Your Vacuum Cleaner Filter: How Fine is Too Fine?

When we think of vacuums, we think of the dust and trash collected in the vacuum cleaner bag. But vacuums have filters too, for catching the smallest particles in the exhaust that comes out of the vacuum. Because of allergies, some people look into a HEPA or ULPA filter, while others find that a standard vacuum cleaner filter is fine.


Many companies provide a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter with their mid-range and premium products. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate absorbing” filter. To meet the definition of HEPA, a vacuum cleaner filter must catch 99.7 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns or less in diameter in testing by the US Department of Energy. For comparison, a grain of salt is about 5 microns in diameter.

Anecdotal evidence from many allergy sufferers shows some peoples’ symptoms are reduced by cleaning the house with a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter. Most scientists are not ready to say however, that there is a connection between HEPA filters and allergy relief.

Sometimes a vacuum cleaner filter is labeled “HEPA type” or “HEPA technology”. These are terms that mean something that captures less than an actual HEPA filter. If you want real HEPA, watch the language on the vacuum’s packaging. You must clean a HEPA filter often; when the fine mesh gets clogged with dirt, the airflow slows down, overtaxes the motor, and just does not work as well.

An ULPA, “ultra low penetration air”, filter is even finer and is used mostly in industrial applications, when not a particle of material should be lost. Think along the lines of cleaning up an asbestos or nuclear mess.

Leave ULPA vacuum cleaners to the professionals. The mesh is so fine that it slows down the suction and makes the machine run less efficiently. If you would like to try this kind of filtration for your allergies, go with a home air cleaner equipped with an ULPA filter.

Standard Filters

Many vacuums use microfilters in one, two, three, or five layers and may be paired with an electrostatic filter that attracts certain particles. By definition, a microfilter must trap 99.5% of all particles that are 2 microns or more in diameter. Compared to 2 microns, dirt, dust, dust mites, bedbugs, sand and hair are huge. Many of these particles don’t even make to the exhaust filter because they get caught in filters earlier in the cycle. The biggest things, like dust, are caught in the vacuum cleaner bag or dust bin.

You still need to replace or clean your standard vacuum cleaner filter from time to time, but because the mesh is larger, it’s less prone to slow down airflow and overwork the vacuum’s motor.


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