While shopping for your new vacuum cleaner you’re likely to come across the term HEPA filtration. This filtration system uses a special type of filter to prevent air contamination and to help you keep your indoor air clean and fresh while using your vacuum cleaner.
These HEPA filters in vacuum cleaners are considered to be especially useful if you suffer from dust allergies or asthma. But even if you don’t have any breathing or respiratory problems, you and your family will still benefit from cleaner air in your home.
Unfortunately, you won’t find this filter in every vacuum. Nor is every HEPA filter of the same quality.
Below, we’ll dive deeper into what HEPA filters are, how they work, and what to consider before buying a HEPA vacuum cleaner. We’ve also tried to answer any other questions you might have about HEPA filters in our frequently asked questions section at the bottom of this page.
What is a HEPA filter?
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA), sometimes referred to as high-energy particulate air, technically does not refer to the filter itself. It’s the name of the standard of air filtering efficiency that the filters we call HEPA filters need to meet.
To meet this standard, the air filter has to remove particles from the flow of air that goes through the filter. In the United States, the filter has to remove at least 99.97% of particles as specified by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) while in Europe a minimum of 99.95% is required. Both guidelines refer to particles of a diameter of 0.3 μm.
Filters meeting these standards have taken the world by storm ever since they first appeared in the 1950s. They are used in all sorts of industries to control contamination. From hospitals to factories manufacturing semiconductors to nuclear power plants.
And, of course, to inside your vacuum cleaner.
How does HEPA filtration work?
High-efficiency particulate air filters consist of a mat of different fibers. These different fibers are arranged in a randomized way and filter the incoming air in several ways.
For one, they operate as a sieve to block out large particles while letting smaller particles pass through. But this is just a first layer of protection.
The main way in which HEPA filters clear up polluted air is due to particles sticking to the different fibers. Without getting too technical, this happens through several mechanical processes, called diffusion, interception, and impaction.
As air flows through the filter, particles of all sizes are trapped on the fibers, leaving only clean, purified air to escape from the filter. It is the same mechanism used in home air purifiers and filtration systems used to keep the air in your home clean.
Why do you need a HEPA filter in vacuum cleaners?
Let’s consider for a second about how a vacuum cleaner actually works.
It first draws in filthy air, which then goes through the machine and its dirt collection system (like a dust bag). But, of course, this same air still has to leave the machine again as well.
And that’s where the HEPA filter comes into play. All the air that’s drawn into your vacuum cleaner needs to go through your HEPA filter first before it’s expelled out of your machine. Otherwise, some of the dust and dirt that your vacuum just drew in will be expelled back into your home. In fact, it will be blasted back into the air you breathe.
And just think for a second about the amount of dust and dirt your vacuum cleaner sucks up for you. Now imagine all the dust and mites and minuscule particles you might extract from your carpet to then blow them all through your home’s clean air for you and your family to breathe in.
A HEPA filter can block out all of these particles, including even bacteria and viruses! For example, have you heard of N95 or P100 respirator masks used by medical staff during the COVID-19 pandemic?
These numbers stand for the percentage of particles they prevent from passing through the mask. The P100 rating, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is given to respirators that filter out at least 99.97% of particles. And do you recognize that percentage from somewhere?
That’s right. That’s the standard for HEPA filters.
So, you can see why a HEPA filter is beneficial, regardless of whether you or your loved ones suffer from allergies or not.
What to consider when buying a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
Now you see the benefit of a HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner, the next question is: Which one to get?
As with any type of vacuum cleaner, HEPA vacuum cleaners come in many different shapes, sizes, and prices. So a lot of your choice will depend on your personal preference.
Ensure it is genuine HEPA filtration
The first thing you want to ensure is that the vacuum cleaner actually lives up to the HEPA standard.
Some manufacturers claim their vacuum cleaner is “as good as HEPA”. But unless they specifically state it filters 99.97% of particles or more, you’re best to avoid manufacturers like that.
Buy from a trusted manufacturer
As is often the case, stick to renowned brands and reputable manufacturers that meet industry standards and demonstrate in detail that they use a genuine HEPA filter.
Moreover, some low-quality brands may include a HEPA filter, but if it isn’t sealed inside the machine properly or the strength of the airflow is low, particles may still manage to leave your vacuum’s exhaust.
Check HEPA filter maintenance
Your vacuum cleaner’s HEPA filter probably won’t last as long as your vacuum cleaner. Read the manufacturer’s instructions first to see how often the filter needs to be replaced and how expensive this will be.
Replacement costs may vary per manufacturer, so it is advised to check this before committing to a vacuum cleaner.
General vacuum cleaner buying tips
Aside from specific HEPA filter considerations, you still have to find a vacuum cleaner that’s right for you as well. Some factors to consider when buying a vacuum cleaner include:
- Upright or canister model
- Bagged vs. bagless
- Ease of use
- Attachments and other features
- Durability and warranty
Frequently Asked Questions about HEPA filters in Vacuums
Do I need a HEPA filter for my vacuum cleaner?
You might think HEPA filtration is only necessary if you suffer from dust allergies or asthma. But that’s not true.
You see, HEPA filters in vacuums can help improve your home’s indoor air quality. This means you and your family will breathe cleaner air every day. That’s why HEPA-filtered vacuums benefit everyone who uses them, and not just people who suffer from allergies.
How to maintain HEPA filters?
Although a HEPA filter can generally last for a few years, it probably won’t outlive your vacuum cleaner. That’s why you will need to replace your HEPA filter at some point.
When you use your vacuum cleaner indoors on a normal, regular basis, you can expect the filter to last around two to three years.
This will, however, depend on how you maintain your HEPA filter as well. Keeping your HEPA filter clean ensures it keeps working properly, whilst also increasing its durability.
So can a HEPA filter be washed?
Well, that depends on the type of HEPA filter. Some are washable, while others will be completely ruined if you wash them. Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines before exposing your filter to water.
Do HEPA air filters really work?
Yes. These filters are designed to filter out 99.97% of particles, which means the air coming out of your vacuum cleaners exhaust is much cleaner than if you didn’t have a HEPA filter.
This cleaner air benefits everyone exposed to it, whether you suffer from allergies or asthma or not.
What is the best HEPA filter for allergies?
When it comes to HEPA filtration in vacuums, all devices that meet the HEPA standard will be beneficial to people suffering from allergies.
HEPA-grade filters manage to filter out 99.97% of all airborne particles coming through it, which includes most causes of allergies like dust or pollen.
What are HEPA filters in vacuums made of?
These filters consist of different fibers, which are normally created out of fiberglass. This is a fiber-reinforced plastic that uses glass fiber.
Do most vacuums have HEPA filters?
No. Some vacuums do not include HEPA filters, so it is always advised to carefully check the specifications of a vacuum cleaner before purchasing it.