Identifying Durable Designs & Construction

A vacuum cleaner is an unusual appliance in that it falls somewhere between a small appliance and a major appliance. Like most appliances, it exists to assist us in our daily chores. Being the workhorse of a household's cleaning tasks, it needs to be as effective and durable as it reasonably can be. Typically being portable, it takes quite a beating as it is pushed or pulled around the house while it picks up and retains the household dust and dirt. Its components must be designed and constructed to withstand this hard use and still keep performing dependably.

There are many different types and brands of vacuum cleaners but most have similar system components. This article is designed to help you to identify durable designs and construction when searching for your next vacuum cleaner. Additional articles regarding specific components also touch on their durability based on various designs and construction.

Identifying Durable Clean-Air Upright Designs

Since the majority of vacuum cleaners being sold are the upright type, the two different fan designs and their inherent durability factors will receive our first attention. As discussed in the article on Fan or Impeller Types & Performance, the first type is used in the traditional upright while the other type is used in all other designs including the "clean-air" upright, two-motor upright, two-motor power team, standard canister and central vacuum system. The traditional upright design is often referred to as the dirty-air design since the air going through the fan is still carrying the dirt which was picked up. Our experience has shown that, on most upright cleaners with the dirty-air design and motors drawing about nine or more amperes (amps) of current, the higher speed of the fans causes a much higher failure rate.

The suction motors on most vacuum cleaners typically draw seven to twelve amperes (amps) of current from the electrical power source. (Twelve amps is the maximum permitted for any appliance which plugs into a standard household electrical outlet. If you see a rating larger than twelve on a vacuum cleaner, it is probably a Cleaning Performance Rating, not amps!)

The traditional upright design can easily be determined by a few simple design characteristics. All uprights with soft bag type of paper bag enclosures are of this type. Also, those with hard paper bag enclosures which allow air to easily flow through vents or openings along the edges are a sure sign of this type. All clean-air designs must have an sealed hard paper bag enclosure. To identify this more durable type, open the lid of the bag enclosure and look for rubber seals along the sides of the main enclosure where the lid contacts it. Another sure sign is a filter at the bottom or back of the sealed enclosure through which the air passes after leaving the paper bag on its way to the suction motor.

Identifying Durable Construction Materials

Along with being effective, a vacuum cleaner needs to be designed and constructed appropriately so that it can withstand the hard use it receives on a regular basis. Our article on the External Structure Materials & Durability elaborates on different materials used in vacuum cleaners and how the life span is affected by them. Although metal is used extensively by some companies, tough ABS Plastics and polycarbonates like Lexan are used to manufacture most vacuum cleaners. Since it is very difficult to determine which types of compounds are used in the construction, a knowledgeable sales person like those at Ristenbatt Vacuum Cleaner Service is probably your best source for obtaining this information.

Reduced Wear on Moving Parts

A close examination of the moving parts and how they are designed and constructed to reduce normal wear and tear can help you find a vacuum cleaner which will be more durable. The type of bearings used to support rotating parts like the brush roll and motor armature can make a big difference on how long they will perform without failure. Due to the extremely high speed of the suction motor, both of its bearings should be ball bearings instead of sleeve bearings. One company, Lindhaus, uses ball bearings which are mounted in rubber sleeves to absorb vibration for quieter and longer operation. As discussed in our article on Power Nozzle Elements & Durability, well designed sleeve bearings for the brush roll can be quite durable, lasting the life of the vacuum cleaner itself.

Another area to examine is the wheels and their axles. Uprights and attachments cover a lot of ground every week. The axles should always be steel for reduced wear. A very poor design used by some manufacturers is to make the axle part of the main molded plastic base. The wheel then rotates on this plastic axle, sometimes with a nylon sleeve between the wheel and axle. This tends to create a large amount of wear that can require the expensive replacement of the main base after just a few years of use.

Good Belt Designs

The type of belt used to transfer the power from the motor to the brush roll can make a big difference in performance and cost of maintenance. Most uprights and power nozzles use a flat rubber belt which is stretched when installed. The tightness of the belt keeps it from slipping on the pulleys but also increases the wear on the bearings, particularly sleeve bearings in the brush roll. Stretch type belts should be replaced annually to keep the cleaner performing well. If not changed in time, they will stretch to the point that the brush roll will stop and the motor shaft will overheat and melt through the belt.

Much better belt design is the cogged type. It is constructed of reinforced rubber so it can not stretch with use. The cog type has gear-like cogs that mesh with gear-like pulleys so that there is absolutely no slippage. This also extends the life of sleeve bearings due to much less pressure on them. Examples of cleaners having non-slip cog type belts including all current Miele, all Lindhaus, all SEBO and all Electrolux and all Aerus (formerly Electrolux) uprights and power teams. This superior design eliminate belt slippage for better carpet agitation and extends the belt life to about five to seven years.

Recent years have seen the advent of a third type of belt, the Reinforced Banded V-belt. Like the cog belt, these are reinforced and can not stretch. Instead of being flat on the inside, they have about four or five miniature V shaped grooves much like the belts used on car engines. Tention produced by a steel flat spring pushing against the motor keeps them tight. Like the cog type belt, these will last a number of years before requiring replacement. Panasonic makes power nozzles with this type of belt which are used on their own canister vacuums, some Sears Kenmore power nozzles, the deluxe Hayden power nozzle as well as a few other brands. Cog and Banded V-belts typically are more narrow so less space on the brush roll is used by the belt, providing more room for the bristles.

Multi-Fan Suction Motor Design

As mentioned in our article on Fan or Impeller Types & Performance, the more powerful suction motors in clean-air systems have two or three fan stages pulling in series. While this design produces more suction, it can also extend the motor life due to reduced wear at the lower operating speeds. Single fan motors spin much faster due to the reduced load of only one fan spinning the air. This higher speed helps to create a more acceptable amount of suction but the motor brushes, commutator, and bearings all have reduced life spans. This higher speed can be heard by the higher pitch of the sound which the single fan motors emit. Unfortunately, almost all canister and upright vacuum cleaners made in the United States have been downgraded to using single fan motors. The Aerus (formerly Electrolux) power teams and two-motor uprights, Rainbow power teams by Rexair and most central vacuum systems are some exceptions to this in that they still use motors with more than one fan. We're finding more and more that we must turn to European made vacuum cleaners like the Lindhaus two-motor upright (Italy) imported by Lindhaus U.S.A. to find these more durable multi-fan motors. Since most vacuum cleaner literature doesn't specify how many fans the suction motor has, you'll need to depend on a knowledgeable vacuum cleaner technician like those at Ristenbatt Vacuum Cleaner Service to tell you which vacuum cleaners use the more durable multi-fan design.

Some newer high performance motor designs incorporate one fan which is much thicker near its center so more air can enter its blades. Examples of this are the Miele Vortex Motor and the motor used in the SEBO canisters. While these motors have only one fan, their design and construction enable them the be as durable as their multi-fan counterparts.

Protective Filtering System

The filtering system of a vacuum cleaner performs two functions. The first is to efficiently remove almost all of the dust and allergens from the air which you breathe. The other is to keep the motor in a clean-air system as clean as possible. Dirt is abrasive by nature and increases the wear on the various motor parts. Excessive dirt in the suction fans can even cause them to pull apart due the increased centrifugal force exerted on their fins. Excessive vibration of a suction motor can be caused by the uneven dirt deposits in the fins. Look closely at the filter or filters which are between the paper bag and the motor. The pores for the air to pass through should be a small as possible. Plain foam rubber tends to be the worst type of filter while an electrostatic or HEPA filter much better. Also, make sure that it fits tightly in its housing and doesn't allow any air to bypass it. Some vacuum cleaners like the Aerus (formerly Electrolux) use only a very coarse screen instead of a filter between the paper bag and the motor. The filter also acts like a safety barrier in the event the paper bag tears and lets its dirt escape. With a poor filter or none at all to stop the dirt, the motor gets more dirt in it, reducing its life span.

Natural Hair vs. Synthetic Bristles

Bristles on attachments like the floor brush and dusting brush are usually made from a synthetic substance like nylon. While nylon is normally an excellent wearing material, bristles made of it have the tendency to curl and mat, becoming hard instead of maintaining the nice soft feel. These synthetic bristles can be identified by their black shiny appearance. The much better natural hair bristles are usually brown but sometimes died black and have a matte appearance. Although they will become shorter with use, they will remain straight, soft, and flexible for many years of use. While the natural bristle if often referred to as "horse hair" it often consists of boar (pig) hair.

Repairable Electrified Hoses

Power teams and central vacs with motorized power nozzles usually have a hose with internal wires which carry the current for the power nozzle's motor. These electrified hoses wear like any other type of hose and eventually tear near one of the ends. Due to the additional complexity of this type of hose, it tends to be rather expensive to replace, particularly the long 30' ones used on central vacuum systems. Most electrified hoses have molded cuffs on the hose at both ends and are unrepairable when they tear. The hose used by Hayden on their central vacuum is one of only a few which have ends that can be taken apart, enabling a technician to repair the hose by shortening it a few inches. By being careful to purchase a vacuum cleaner with a repairable hose, you will save considerable money in hose replacements over its life span.

Concluding Remarks

The vast majority of vacuum cleaners, particularly those you find being sold by mass merchants like department stores, discount stores and block warehouse stores, are designed to provide seemingly powerful motors along with a number of desirable features at a very low price. Unfortunately, in order to create such machines, the quality and durability is neglected and the life expectancy drops to only a few years. By shopping at a vacuum cleaner specialty store like Ristenbatt Vacuum Cleaner Service, knowledgeable salespeople can show a broader range of vacuum cleaners to you including those which will have three to five times longer life spans while maintaining much greater system performance all the time. Your chances of making the best purchase for your particular cleaning needs is greatly increased when you talk face to face or on the phone with our salespeople. All of them are also skilled technicians who are very knowledgeable about vacuum cleaners, both inside and out. They will be happy to talk with you regarding your various vacuum cleaner needs, preferences and desires.

Next Vacuum Cleaner Component: External Structure Materials & Durability

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