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A Handy Guide to Vacuum Cleaners

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A Handy Guide to Vacuum Cleaners

A domestic appliance par excellence, the vacuum cleaner has revolutionised the way we go about our cleaning chores.



Nobody likes attending to the domestic chores every weekend – but imagine how even more insufferable it would be if we didn’t have that domestic appliance par excellence: the vacuum cleaner. 

A bastion of dirt-picking brilliance, a dust-sucking godsend, thankfully advances in vacuum technology mean we can glide, skim and swivel our way to household cleanliness without so much as breaking into a sweat. 

The modern home is chock-a-block with appliances of all types, shapes and sizes, from washing machines to coffee makers; irons and dishwashers. It’s inconceivable to consider life without them and their everyday accessories we take for granted, bringing a certain organised calm, control and manageability to our lives.

Vacuum technology has come on leaps and bounds and catapulted into the 21st century with a dirt-sucking gusto, with a raft of models and designs taking us to the very cusp of cutting edge vacuum technology and innovation. But how do they work? Fret no more; here your questions are duly answered.     

A Brief History of the Vacuum Cleaner

The earliest vacuum incarnation dates back to 1901 with a version invented by Hubert Cecil Booth, from Gloucester.  His machine was a large, horse-drawn petrol-driven unit, which he parked outside a building and sucked out the dirt though a series of hoses fed through the windows.   

His initial inspiration came from an American inventor he saw showcasing a cleaning machine designed to clean railway carriages. Ostensibly a box with a bag on top, the original invention blew on objects to get the dust to fly out.  Booth’s suggestion and eventual modification was to have a device that sucked the dust instead.  

Bulky, smelly and extremely noisy – and to a certain degree, unsuccessful – Booth’s early vacuuming device did nevertheless set the template and model for vacuum cleaners to follow.   

Canister Vacuum

A canister vacuum consists of a long wand that is attached to a canister by a flexible hose, and the components of the canister include a motor and receptacle that collects the dust.   Mounted on wheels, the canister can be moved around the room to clean it, and is easier to use than a traditional upright vacuum because the operator only need to manoeuvre the canister’s flexible hose.  

This type of vacuum is extremely versatile because it can clean a variety of surfaces with its multitude of attachments. And as well as cleaning wood floors, tiles and carpets, it can also clean upholstery and draperies. A canister vacuum also makes it easier to clean those trickier places, such as stairs, than the upright models.

Upright Vacuum

This type of vacuum is perfect for cleaning more heavily carpeted areas.  The primary components of this appliance are exhaust and intake ports, a motor which drives the fan, and a receptacle or bag which collects the debris – and they’re attached to a handle that controls the unit.   

The fan, motor and intake port are situated in a compartment at the bottom of the unit, and the motor can also power a series of rotating bristles. The rotating brushes sweep the carpet and the fan sucks up any debris or dust, depositing it into a bag above the motor compartment and letting any air escape via the dust collection area through the exhaust port, which keeps the dust in a receptacle. 

Some upright vacuums come with various flexible hoses and attachments, which are particularly effective at cleaning stairs and tight corners. You can also get HEPA filters which reduce the amount of dust released from the exhaust port.   


Drum – or shop vac – models are ostensibly heavy-duty versions of cylinder vacuums, and the canister consists of a large, vertical drum which can be stationary or on wheels.  There are also versions that can be used in small workshops and garages which are powered electrically.  

Hand-held Vacuums

A small appliance that many people use along with an upright vacuum.  Its compact size and portability make it an ideal appliance to clean small spills and get into those and crannies to reach tricky areas such as corners and stairs.  Some models come with rotating bristles as well as the usual suction facility, whilst others are specifically designed to remove pet hair from upholstery or pick up tiny items of debris.

These vacuums are comparatively cheap and they’re available in cord and cordless models. The battery-operated versions have charging stands that can be charged and stored when they’re not being used, although the battery life varies from model to model and they are a little more expensive.

They’re ideal for cleaning car interiors, though it’s more practical to have a model with a cord as they’re more powerful. The length of cord might limit the range of use, though. 

Cyclonic Vacuums

Cyclonic vacuum really took off in the 1990s, working on the cyclonic separation principle that had been patented as early as 1928.

James Dyson introduced a portable unit with cyclonic separation in 1979, adapting his design from industrial saw mills and launching subsequent versions in the 80s and 90s. Dyson even defied critics who said people wouldn’t spend twice as much on a vacuum cleaner when the design went on to become the most popular vacuum in the UK.  

Cyclonic cleaners don’t use filtration bags, rather the dust is separated into a detachable bin or vessel. Dust and air are sucked at high speed into the collection vessel which creates a fast-spinning vortex, where debris and dust particles move to the outside of the vessel by centrifugal force where gravity makes them fall. 

Well-designed cyclonic filtration systems lose suction power because of airflow restriction when the collection receptacle is nearly full, in contrast to filter bag systems which lose suction when the filter becomes clogged with dirt. 

Portable cyclonic models expel clean air from the vortex through a series of finer filters which remove the finer dust particles.  The filters need to be cleaned and replaced regularly to keep the vacuum running at maximum efficiency.   


Most commonly used for commercial cleaning, backpack vacuums are small canister vacuums strapped onto the user’s back that enable them to clean rapidly over a large area.   

Robotic and Automatic Vacuums

Coming into their own in the later 1990s and early 2000, these models are lightweight and designed to function with minimal assistance and are operated by instructions the owner types into a program manually by remote control; they can also select the intensity of the cleaning. The vacuum then proceeds to clean the floors while the owner is away from the property, even making a pre-set number of circuits around the room.  

The robotic cleaner is fitted with electronic sensors which prevent it from bumping into furniture, walls and other obstacles.  The machine will automatically switch off once it’s completed the task. 

Robotic vacuums can clean carpet, wood and tile floors, and their compact size means you can use them under chairs and beds. Because it’s a cordless device it needs to be fully charged before each use, but on the plus side it doesn’t use vacuum cleaner bags and is considerably quieter than a normal vacuum. Robotic vacuums also improve the air quality of your home because they remove allergens that can make certain medical conditions worse.


These are a specialised form of the cylinder/drum models that are used to clean up liquid spills. They can be used both indoors and outdoors and work on wet and dry surfaces. On some of them you can reverse the airflow, a function which can come in handy if, for example, you’re clearing a clogged house or blowing dust into a corner to be easily collected. 

If you’ve got a problem with your vacuum cleaner, Capital Repairs’ team of engineers are qualified to fix all makes and models. They’ll have it working as good as new in no time at all.    

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