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Allergen Control Vacuums

The Best HEPA Vacuums For Controlling Allergens

What Is House Dust?

I try to vacuum regularly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner, or at least when I know company is coming over. Whenever I use my Miele HEPA vacuum cleaner, I can see and even breathe the difference, but just what is all that dirt and fuzz? Research shows that about 70-90% of what we vacuum up is gray/brown dust that contains a significant amount of dead skin cells. Somewhere between 5 and 25% of that debris is carpet or smaller fibers that have been loosened by traffic or by the mechanism of the vacuum itself. About 5% of the waste collection is hair. The remaining vacuumed debris is actually what can be the most dangerous for allergy sufferers, containing fur, food particles, insects, mites, sand and mineral dust, pollen and other plant parts, carbon and other pollution particles, and paper and packing materials. Other vacuumed microbes include soil and skin organisms, and bacteria and mold spores like penecillium, ascoporium, aspergillus and alternarium. There may even be allergenic animal dander – even if there is no pet in the home.

It may not sound too threatening that only a small percentage of the vacuumed debris is made up of allergens and microbes. But consider that one gram of dust can contain more than a million bacteria, thousands of fungal spores, hundreds of pollen grains (depending on time of year), as well as live house dust mites. In fact, research performed at Dyson's lab shows that carpet might contain up to 1000 dust mites per square meter in more heavily infested environments. Given lower humidity and more frequent vacuuming, this level could be lower, in the 10's or 100's. These troublesome facts are only intended to let you know how important it is to do frequent vacuuming with an efficient vacuum that can pull harmful particles from your floors and carpeting, rather than kicking them up, and with a HEPA vacuum cleaner that can trap particles instead of blowing them back into the environment.

march05_miteWhy Doctors Recommend HEPA Vacuum Cleaners for Controlling Dust and Other Allergens?

Carpeting is a haven for bacteria and dust mites, but furniture and beds are actually the most concentrated source of dust mites. Because of this, any home allergy-proofing regimen should start with encasing your home's mattresses and pillows. Encasings are the most doctor-recommended, non-drug allergy prevention method you can take. You can prevent exposure to mites and dander on carpet and furniture by treating them with any number of home treatments designed to limit airborne allergen exposure. Many doctors recommend such treatments for their allergy and asthma patients.

Another critical step to controlling house dust is vacuuming carpet regularly with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. There is certainly a fair share of vacuum hype out there, but what our customers truly want to know is what do doctors recommend and what vacuums have we tested and found effective. Dr. Dennis Spangler, Chief Medical Officer for the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic says, "none of them are any good unless it's a HEPA vacuum. Those types of filters significantly eliminate the dust particles in the room." The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology agrees - one of their Indoor Allergen tips includes the following admonition: "People with allergies should use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a double bag, since using a standard or water-filtered vacuum cleaner stirs dust up into the air."

march05_quote1If you are familiar with "allergy lingo," you probably recognize the acronym "HEPA". It stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and has become the industry standard for both home air purifiers and vacuum filtration. A true HEPA filter, by definition, must remove 99.97% of particles at least as small as 0.3 microns in size. This is as small or smaller than lung-damaging dust, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, mold and plant spores, and even some virus, smoke and smog particles. Particles that are 10 microns or less are considered respirable and can settle deep into the lungs. Respirable particles make up over 99% of the 7 million particles in every breath you take! Virtually all of our vacuum cleaners are outfitted with HEPA filtration, and some like the Miele HEPA Uprights and the HEPA Electrolux Ergospace El4103A Canister, can remove nearly 100% of the tiny harmful particles by way of various technologies.

What Vacuum Technologies are Available?

Upright vs. Canister. Efficient HEPA vacuums are available in a variety of styles and price ranges, and come with any number of features. One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether you prefer a canister or an upright. One of our vacuum representatives told me recently that canisters are much more popular in the Northeast and Europe than in other regions, while demand for uprights is much higher in the South and Southwest. True to statistics, I purchased a HEPA upright vacuum cleaner for my Georgia home. The advantages to a HEPA upright vacuum cleaner are its strength on carpeted surfaces and the ability to adjust the cleaning head to different carpet heights. I also like the relative simplicity of vacuuming with an upright ‒ no extra cords, nozzles or tubes unless I want to use them. The advantage of some newer uprights is their ability to act like a canister with an integrated extendable hose, variety of attachments, and long power cord.

I find that my now not so new HEPA upright vacuum is a little less agile in and around our living room furniture. Some manufacturers have since addressed this shortcoming. Miele S7 Series uprights feature a SwivelNeck™ design that easily maneuvers the upright around corners, curves and edges, which can also be positioned to lay the vacuum virtually flat to the floor to reach under low furniture. In addition to the reduced maneuverability and limited ability of some uprights to reach into small places, uprights can also be louder and heavier than canister models. Knowing weight can be a deterrent for some people. The Dyson DC35 Multi-Floor Digital Slim Cordless is a stick upright weighing just 4.9 pounds. It's designed with a lower center of gravity for less body strain, and a more ergonomic handle for easier control. Size and storage can also be an issue for those of you who live in smaller living spaces ‒ you may find the lightweight, compact design of sticks like the Dyson DC35 or canisters like the Electrolux Ergospace El4103A or the Eureka Mighty Mite Pet Lover 3684F are better suited for your needs.

harmony_lightweightBagged vs. Bagless.
Bagless vacuum cleaners have become increasingly popular since their introduction in the early 1990s. Dyson has had a great amount of success dispelling the prevailing view that a bagless vacuum is not recommended for an allergy sufferer. In fact, we even warned against bagless vacuums because many of them are not well sealed and particles are not settled well in the collection chamber, so when the user tries to empty them, they are greeted with an allergenic dust cloud.

This was an obvious concern of mine in the past, as well as many of my co-workers who tested a Dyson. At the time, I found that if done carefully, emptying the Dyson vacuum created no more dust exposure than emptying a typical bagged vacuum. Dyson has since made great strides in overcoming this issue in its newer models, like the DC35 Cordless Slim, which features a bottom-empty tank that you open by pushing a slide lever for more hygienic disposal. However, I would still advise that a highly sensitive individual wear a high-efficiency mask when emptying a bagless vacuum cleaner or have someone else do it for you. My favorite part of going bagless is the obvious savings in not having to purchase replacement bags. And, in the case of Dyson vacuums, even the HEPA filters are lifetime and don't need replacing (nor do their belts or other parts for that matter).

Over the years, we have supported a core of bagged vacuum cleaners with HEPA final filters. Dustbag disposal, however, can also be a concern, especially for allergic individuals. All of our Electrolux Models and Miele models use bags that also include an easy bag removal feature that protects the user from exposure to any of the bag's contents. If you are hesitant to part with your current vacuum but want more protection from allergens, using high-efficiency HEPA replacement bags is an important allergy-reduction option.

Power and Filtration. Most domestic vacuums measure power in wattage. Most canisters operate at about 1100 watts and most uprights pull between 1200-1400 watts. Wattage is an indicator of the power with which the motor spins. Some manufacturers also use figures, such as Air Wattage and Water Lift that measure the suction power of the machine.

It is important to remember that the inclusion of a HEPA filter is not indicative of more suction power, it only means the vacuum cleaner is equipped to remove smaller, allergenic particles. Some vacuums add additional filters to maximize particle removal. For instance, certain Nilfisk models have a permanent cloth filter to catch larger particles that might otherwise clog the HEPA filter. Whatever extra filtration a HEPA vacuum may use, it is important to know whether the vacuum's filtration system is well-sealed. A vacuum can claim to have HEPA filtration, but may leak allergenic particles from joints and covers.

Some think that a water-based filtration system will improve the efficiency of a vacuum cleaner. The AAAAI cautions against water-filtration machines, and research by Nilfisk America casts doubt on their safety for allergy sufferers. A study published by the American Lung Association's Respiratory Journal stated: "The sharp increase in airborne cat allergen associated with small particles when the water-filtering vacuum system was used was shown to be due to the formation of fine droplets by the machine. In contrast, the HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner effectively contained the allergen." There is also the issue of possible mold growth to consider with a water-based vacuum.

march05_quote2Handheld Models.
Nothing beats the convenience of a cordless, handheld vacuum for spills, kitchen crevices, and quick car cleanup. However, even small handheld vacuums can exhaust dirty air, which is why I recommend the DirtTamer Supreme by FilterStream or the CleanWave Sanitizing Portable by Verilux. Each comes with extra-strong suction power, as well as attachments for various applications. These HEPA-filtered hand vacs do the trick on small jobs without compromising the air you breathe.

What Type of HEPA Vacuum is Right for Me?

As you can see, we highly recommend HEPA filtration. Beyond that, the type of vacuum you choose largely depends on your living space, budget, and desire for various features like telescoping wands, headlights, extra attachments, etc. Below is a chart showing some of our available home vacuums and some helpful information about each of them.

Comparison Chart for HEPA Vacuum Cleaners

Make & Model Type HEPA Filter Key Feature Price
Bissell CleanView 9595 15 lb. Upright, Bagless No HEPA; Replaceable Pleated Filter 1000 Watts of Cyclonic OnePass® Suction; 5 Height Adjustments; Easy Empty Dirt Tank; Complete On-Board Storage; 31' Cleaning Radius
DirtTamer Supreme V2400 Wet-Dry Handheld 5 lb. Cordless, Handheld, Bagless Replaceable HEPA Wet or Dry Pickup; 8 Minutes of Run Time; Long-Life Battery; Headlight; Handy Storage/Recharging Base $79.99
Dyson DC35 Multi-Floor Digital Slim Cordless 4.9 lb Cordless Stick Upright, convertible to Handheld, Bagless No HEPA; Washable Lifetime Filter Constant High Suction for 15 Minutes; Dirt/Dust Cyclonically Spin into Dirt Tank; Ergonomic Hand Grip; Easy Swivel Floorhead; Optimized Center of Gravity; Lithium-Ion Battery Releases Even Charge; Recharges Quickly; Wall-Mount Docking Station $329.99
Electrolux Ergospace Green EL4103A 10.9 lb. Canister, Bagged Washable HEPA or Optional Replaceable HEPA 1200 Watts of Suction with Control Dial & Regulator; Air-Driven Turbo Carpet Tool; Auto Cord Rewind; Tidy Compact Storage; 31-32' Cleaning Radius $299.99
Eureka Mighty Mite Pet Lover 3684F 8.6 lb. Canister, Bagged Replaceable HEPA 1400-Watt Motor with 2 Suction Options on Handle; 6" Pet Power Turbo Brush; Rear Blower Port; 30-31' Cleaning Radius 129.95
Miele S2121 Olympus 11 lb. Canister, Bagged Optional Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 6 Settings with Silence Mode; Combination Floor/Carpet Tool; Auto Cord Rewind; 29.5' Cleaning Radius $329.00
Miele S2121 Delphi 11 lb. Canister, Bagged Optional Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 6 Settings with Silence Mode; Motorized Powerbrush with Control on Handle; Auto Cord Rewind; 29.5' Cleaning Radius $499.00
Miele S2181 Titan 11 lb. Canister, Bagged Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 6 Settings with Silence Mode; Motorized Powerbrush with Control on Handle; Natural Bristle Floor Brush; Auto Cord Rewind; 29.5' Cleaning Radius $599.00
Miele S7210 Twist 22 lb. Upright, Bagged Optional Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 4 Settings with Silence Mode; Motorized Floorhead with Auto Height Adjustment; Easy Swivel Design; Lies Flat to Floor; Anti-Tip Device; Sealed Construction; 54' Cleaning Radius $449.00
Miele S7280
22 lb. Upright, Bagged Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 4 Settings with Silence Mode; Motorized Floorhead with Auto Height Adjustment; LED Headlight; Easy Swivel Design; Lies Flat to Floor; Anti-Tip Device; Sealed Construction; 54' Cleaning Radius $549.00
Miele S7580 AutoEco 22 lb. Upright, Bagged Replaceable HEPA Superior 1200-Watt Suction - 6 Settings with Silence Mode; Auto Suction Option; Motorized Floorhead with Auto Height Adjustment; LED Headlight; Easy Swivel Design; Lies Flat to Floor; Anti-Tip Device; Sealed Construction; 54' Cleaning Radius $749.00
Miele S194 Quickstep Universal 9 lb. Stick Upright, convertible to Handheld, Bagged Optional Replaceable HEPA Superior 1000-Watt Suction - 2 Settings; Configurable as Stick or Corded Handheld; On-Board Tool Caddy; Ergonomic Handle; 28' Cleaning Radius $249.00
Verilux CleanWave Sanitizing Portable 5 lb. Corded Portable with Detachable Handheld, Bagless Washable HEPA 400 Watts of Consistent Suction; UV-C Light Sanitizes Surfaces; Detachable Corded Hand Vac for Quick Cleanups without UV; Easy Empty Collection Cup $129.95

Tips for Vacuuming Your Home


  • Use dirt-trapping doormats to lessen the dirt, debris and pollutants that come into your home.
  • Vacuum high-traffic areas more frequently, so dirt cannot sink too deeply into carpeting.
  • Make three passes of the vacuum over areas with light soiling, but five to seven passes are necessary for heavily soiled areas.
  • Turn off any turbo brushes or beater-bars when vacuuming delicate rugs.
  • Prolonged use of older-model "beater bars" will reduce carpet longevity.
  • Full bags and dirty filters mean less suction, so be sure to replace vacuum bags and check filters often.
  • If not vacuumed once a week, treat carpet and furniture with a dust-mite treatment product to reduce airborne allergens that settle on surfaces.
  • Dust can accumulate along the edges of carpeting, so be sure to use an attachment to get down into the crevices, and don't forget to run the attachment along the baseboard. While not technically a HEPA vacuum (it has dual filters, one being a pleated HEPA-like filter), the Bissell CleanView 9595 Bagless Upright has more suction and bristles at the sides of the floorhead, so designed for doing carpet edges and baseboards.

I hope this page on HEPA vacuum cleaners has helped you learn more about vacuum cleaners and their role in keeping a clean, allergen-free home. The world of HEPA vacuums is an ever-expanding industry with hundreds of choices and lots of claims. We stand by our selection of HEPA vacuums and have tested them all for efficacy. Remember that we want you to be satisfied ‒ if after 60 days you are not happy with any product purchased from us, for any reason, we'll be happy to take it back.

This information is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options, and other health concerns you may have.

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