From the authors of MOLD: The War Within

Protect Health While Vacuuming

04 Apr Protect Health While Vacuuming

If there was only one piece of advice we could give people regarding vacuum cleaners, it would be to get one with a multi-stage filtration system that includes a True HEPA filter with a sealed design to prevent the escape of fine particulates back into the indoor environment. By protecting ourselves and our family from inhaling fine particles when vacuuming in an enclosed, indoor environment, we are taking a proactive step to protect health.

What is Particulate Pollution?

When scientists discuss fine particulate matter, they are referring to particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter. When this fine particulate matter is inhaled, it can travel deep inside the lungs all the way into the alveoli (lung sacs), where it can then pass into the blood stream, causing or aggravating heart and lung disease, according the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (1)

This type of systemic exposure to particulate matter can be a significant health concern, especially for people in high-risk groups, as fine particles often contain the most concentrated levels of toxicity, according to published, peer-reviewed studies. (2) For example, scientists have proven that higher levels of mycotoxin toxicity (mold poisons) exist on fine particulate matter whereas less-concentrated levels exist on larger-sized particles. (3)

High Risk Groups

According to the EPA, the following groups are most at risk from exposure to particle pollution (4):

  • Children
  • Their lungs are still developing
  • They spend more time at high activity levels
  • Senior People
  • They may have undiagnosed heart or lung diseases
  • People with existing heart or lung diseases
  • Inhaling particle pollution aggravates these diseases
  • People who exercise or work outdoors
  • They breathe faster and deeper than sedentary adults


Beware of HEPA “Imposters”

True HEPA filters have the proven capability to capture up to 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns and larger that pass through them. Filters with any less capability are categorized as HEPA type filters, a term coined to create word-association marketing hype to drive sales of the less efficient, less expensive filters and products containing them.

Other HEPA Advertising Gimmicks

Watch out for vacuums featuring True HEPA filters that do not have sealed dust collection systems. Particulates will escape through the areas that lack seals, negating the value of the True HEPA filter. Used in this way, True HEPA filters function more as advertising gimmicks than actual effective air emission filtration devices due to the design flaw of the vacuum itself.

These types of poorly designed HEPA vacuums line the shelves of big box stores. They can also be found in vacuum specialty stores. Just because a vacuum is advertised as containing a True HEPA filter doesn’t mean that the unit is not going to spew airborne contaminants into the air you breathe.

What’s in the Dirt?

What accumulates on the floors in homes, schools, and workplaces is not just dirt—but toxic chemicals in indoor dust, according to the National Research Defense Council (NRDC), based on a meta-analysis they conducted with researchers from various universities, including Harvard and George Washington University. (5)

The NRDC reported, “We identified 45 chemicals from five chemical classes that have been measured in U.S. indoor dust in three or more data sets. These commonly measured chemicals in the home are associated with health hazards such as cancer, endocrine/hormone disruption, and reproductive toxicity. Some phthalates, fragrance, flame retardants, and phenols are consistently found in 90 percent or more of dust samples across multiple studies.” (6)

Vacuuming frequently can be a part of an effective plan to increase indoor air quality by reducing settled debris and fine particulate—provided the vacuum being used has a sealed design with a True HEPA filter and multi-stage filtration system. Otherwise, frequent vacuuming may actually increase exposure to fine particulate.

What Vacuum Design Emits the Least Particles?

The potential health effects of inhaling particulate pollution from vacuums used in a residential setting is substantial enough to have warranted scientific study. The published, peer-reviewed study by LD Knibbs, et al., confirms, “Vacuum cleaner emissions contribute to indoor exposure to nonbiological and biological aerosols when vacuuming, and this may vary markedly depending on the vacuum used.” (7)

The published, peer-reviewed findings from a study conducted by PJ Lioy, et al., prove, “The lowest particle emission rate was obtained for a vacuum cleaner that had a (high efficiency) HEPA filter placed after the vacuum cleaner bag and the motor within a sealed exhaust system.” (8)

An Option that Meets Criteria 

For the past several years, we have used the Nilfisk GM 80. (9) The vacuum itself is a shiny, sealed metal canister that our kids nicknamed R2D2. It features the following:

  • a sealed-collection compartment to prevent leakage and decrease noise
  • a multi-stage filtration system with prefilters to prevent clogging of the HEPA filter and extend its lifespan
  • a True HEPA filter after the motor to ensure the capture of any carbon particles emitted from the brushes in the motor
  • a DOP (dispersed oil particulate) tested HEPA filter to verify it meets proper HEPA specifications.
  • commercial quality appropriate to use in a residential setting
  • lightweight design weighing only 11 pounds (without accessories)


In commercial applications, the Nilfisk GM 80 can be used to clean up harmful contaminants such as mold, lead, and asbestos. In a residential application, we have used it to clean hard-surface floors as well as perform more heavy-duty tasks, such as sucking up sawdust and sheetrock dust when remodeling our home. We have also found that the Nilfisk GM 80 (when used with only the hose) is extremely effective in cleaning automotive carpeting due to its high suction power.

For residential carpeting, a non-motorized head, the Turbo Nozzle, is available to order as an accessory for the GM 80. Removing carpets, however, may be a step to consider, especially in sleeping rooms, to improve indoor air quality.

For more information on the Nilfisk GM 80, fill out an inquiry form at the following webpage or contact their customer service department at 800-NILFISK or


  3. Jack D. Thrasher, Phd., Interview, section III, MOLD: The War Within available at