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Vacuum Cleaner Dustbags Explained Note that for purposes of this article, filtration refers only to the properties of the bag itself. Many vacuum cleaners also provide filters to protect the suction motor and cleanse the air that is returned to the room. These additional filters are usually foam or a pleated paper material and are discussed in a separate article: Filters Explained.
Bag or Bagless
Traditionally, most vacuum cleaners came with paper bags in which dust and dirt was collected and then disposed. Bags are available with varying degrees of filtration effectiveness, from inexpensive single layer paper bags to top of the line HEPA bags manufactured from 3M Filtrete(TM), a clothlike filter media.
The main advantages of traditional bagged vaccums are the 'fill it and throw it away' nature of dust bags, an immediate return of suction power when the bag is changed, and generally, more efficient control and removal of allergens from the home environment.
Today, however, many vacuums are bagless and use a plastic container instead of a bag to collect the dust. This dust container is then emptied after one or more sessions of vacuuming.
An advantage of bagless vacuum cleaners is that you don't have to purchase and change bags, thus saving the cost of bags and reducing the trash load on the environment. Another advantage is that you can empty and clean the container after each use to reduce bacterial proliferation and subsequent odor.
Disadvantages of bagless models, however, include the cost of the dust-trapping HEPA filters, which can cost more than the equivalent quantity of bags for the same period of use. Filters lose their effectiveness as the micropores become clogged with detritus and must be replaced every 6 to 12 months. HEPA filters, available on many bagless vacuums, tend to be expensive, with some filters costing as much as $50 or $60.
Another disadvantage of bagless models is a rapid degradation of performance as their filters clog with dirt. In bagless vacuums, the filter is used to keep the dirt in the dust container after the suction of the motor pulls it into the cleaner. In a bagged vacuum, the bag itself is the primary dirt trap, and once the bag is filled it is discarded and vacuum suction restored. Some bagless brands, such as Dyson, claim not to lose suction due to proprietary dirt separation mechanisms that reduce the dirt load on the filters.
Finally, some people, especially those with moderate to severe allergies, find the blowback of dust and allergens that occurs when the dust container is removed from the cleaner and emptied into a trash receptable objectionable. To combat this phenomenom, some vacuum owners take their cleaner outside before emptying the dirt cup so that the pollution is not returned into the atmosphere of their home.
Types of Bags
Bagged vacuum cleaners use various filtration techniques to capture fine particles. Filtration ranges from plain paper bags to bags with micron filtration to bags with true-HEPA filtration, which is said to offer the best filtration.
In general, the higher the level of filtration, the higher the cost of the vacuum cleaner bag.
What is Micron Filtration?
Micron Filtration retains 100% of dust mites, grass pollen and ragweed plus particles 15 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Vacuum bags with Micron Filtration will trap a large portion of lung irritants.
What is HEPA Filtration?
High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, formerly called high-efficiency particulate arrestors, were originally developed during World War II to prevent discharge of radioactive particles from nuclear reactor facility exhausts. They have since become a vital technology in industrial, medical, and military clean rooms and have grown in popularity for use in portable residential air cleaners and vacuum cleaners.
HEPA devices have been traditionally defined as an extended-surface dry-type filtration system having a minimum particle removal efficiency of 99.97% for all particles of 0.3 micron diameter with higher efficiency for both larger and smaller particles. This rating is determined using a test challenge smoke that consists of particles of 0.3 micron average diameter.
Does 'electrostatic filtration' work?
Electrostatic removal of submicron particles from air streams is an efficient way to control dust. Particles below 2.5 microns account for very little inhaled mass but represent 99.5% of the total number of particles inhaled.
These tiny particles are hard to filter conventionally, but can be collected on electrostatically charged surfaces. Charged fibers are obtained by induction (extruding polymer in an electric field) or by corona discharge treatment of a fibrous web or by friction between triboelectrically dissimilar materials.
How often should I change the bag on my vacuum?
Plan to change the bag every other month if you vacuum weekly and at least monthly if you vacuum daily. Check more often if your home is large or has new carpet, if you have children, if there is a lot of foot traffic in your house or if you have pets.
If the dirt is above the line printed on the bag, change it immediately.
What happens if I don't change the bag?
There needs to be space available in the dirt bag so that air can circulate and so that new debris can enter. Your vacuum cleaner will lose suction power and stop picking up dirt when the bag is full. Also, an overfilled bag may burst and damage your vacuum cleaner.