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Experts recommend HEPA-filtered vacuums for people with asthma and allergies. Caroline Wood finds out why.

Cleaning your home can sometimes feel like a never-ending battle between the need to clean and the sneezing and wheezing caused by stirring up airborne allergens such as dust mites, moulds, pollen and pet dander.

Unfiltered vacuum cleaners don't trap the dust they pick up – instead they redistribute the fine dust back into the room through their exhausts. This is why experts from the Asthma Foundation and Asthma New Zealand recommend people with asthma and allergies use HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners in homes and workplaces. They suck up and retain microscopic particles, rather than spit them out through their exhausts.

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are made of a mat of randomly-arranged fibres designed to trap microscopic airborne allergens, such as dust, pollen, mould spores and pet dander. They were developed during World War Two to clean up radioactive dust without redistribution and are now used in a variety of ways in hospitals, cars, aircraft and homes. They are used for cleaning NASA space shuttles, asbestos clean ups and for preparing clean rooms in pharmaceutical labs, for example.

Small particles, such as allergens, are measured in fractions of a metre or 'microns' (one millionth of a metre). Dust mite particles are 10-24 microns, pollen is 10-40 microns, mould 4+microns, and bacteria 0.3-50 microns. The average vacuum cleaner only filters particles 30-50 microns in size. A HEPA filter must remove (from the air that passes through) 99.97 percent of 0.3 micron particles.

Taniya Wick, of the Asthma Foundation says powerful suction is also important in a vacuum cleaner. She recommends looking for HEPA filtration and a machine with as high a suction level as possible. Microfibre vacuum bags help attract the dust or you can consider a bagless vacuum, she says...

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Issue: Spring 2014