HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air.
Vacuums equipped with HEPA filtration trap the dirt you can't see, rather than sending allergens back into the air.
European manufacturers sometimes use the term S-class on their models, which is a separate (but similar) rating scheme.
There are different standards around the world, but generally to get a HEPA tick of approval, vacuum cleaners must trap at least 99.97% of a vacuum's emissions, down to a tiny 0.3 microns in size.
HEPA filters trap droppings from dust mites, pollen, mould, pet dander and tobacco particles
Non-HEPA vacuum filters typically retain more like 96% of the dirt, which makes a big difference if you have breathing issues.
HEPA filters also trap droppings from dust mites, along with pollen, mould, pet dander and tobacco particles.
Vacuums with HEPA filters generally tend to be the more expensive models.
However, you can find barrel and upright models under $200 with HEPA filters. For stick vacs, about 40% of the models we've tested have HEPA filters.
You'll need to clean filters regularly, and probably eventually buy a replacement filter, so check the manufacturer's instructions before you buy.
Will a HEPA vacuum solve my allergy issues?
It will help, but it's not the full story. For best results, the vac's dust compartment should be emptied regularly.
You'll also need to vacuum thoroughly when cleaning the house; not just floors and rugs, but curtains and furniture too.
On carpets and rugs, a vacuum with a power or turbo head can beat a lot of dust particles into the air, whether it has a HEPA filter or not. So that can be problematic for a person with asthma. It might be better to give the job to someone who's allergy-free.
If that's not an option, open windows, wear a mask, and leave the room for at least 20 minutes once you're done.
Should I get rid of my carpet?
A carpet-free house is worth considering, as long as you're prepared to get busy with a wet mop each week. The flooring world is full of carpet alternatives, but check with your doctor before you rip them up as it's not a solution for everyone.
If you're sticking with the soft stuff, vacuum at least weekly. HEPA or replaceable electrostatic filters are best, but a model with a double-walled bag is an OK alternative.
A ducted vacuum system is another option, but these generally need to be installed when building a house.
Having your carpets professionally cleaned every 18 months is also helpful, but make sure they're thoroughly dried to prevent mould growth.
Regular steam cleaning helps keep actual dust mite numbers down, one of the biggest indoor irritants for asthmatics.
For more help with asthma, contact Asthma Australia.