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Five Things To Know When Buying A Vacuum Cleaner

By Karen Klages
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 14, 2006

It raises sound and fury as it rumbles across your floors. But what's the quiet truth about the vacuum cleaner? What style is better for whom and what's the deal with bagless? We turned to John Brunner, floor-care specialist at Abt Electronics in Glenview, for answers.

1. Canister vs. upright. Consider your flooring. If you have mostly hard floors (wood, tile) or a mix of hard and carpeting and stairs to boot, "the canister is often the way to go," Brunner says. Canisters have heads that detach -- a power head for carpeting, a floor brush for hard floors. And that floor brush allows you to sweep the floor and suck up the dirt at the same time.

Not so with an upright. Uprights are ideal for great expanses of carpeting but aren't keen on hardwood. You must turn off the rotating brush on an upright when vacuuming wood floors, lest you run the risk of damaging the wood. At that point, you're relying on the vacuum's suction power, Brunner says. There is no sweeping. And, you still run the risk of damaging the wood with the vac's hard plastic wheels.

2. Bagless? "It's not as convenient as you think," says Brunner, noting that when you talk "bagless" you're talking upright vacuums. There are very few bagless canisters. "The complaints that I get are that the dirt comes [flies] back up" as you empty the dust bin/tank, Brunner continues. "Or, if you have pets -- because of the static electricity, a lot of the dirt in dog hair and cat hair ends up sticking inside the tank. You've got to reach in" and get it out.

With a bagless vacuum, you don't have to buy bags -- but you will be buying lots of HEPA filters. On most bagless vacs (except the Dyson, which uses centrifugal force), the filter, which protects the motor, likely will need to be changed every couple of months. At $25 for a HEPA filter, that can get pricey.

3. Important features.

- Make sure you get the onboard tools you need.

- Get at least 6 feet of stretch on your hose; some better models offer 8 to 20 feet.

- And look for a 30-foot power cord (instead of the usual 20 feet) if you hate bending over to plug-unplug.

4. Putting on the moves. Self-propelled uprights are easier to move but "that feature comes with weight," Brunner says. These babies tip the scales at about 25 pounds -- which becomes an issue if you have stairs. (The average upright is 16 to 20 pounds.) And, these vacs are more complex machines. General maintenance and repairs (i.e., changing a belt) may send you out for help.

5. HEPA. Stands for high-efficiency particulate air filter. On a bagless vac, it's critical. Without a bag acting as a primary filter, you need this fine filter "just to keep the dirt in the machine," Brunner says. A bag vacuum with a HEPA filter is where you reap the real benefit of having such a high-quality filter, Brunner says. Those with asthma or allergies should look for HEPA filter.

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