We are becoming increasingly aware of how the environment around a person affects their overall health and well being. Polluted environments have a negative impact while clean environments promote healthy lungs and strong immune systems. People suffering from respiratory health problems like allergies, asthma, COPD or those with compromised immune systems are exceptionally vulnerable to dirty and unhealthy home environments.
In his paper “On the history of indoor air quality and health”, J. Sundell of the International Center for Indoor Environment and Energy in Demark said this:
Indoor air is a dominant exposure for humans. More that half of the body’s intake during a lifetime is air inhaled in the home. Thus, most illnesses related to environmental exposures stem from indoor air exposure.
This rational seems simple, but most people are unaware of how many pollutants are contained in their indoor air. Because they cannot see the pollutants, people dismiss the fact they are present and could be causing real harm. Cleaning with cheap, low-quality equipment that expels as many particles at it picks up, or allowing a cleaning professional to bring equipment carrying a host of contaminants and pollutants from other sites into your home, compounds the problem. Many small particles like pet dander or even insects like fleas and bed begs can travel with a vacuum from one house to another.
In light of this information, everyone should take a few simple steps to help better the quality of the air inside their home. Investing in quality equipment that produces little to no dirty exhaust air and learning how to properly maintain it are the first steps. The rest of the information in this section can help you better understand how a vacuum contributes to overall indoor air quality, which machines work best, and other ways to improve your overall indoor air.
Indoor Air Pollutants, Germs, Allergens & Vacuums 101
As any vacuum is operating, dirt and air are being drawn into the machine, filtered and exhausted back out. But because most vacuums release a high amount of particles through their exhaust, the air coming out of the vacuum is hardly clean. In fact, the exhaust air (emissions) from typical vacuums can be five to ten times as polluted as the (ambient) air in the room.
In these instances the vacuum is removing both large and small particles of dirt, pet hair and the like, but only retaining the large particles and blowing the small particles that can be harmful back into the room. Particles that were settled and causing little harm are now being concentrated and circulated into the air one is breathing.
Many healthcare professionals recommend wearing a surgical mask while vacuuming, operating a special low-emission system, or abstaining from vacuuming all together and even leaving home during the process. Of course that last one sounds ideal, but unfortunately is not always possible.
Healthy Vacuum Solutions
The first element to look for in a low-emission, health and allergen-friendly vacuum is a high-filtration disposable bag. In the great debate of bag versus bagless design, it comes down to a simple fact: a bag limits the operator’s exposure to harmful particles. Modern vacuum bags are user-friendly and designed with increasingly larger capacities. The average frequency of vacuum bag replacement is every two months on high capacity machines like Miele’s S7. The less often the user is exposed to concentrated pollutants and the least amount of contact between the two the better.
The second element needed to achieve lower emissions is additional stages of filtration after the bag to trap the smallest particles, and those that can cause the most harm like dust mites and their feces and pet dander. These harmful pollutants can squeeze through the pores in the bag and must be stopped by a High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance or HEPA filter. But not all HEPA filters are created equally or engineered to achieve the same results and they all must be changed to continue performing properly. All high-efficiency filters are designed and tested to operate effectively for a set number of hours, and while this is difficult to scientifically track, most households operate their vacuum about an hour a week. Most vacuum filters should be changed every 25 to 50 hours depending on the model, or every 6 months to one year respectively.
Finally, to complete the low-emissions trifecta, the vacuum should boost sealed-system design. If leaks exist along the suction path as it progresses towards the filtration process, highly polluted air is escaping back into the ambient air. In a sealed-system, all dirty air is forced through every stage of filtration before being exhausted into the ambient air.
Creating a Clean Healthy and Hypo-Allergenic Environment
Some of the easiest ways to limit one’s exposure to allergens and pollutants is to eliminate those surfaces and areas where they thrive. Creating a hypo-allergenic environment and investing in the proper equipment to maintain that environment are essential steps in cooping with allergies.
One such thriving environment for allergens is dense fabrics on surfaces like carpet, draperies, mattresses, bedding, upholstery, toys and stuffed animals. These areas are prime reproduction environments for dust mites. They also act like giant filters that retain harmful particles.
Here are the worst offenders and some ways to fix them:
- Carpet should be removed and replaced with a hard surface where possible and low-pile rugs should be supplemented as needed.
- Heavy drapes should be eliminated in favor of blinds, and what drapery fabric is used should be vacuumed weekly and machine washable.
- Mattresses should be vacuumed with a suitable high-powered and low-emissions machine every week. Mattress covers can also be helpful.
- Bedding should be washed once a week as well in hot water. Machine washable blankets are better than thick comforters and duvet covers.
- Pillows should be used sparingly, and the primary pillows used while sleeping should be replaced every 6 months.
- Stuffed animals, toys, and other objects should be kept to a minimum, especially in bedrooms, creating an easy to clean space.
- Upholstered sofas and chairs should be vacuumed regularly. Leather and vinyl are also easy-to-clean, allergy-friendly substitutes.
The most important area to focus one’s efforts is in the allergy sufferer’s bedroom. Most of the time spent at home is in the bedroom and it is essential to create a clean safe environment where the body can restore itself without the immune system being bombarded by assailants. Air purifiers can also help maintain clean air and should be placed primarily in the bedroom if possible.
Regular vacuuming is of course essential as well as using the proper equipment. Vacuuming in place of sweeping with a broom or dusting with a cloth is also proven more effective in trapping and removing allergens rather than redistributing them.
Living with allergies can be challenging. I know from experience. But making these simple changes and investments over time can be life changing.
The Vacuum Guru’s Ultimate Healthy Home Package - $3,000
My ultimate package attacks and controls harmful particles found in the home using three machines working together to combat, contain, and destroy these particles on three fronts:
- Miele S7 Bolero Vacuum for regular surface vacuuming and dusting. Features sealed system design, carpet and smooth surface cleaning capabilities, superior attachment and dusting tools, and the best filtration on the market.
- IQ Air Health Pro Plus for air purification and maintenance. Capable of effectively cleaning up to 1,000 square feet, utilizes Hyper-HEPA filtration, zero particle output, and endorsed by the American Lung Association.
- Lady Bug 2300 TANCS Steamer for multi-surface sanitation and disinfection. Cleans and disinfects any surface using only high pressure water vapor heated internally to over 300º without the need of harmful chemicals or disinfecting agents.
These are the Machines that I have handpicked as the most reliable, clinically tested, and user-friendly designs to fight allergens, destroy bacteria, and generally promote a healthy home environment.