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Ethical Home – Vacuum Cleaners

Beating the dust problem is not just a matter of having a powerful vacuum cleaner, but of having one that is both adaptable ‍‍‍and easy to handle around the home. Although a manual carpet sweeper may be a suitable alternative for removing surface dust, most homes will also need a larger, electric machine. To maximise efficiency and reduce energy use, choose a model with good suction power and an effective filter.

Power and noise

Vacuum cleaners are rated by manufacturers in terms of their wattage, a measure that only reveals the size of the motor. As the average vacuum cleaner wastes most of the electricity it uses in heat and noise, the power rating is not necessarily a helpful indication of its effectiveness.

Only about a quarter of the power output of a vacuum cleaner is actual suction. Electrolux makes a Smart Vac range with 450W of suction from 1,500W input, and this is high compared to most. Miele makes a model called Naturell with an energy-saving 800W motor. Manufacturers might be willing to disclose the suction power data upon request, but this information is not usually found on the label.


There are plans to encourage producers to make more efficient machines by introducing voluntary labelling schemes. One organisation working on this is the Group for Efficient Appliances, a forum of representatives from national energy agencies and European governments. Most EU member states are involved, but in previous years the UK has not put forward a representative.‍‍‍

Bags and dust

‍‍‍‍‍‍Dyson’s bag-free machines arguably have less impact on the environment because they do not require paper and other r‍‍‍esources for this consumable part, but there is disagreement about whether or not a collection bag interferes with the efficiency of the suction. Dyson asserts that because its machines have no bag their efficiency is constant.

Machines with bags do tend to drop in efficiency as the bag fills, reducing the amount of dust that is picked up. However, manufacturers such as Miele claim that this deficiency is outweighed by the advantages of a bag, which acts as an extra filter for dust particles and also prolongs the life of the motor.

Some companies make vacuum cleaners with ‘high efficiency filters’ to minimise the re-emission of dust. These include Medivac (, a high scorer in the Ethical Company Organisation’s research, whose products are specially designed to offer health benefits to people with dust allergies and asthma. Many high efficiency cleaners have been approved by the British Allergy Foundation (BAF), who operate a system of inspection that includes doubleblind testing, ensuring the testers have no idea which product belongs to which manufacturer.

Ethical Alternatives

It is often possible to buy a reconditioned machine second-hand, or to repair a broken one, rather than investing in a brand new cleaner. Hand-held brushes are more efficient than they might appear, and simply require a little elbow grease, although they may not be suitable for households whose occupants suffer from dust allergies. Finally, there are always old-style carpet sweepers, which are manual, non-electric and work a treat.

Key Research

Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Home & Office:

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Medivac, Miele, Rowenta, Morphy Richa‍‍‍rds, Vax, AEG, Electrolux, Hoover, Nilfisk, Panasonic, Dyson, Philips, Hitachi.

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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