Vacuuming: You're doing it wrong

| by Ken Nelson
Vacuuming: You're doing it wrong

A cheeky story at published a list of five things people believe about allergies and allergens but which may or may not be quite right. They include:

  • Myth No. 1: Allergies may go away on their own. (May be true.)
  • Myth No. 2: Houseplants give off pollens that cause allergens. (Not true. Allergy-sensitive pollens mostly come from outdoor plants, and in fact, indoor plants can help improve indoor quality.)
  • Myth No. 3: People with allergies shouldn’t have carpets in their homes. (False. In fact, where carpet use decreases, allergy symptoms increase, indicating carpets—good ones, at least—can act as a filter for allergens.)
  • Myth No. 4: People can be allergic to dog and cat hair. (False. The allergy is to the proteins in oil-gland secretions that spread as pet dander.)

The fifth one relates to vacuuming, and specifically what kind of vacuum, filtration system are best for allergy sufferers. The myth says that the only configuration that matters is using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

According to the story: 

Actually, it’s not just the HEPA filter that helps, it’s how frequently and effectively you vacuum. In order to effectively remove allergens, a vacuum must not only be able to pick up allergens, but also keep them contained inside the bag or canister until you can safely dispose of the dirt. Vacuums that expel dust and other allergens through the exhaust are simply putting all those allergy triggers back into the air you breathe.

Many people who grew up in the 1960s or even later will remember vacuums with big, puffy bags that spewed hundreds of thousands of dust particles back into the air. They were especially visible if sunlight were coming at you from the other side of the cleaner. All that dirt, floating back into the air to go right back to its starting place. No wonder the old advice was first you vacuum then you dust.

So what’s best-of-breed when it comes to equipment and methodology? Because there is an institute or association for everything, you won’t be surprised to learn there is a Carpet and Rug Institute. They award their own seal of approval, and as a bonus for readers, they categorized vacuums by environmental friendliness as well.

There are seven performance attributes SOA products are evaluated on:

  1. Soil Removal Efficacy: How effective is the product at removing soil?
  2. Resoiling: Does the cleaned sample attract soil at an accelerated rate or not? (solutions and systems)
  3. Residual Moisture: Does the extractor or cleaning system remove most of the moisture that results from a wet cleaning process? 
  4. Surface Appearance Change: Does the product leave the carpet minimally changed after multiple cleanings? (vacuums and extractors)
  5. Colorfastness: Does the product cause a color change in the carpet fiber? (solutions and systems)
  6. pH Level: Is the level between 4 and 10 on a pH scale? (solutions and systems)
  7. Optical Brighteners: Does the product contain optical brighteners? None are allowed for SOA certification. (solutions and systems)

Once you have determined the right products, the appropriate methodology should be applied. More from the Carpet and Rug Institute:


  1. Vacuum high traffic areas daily, and everywhere according to a vacuuming schedule, using an SOA/Green Label-approved vacuum.
  2. Clean spots and spills quickly with products that do not damage the carpet or cause it to resoil quicker.
  3. Professionally deep clean your carpets every 12 to 18 months to remove embedded dirt and grime.
  4. Stop dirt at the door by using mats outside and in, taking your shoes off when you enter the house and changing your air filters to reduce airborne dust particles.


Rugs deserve the same care as wall-to-wall carpet and, in some cases, require special attention.

  1. Washing rugs. If your rug is small and the label says “machine washable,” shake the rug outside first and then put it in the washing machine at the recommended temperature. Use warm water (90 to 105 degrees) and a mild detergent. Tumble your rug dry at the lowest heat setting.
  2. Beating larger rugs. If your larger rug is easy to pick up, shake it outside first; then put it over a clothesline and beat it. Next, take the rug inside and vacuum it.
  3. Vacuuming area rugs. Area rugs with fringe require special technique. Use gentle suction and start from the center of the carpet, vacuuming toward the fringe and being careful not to catch the strands in the beater bar. Lift the carpet edge to vacuum beneath the fringe.
  4. Caring for Oriental, Turkish or Persian rugs. Clean imported rugs according to your carpet manufacturer’s specifications or bring in a professional cleaning service. Be gentle with fringe. For heirloom-type rugs, you need professionals.

The obvious benefits for all of this concern over care is that your fibrous floor coverings will look better and last longer. Not so obvious, but maybe even more important, is that they will do a better job trapping particulate matter that can cause allergic reactions, becoming more a source of misery than of home-owning joy.

Image credit:, Jessica Spengler

Topics: Indoor Air Quality, Ventilation

Companies: Panasonic High Performance Ventilation Solutions

Ken Nelson
Ken Nelson is the Northwest Regional Sales Manager for the Panasonic Eco Products Division, specializing in ventilation solutions for residential and multi-family living environments. Over the past four years, Ken has spoken throughout the Northwest, teaching and training builders, building science advocates and professionals on the physics of moisture and air movement in homes of all sizes, types and age. View Ken Nelson's profile on LinkedIn

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