The Tao of appliances: Choosing a vacuum

April 7, 2015

That income tax return check may be burning a hole in your pocket, but think hard before buying a major household appliance.

Take the vacuum, for example. Some do a better job than others, and some will do it on their own without you even in your home. Varieties range from small, local messes to vast amounts of floor space. Some are dry, while others are wet, scrub carpet, and a few even fill in for a mop and pail.

If you do your homework, you should be able to find a vacuum that meets all your needs at a price you can afford. Do you go all-out and get the priciest device on the market, or go for something more down-to-earth, even retro, with metal tubes, dirt bags, and rolling canisters?

Last year, my family wanted to get something better than the standard cleaner. We had a big dog that stayed indoors, so there was hair everywhere. Also, we have three small kids, so there is always a mess to tidy up.

After a little investigation, we ended up choosing the Roomba iRobo, made especially for pet fur management. It sounds great on the surface. You can set it up to clean the floor when you are away.

You have almost no work to do initially, and your vacuum will even put itself away and tell you when it is full and needs to be changed. The problem is that if you do not set up a special sensor, the vacuum will go everywhere it can reach, even if it’s a kind of floor not meant for a vacuum, or down a flight of stairs.

Not to mention that if you do set up the sensors, your children and pets will find them delightful to play with the minute you turn your back and the iRobot will have no boundaries.

The cleaning was great at first, but it got tedious constantly emptying the container. The parts needed changing more often than not, so its performance suffered after a few months of cleaning. Lastly, the iRobot cannot get beneath anything lower than about 4 inches, so it will not clean beneath most couches and recliners.

At around the same time, both a friend and a work colleague got the Dyson Ball Multi Floor upright, drawn to its futuristic design and promises of a never-ending vortex of air to suck up all the dirt in their floors. To be honest, the device almost looks like you could push a few buttons and wind up in 1985.

The reality is that for the high price, both vacuums proved difficult to hold together as the parts had a tendency to fall apart. With its groundbreaking design, it is not the vacuum for someone used to pushing a single on/off button. Now both are broken and the repairs would be pretty expensive if they did not have warranties. Unfortunately, to collect on that warranty you will have to take your vacuum to a repair shop approved by the manufacturer or ship it to them.

The final vacuum, the one that we purchased this year to replace the Roomba, is a Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away Bag-less Vacuum, NV650. It is a professional-grade cleaner that can be converted from a hand-held spot cleaner to an upright to a canister to a hard floor mop, swivels at sharp angles, has excellent suction power from start to finish, and fits really well even under couches and chairs. The container for the dirt opens from both ends for really easy cleaning. The filters are cloth, so you can actually wash them.

The problem is the price tag, which may seem prohibitive. Just remember that sooner or later your cheap cleaner is going to stop working with no recourse, have to be replaced, and require a lot of replaceable parts. Better to have something that will work for a long time and do a great job every time.

The Tao of Do-It-Yourself is intended to de-mystify simple home and auto maintenance projects. It is not a substitute for professional repair services. If you cannot identify the problem you are trying to fix, refer to the proper specialist right away.

A.T. Miller is an electrician’s apprentice who builds and wires control panels for power systems. He is also a cartoonist, writer, and web/graphic designer. At home, he is an amateur repairman, plumber, electrician, carpenter, and auto mechanic. His most important job is that of husband and father.

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