Understanding Vacuum Cleaner Specifications

Understanding a large variety of confusing specifications is one of the most challenging aspects of selecting a new vacuum cleaner. First and foremost, consumers want vacuum cleaners that offer the best cleaning ability. And most consumers typically equate cleaning ability with “power” or “suction”.

Cleaning ability is not just about power and suction, even though these attributes are important elements of vacuum cleaner performance. With a little information and education, you will be able to sift through the numbers and better understand what the specifications mean and which ones are important to you.

Unfortunately, there is no single rating that indicates cleaning ability. However, there are a number of primary specifications, that when clearly understood, allow consumers to make educated decisions concerning which vacuum cleaner will have the best cleaning ability.

These primary specifications include watts, amps, volts, water lift (or sealed suction), horsepower, air watts, and airflow.

There are also a number of other, secondary specifications that influence cleaning ability that we’ll also examine. These include filtration, best robot vacuum for long hair cleaning tools (agitation), capacity, quality, noise, features and cost.

In order to make sense of all this we first need to understand the basics of how a vacuum cleaner works.

All vacuum cleaners operate based on air flowing from the opening at the cleaning head or tool, through the vacuum cleaner and the bag and/or filter system and then out the exhaust port. This airflow is created by the vacuum motor, which also may be referred to as the suction motor.

The vacuum motor consists of electrical components attached to a fan or multiple fans. When the fans spin, a partial vacuum is created and the pressure inside the vacuum cleaner drops below the ambient (or existing) air pressure in the room. Because air pressure is higher outside the vacuum cleaner than inside, air rushes through the vacuum cleaner.

So, it is easy to see that the vacuum motor is the heart of a vacuum cleaner. After all, the more powerful the motor, the greater the pressure differential and therefore the more suction and airflow, right? And it is for this reason that most of the specifications you see concerning cleaning ability relate either directly or indirectly to the motor.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Specifications for components such as the motor do not necessarily relate to the performance of the entire vacuum cleaner, and therefore are only a part of the story.

Let’s take a look at the primary specifications one by one:

Watts

The input power of the vacuum motor is measured in watts. Although this specification doesn’t take into account the efficiency of the motor, the number of fans or the overall vacuum cleaner design, motor wattage is a valid way to evaluate and compare the power of the motor.

While the ideal comparison is motor input power in watts of Product A compared to motor input power in watts of Product B, some manufacturers do not provide motor input power specifications in the form of watts but instead rate the entire vacuum cleaner in amps. This can make it hard to compare across brands.

However, you can convert amps to watts by the formula, amps x 120 (volts) = watts. Or conversely, you can convert watts to amps by the formula, watts/volts (always 120) = amps. For example, a 1400-watt motor converts to 11.67 amps (1400/120=11.67).

Comparing machines rated in amps with those rated in watts is not an exact comparison because manufacturers that are using watt ratings typically rate the motor only while amperage ratings use the total electrical consumption of the vacuum cleaner including the motor in the power nozzle (the motorized revolving brush cleaning head), light bulb, etc.

This means that a Power Team (a canister vacuum cleaner with a power nozzle) with a specification of 12 amps might be quite comparable to another Power Team with a 1200-watt motor that converts to only 10 amps.

This is because the power nozzle motor consumes 1.5 amps, the bulb uses additional amperage and so on. So, if we subtract the amperage used by the power nozzle motor from our 12 amp machine, we come up with 10.5 amps for the motor and light bulb. In this example, the two motors both have ratings of very close to 10 amps, and therefore, equivalent motor input power.

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