(PART ONE of a short series using cars to understand vacuums)
We use “car analogies” a lot in our vacuum store. Perhaps it’s because we know so much about them. John was a high-end automotive technician for 15 years before taking over the vacuum shop. I am a graphic designer by trade, but was raised with a father who was into hot rods (I was in diapers sitting in the engine compartment of Dad’s ’72 Camaro.) Most people “get” cars too. But the average person doesn’t really “get” vacuums.
Understandably, most folks don’t really care about vacuums so they’ve not been paying close attention. Yet as consumers, we’ve “asked” for changes in our vacuum products that, albeit unintentionally, yielded some pretty nasty side effects. The consequence of this is that the majority of vacuum cleaners have been allowed to devolve into a substandard variety over the years, right under our noses….
MOST VACUUMS ARE BUILT SO POORLY THESE DAYS THAT IF THE AUTO COMPANIES HAD STOOPED TO THE SAME MANUFACTURING STANDARDS AS EXIST FOR MOST VACUUMS – WE’D PROBABLY GET KILLED IN MINOR ACCIDENTS, OR CHOKE TO DEATH ON VEHICHLES’ EMISSIONS. While cars have generally and steadily improved over the years, vacuums made some forward progress and then began to show a sickening decline.
Now, I know that “improve” is a subjective word. But for the purpose of this article, I am referring to increases in performance of a machine’s essential functions. Auto manufacturers (in some cases under the guidance of Federal regulation) have dramatically improved the automobile’s ability to: Protect occupants in a crash; Operate cabin controls; Steer and stop easily; Sputter and stall less; Pollute the air less. Thus, even the most basic models of car are typically equipped with features only luxury cars offered back in the day: Crumple zones, seatbelts and airbags; Power steering, windows and locks; Fuel injection; Anti-lock brakes; Catalytic converters, et al.
For a vacuum, I consider “improvement” a performance increase in its main functions: Debris extraction across various surfaces, dust capture (filtration), ease of use and maintenance, and working without breakage over time. Yet it seems that the vacuum industry’s attempt to improve some features caused some serious, fundamental problems in other areas…
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE:
– When cars got faster and more powerful, safety upgrades had to be made to compensate. Brakes had to be bulked up to help the stop from those higher speeds. Bodies and frames had to be re-engineered to withstand higher-speed crashes. True improvements!
-When vacuums got more powerful, in most cases the rubber drive belts were not upgraded to withstand the added speed and friction. With four times the electrical amperage and motor speed transferred to that small strip of rubber, that’s why your vacuum’s belt lasts only about a quarter of the time it used to. Also, more power equals motor, bigger motor means more weight. To compensate for the added weight, some vacuums’ bodies were made thinner and lighter. These new poor-quality, ill-fitting plastic bodies contribute to severe dust leakage that spews dust back into the air (gross!), as well as the vacuum’s internal motor compartment. That results in a dusty house, and a motor that shorts out prematurely. Many vacuums gained the potential to pick up more dust and dirt, and then lost the ability to contain it properly. What started as an upgrade, resulted in a downgrade! That is NOT a true improvement. It’s like having a “better” bucket that holds more water, but has a leaky hole in the bottom of it.
The good news is that there are a few phenomenal vacuums made today! Sebo and Miele are two brands, both made in Germany, that offer much higher standards than the mass-marketed brands. We sought them out specifically to carry in our store. You could say they are the vacuum equivalent or Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars. They both found ways to improve suction, versatility, ease-of-use and lifespan without sacrificing filtration or other critical functions. Like a Mercedes commercial I just saw on TV….they “don’t do just one thing well, they do everything well.” No, you can’t expect to find a Miele at Costco or Wal-Mart. And yes, it will cost more up-front than a Eureka, and may be a few pounds heavier. But the benefits dramatically outweigh those minor “negatives.” With rare exception, you really do get what you pay for.
So in conclusion…I am NOT saying that you will die if you buy a lousy vacuum. What I AM trying to do is make you MORE AWARE of the (poor) quality of the majority of vacuum products on the market, and how this affects your life. We’re talking about dirt; microscopic particles. They’re small, “out of sight out of mind,” not the top priority in your life…until the vacuum breaks, something starts to smell, or someone gets sick. We are all targets of clever marketing. Other industries like food, automotive and pharmaceutical, are highly regulated regarding production standards and the claims they make to consumers. Vacuums…ehhh…not so much. Just be aware that the majority of the vacuum cleaners on the mass market do not perform as well as you may think, or as advertised. Gauge your expectations accordingly, or consult an expert on how to pick a vacuum that’s truly right for you, and get more for your money!