For those concerned about indoor air quality, it means a cleaner home environment and, generally, a reduction of allergic reactions in occupants. Consumers today are more concerned than ever about indoor air quality and a cleaner home environment.

The EPA reports that indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air pollution. There are three ways to improve indoor air quality: eliminate the source of pollutant introduce fresh air into the home use a filtration system to remove particles Filtration systems to remove particles are key to vacuum cleaner purchases. Because consumers are concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ), vacuum cleaner manufacturers have responded with a variety of technologies to improve air quality–HEPA, HEPA type, electrostatic, 3M Filtrete™.

So which is best? More importantly, which is best for my home environment?

Let’s take a look at the two major technologies.

Originally designed for scientific clean rooms, HEPA is a material that offers a filtration performance of 99.997% efficiency at .03 microns (a human hair is 40 microns in width, a dust mite is 5 microns in size).

Though offering excellent filtration performance, the material is restrictive to airflow–and airflow, as discussed earlier, is needed for effective carpet cleaning. Many companies tout HEPA for machines costing less than $140. This is because HEPA is not a standard regulated by any government or scientific committee. It’s easy for any vacuum brand to label a vacuum as HEPA.

Just because a vacuum cleaner contains some HEPA filtering media doesn’t mean the vacuum offers HEPA filtration performance. HEPA is a slow airflow media and vacuum cleaners are higher airflow machines. If the air can’t go through the HEPA material, it will go around, which it does in most cases.

There are vacuum cleaners that do offer true HEPA performance. These machines typically cost over $200, with annual replacement HEPA filters costing $60 to $80. When in a vacuum cleaner store, compare a HEPA filter from a more expensive machine to a HEPA filter from a machine typically sold at a superstore. There are major differences and it is clear that HEPA is not a regulated standard, which confuses consumers.

A second popular form of filtration on the market is electrostatic filtration. Electrostatic filtration is a super-efficient medium designed for high airflow performance with a unique quality that attracts dust particles.

Air flowing through the media creates and sustains an electromagnetic charge. This attracts fine dust particles. The result is a high-performing filtration technology ideally suited for high airflow appliances like vacuum cleaners. The most popular brand of electrostatic media is Filtrete™ by 3M. Filtrete™ electrostatic media was originally developed for hospital incubators and respirators. It has since broadened to a wide line of products requiring microfiltration performance.

The 3M company has now partnered with the American Lung Association through the Health House project to promote awareness of and solutions to the problem of poor indoor air quality. For households where occupants suffer from allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, and tobacco smoke or for those demanding a cleaner indoor environment, it is highly recommended that a vacuum cleaner purchase feature either of these technologies.

Consumer Reports has tested vacuum cleaners with both types of technologies and has concluded both offer the same “excellent” ratings compared to vacuum cleaners without HEPA or electrostatic filtration.

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