Vacuum cleaners 101

Every couple of weeks, I take the vacuum cleaner out of the downstairs closet and give the first and second floors, and sometimes even the basement, the once ove.

Sometimes, when I turn the machine on, the odor of cleanups past fills the room. Then, I open it up, replace the full bag, close it, finish vacuuming, and put the machine away.

For the car, I use a portable model that is easy to maneuver. In the shop, I use a wet/dry model designed for that place.

Point is, I never spend much time thinking about vacuuming. But occasionally, such as last week when a Dyson representative offered to let me test the company’s latest model, I think readers might need a new one. Here’s advice from experts I’ve picked up through the years:

Need to know: How will you use the vacuum cleaner? Do you have wall-to-wall carpeting, or hardwood floors with area rugs, or a combination of the two? Will you need attachments for cleaning furniture, windowsills, venetian blinds, ceiling fans?

Upright or canister? This depends on the surfaces to be cleaned and geography of your home. If you live in a three-story house, do you want to drag an upright and attachments upstairs? Would a canister vacuum be easier to handle? Both have similar path widths (12 to 15 inches). But experts say a canister is better for a house in which more than half of the floor surface is wood, while an upright does a better job deep-cleaning carpeting.

Bag or bagless? Vacuum bags are easy to replace and inexpensive, and some cleaners come with lights that tell you when it’s time for a change. With a bag model, you, the user, will seldom come in direct contact with the stuff you’ve swept up. On the other hand, bagless vacuums offer a view of the cup that holds the debris and provide easy access to the contents if you have swept up something valuable. But emptying the cup can be messy and may involve cleaning the unit’s filter each time.

Breathing lessons: Vacuum cleaners come with varying kinds of filtration systems that remove dust and airborne particles before expelling the air. If allergies are an issue in your home, check out manufacturers’ specifications online and compare them with information from an independent source, such as the Clean Air Council ( HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. True HEPA filters remove 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 micron in diameter (or larger) from the air that passes through them; sealed airflow systems reduce the amount of dirt recycled by the vacuum. HEPA-type filters allow a greater percentage of allergens to be recycled.

Size matters: Make sure that the electrical power cord is at least 20 feet long and retracts easily, usually by a foot pedal Hoses should be more than five feet long.

What will it cost? Prices range from less than $100 to $1,000; most models cost $200 to $300, on average. Sometimes, repair shops have reconditioned models or ones that were brought in for repairs by customers and never picked up and paid for.