How to Choose a HEPA Vacuum Cleaner

HEPA means High Efficiency Particle Arrestance. HEPA products remove 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns and greater in size. If you don’t have a good HEPA vacuum, the small, unseen particles are blown back out of the vacuum into the air. Sometimes you can smell them.

Nowadays, you can find HEPA vacuums at just about every department store. Most of these are not HEPA. Many are junk. Manufacturers are not required by law to test their products and there are no consumer protection laws regarding what can be labeled a HEPA vacuum.

How to find an effective HEPA vacuum cleaner:

  • Look for one with the filter after the motor. The filter should be the last thing that air goes through before exiting the vacuum. If the motor is the last thing, particles from the motor bushings will be emitted into the air.
  • Check for gaskets that prevent air from bypassing the filter.
  • Ask the store clerk for a demonstration with a laser particle counter. Hold the particle counter [set to detect .3 micron particles] up to the exhaust of the vacuum while it is running. It should read nearly zero. This is the only way to be certain a vacuum cleaner is HEPA.

Testing [by the author] with a laser particle counter has found a few brands that are truly HEPA: Nilfisk, Miele and Sebo (model with the HEPA type “S-Class” filtration micro filter). Miele also sells a non-HEPA vacuum, which performs better than most other brands claiming to be HEPA. This is probably due to the gasket design that prevents air from going around the filter. Water and bagless filters often do not test to meet HEPA requirements.

If you don’t have a good vacuum cleaner, there are some things you can do to protect your health and those around you when vacuuming:

  • Schedule cleaning when no one is around and when you can leave immediately after vacuuming
  • Wear a dust mask
  • Open the windows
  • Turn on an air purifier.

Never allow hired help to use their vacuum cleaner. You don’t know where it’s been.


[Editor’s note: Although this article was written for consumers, it is also relevant to the commercial cleaning industry.] 

Excerpted with permission from Healthy Living Spaces: Top 10 Hazards Affecting Your Health by Daniel Stih. Visit

(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of CIRIScience.)

Daniel Stih has a B.S.E. in Aerospace Engineering and is an indoor air quality and environmental consultant. Dan started Healthy Living Spaces out of concern for other people's health, and is the author of the book, Healthy Living Spaces, Top Ten Hazards Affecting Your Health.