced ratings for how well each cleaner sucked up fine dust from carpet and hard floors.

This led to manufacturers racing to optimise their machines for sucking up fine dust in order to get a higher score on their energy labels.

Some manufacturers appear to have done this at the expense of the end user, who might be surprised to get their new machine home only to find it’s almost physically impossible to use when switched on.

What has Which? done about it?

The push and pull force of each model is now integral to how we test vacuum cleaners at Which?.

If a machine’s push force exceeds 45 newtons, we adjust the power setting until it’s acceptably easy to move around. This is then the setting we use to conduct our cleaning tests.

We now also publish the push force of each vacuum cleaner on its most powerful setting, so Which? members can decide themselves whether they want to buy a machine that may be difficult to push around.

Do you have a vacuum cleaner that you have to take a running start at to get it moving over your floors? Can you think of any other products that have become more difficult to use in recent years?

Comments

We often discuss product durability but I cannot recall if we have discussed the current EU durability requirement for mains-powered vacuum cleaners. Motors must be designed to work for a minimum of 500 hours and hoses to survive flexing tests: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/Manufacturer%20guide%20-%20vacuum%20cleaners.pdf

It’s a step in the right direction but I would like to see consumers protected by minimum guarantee periods that are appropriate to various products.

I’m not sure this interpretation of the EU Manufacturers guide is correct. EN 60312-1 is the relevant performance standard and, like many such standards, includes endurance tests to verify the operation of devices and components. The tests for this are done under very specific conditions, and the motor test, for example, is the ability of the cleaner to maintain airflow with a recommended total time of 500h. It specifies how the dust bag should be filled and the cycle time. This does not equate to a “guaranteed” life as operational conditions and materials, emptying of the dust bag, for example, could well differ from the EN tests. So there might be trouble convincing a supplier.

500h, based on the EU usage criteria, would be 10.4 years of vacuuming. That is well outside the EU’s basic legislation on consumer protection (2 years) and even ours and Scotland’s (6 and 5 years). So you’d need a 10 year warranty to make full use of the “durability” even if you could prove it had been used under “standard” conditions.

It seems strange that the EU has picked on vacuum cleaners for limiting power. As it is to limit the consumption of energy (43 kWh a year – so they reckon you’ll spend less than an hour a week vacuuming) I wonder when they apply it to such a little-used device why they don’t apply it to other appliances, and things like TVs. A vacuum cleaner supposedly uses 0.8 units a week. A decent large TV will use 3 times that. Or, more particularly, if they really want to save energy, limit the power of car engines. All very arbitrary.

As part of its durability assessment, Which? could look through performance standards to see just what endurance tests are carried out on components. It might be a start.

That’s very negative, Malcolm. Of course products have to be tested under standard conditions for meaningful comparison. Under these conditions the motor is expected to operate for a minimum of 500 hours and how long individual ones last will depend on how the cleaners are used and also on luck.

I don’t know why the EU chose to restrict the power of vacuum cleaner motors but you have to start somewhere and when some cleaners are a nuisance because of too much suction – the original topic of this Conversation – why not? With the exception of Dyson, vacuum motors have not changed much in design in our lifetimes. We are seeing more efficient motors in many products, though much of this is driven by the need for more efficient motors for battery-operated products.

Yes we could save more energy by changing car design but I don’t see that as a reason for not having more efficient vacuum cleaners and other household products. Criticism of the amount of power that products use on ‘standby’ has led to less wasteful products.

Longer guarantees will help get rid of third-rate products and push up quality. We cannot afford to carry on generating mountains of waste household goods that have failed after a short life.

🙁

Patrick Taylor says:
14 September 2018

Two down votes! How bizarre. I am not suggesting that three would be better though. : ) Perhaps it is the “Very negative” starting sentence. I have not voted BTW.

Vacuum cleaners are not the first item as washing machines and ovens I think have already been dealt with. That it has been done in an opaque way is not a good thing.

Overall it should be self-evident that every activity that creates heat is probably not great for the future of mankind so minimising consumption or equally making more efficient use have to be good policies.

Which? in it’s own way has been poor in highlighting and taking action on housing and energy loss. Essentially with over 0.7m subscribers it might have been effective in making real case studies and educating people on achieving efficient dwellings. Campaigning on energy costs in a global energy system is verging on the futile when more effectively publicising the solutions to energy use are available. Thus helping people save money in the long term and reducing excess energy production.

It would be good if we could tackle all forms of energy wastage but I don’t see much chance of that happening any time soon. What we have achieved thanks to the EU is vacuum cleaners that use less than half the power of models that have gone before. They still do their job but don’t produce as much heat as a fan heater.

When electric drills and other power tools became popular it became common to use the power consumption in marketing. I can remember Black & Decker doing this. The popularity of cordless tools has changed marketing because high power consumption is associated with short running time. It’s not that long since one Dyson handheld vacuum would run for six minutes before needing charged. Now we have many rechargeable vacuum cleaners that will do much better.

I think we do need to explore ways of saving energy and minimising pollution without waiting for comprehensive solutions that may be a long time coming. The increasing popularity of electric cars and buses will help held address the problem of air pollution in built-up areas. We don’t need to wait until we can do the same with HGVs and other diesel-powered transport.

Time to bring back the Ewbank hand-pushed carpet sweeper? No suction, just roller-brush action.

Carpet sweepers are fine for hard surfaces but not brilliant for cleaning carpets, despite the name. Nowadays we have electric carpet sweepers at prices that won’t break the (ew)bank.

Suction was a worthwhile addition but that does not mean that it has to be so powerful that it becomes difficult to move the cleaning head or it lifts the corners of rugs.

Our Miele 1600W Cat and Dog vacuum cleaner, now about 16 years old (probably more) has a selector switch to change the power (suction) to deal with different kinds of surface. Seems to put the user in control. That reminds me, I must order some more dust bags.

The user is not in as much control as it may seem. I have a Miele cleaner without the pet designation and probably earlier because it is rated 1500W. The suction control is marked as variable between 300W and 1500W, though on the lowest setting where it produces very gentle suction it actually consumes over 400W and over 800VA because of the very crude phase control. Appliances with a low power factor distort the AC waveform and create problems for the generating companies. The power consumption is hardly surprising because the motor is an old fashioned design with a commutator, brushes and field windings. Permanent magnet motors are significantly more efficient and the EU power limit for vacuum cleaners makes them essential.

Wasnt that “simply the best ” by an ex British boxer who “thought a lot of himself ” introduction song John ?

I was referring to suction control, not energy consumption.

The motor for my “Trix set ” -engineering like Meccano had a permanent magnet Wavechange . The PF would not be helped if the electronic circuit was pre- Triac – IE- SCR which was extensively used for motor control . I built an early BD D520 drill ( 60,s ) SCR speed controller using a valve radio volume control and old WW2 resistors and capacitors –worked for years .

Small motors like that always used permanent magnets but it was the development of magnets that could provide a strong field and shaped to make best use of it that they started to appear in larger motors. My 1982 Philips washing machine contained a permanent magnet motor made by Italian company Polymotor and the earliest examples I’ve seen dated from the 1970s, albeit not in domestic products.

The vacuum cleaner speed control is a simple triac circuit of the type you mention and here is an example of one for a Miele cleaner: https://www.partmaster.co.uk/speed-control-module-cyl-s444i/product.pl?pid=309567 I built speed controllers and dimmers when they were very expensive to buy. Happy days. I presume that modern brushless motors use speed controls that do not play as much havoc with the power factor.

Have a look at this module using a Triac from Mouser, a very well known US electronic parts seller to Americans who build their own electronic circuits, they can supply the UK also http://www.mouser.com/catalog/specsheets/stevalill004v1.pdf what Mapin used to be and much more.

Sadly it costs more to make electronic devices these days, when they are mass produced.

It should be the opposite of that Wavechange read JJS manufacturing-Lutterworth https://blog.jjsmanufacturing.com/4-benefits-of-industrial-automation-in-electronics-manufacturing . What we could be talking about is old fashioned –greed .

DerekP says:
14 September 2018

Apparently, this is all the fault of some bloke who was born and raised in Gloucester and who patented the first vacuum cleaner:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_Cecil_Booth

Yesterday, I found his “blue plaque” on the house where he lived, next to Gloucester Park.

There is an interesting photo of an early machine based on Booth’s patent on this page: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/British_Vacuum_Cleaner_Co
It does not look very safe, either electrically or mechanically.

The dubious electrical safety of early household products reminds me of this delightful advert relating to vacuum cleaners:

Credit: cracked.com

DerekP says:
14 September 2018

Ah, Cracked 🙂

I’m a big fan of Roger and all his “Honest Ads”

youtube.com/watch?v=0k7hnjKxI3U&index=16&list=PL_saLI-LH-Vp9cxB3FNJoYXZXRM93UBuf&t=0s

Yes, but I could relate better to English humour. Apparently the vacuum cleaner ad is British.

Fiona says:
3 January 2019

Help! In the past two or three months, deep wrinkles have developed in my eighteen-year-old carpet, hitherto perfectly smooth. Is it possible that these have been caused by my cleaning lady turning up the suction on my Miele vacuum-cleaner to its highest level?

Going to sue her or fire her Fiona ?

DerekP says:
4 January 2019

Hi Fiona,

I’m not an expert on carpets, but I do have a coupled of ruffled or wrinkled areas in my 7 year old living room carpet.

In my case, I am highly confident that they have not been caused by excessive vacuum cleaning.

One occurs between the room’s door and the nearest corner of the room – I think it is the result of the bottom of the door tending to push the carpet in towards the corner. The other area is much smaller and may be caused by a cupboard pushing against the carpet, each time its hinged door is opened.

That said, if your cleaner has recently changed her methods for hoovering the carpet – or anything else that she does in that room, it could explain why you are now seeing wrinkles after 18 years without any. But there might be other explanations too.

Richie D. says:
20 February 2019

To decrease the suction while vacuuming carpet with medium to high pile..simply disconnect the hand held hose attachment hose nozzle from connection near vaccum head.
Vacuum will now move easily and still provide all the suction you need to pick up dirt/debris.
To use the hand held hose attachment.. simply replace back to original connection.

Maureen Spears says:
26 February 2019

Had new carpets. Dyson leaves huge scratch mark all over the carpet and is also so heavy that it can’t be moved upstairs. Today I bought a Miele C1 Junior. Tried it but found that even on the lowest setting I have to open the air vent and, even then, it is extremely difficult to push. It is easier to place the floor tool at its further extent and the pull it towards me! My 1980 Electrolux had settings for short pile, thick pile and hard floors which altered the height of the machine. Seems to me the Miele is not fit for purpose as it doesn’t really clean carpets. Vacuum prices seem to have gone into the stratosphere and yet it is extremely hard to get a lightweight, sturdy machine. I understand that most people by the turbo tool for the Miele but this costs about another £50.

It looks as if the problem may be the new carpets rather than the vacuum cleaners. The ordinary turbo tool is simply powered by the air flow and not motor driven, and is only really suitable for short-pile carpets.

New carpets with a wool content liberate a lot of fluff and threads when new and should be vacuumed at a low speed, with the air vent partly open and with the cleaning head raised to a high position. Not all vacuum cleaners have these features.

As Wavechange says the turbo head should be disengaged or replaced with the standard head for long-pile carpets. The machine will also struggle if the dust bag or container becomes full quickly as it will with a new wool-pile carpet. It is probably better to brush the carpet by hand initially to release most of the fluff.

We have two Miele vacuum cleaners [one upstairs, the other downstairs, and we clean the stairs with a battery-powered Samsung stick]. We are having new carpet fitted later this week on the stairs and landing and I shall see how our machines perform.

We once had a Dyson cleaner but found its performance unsatisfactory; it was also very noisy and too heavy so I cleaned it up and we put into an auction with a lot of other items. So popular are Dysons that it fetched more than we paid for it three years previously.

Every since Hoover promoted ‘Beats as it sweeps as it cleans’ I have been concerned that aggressive vacuum cleaners could do more harm than good to any half-decent carpet.

Here’s an old advert to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2sNntaeP-s

I’ve managed fine without turbo-brushes, preferring to vacuum frequently and take off outdoor shoes when I come home.

Michele says:
4 March 2019

Just bought a new Hoover….Hoover make. Cannot make the thing slide over the carpet or hard floor. Would need arms like a wrestler to clean my house. Its stuck to the floor when its running. Surely this will burn put the motor in the long run?. Its going back….ridiculous.