Home Air Quality The Low-down On Canister Vacuums: How They Stack Up Against Uprights

The Low-down On Canister Vacuums: How They Stack Up Against Uprights


NATIONAL REPORT—Old habits die hard. Most of us in the United States were raised in houses that used upright vacuum cleaners. Chances are your mother used an upright at home, and your grandmother before her. Now, you use an upright, not just at home, but also at your job. A recent survey by “Sanitary Maintenance” magazine found that 80 percent of cleaning equipment distributors named uprights as their company’s best-selling item.

The alternative to uprights, canister vacuums, accounted for just 2 percent of sales. The situation is completely different in the rest of the world, where canister vacuums are as common as uprights are here. This is due not only to traditional culture, but also to the canister vacuum’s relatively low cost of ownership. Europe, for example, has much less of a disposable culture, and Europeans know that a canister vacuum will provide years of dependable use. Another reason for the canister’s popularity is that canister vacs are a multi-surface, multi-purpose cleaning machine for hard and soft floor surfaces.

Canister vacuums are more versatile, are better at cleaning both horizontal and vertical surfaces, require less maintenance, have better filtration, and improve indoor air quality (IAQ). All of these features make canister vacuums a more effective and dependable tool for cleaning professionals. In addition, these vacuums are more reliable with fewer moving parts to replace—all of which add up to the lowest cost of ownership.

Just about every benefit of a canister vacuum, from reduced clogging and superior filtration, to quiet sound and cleaning performance, is due to its design.

Low Cost of Ownership

There are three reasons for the lower cost of ownership of a canister vacuum: less clogging, fewer moving parts that require replacement and, typically, they have a larger dust bag requiring fewer changes.

An upright is a complicated tool for a relatively simple task. Air and debris that are sucked in through the floor tool have to navigate a complex pathway through curves and bends before the dirt can be deposited in the bag. This obstacle course reduces airflow and creates friction, reducing cleaning performance. A frequent complaint regarding upright vacuums is that they clog, which requires time and effort to remove and decreases productivity. Clogs also decrease cleaning performance by restricting air flow. This restriction causes excessive heat, reducing the life of the vacuum motor.

Canister vacuums clog much less frequently because they use a straight metal tube and a non-convoluted hose that provide an unrestricted path into the dust bag. Another contributing factor is that canisters typically have a more powerful motor, more suction power, and greater air flow to carry dirt and debris through the hose and into the dust bag.

Canister vacuums have a lower cost of ownership because they have relatively few moving or electrical parts. They have just three parts that cannot be repaired by a typical end-user: the cord, switch and motor.

Compare this to an upright. An upright has belts, brushes, a gear mechanism to allow the upper housing to pivot on the lower housing, and a locking mechanism to hold it in an upright position. It’s no surprise that uprights spend more time in the shop than canisters.

Despite the lower cost of owning a canister, chances are your fleet of vacuums consists primarily of uprights. This is probably because the initial cost of an upright—its purchase price—is generally less than a canister. However, when you consider how much you’ve spent on upright repairs lately and the amount of time you’re without a vacuum, it is easy to understand why canisters are less expensive to operate and actually end up paying for themselves in the long run.

Multi-Purpose Cleaning Machine

In addition to its low cost to own and operate, a canister vacuum is a multi-surface, multi-purpose cleaning machine that does more than just vacuum the carpet. A canister can vacuum any type of hard floor surface including wood, tile, linoleum, stone and ceramic. In addition, canisters can also vacuum carpets in schools, offices, hotels and restaurants. In comparison, uprights are simply not designed to clean hard floor surfaces, are less effective at picking up dirt and dust, and have the potential of scratching a delicate hard floor surface.

Canister vacuums are the perfect tool for detail dusting, project work on both horizontal and vertical surfaces, and overhead cleaning. They are the ideal machine for vacuuming upholstery, cubical walls, stairs, window ledges and sills. The long reach and powerful suction make them the ultimate cleaning machine for ceiling tiles, air-handling vents, light fixtures, sprinkler heads, duct work and other overhead objects.

Better IAQ, Cleaning Performance

Indoor air quality is a growing concern with increased levels of pollution and the incidences of sick-building syndrome (SBS). A recent report released by the Environmental Health Center states that SBS in office buildings reduces worker productivity and may also increase absenteeism. This same negative impact on performance also plays a significant role in school settings, where performance and health issues are also a concern.

Canister vacuums typically have more and better filtration than uprights. Vacuum cleaners are designed with flow-through motors; the airflow which picks up dirt travels through both the suction fan and the motor itself to cool. The job of the filters is to clean the air before it passes through the motor and is expelled into the environment.

Many canister vacuums have two, three and perhaps up to five levels of filtration that protect both the vacuum’s motor and the occupants of the facility. Another factor to consider is that canisters are typically a truly sealed vacuum—meaning there are no air leaks where unfiltered air can be exhausted into the environment. Although uprights can also have HEPA filters, the systems are generally not sealed. An unsealed system allows dust and particulates to leak into the air stream and spread throughout a facility.

There is a common misperception that canister vacuums do not pick up as well as an upright on today’s commercial carpet. In reality, canister vacuums pick up as well, if not better, than uprights in commercial applications. This has to do with the fact that canisters have more powerful motors with more suction power and air flow that easily removes any dirt, sand or debris from hard and soft floor surfaces. Today’s commercial carpet has a dense low pile which does not allow any dust or dirt to lay far from the carpet’s surface. Obviously, if the dirt is lying close to the surface, powerful suction will result in the dust being removed from that surface without agitation.

Ergonomically Friendly

Along with improved IAQ and cleaning performance, operator comfort is also part of the canister vacuum package. One of the biggest complaints about uprights is their heavy handle weight. Over a two-hour cleaning period, operators will tire from simply having to hold the handle up. Added to this is the momentum required to push the heavy weight forward and pull it back toward you. This requires moving both the cleaning section of the vacuum and the motor with every stroke. When you push forward on a vacuum stroke, you need to stop the momentum to pull it back toward you, and then start the momentum again when pushing away. Repetitive vacuuming with a heavy hand