RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It's officially winter, and we're all going to be holing up in our homes to escape the cold for the next few months. We'll be doing so with all the dust, allergens, and indoor air pollutants that linger indoors. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency likes to stress, the air inside our homes is five times more polluted than the air outside—and we have all winter to breathe it in!
One thing you can do to keep your lungs healthy this season is vacuum. Studies have shown that households with carpeting have higher levels of certain chemicals, ranging from hormone-disrupting phthalates to flame retardants that interfere with your thyroid hormones. The best fix is to replace all that carpeting with hardwood flooring, but if that's not in your budget, you can do the next best thing: Get yourself a really good vacuum cleaner—or at least learn how to be a really good vacuum-er.
THE DETAILS: Both Consumer Reports and the Good Housekeeping Institute conduct annual vacuum cleaner tests, and what they've found over the years is good news for bargain hunters. Less-expensive brands like Hoover, Kenmore, Bissell, and Eureka usually rate better than fancier brands that come with hefty price tags. In its 2010 tests, Consumer Reports gave props to all those brands for their ability to pick up tough pet hair, good suction when using tools, performance on both carpeted and hard flooring, and reliability (those brands usually required the least number of repairs). The Good Housekeeping Institute lauded vacuums sold under those brand names for ease of use, and consumer-minded features like not tipping over when you pull on the hose attachment.
Miele was the one high-end brand that performed well in both group's tests, and one reason is that brand's effectiveness at preventing dust from spewing out of the vacuum back into your indoor air, says Carolyn Forte, director of household appliances and cleaning products at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. "The best vacuums trap air and dirt from being emitted from other parts of the vacuum," she says. And although most vacuums do contain filters that prevent dust from the bag or canister from escaping, those filters don't always prevent dust from escaping from other, non-dust-collecting parts of the machine. "Miele provided the best combination of cleaning and performance from an emissions standpoint."
If Miele's $600-and-up price tags give you sticker shock, though, that's OK. Nearly all of the low-cost upright and canister vacuums that Consumer Reports tested scored either "excellent" or "very good" on emissions. Of the brands mentioned above, Hoover's vacuums scored consistently well in that category.
WHAT IT MEANS: You don't have to spend a fortune to get a little peace of mind about what’s lingering in your carpets or in the crevices of your sofa. But even if you aren't in the market for a new vacuum cleaner, there are ways to use your existing dust-buster more effectively.