Can the right vacuum cleaner help reduce allergens in the home?


by Earl Labovitz, M.D.

Avoiding and removing dust from the home environment is a challenging and ongoing problem allergy sufferers face on a daily basis. In the southwest, desert winds sweep loose topsoil into the air, carrying inorganic and organic substances including pollen grains and mold spores. Some of this dust and dirt is transported into our homes by air currents, as well as by people and their pets. Carpets become the storage compartment of that dirt and dust, dust mites (especially in humid environments), as well as animal hair and dander, and insect body parts (crickets, cockroaches, and silverfish). Keeping the carpet, other floor surfaces, upholstered furniture, curtains, and blinds clean is a monumental task, but most important is keeping the allergic and asthmatic patient well. Removing the dust will also reduce the need for some medications and improve the quality of life indoors for the allergy sufferer.

Now that we understand vacuum cleaning is necessary for the removal of dust from surfaces of carpet, choosing the right one may be complex and confusing. Many models and types are on the market for sale and marketed as “hypoallergenic.” A water filtering system was compared to a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum. There was significant reduction of allergens in the carpet from vacuuming with the HEPA-filtered vacuum without any increase in airborne particles; however, there was an increase of cat allergen airborne particles when the investigator used two different brands of water-filtered vacuum cleaners. It was the opinion of several of these investigators that a tight connection between hose and bag and a double- thickness dust bag (or multi-layered bag) are the most important factors in limiting leakage from canister vacuum cleaners. An efficient filter at the exhaust outlet is also very important in reducing dust particles and airborne cat allergens.

Some allergists recommend HEPA vacuum cleaners such as Nilfisk or Miele vacuums which have minimal leakage and high allergen containment. The HEPA filtration prevents particles from escaping through the exhaust. They both have very high waterlift measurements which provide thorough removal of dirt and allergen from carpet. Other allergists recommend commercial type vacuum cleaners, such as Advance or Windsor, with special thick or multi-layered bags, as well as exhaust and intake filters. These are both powerful and durable. Smaller width heads may be used for the home. All of the above-named vacuums may run between $500 and $700.

But for those patients who do not wish to invest in a new vacuum cleaner, one can greatly improve the performance of their existing vacuum cleaners simply by using multi-layer bags or microfilter bags which can more than double their cleaning ability. These bags may be used for Electrolux, Eureka, Hoover, Oreck, Kenmore, Sharp, and Panasonic brand models. Also electrostatically-charged filter media (Vacu-Filt vacuum exhaust filter) will greatly aid in decreasing the escape of allergens from the vacuum cleaner prior to exhaust. Both products are very affordable and adaptable to most vacuum cleaners. You may consult your allergist for an opinion about these products for your home use.

Posted in: Home Environment

Allergy and the Environment