The Truth About Cyclonic Central Vacuums

Bagless is a dirty word...

* Cyclonic Central Vacuums
You will hear sales people make many claims such as..
100% Efficiency At All Times, No Loss of Power,
No Filters To Clean, Always Constant, No Bags To Buy,
Always Cleaning With Full Power, etc.
Now......The Truth!

Cyclonic vacuums are truly unhealthy.
Dirty Cyclonic Motor

If you are currently in the market shopping for a central vacuum system, there's no doubt you've been bombarded with a host of exaggerated performance claims. Other considerations include ease of use, maintenance and of course overall performance and feel. It is our hope, that this section will help guide you through the exercise of purchasing a central vacuum unit. There are many choices available on the market today and a multitude of factors which will influence the system you choose. One of the leading factors will be the vacuum units filtration, which is the first line of defense when protecting your motor. Currently there are four methods of filtration currently used for central vacuums.

1) Paper Bag System
2) Bagless With Self Cleaning Filter
3) Filtered Cyclonic Action With Fixed Filter
4) True-Cyclonic® Action With Outside Exhaust Venting

Some will even private-label under many different names. And, ultimately, each manufacturer will tell you, unequivocally, of their preference for either bag-style filtration or cyclonic-style filtration. Within the major built-in vacuum industry you will find claims ranging from "true-cyclonic", "self-cleaning", and "100% efficiency at all times" to "guaranteed never to clog" and filters with "no resistance to the air".

The REAL truth about cyclonic vacuums

In a cyclonic unit, the dirty air is forced through the vacuum chamber in a tornado style of movement. The heavier dirt falls down the bottom of the canister and the lighter dust is carried off through the motor and then exhausted outside.

Thumbs down for cyclonicAlso, over filling the unit will cause very serious motor failure or problems. You must empty the canister often, more than others. You can't let it go further than 3/4 full or else the dirt will get into the motor causing your motor to burn out. Before you know it 6 months has gone by and you find out your motor has seized and failed. This is a frequent problem, and is NOT covered under warranty. All this is noted in the small print of all central vacuum warranties. This is considered abuse and neglect, and therefore not covered.

Pipe overheatingThe few manufacturers that claim to use "true-cyclonic", or a form of, actually don't. "True-cyclonic" is which ALL the filtration is achieved by creation of a tornado that uses the force of gravity to separate the dirt and debris from the intake air. Though some of the cyclonic manufacturers come very close to "true-cyclonic" action, all of them use some type of filter in their systems. A cyclonic manufacturer had this to say, "a guard screen is located directly above the dirt pan inside the power unit. It should be inspected and cleaned occasionally. This is to prevent such things as carpet fiber, cloth, etc. from getting into the motor's impeller blades. Cyclonic vacuums act kind of like a tornadoA build up of dirt or other larger, clogging type material may result in loss in suction." But, wait a minute! Their own sales brochure claimed "100% efficiency at all times". Both statements can not be true! Furthermore, the service manual goes on to say that, "much excessive, loose lint and nap, normal in all new floor coverings, is removed in these early cleanings, and some will tend to settle on the screen, allowing a buildup that will impair the suction power unless removed." To advertise "no filters" and then go ahead and have one in the system is somewhat misleading to the consumer in the sales brochure. Another cyclonic manufacturer states they use a metal screen but, "the pores of this metal screen are sufficiently large to insure that no plugging results from normal use. Therefore, you have constant airflow and no loss of cleaning ability." Sounds pretty cool right? In their service manual it says, "if the screen becomes clogged with lint and rug fibers, it will decrease your vacuum power to a point where you are unable to clean properly due to the decrease in air flow." Again, we have not only a contradiction in claims, but a manufacturers admission of poor design.

This snapshot was taken on a routine service call by our technicians, a common sight we see and encounter. Pretty gross. Allergy ladened.

Some True-Cyclonic systems remove the heavy particles, but the lighter particles and dust are taken through the fan blades. Some admit that their system will... "maintain up to 98% efficiency and the remaining 2% consist of small particles which are exhausted outside". That's why their service manual states that when low suction exists,Cyclonic vacuums act kind of like a tornado "the exhaust line may be clogged." Their manual also states that "overfilling of the unit may cause motor damage." Likewise, Another manual states, "overfilling could cause debris to be drawn into the impeller blades which may severely damage your power unit." These cyclonic systems do have a big advantage which they emphasize in all literature; there are no replacement filters or bags to buy or store. This factor may represent as much as a $15.00 retail savings per year. An annual spending of $15.00 is well worth the expense of having to replace a central vacuum unit before its time.

Why deal with the dirt and dust you vacuum up with a cyclonic vacuum?

A dust cloud around the wastebasket and washing dirty containers does not paint a clean picture of hygienic dust removal,
especially if you have even the mildest case of allergies or asthma.

We highly recommend using protective wear while dumping the canister. Strongly dis-adviced for allergy/asthma sufferers.

We would also like to review another manufacture brochure which states that their units have "100% efficiency at all times", "you'll be cleaning with full power every time" and "Vacuum power doesn't decrease, no matter how often you clean. It's always constant." A recent brochure first states that their unit contains "no filters" and then defines "true-cyclonic" which explains the cyclonic action, and then says "Once the air, in a downward spiral, reaches the bottom of the cone or plate, it is suddenly unrestricted and slowed abruptly. At this point, 96-98% of the dirt thrown to the outside simply drops out of suspension and spirals down the cone and into the dirt can". "At the same time, the clean air containing 2-4% of the fine dust particles has reduced it's speed and is drawn to the center of the inverted cone. From there it rises and is exhausted to the outside of the living area."
Indoor air pollution is a leading cause of sinus headaches
To quote directly from a service manual publication, "Each time you empty the dirt pan, brush off the protective screen under the motor of the power unit. This eliminates any lint or dust build-up,... keeps your system working at maximum efficiency." Now remember they "have no filters"!! It also states, "Experience has shown that when cleaning new carpets or rugs for the first few times, it is advisable to check the dirt pan and screen at more frequent intervals. Much excessive, loose lint and nap, normal in all new floor coverings, is removed in these early cleanings and some will settle on the screen, allowing a build up that will impair the suction power unless removed."

The manual then continues in it's "Power Unit Maintenance" section; "A guard screen is located directly above the dirt pan inside the power unit. It should be inspected and cleaned occasionally. This is to prevent such things as carpet fiber, cloth etc. from getting into the motor's impeller blades. A build up of dirt or other larger, clogging type materials may result in loss in vacuum." Under the "Troubleshooting Guide" it states "If there is a loss of vacuum", "the guard screen may be clogged with lint or carpet fiber". While we agree that they do warn the consumer about this FILTER, we feel that their sales brochures are misleading by insisting that they "have no filters."

The consumer would not find this out until after purchasing the product...


We feel this type of central vacuum filtration or lack thereof causes a few problems. First, over filling the unit presents a very serious motor problem. Second, the power unit always requires exterior venting; otherwise, considerable dust accumulates from the exhaust. Third, when cleaning off this screen, much of the debris will go through the screen. With razor sharp fan blades spinning at 20,000 RPM's it won't take long for this debris to cause motor imbalance and excessive bearing wear. Lastly, some dealers complain that it's very difficult to completely clean this screen. For an average home-owner it would probably be even more difficult.

Rule #1 - Protect Your Motor From Dirt, Heat & Dust...
Filters do not only protect your home's air conditioning system, but it will also protect you and your loved ones from unwanted allergens and bacteria. The filtration is the first line of defense in the fight to protect your central vacuum motor. It's common sense that you need some kind of filtration to your motor. Not having one could potentially do serious damage to the unit.

Would you use an air conditioner without a filter? Would you not use a trash bag in your kitchen garbage? Would you run your pool without a filter? Would you run your car without a fuel filter? Would you run an air purifier without some sort of filter? Would you drink filtered or unfiltered water? I think you get the idea. No one likes to get near dirt or to get dirt all over their arms, hands and face. The proper filtration will eliminate this disgusting problem. Indoor air quality is a growing concern in schools, home, and hospitals. Inadequate central vacuum ventilation in the home can increase indoor pollutants such as common household dust, pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and even cigarette smoke just to name a couple. Having proper central vacuum filtration can improve the air quality of your home by capturing and removing the fine particles that cause allergy sufferers problems. Changing your filters as recommended will ensure the best possible air quality in your home.
Motor Proteection Information

The dust mite is the most commonly found critter in household dustThe truth is virtually all central vacuum manufacturers use either the European made Domel motor (if not the finest-made motor in the world) or "Ametek/Lamb". The big difference between systems is how the central vacuum unit itself protects the motor from damaging dust and heat (The two leading causes for premature motor failure). Most central vacuum motor manufacturers state specifically in their warranty "...typical signs of abuse..."including" ...dirty motors, failure of which was caused by inadequate filtration... will not be considered in warranty failures". Therefore, built-in vacuum manufacturers must adequately protect the fan blades of the motor from debris.

Ametek says: "If their filter is too porous, dirt and other foreign materials can build up on the fan blades over time." "A motor can only handle a certain amount of this." says Stormy Greer of Ametek. "but what really causes a problem is when this material breaks away unevenly. When this happens, the vibration in the motor increases. The high speed operation of the motor makes balance critical and as vibration increases, premature motor failure can result. This is one reason we are so concerned about adequate filtration. The amount and rate of dirt build-up on the fans in an inefficient design or un-maintained system can cause problems sooner than a customer expects. When this happens, we all have a problem." The building up of foreign materials over a period of time is a fact so often ignored by these manufacturers. If a system can run adequately for five or six years, they are content.  Furthermore, this is very hard on the motor. This is why virtually all manufacturers choose to use a filter of some description in their unit.

To summarize, any filter you install (screen, cloth, foam, paper, etc.) will impede air flow in some manner.
On the other hand, it's best to have proper filtration to protect the central vacuum motor.

Venting Outside

Dust Mite EggsYou might ask, why is a filter necessary for a central vacuum if the unit is going to be vented outdoors? The primary function of a central vacuum filter is to protect the central vacuum motor from fine dust particles not removed by the cyclonic action inside the vacuum system.  Without a filter or screen, all these finer particles pass through the motor collecting on the fan blades which could cause the motor to go off balance leading to other problems. This could dramatically reduces motor life. If the filtration of a central vacuum is good enough, then ventilation indoors is optional. For example, a unit using a HEPA Filter will filter 99.97% of particles at .3 micron out of the air stream, not only providing superior motor protection, but also allows efficient removal of viruses, bacteria, allergens and dust so they are not circulated back into your living environment. And, if exhausted in the garage with the proper filtration bag or Activac II filter, you will not have dust from the central vacuum accumulating on walls or vehicles.

Click here for important information you need to know about venting outside the home.

The majority of true-cyclonic systems must be vented outside the dwelling, hopefully not near a car port or near a window, which may recycle back in your house. With a large majority of central vacuum companies, they are designing their units to have venting outside as an option, instead of it being mandatory. When venting outside is a MUST and not an option, we believe this should raise a red flag to any consumer. Buying a bagless central vacuum is not a good idea. We came across this article, "exhausting allows the overflow of dirt to exit through the exhaust tubing to the outside if it is over-filled."1 How we read this was, your dirt is being flung from the exhaust outlet outside when your central vac canister is too full. That's the most disgusting thing we've ever heard of. This is why we care very little about bagless central vacuums. You can see why having a paper-bagged central vacuum system is the way to go in terms of you and your families health.

Cyclonic systems do not benefit Asthma sufferersAir quality

More than 60 million Americans suffer from Allergy or Asthma related issues. Using a dust bag is the most hygienic and scientifically substantiated method to dispose of household dirt, hair, sand, dead skin flakes, dust mites, feces, pollen, bacteria, carpet fibers, smells and may more lung damaging particles such as dander, rotting food particles, pet mildew.

Companies that offer Cyclonic units will themselves tell you that this type of filtration is NOT good for allergy suffers, and anyone with allergies or asthma should NOT empty or dump the canister.

In conclusion...
We will be the first to admit that a bagless central vacuum system will lose performance as the canister fills up, but we will also agree with the fact that all systems will have a loss of performance over a period of time. It is our belief that semi-annual replacement of a paper bag is, by far, more efficient with less hassle than the maintenance required to prevent loss of performance and motor replacement costs on cyclonic vacuum systems. Our viewpoint on some true-cyclonic central vacuums sounds great in theory, but very few companies play the cyclonic filtration card. We find it very contradicting when we read through their instruction manuals. To us, it's a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

We feel that hopefully this section will give you a bit more understanding on how not to be influenced or persuaded by gimmicky theories and false claims such as true-cyclonic action, no bags, no filters, never lose suction, etc.
Some examples of manufactures that offer Cyclonic Filtration are Vacuflo®, Vacumaid®, Royal®, Dirt Devil® and Imperium®.*

Tips and Important Things To Know

Never suck up fireplace ashes, talcum powder, construction dust, sheet rock dust etc. This may suffocate the motor causing premature motor burn out or even worse, overheating which is a fire hazard and not covered under any manufacturers warranty.

The information provided is the opinion of

Case in point, this is why people don't like dealing with bagless vacuums. Why would you?
Click the pictures for a bigger version.

Dumping dirty central vacuumDumping dirty central vacuum
Dumping dirty central vacuumDumping dirty central vacuumDumping dirty central vacuumDumping dirty central vacuum

References: 1. Star Power Systems

*some of this information may not apply to all Cyclonic central vacuum systems

* none of the manufacturers listed on this page are sponsoring, or affiliated with Think Vacuums or

Company and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks oftheir respective companies.