Is Your Vacuum Polluting Your Home? Here’s How To Fix That & The HEPA Vacuum Difference

By Marilee Nelson |

featured image: Is Your Vacuum Polluting Your Home? Here’s How To Fix That & The HEPA Vacuum Difference

Vacuuming is supposed to be one of the most efficient ways to remove dirt, dust, pet dander, allergens and other pollutants from your home. But there’s a little-known problem with most household vacuums: they exhaust the very dust that was just collected back into the air, making the area more contaminated than before! If you’ve experienced that dusty smell that comes out of most vacuums, even after cleaning the filters or replacing the bag, then you can bet your vacuum is leaking dust and particulates back into the air.This makes your cleaning efforts inefficient and counterproductive.

How “Just A Little Vacuum Dust” Can Turn Into A Big Problem

A decent vacuum does suck up a lot of dirt, dust and other unwanted particulates. However, the invisible dust most vacuums expel back into the air typically contains a variety of bacteria, viruses, pathogens and toxic chemicals. Two of the most concerning being SVOCs (Semivolatile organic compounds) and heavy metals, which ride on dust.

#1: SVOCs arechemicals that are emitted from materials like flame retardants in furniture or clothing, plasticizers, pesticides, perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS), biocides (such as isothiazolinone) and phthalates. Unlike VOCs, which can be outgassed rather quickly and have a distinct odor, SVOCs are odorless and increase over time.1 Despite their prevalence in modern products like non-stick cookware, clothing, furniture and everyday items, they have been proven harmful. SVOCs have been linked to sick building syndrome, asthma, endocrine-disruption, organ-damage and cancers.2

#2: Heavy metals are known neurotoxins and carcinogens that ride on dust and enter our homes via industrial air pollution, shoes (which is why we keep a no-shoe-indoor policy), pesticides and other household products. Any dust exhausted into your home’s air from your vacuum can become a significant source of indoor air pollution.

The Fix? A HEPA Vacuum! Your Best Tool For Better Indoor Air Quality

HEPA vacuums are the world’s most underappreciated tools for keeping your home’s toxic load down. Used and trusted by home restoration and remediation specialists, they’re also a must-have for homeowners.

The difference between a HEPA vacuum with a certified sealed system and your average vacuum (even the nice, fancy, expensive ones) is that it traps even the finest dust and ensures no particulates leak out. HEPA stands for: High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance, and removes at least 99.97% of particles that have a size of 0.3 µm (micrometers), or three millionths of a meter. In other words: it’s the best tool for removing even the least visible pollutants, toxins, allergens, chemicals and heavy metals from your home.

Not All “HEPA Vacuums” Are True Certified Sealed Systems

“Certified Sealed” HEPA vacuums are the gold-standard. Anything else, including non-certified sealed vacuums with a HEPA filter or “HEPA-like” filters can still release dust into the air through the junctures where nozzles and hoses connect.  

Since the certified sealed systems require a more powerful motor, you can expect a higher price tag. However, when properly cared for, a high-quality HEPA vacuum will outlast any inferior vacuum by years. Plus you can rest easy knowing you have the best protection against the most common and insidious indoor air pollutants and pathogens. The difference is remarkable and you’ll notice it in the overall air quality, your air filters (which will be less dirty) and your air purifiers which won’t have to work as hard and will last longer.

How To Find The Best HEPA Vacuum For Your Needs And Budget

If you’re ready to upgrade your vacuum, here’s a list of recommended brands with certified sealed systems:

  • Nilfisk GM 80—top of the line abatement level vacuum used to abate mold, lead, and asbestos. 
  • Nilfisk GD 930—another highly recommended vacuum for about half the price of the GM 80, ideal for hard floors. If you have carpet, adding the Nilfisk Power Nozzle M70032 is recommended.
  • Any Miele Vacuum with a certified AirClean Sealed System.
  • Shark Apex Powered Lift Away—the most economical option (rated by Good Housekeeping) with a sealed system.

If purchasing a new vacuum isn’t in the cards right now, consider renting one a few times a year. Even periodic cleaning with a HEPA vacuum can do wonders for reducing indoor air pollutants and deep cleaning carpets, surfaces and upholstery.  

What About Robot Vacuums?

We get a lot of questions about robotic vacuums for maintenance between vacuuming. We get it, vacuuming takes time and it isn’t always possible to do several times a week. Our take is this: since most robot vacuums don’t have very powerful motors, it’s probably fine to use them between HEPA vacuuming… especially if you wouldn’t vacuum otherwise. However, just know that they’re likely to spew some of that dust back into the air, although not at the rate of a larger, more powerful vacuum. If you’re very sensitive to dust and dander, this could create an issue for you. 

At this time, there are no robot vacuums we know of with certified sealed HEPA systems. Be sure to use your HEPA vacuum at least once a week to make up the difference in addition to using your robot vacuum. If you notice your allergies or sensitivities picking up, stick to the HEPA vacuum only.

Have Questions?

Join us on Instagram, @branchbasics, for ongoing tips on HEPA vacuuming and improving indoor air quality. And be sure to check out these new articles in our indoor air quality series: Why Household Dust Matters To Your Health, The Benefits of Houseplants for Cleaner Air and Better Health, and our free #TossTheToxins online course.

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.