How Does a Vacuum Cleaner Work?

Vacuum cleaners are the brainchild of Hubert Cecil Booth. The British engineer invented the vacuum cleaner in 1901. Since then, they have come along way in terms of technology and design. With various features and different types of vacuum cleaners in the market today, it’s impossible to believe a vacuum cleaner once comprised of a brush and a suction head at the front, a motor in the middle and a bag at the back.

Despite the additional features and obvious design upgrades, the principle of operation has not changed over the years.

The numerous features and parts fitted in a vacuum cleaner are used to drive the same basic principle of using a straw to drink from a glass of water.

By sucking on one end of the straw, you create a partial vacuum on the opposite side. It forces the water up the tube to take up the space left by the air.

Vacuum cleaners function the same way but at a more advanced level. To better understand how the vacuum cleaner works, it’s best to start with the main components and their roles.

Main Parts of a Vacuum Cleaner

Inlet port

Inlet Port

The inlet port attaches to the cleaning head. It provides access to the ‘outside world’ and space through which the motor can suck in air and dirt particles on the carpet or the floor.

Electric Motor

Electric Motor

To create a partial vacuum strong enough to suck in the dirt and dust, the vacuum cleaner is fitted with a powerful electric motor. The motor is powered by an electric current and fitted with a fan. When the motor is powered, the fan spins sucking in air, tiny particles and dust.

The brush

vacuum cleaner brush head

Most vacuum cleaner attachments have a brush at the end. The purpose of the brush is to agitate and loosen dirt, making it easier for the vacuum cleaner to suck it up.

Outlet port

Outlet Port

The air sucked into system is pushed into the canister or bag along with the other dirt particles. Ideally, the concept should stop working after a few seconds because not a lot of air will fit into the limited space.

But, the vacuum counters this challenge using an outlet port or exhaust port. It helps to vent out the air from the inlet so, the motor never fails to function continuously and keep sucking in the dirt without filling the bag or canister with pressure, which would stop the motor from working.



With the inlet and outlet, how comes the dirt sucked in at one end doesn’t end up leaving the vacuum the same way air does?

If this were to happen, vacuum cleaners wouldn’t be the same popular cleaners they are today. To prevent the dirt and dust from leaving the cleaner, there’s a filter.

Initially, the filter was a simple cloth that would trap the dirt and dust. However, with advancements in technology, HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting) filters are commonly featured in vacuum cleaners. They trap not only the dirt but also small dust particles that would otherwise escape making the air unsafe to breathe.

You might be interested in how to clean the vacuum filter.

The bag

Vacuum Bag

Every vacuum, whether canister, bag, or bagless, requires storage for dirt collected. The function of this storage is simple: It keeps the dirt and dust collected safely until you can dispose of it safely. The function seems relatively basic and unuseful. But, without it, the vacuum cleaner would only be making a mess of any space you try to clean using it.

How Different Types of Vacuum Cleaners Work

Even though the basic principle of functioning doesn’t change, different types of vacuum cleaners are tweaked to improve performance and higher cleaning results along with other benefits.

How bagless vacuum cleaners work

Over the years, empty bags proved difficult and time-consuming. Most brands are now doing away with the bags and in their place are easy to empty plastic bins.

In bagged vacuum cleaners, the bag would separate the dust from the air because of the fabric of the bag. With bagless vacuum cleaners, this important role is now assigned to a filter that traps the dust as the air passes through it.

Most of the functions and components of the bagless vacuum cleaner are the same as those of its predecessor. It has an inlet, a dirt collecting bin that sits at the front, a HEPA filter attached to the back and a motor unit.

As aforementioned, bagless vacuum cleaners are designed to make emptying the dirt easier and faster.

How Cyclonic ‘Dyson’ vacuum cleaners work

The “suck and bag” process was featured in all vacuum cleaners until the late 1980s. It took the intervention of yet another British engineer; James Dyson to give the vacuum cleaner a much-needed upgrade.

While the old vacuum cleaners were effective, they were not without challenges. As the vacuum cleaner would suck in the dirty air and blow it straight into the bag. The bag would catch the dirt and the clean (with some dust in it) air would go back into the room. As the bag filled up with dirt, its capacity to hold the air coming in it would diminish.

The longer you take without emptying the bag, the worse the situation would get. As if that was not enough, emptying the bag was a messy affair. The dust would fly everywhere!

To solve this, Dyson decided to get rid of the bag. In his new design, he used a powerful fan that sucked the air and spun it around at high speeds like a centrifuge. The centrifugal force created by the spinning air separated the dust from the air.

Initially, the new design was to help manage dust at Dyson’s manufacturing factory. But, it was so successful that he decided to invent the cyclonic vacuum cleaner.

Today, the Dyson Vacuum cleaner features a brush bar and air intake, a height adjustment, a powerful electric motor, a transparent plastic dust collection bin and the cyclone which points the dust down into the bin.

Other than the addition of the cyclone, other parts of the vacuum are the same and work the same way.

Vacuum cleaners have come a long way to be the effective, efficient cleaners they are today. They are the results of decades of invention, innovation and improvements to make them the trusted cleaners they are today.

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