How do Bagless Vacuum Cleaners Work?

January 15, 2020
Jayson Mueller

There is, in our humble opinion, a legitimate debate when it comes to bagless vacuum cleaners.

There are some excellent models and technology and the filtration is getting better all the time.

We hope that by weighing in on some history, facts and pros and cons, you’ll have a better idea of whether a bagless vacuum is better for you and your home.

A Little History

Pumped Vacuum

An early hand-pumped vacuum cleaner

The vacuum cleaner evolved from the carpet sweeper via manual vacuum cleaners.

The very first manual models were engineered in the early 1860s, and the earliest motorized vacuums appeared around the start of the 20th century.

Manual vacuums

Carpet Sweepers

In 1860 the first known version of a manual vacuum cleaner was invented by Iowa resident Daniel Hess.

Hess’s machine, known as a ‘carpet sweeper‘, collected dust using a rotating brush and a set of bellows which produced the suction.

Soon after Hess, Ives W. McGaffey developed his version of the manual cleaner and called it “The Whirlwind“in 1868. It was a bulky device that functioned with a belt driven fan that was cranked by hand.

Soon after Hess, Ives W. McGaffey developed his version of the manual cleaner and called it “The Whirlwind“in 1868. It was a bulky device that functioned with a belt driven fan that was cranked by hand.

In 1876 a comparable model was created by Melville R. Bissell of Michigan, who likewise manufactured carpet sweepers. His enterprise later added portable vacuums to its list of cleaning apparatuses.

Powered vacuum cleaners

pneumatic carpet renovator

As the 19th century came to an end, the introduction of power-driven cleaners were being introduced, although initial types used a variation of blowing rather than suction.

Often too large for the average person to operate alone, these vacuums started what would become mobile house cleaning businesses.

Next was John S. Thurman’s invention, in 1898, a gas powered cleaner or “pneumatic carpet renovator”, but it blew the air rather than drawing it in.

Thurman’s system was so large, it traveled to the customer’s homes via a horse-drawn carriage.

The first to feature an electric motor came from Corrine Dufour of Georgia who received two patents for similar blown air systems in 1899 and 1900.

In 1901 the invention of powered vacuums using suction were created independently by Hubert Cecil Booth David T. Kenney.

Hubert Booth may have also thought up the term “vacuum cleaner“. Booth’s “Puffing Billy”, used a combustion engine, perhaps a derivative of Thurman’s blown air design.

Kenney’s variety was the first model of a central vacuum, though it was elementary at best. It was a fixed position 4,000lb steam engine powered system with hoses and pipes allowing it to reach into all areas of a building

Domestic vacuum cleaner

Old Electrolux Vacuum Cleaners

In 1905, Walter Griffiths of England, developed the first vacuum-cleaning machine considered to be portable enough to be used for the residential market.

Known as the “Griffith’s Improved Vacuum Apparatus for Removing Dust from Carpets” bears a resemblance to modern-day cleaners. His was transportable, could powered by one person and easy to store.

One person could execute the task of compressing a bellows-like apparatus to suck up dust through a flexible pipe, which a variety of nozzles could be attached to, but not necessarily an easy job.

Though, like the prior, bigger version, this bellows operated form was still difficult for most average people to work.

Later in 1906 the first of many vacuums called “Domestic Cyclones” was developed by James B. Kirby. It employed water to assist with the separation of dirt. Future versions of the “Domestic Cyclone”, would come to be known as Kirby Vacuum Cleaners.

In 1907, James Murray Spangler, a department store janitor in Ohio, invented the earliest portable electric vacuum cleaner, later obtaining a patent for his ‘Electric Suction Sweeper’ in June 1908.

Common features of his cleaner that mostly resemble the modern vacuums of today, included among other functions; suction from an electric fan that blew the dust and debris and a new addition, a rotating brush to work dirt loose.

Due to lack of finances, Spangler was unable to produce the design by himself, he had to sell the patent in 1908 to William Henry Hoover, a local leather goods manufacturer.

William Henry Hoover had Spangler’s device redesigned with casters, a steel casing and a few attachments, founding the company that would later be renamed the Hoover Company.

The first Hoover vacuum was the 1908 Model O. Succeeding advances included the beater bar, in 1919, disposable filter bags, later in the 1920s, and a first of its kind, an upright vacuum cleaner in 1926.

The Hoover vacuum cleaner was an extravagance at first, only for the well-to-do, but after the Second World War middle classes were able to afford it, and it was slowly included in everyday households.

Then Electrolux, a Swedish company, launched their Model V in 1921 with the novelty of being able to lie on the floor on two skinny metal runners.

A Germany company named Vorwerk, started advertising vacuums of their own design and selling them through direct sales, in the 1930s.

Later in the 1930s, Edward H. Yonkers, Jr. of Illinois, offered a proposal for a suction cleaner with a stylish paper filter, in which “the whirling motion of the air about the conical filter serves to centrifugally disperse the heavier particles of dust,” which are then gathered in a simple, bagless container.

His invention became the very successful FilterQueen®, roughly four decades before Dyson! Yonker’s invention, inspired by countless early efforts, is the predecessor to the bagless vacuum we know so well, today

What exactly are bagless vacuums?

Bagless Vacuum Cleaner

Similar to a bagged vacuum, bagless vacuums pull in air in via an intake valve. Conversely, once your carpet’s dirt and dust enters the vacuum chamber, centrifugal force is utilized to isolate particles from the airstream.

These particles are then processed through a filter and end up dropping into a collection bin as the air exits the compartment and departs the vacuum through an exhaust port.

Bagless vacuum cleaners utilize filters to trap dust and dirt in a dirt bin or cup that can then be dumped out. In contrast, bagged vacuum cleaners contain a bag that collects dirt as you go.

Unlike transparent bagless bins, it's anybody's guess when the bag in a bagged vacuum is full.

With most models, you can actually see the amount of rubbish collecting in the canister, which makes it easy to figure out when it’s time to dump all of that dirt into a trash can (another clue will be your vacuum refusing to perform effectively when it’s filled to the brim with dust and hair).

Aside from the mechanics of dirt-collection methods, and a few minor attachments, bagless and bagged vacuums are otherwise pretty comparable.

Pros of bagless vacuums

With bagless it's easy to know when to empty

Bagless vacuums are somewhat of a new innovation in the realm of cleaners. Whether is because people find them easier to use, clean and maintain, or just hated running out of replacement bags.

Bagless vacuum cleaners have been met with rather a bit of enthusiasm from users, and there are many pros for this including.

  1. Easy to Know When to Empty: With bagless vacuums, there’s little to no worry about remembering to empty the dust bin because of the clear sight of the dirt and debris in the bin. You don’t need to buy vacuum bags anymore, not to mention, the satisfaction of seeing the visual proof that your vacuum cleaner is clearly picking up dirt.
  2. Less Expensive: Once you purchase your bagless vacuum cleaner your expenses should be done—no need to keep spending on bags to keep your home tidy. The decision to purchase better filters, however, can depend on your allergies, finances, and specific needs.
  3. Consistent Power: Bagless vacuums undergo far less drop in suctioning power as the dust collection bin becomes full. Even better, there’s less occurrences of a bagless vacuum becoming overfull in the first place due to its clear cover allowing you to see exactly the amount debris has been collected inside the cup.
  4. Eco-Friendly Option: Bagless vacuum cleaners have reusable filters easily making them more kind to the environment. Bagged vacuums can go through hundreds of vacuum bags over a lifetime, but with bagless, you won’t be tossing anything away apart from your dust and dirt.
  5. Features: Bagless vacuum cleaners tend to be more popular with many customers. They are more modern and sleek which makes them more appealing to look at. Well designed with new technology and more features such as easy to dispose of debris, are just a few features that make bagless vacuums superb.

How exactly do they work?

How do bagless vacuums work

Most new vacuums have done away with bags and now use easy-to-empty dirt bins instead. That means they need to use filters to separate the dust from the air (which is the job the bag used to do).

Modern bagless vacuums work very similar to bagged vacuums when it comes to basic cleaning. The main difference is in the parts of the machine and how they work.

Some of the biggest improvements are:

Motor unit: Bagless cleaners tend to have very powerful motors, it needs it to pull air through the specialized HEPA filters. However, motor grades for vacuums with HEPA filters can be deceptive: they don’t necessarily provide more suction, however, more of their power is used pulling air through the filter to prevent clogging.

HEPA filter: This filter is a cylinder attached to the bin. The air gets drawn through the filter, leaving the debris in the bin while removing dust and allergens.

Dirt collecting bin: Normally this sits inside the cleaner at the front and replaces the bag. A bin is easily removable, dumped, cleaned and replaced. Much cleaner and straightforward than older bags. Bagless vacuums are always ready to work. Once you empty the dust cup, you just have to reattach it, and your vacuum’s good to go — no reordering vacuum bags or trying to remember where you stored them.

Another big benefit, vacuum bags eventually end up in landfills, which is bad for the environment, while bagless vacuums don’t add waste product, making it a more environmentally safe option.

Bagless vacuums have a long, yet spotted history in our homes and on the market. Yonkers’s original version came long before today’s bagless versions became popular.

Today, it’s hard to find a vacuum that isn’t bagless, and thanks to ease of operation, more environmentally friendly disposal, and variability in features, the bagless vacuum is more popular today than ever before.

The bagless vacuum is a home appliance that is sure to be a long lasting staple in thousands of homes around the world.

Jayson Mueller
Jayson Mueller loves his house in the Bay Area. Over the last ten years, he's gone from theory to practice – researching the best upgrades and repairs for his house while trying to do as much as he can on his own. He's happy to help you make your house a home as well!

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