Vacuum Cleaner Glossary

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ABS Plastic: Acronym for Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene; a type of plastic used extensively in the molding of vacuum cases and trim parts. Although ABS is economical, it is still strong and resistant to stains and chemicals.

Agitation: Rapid movement; carpet is agitated by brushes and sometimes a beater bar on the revolving brush roll in a vacuum.

Airflow: Measures the amount of air that moves though a vacuum cleaner and is usually expressed in CFMs or Cubic Feet per Minute. This is one of the most important criteria for determining a vacuum cleaner's performance. Generally speaking, the better the airflow; the more efficient the vacuum.

Air Pressure: The pressure of atmospheric or compressed air. In terms of vacuums, a unit's suction motor reduces the air pressure in order to create airflow.

Amperage: Measures the flow of electric current. In vacuums, the term "Amps" describes the amount of electrical current a vacuum uses while operating. It is generally believed that the more amps a motor draws, the more powerful it is. However, airflow is actually a better indicator of a vacuum cleaner's performance.

Attachments: Tools that can be used with a vacuum cleaner; standard attachments usually consist of crevice tools, dusting brushes, or upholstery tools.


Bagless Vacuum: A type of vacuum that utilizes a dust container or cup as opposed to a dust bag made of paper or other synthetic material. These vacuums eliminate the additional cost of buying dust bags, but they also often have filters that need to be periodically replaced.

Bare Floor Switch: A switch that stops the revolving brush located beneath the vacuum from moving so that bare floors can be cleaned with straight suction.

Beater Bar: A long, rigid bar on a revolving brush roll which pushes carpet away from the roll, creating a rapid beating action. Stiff brushes on a brush roll work similarly.

Blower Operation: This occurs when a blower port reverses the airflow through a hose so that dirt can be blown out from areas and then sucked up.

Brush Control: A feature found on some vacuum cleaners which allows a user to turn off the revolving brush at the touch of a button in order to protect hard floors and delicate surfaces such as rugs.

Brush Roll: This is the revolving brush that provides the agitation or brushing action on carpet fibers. A vacuum's brush roll can be made of metal, wood, or plastic resin, and usually has brush strips (or agitator strips) that fit into the slots of the brush roll. Brush rolls are often found in upright vacuum cleaners and in the power nozzles of canister vacuum cleaners.

Bumper Guard: A feature that protects your furniture and walls from being damaged while you vacuum; found in models such as the Koblenz Endurance.


Canister Vacuum: A type of vacuum cleaner in which the suction motor and filtering system is housed in a square or rectangular body. They typically incorporate a "clean air system" and known from producing strong suction when used with attachments. Often lightweight and fully mobile, canister vacuum cleaners are ideal for cleaning hard-to-reach spaces such as upholstery or stairs.

Central Vacuum: A stationary type of vacuum cleaner that is usually mounted in a basement or garage. Because they are stationary, these vacuums have more powerful motors than typical portable models. Hose inlets are mounted in the walls and PVC pipes carry dirty air to the central power unit.

CFM: An acronym for cubic feet per minute; can be used to measure the rate of air flow in a vacuum cleaner.

Clean Air Design: This describes a vacuum cleaner design in which the airflow that picks up dirt is cleaned by the vacuum's filtering system before it passes through the fans of the suction motor. This design prevents fan breakage which are often caused when particles are picked up by a dirty air system.

Cleaning Path: Refers to the width of the path a vacuum will clean. Most vacuum cleaners have a cleaning path of 12 to 15 inches.

Cord Release: A vacuum feature that releases a vacuum cleaner's wrapped cord with a single adjustment so a user does not have to wrap each turn of the cord; also commonly known as as "Quick Cord Release" and found in vacuums such as the Hoover Self-Propelled WindTunnel.

Crevice Tool: A long, thin tool used to clean hard-to-reach places; found in vacuums such as the Emer 905026U Galileo.

Cyclonic Action: A method of vacuum filtration that separates particles from the airflow by making the air stream spin. This subjects the air stream to centrifugal force which throws dirt and debris out of the air. Cyclonic technology is often found in bagless vacuum cleaners such as the Dirt Devil 110002 Reaction.


DC Motor: A heavy-duty motor designed for continuous operation.

Decibels: Expressed as "dB," this is the unit used to measure the intensity of a sound and is commonly used by vacuum manufacturers to determine how loud a unit will operate.

Direct Air System: Sometimes expressed as a "dirty air system," in a direct air system, airflow passes directly through the motor fan before any filtration. Traditional uprights such as the Royal 1018 most often utilize this design.

Direct Connect: A type of electric system found in many newer canister vacuum cleaners in which external cords on the hoses and wands are eliminated. Instead, the electrical system is actually integrated into the hoses, wands, and power nozzles, and is automatically connected when the vacuum cleaner is in use. This type of system is found in the Miele S514 Direct Connect canister vacuum.

Dirt Sensor: Vacuum cleaners with this feature detect whether the unit is picking up dirt, and a light will indicate whether the floor is clean or dirty. This feature is found in models such as the Hoover U6439900 WindTunnel.

Dustbag Change Indicator: Vacuum cleaners with this feature will have a display that informs the user when the dustbag needs to be replaced; also referred to as a "Full Bag Indicator" or "Dustbag Indicator." This feature is found in models such as the Emer Botticelli.

Dusting Brush: An oblong brush with bristles that is used for dusting; found in many canister vacuums such as the SEBO K2.


Edge Cleaning: This feature allows a vacuum cleaner to pick up dirt and debris under the entire area of the cleaning head; ideal for cleaning wall-to-wall carpets because it extends cleaning to where the carpet and wall meet. An example of a vacuum with this feature is the Bissell 2880 Perfect Sweep.

Electric Hose: A type of hose in which the electrical wires are internal, therefore eliminate the hassle of external cords; found in some vacuums such as the Miele S5 Aquarius.

Electrostatic Filter: A type of filter consisting of fine synthetic fibers on which a static electric charge builds as air passes through, therefore helping the filter in retaining small particles. This feature is found in vacuums such as the Eureka Altima.


Filtration System: Vacuums have varying degrees of filtration, but filters all serve to minimize the number of particles that escape. Filtration systems can have layers made of nylon, paper, cloth or foam. Micron filters are usually better at filtering than standard filters, but they are not as effective as HEPA filters. True HEPA filters offer the highest level of filtration.


Height Adjustment: Because different carpets have varying heights and lengths, many vacuum cleaners have a height adjustment feature which adjusts the height of the brush to allow for easy maneuverability and more thorough cleaning. Height can be adjusted either manually (as found in the SEBO Felix) or automatically (as found in the Hoover Constellation) , depending on the model.

HEPA:Acronym for "High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter." True HEPA filters are used in many different vacuums and have the ability to filter out 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns or larger. HEPA vacuums are recommended for those suffering from allergies, asthma, or any other respiratory problems. Examples of HEPA vacuums would be the ProTeam 104867 and Royal MRY9700 Eminence.


Motor Brushes: Carbon rods that are found in a vacuum's motor. These brushes are held against the commutator in order to carry the electrical current to the windings on the armature; also referred to as "carbon brushes."

Motor Power: The rate or strength of electric flow used by a vacuum cleaner and usually measured in either amps or watts.


Operating Radius: Takes into account the hose and power cord length of a vacuum cleaner and is a measurement of how far away from an electrical outlet a vacuum can be effectively used.


Paper Bag: A paper bag or dustbag made of a special paper filter media designed to trap as much as debris and dust as possible inside the bag but also allowing air to pass through; an integral part of a vacuum's filtration system.

Parquet Brush: A type of brush that has super soft bristles used to safely clean hardwood floors; found in many canister vacuums such as the Emer 907014U Rafaello.

Power Nozzle: A special attachment used for deep cleaning carpets; incorporates an electrically-powered revolving brush roll similar to those used in upright vacuum cleaners. This feature is found in many canister vacuums such as the Eureka Boss canister vacuum.


Quick Cord Release: See "Cord Release."


Revolving Brush: Also referred to as a "Brush Agitator, "Motorized Brush," or "Power Nozzle," this type of brush is used to dislodge dirt from carpet so that they can be picked up more easily. This feature is especially useful for cleaning up pet hair and is found in models as the Dirt Devil CE7900.


Safety Shut-Off: A design feature found in many vacuum cleaners in which a sensor senses when the vacuum motor is overheating due to a clog or obstruction. When this occurs, the motor shuts off automatically before permanent damage to occur; also known as "Thermal Cut-Out" or "Thermal Shut-Off."

Sealed System: A vacuum cleaner with a sealed system uses special seals made of rubber that does not allow air to leak before the filter system; and example of a vacuum with this feature is the Miele S5280 Callisto.

Self-Propelled: Self-propelled vacuum cleaners are designed with a transmission that powers forward and reverse movements more easily; an example of a vacuum with this technology is the Hoover WindTunnel 2.

Suction: Relates to the power of the vacuum cleaner's ability to create airflow. When airflow is balanced against the resistance of the filter system, the result is a high-performance vacuum.

Standard Inlet/Valve: Relates to central vacuum systems and refers to the valve where a hose is plugged into.


Telescopic Wand: A wand design that allows a user to set the wand length to accommodate height; found in vacuum cleaners such as the Miele S514.

Thermal Cut-Out: See "Safety Shut-Off."


Upholstery Nozzle: A type of nozzle used to remove dirt from cushions, curtains, and other fabric-covered furnishings; found in many canister vacuums such as SEBO C2.1 Air Belt.

Upright Vacuum: One of the most common styles of vacuums; these are self-contained units with a handle that extends up from the main unit. An upright vacuum cleaner usually has a brush agitator for cleaning carpets and may also have attachments for cleaning other surfaces such as bare floors and furniture. See our upright vacuums here.


Water Lift: Relative to vacuum cleaners, water lift measures the strength of the vacuum produced by the suction motor. Suction gauges are calibrated in terms of "inches of water lift," and this is equivalent to taking a vertical tube, placing the bottom in a container of water, attaching the vacuum hose at the top, and measuring how high above the water surface the water in the tube rises.

Watts: Watts are the measure of the flow of electric current, and like the term "amp," it is often used to indicate the power of a vacuum cleaner's motor. Vacuum Guide Main Page >>

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