The Importance of Choosing a Vacuum Cleaner with the Right Filtration

Guest post contributed by Jason Roberts

Vacuum cleaner filters act as a barrier that allows air to pass through while catching dust particles and debris. In other words, without a filtration system, your vacuum cleaner would suck in the dirty air only to blow the same dirt and debris out through its exhaust port.

Why should you care about the quality of vacuum cleaner filters?

We have already established that without a filtration system your vacuum cleaner would simply turn into a glorified dust displacer. However, as long as there is a filter in your vacuum, should you care about how good it is?

The short answer is yes. Imagine a tea strainer that lets the boiling water through and catches the tea leaves. If the holes in the mesh are too big it will start letting out tea leaves along with the water, thus defeating its entire purpose. 

Similarly, a vacuum cleaner filtration system is only as good as the largest dust particle it lets through. For example, if a filtration system fails to catch particles that are 1 microns or less, it will blow out the dust, odor-causing particles, tobacco smoke, and other airborne pathogens. 

Common types of vacuum cleaner filters

Even though their purpose remains the same, different vacuum cleaners have different types of filters fitted in them. Following are the most common types out there. 

Cloth Filter

Bagged vacuum cleaners have a cloth bag, which acts as the primary filter. The newer generation of bagged cleaners may have a secondary filter to filter out smaller particles. The advantage of a cloth filter is that it can be washed and reused. Some state-of-the-art cloth filters have electrostatically charged inner linings which deliver great filtration performance.

Cartridge Filter

These filters are made using synthetic materials, paper, and foam. These are disposable units, which means you will have to replace them from time to time. Cartridge filters have an easy snap-on design which makes it really simple to replace or clean them when required. 

Foam/Sponge Filter

These are often fitted in as secondary filters. While the primary filter separates the bigger dust particles, their job is to trap materials that are much smaller. Like the cloth filter, most foam filters can be washed and reused.

Disk Filter

This filter type is often seen in portable vacuums and robotic cleaners. Made from cloth or paper, this part is shaped like a coffee machine filter. Disk filters are commonly fitted to act as a primary filtration layer and they are usually more expensive than other filter types. 

Vacuum cleaner filtration features

Manufacturers throw in a lot of jargons and acronyms to describe the features of vacuum cleaner filtration systems. I will try to help you make sense of it all by explaining some of them in the section below. It’s important to remember that some filters may have more than one of the following features.


It may come as a surprise but HEPA or High-Efficiency Particulate Air is not a type of filter. It’s actually a standardized filtration media that can be used to make different types of filters. Filters made using HEPA media are able to capture 99.99% of all floating particles measuring 0.3 microns or more. Manufacturers understand that customers recognize the word ‘HEPA’. This is why they sometimes sneakily use words such as ‘HEPA-Like’ and ‘True-HEPA’. As a smart consumer, you need to understand that HEPA media needs to meet certain filtration standards to be called HEPA so that they can find the best vacuum with HEPA filter. Filters manufactured utilizing original HEPA media should have a serial number and its rating standard mentioned on them. 

The HEPA filter from a Miele C3 canister


If you thought HEPA was the ultimate filtration standard for vacuum cleaners then think again. Much like HEPA, ULPA (Ultra-low Particulate Air) is a filtration rating that describes filters that capture 99.999% of particles measuring .12 microns or more. ULPA filters are mostly used in vacuum cleaners designed for hospital-like environments.


Some filters can be removed, washed, dried, and refitted. Without the need of replacing them frequently, the maintenance cost of vacuum cleaners with washable filters is significantly low. If you are not sure whether your cleaner has a washable filter, check the product manual.


MicroFresh is a type of non-toxic chemical which can be added to vacuum cleaner filters to inhibit the growth of algae, bacteria, and fungi. This means air passing through a filter with MicroFresh technology is free not only of dust particles but also of disease-causing microbes. 

Allergen Filtration

Some vacuum cleaners claim that they have a filtration system that’s capable of trapping allergens. This may sound impressive, but allergen filters are in no way better than HEPA. All HEPA filters are capable of trapping allergy-causing particles but not all filters labeled as ‘allergen filters’ can match the filtration performance of a HEPA media. 

Suitable for Pets

Most filtration systems that are capable of trapping dust particles should face no trouble capturing pet hair. The challenge is picking up stubborn pet hair, which has nothing to do with the capabilities of the filtration system. Having said that, pet filters often have a layer of baking soda or active carbon, to eliminate some of the odors caused by pets. 


Want a vacuum cleaner that cleans up your home while leaving behind a beautiful fragrance? If so, scented filters are the weapon of choice. Scented filters are usually available in a variety of different fragrance options. 

Water filtration

Many praise vacuum brands such as Rainbow, Sierra, or Quantum for their vacuum cleaners which rely on water to make the filtration. These come close to the performance of a HEPA-sealed machine. 

Maintenance costs

The maintenance cost of a vacuum cleaner is often solely dependent on the cost of the parts that need to be replaced at regular periods of time. Vacuum cleaners based on water filtration or on filters that can be washed and reused offer the most bang for the buck. Similarly, efficient cyclonic vacuums can achieve the same result. 

Some vacuum manufacturers recommend replacing the pre-filter or the primary filter once every 4 to 6 months. Let’s take the example of some Dyson pre-filters forms their older models, which cost around $10 to $30, depending on the specific model. If you change the filter twice every year, then the annual cost of just changing the primary filter can amount to $60. However, from my experience, pre-filters can last more than a year, depending on how frequently you use the vacuum. 

Some HEPA filters have a plastic construction and can be washed and reused. Companies only recommend changing them if the filters develop a musty smell. This is why vacuums that have HEPA filters may occasionally have a lower maintenance cost. Other HEPA filters by the contrary, can’t be washed and need to be replaced often.

A worn Xiaomi HEPA filter. A new one is around $12 and needs to be replaced once per year

Most vacuum cleaner filtration systems utilize 2 filters. The cost of maintenance will invariably be higher if both filters need frequent changing. One tip to take home, make sure you read all about the filters of your future vacuum cleaner before actually buying it.

Comments 2
  1. This is a great guide! I recently read a guide to vacuums, and so I’ve been trying to learn more about vacuums before I purchase my next one, so this was a great read! Thank you for putting this great post together!

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