Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Pollution Is Your Vacuum Up To Snuff

Indoor Air Pollution Is Your Vacuum Up To Snuff

If the air you breathe is making you sick, think pet dander. Or dust mites. Or second-hand tobacco smoke.

Household air can harbor hazardous substances far more common than anthrax and other biothreats that have made headlines, Consumer Reports says. Airborne allergens such as pet skin flakes (dander) and microscopic insects (dust mites) are the usual culprits behind many respiratory problems. Indeed, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be significantly more polluted than outdoor air.

In a special report, "Clearing the Air," the magazine's February issue evaluates products and offers suggestions for ventilation and source control, the two commonsense approaches recommended by the EPA to alleviate indoor air pollution. Among the products, portable and whole-house air cleaners can trap ultra-fine particles (such as those from cigarette smoke), while various types of industrial masks can filter out irritants ranging from paint fumes to nuisance dust. But for many homes, the vacuum cleaner leads the fight.

Frequent vacuuming, the EPA says, is essential to cleaner air. We tested 47 models of vacs (uprights and canisters) and found several that provide outstanding sweeps. While canisters have traditionally outperformed uprights on bare floors, and uprights have held sway on carpets, the best of both types now clean both surfaces equally well. The top pick among uprights is the Kenmore Progressive with Direct Drive 31912, which uses a separate motor to turn the brush directly without a belt. Another Kenmore model, the Progressive 21612, led the canister vacs, cleaning carpets very well and bare floors excellently. Available at Sears, each costs $380.

Meanwhile, two other canister models we tested - the Dirt Devil Vision 82600 ($180) and the Hoover PowerMAX Deluxe S3610 ($215) - can actually compromise air quality by spewing a high number of especially irritating small particles back into the air. And the Fantom Wildcat WC2000A upright, a $200 model, created a dust cloud that coated the vac and our testing room with particles large enough to be seen settling to the floor. The Dirt Devil Vision and Wildcat are among a growing number of bagless vacs. Some bagless models perform well - collection bins replace the need for bags - but most hold less than vacs with bags. All have a filter that may require cleaning, an especially messy chore. And emptying collection bins can raise enough dust to make a dust mask advisable.

Air Cleaners: Particle grabbers for the room, whole home

Cleaner air is relatively easy to come by in homes with a forced-air central heating or cooling system: Simply replace the panel-style filter in the return duct with one that filters more finely. We tested 13 replacement filters, priced from $1 to $25, and found four good choices.

In homes lacking central air cooling or heating systems, room air cleaners provide a localized - and portable - solution. We tested 16 portable air cleaners in a sealed room of about 200 feet square. Particularly notable were the two models utilizing an "electronic precipitator" technology that traps airborne contaminants on electrically charged plates. (Other cleaners use a high efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter). One electronic model, the top-rated Friedrich C-90A ($475), worked impressively even at low fan speeds. The other, the Sharper Image SI637 Ionic Breeze Quadra Silent Air Purifier ($350) worked barely at all, producing almost no measurable reduction in airborne particles in our tests involving road dust and cigarette smoke.

We also tested five whole-house air cleaners that require professional installation, but outperform replacement filters. Three use electronic precipitators, while a fourth -the top-rated Aprilaire 5000 ($500, excluding installation) combines that technology with a filter of thick, pleated fabric.

Other steps to cleaner indoor air include opening windows (especially important in newer homes); substituting bare floors and area rugs for wall-to-wall carpeting (offering less area for dust and dust mites to hide); and installing a ducted kitchen range hood (banishes smoke, odors and fumes) and bathroom exhaust fans (squelches mold and mildew). Designating pet-free rooms can also help, the magazine notes.

For other news editorials, see; ozone air purifier.

Author Notes:

Ian DeBruyn contributes and publishes news editorial to  Learn more about air health and purifiers, plus allergies, molds and asthma and what to do about it.

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