HEPA - what is it?
Vacuums equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (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.
To get a HEPA tick of approval, vacuum cleaners must trap 99.97% of a vacuum's emissions, down to a tiny 0.3 microns in size. Regular vacuum filters 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 cost more. You'll need to clean filters yearly, or fork out regularly for replacements, so check the manufacturer's instructions before you buy. Alternatively, if you're prepared to buy high end, Dyson models have HEPA filters that won't need to be replaced.
Breathing easier with HEPA
So with the added costs and upkeep, will a HEPA vacuum solve your indoor allergy issues? Mostly, 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 rugs, curtains and furniture when cleaning the house.
Having asthma is a great excuse to handball 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 kill the carpets?
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 okay 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 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 info on HEPA vacuums, cleaning and asthma link up with Asthma Australia.