Most of us consider our homes a safe haven and sanctuary. Our homes provide both physical and emotional comfort as we face the challenges of our daily lives. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. To the nomadic peoples of the past, our homes may be an unimaginable luxury, but the modern conveniences of our home come at a price and requires ongoing maintenance. From clogged gutters, leaky roofs, dirty sidewalks, uncut grass and flaking paint to junk mail and endless clutter, we modern humans have our hands full.
And then there is the dirt and dust, which seems like a never-ending war. Your shoes and pets track in dirt. You make dirt and dust when cooking, bringing things into the house, and just by living and breathing as your dead skin cells rub off. You are a dust and dirt making machine!
Our Little Warrior
When it comes to the war on dirt and dust, most of us choose a vacuum cleaner as the weapon of choice. Plug that baby in and turn it on for some powerful sucking action. That dust and dirt doesn’t stand a chance. For many years, our personal weapon of choice was a name-brand canister vacuum. Turn it on and woosh! That thing had so much sucking power we sometimes worried it might just rip the carpet threads right out of the carpet. It was awesome. It was powerful, it was rugged and it was downright sexy. The carpets, wood floors, baseboards, windowsills and everywhere in between were beyond clean after a session with that thing. My wife and I loved it. Our freshly vacuumed house just gave us that warm and happy feeling inside.
Clean outside, warm inside. Sounds pretty good right? Sadly, it turns out there was dark and dirty side to our vacuum cleaning habit. It turns out that electric vacuum cleaners are notorious for generating considerably high levels of magnetic fields and dirty power due to that wiz-bang powerhouse of a motor and other electronics inside that make it so good at sucking up dirt and dust.
Dirty Little Secret
I was the one who did most of the vacuuming as I strangely liked it and really enjoyed my time with our cute little canister vacuum. However, we had always noticed that I seemed to become anxious and a bit agitated after I would vacuum our house. We didn’t know why, but we both noticed what seemed like a correlation between my general feeling of wellness and use of the vacuum cleaner. And so one day early in our discovery of EMFs, we decided to test our canister vacuum cleaner. What we found made us feel sick deep down to the bottom of our stomachs.
When we tested our canister vacuum cleaner with our TriField 100XE EMF Meter, we found that the magnetic field reading was completely off the scale at close distances from the canister vacuum while it was running. The readings were so high that our meter simply maxed out.
So we know our canister vacuum was high magnetic. What about dirty power? Was she as dirty as she was magnetic?
Our Stetzerizer GS-M330-A Microsurge Meter is the meter we use to check for dirty power. Stetzerizer recommends keeping the levels shown on the meter below 50. If you would like a more through explanation of dirty power, be sure to check out our article on dirty power (coming soon). But to give you a general sense of what dirty power readings mean, in our home we do our best to keep our dirty power levels below 30 though a combination of giving up dirty appliances and the use of dirty electricity filters. So what was the dirty power level of the canister vacuum? Drum roll please…
Our canister vacuum’s dirty power reading was OVER FIVE HUNDRED.
All I have to say to that is “ouch”. Let me add a “dang” to that too. High magnetic and over five hundred dirty power. That one device was polluting the electrical grid in my home, and probably reaching out to neighbors homes as well whenever I was doing my cleaning. All of the wires in the walls becoming antennas-of-sorts for transient and harmonic noise coming from canister vacuum. Knowing what I know now, no wonder I was feeling off after a vacuum cleaning session.
My heart sank. Another cool device we can’t use anymore. I felt betrayed by my little mistress of a vacuum.
The Mourning Period
After we measured our vacuum for EMF radiation, we didn’t know what to do. We sulked for two weeks before Sara and I started looking for alternatives. We did research online and looked at forums to see if anyone had a better alternative. We found sources that said vacuums generally are problematic when it comes to magnetic fields and dirty power. No one mentioned a vacuum that was known to be low magnetic and low dirty power.
Just the magnetic and dirty power readings were enough to convince us to give up our vacuum, but another problem worth mentioning is related to the electrical cord. The long electrical cord that comes with the vacuum is usually not shielded. As such, it will likely be a large source of electrical fields all along the length of the cord. This is a common problem of most household electrical devices that plug into the wall. The vacuum is especially problematic as the cord on it is incredibly long and often wrapped into a large bundle of cord around the unit and running all through the components that you are constantly touching as you do your vacuuming deed.
We set out to find a vacuum we could use. We contacted specialty vacuum stores and told them we wanted a low magnetic and low dirty power vacuum cleaner. Every store we spoke to was utterly confused by what we were asking about. We also spent a lot of time looking at vacuum specifications and talking to manufacturers, but none of the ones we spoke to advertised or could tell us the dirty power levels of their vacuum cleaner or whether it was magnetically shielded. They knew their vacuums were well made and worked well, but they had no clue what the EMF reading of their product was and many did not even know what EMFs were. Why is it that the manufacturers and retailers didn’t know or even care about the EMF levels of their products?
The problems of EMF pollution boil down to neglect and money. Manufacturers often do not shield their electric motors and components to protect us from stray EMF fields because adequate shielding would add cost to the device, and possibly weight and volume. Consumers don’t know the dangers and don’t demand shielded devices. Since few customers are asking for low EMF devices and laws don’t adequately demand it, manufacturers ignore it. Manufactures generally do not take the extra engineering and production effort needed to included safety features that customers are not demanding and paying for.
Unshielded motors and electrical components are the norm. And it’s not just vacuums. Blenders, food processors, motorized toys, hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, power tools and anything else containing an electrical motor are typically not shielded either. Each of these unshielded motorized gadgets in our lives emanate magnetic fields that we can not see, taste, touch, or hear. For a more through explanation of magnetic fields and their health implications, please see our article on magnetic fields (coming soon).
We contemplated buying a dizzying array of sample vacuums to test in our home, but decided against doing so due to cost constraints. After much searching, we gave up. We submitted to defeat as our house started to look dirtier and dirtier and dust mice gathered in the corners of all our rooms.
Thinking Outside of the Canister
For several weeks we were focused on trying to get a substitute canister or upright vacuum to replace our bad little vacuum. But with each passing day, a direct substitute that would meet our needs seemed to be further and further away. What were we to do? We had to think outside of the canister.
One day one of us said, what if we got a robot vacuum? If we had a robotic vacuum, then we could just keep our distance from it while it was running so we could drastically lessen our exposure to magnetic fields. And since the robotic vacuums operate on batteries, it would not be plugged in while running. And if it was not plugged in, it would not be polluting our household electrical grid with dirty power. Of course we would have to test the battery charger for dirty power as that would be need to be plugged in, but it seemed like it was worth a shot.
So we looked at various models of robot vacuum cleaners. We had to be careful because some of robot vacuums use radio frequencies (RF radiation) to communicate with their “virtual walls.” The virtual walls are little accessory devices that come with the robot and are used to help aid the robot in cleaning the house. We definitely did not want any devices emitting RF radiation. So we narrowed our search to the models which use lower-tech infrared light for communicating with their virtual walls. We don’t mind infrared devices like infrared remote controls because it is simply light you can’t see and we’ve never had an issue with it.
We ended up with one of the mid-level robot vacuum models. We tested it for magnetic, electric fields and RF fields. At close range, this robotic vacuum in our opinion is relatively high in electric and magnetic fields, though it tested negative for RF. On the positive side, our TriField readings showed that both the electric and magnetic fields dropped off to low levels very quickly. So we figured that as long as we kept our distance while the vacuum was operating, we should be good. Also, it emitted higher electric fields whenever the display was illuminated so we have to minimize our exposure to the device whenever the display came on.
What about the charger? The vacuum came with a base station that acted as the battery charger for the robot. We tested the base station with the robot charging. Although the charger had moderate dirty power readings, we were able to get the readings under 30 with one Stetzerizer filter. Some devices are resistant to being cleaned up with filters, but since this robot’s battery charger responded so well to a single filter, we felt it would work. Not ideal, but good enough.
After taking all of our readings, we determined that although this robot vacuum was not perfect, it was likely our best option. Cleaning up dust using double-sided tape was our second best option. Sara and I took a vote and decided unanimously to go with the robot vacuum on one condition. We vowed to be very careful when moving the unit and to use its infrared remote whenever possible to minimize close contact with the device.
Does it Vacuum?
It’s definitely not perfect, and it’s definitely not a canister vacuum, but the robot vacuum does a pretty good job. Here are some points to consider:
- Set-up – Whenever we vacuum a room, we first tidy up the room and minimize problematic obstructions when possible. We also set up any virtual walls that might be needed for a particular area. It’s actually pretty easy to get a room ready and it makes the robot’s job easier, though our prep is probably not absolutely necessary.
- Time – A robot vacuum can take an hour or two to clean a room. It is definitely no speed queen. On the plus side, it definitely requires less hand-holding than our old canister did.
- Getting Stuck – Sometimes in the middle of cleaning, the robot vacuum will get stuck and cry for help. Usually it has gotten stuck with some obstacle and just needs a little nudge in the right direction. But if you did your job setting up virtual walls and minimizing glaring obstructions like chairs arranged in a way that gets it trapped, this doesn’t happen too often. Although it does pretty well with individual chairs, it can take a while to get free if there are several chairs clustered table. We usually pull all our chairs away from the table during set-up to solve that problem.
- Emptying Waste Bin / Cleaning the Vacuum – The waste bin on a robot vacuum is small compared to a canister or upright vacuum. We make sure the waste bin is empty before and after vacuuming every room. If you do not vacuum often or have a particularly dusty or high-traffic room, you may have to pause and empty the waste bin before the robot vacuum has finished vacuuming a room. All the other parts are also smaller, so you may need to clean out the beater/roller brushes at the bottom as hair and larger debris gets tangled up in them.
- Battery Life – Usually the robot vacuum will run out of battery life after two or three rooms. This means you will need to break up the house vacuuming over multiple sessions. This sounds like a bigger deal than it is because this is a start-it-up and forget it vacuum and you can go run errands or do other work while it is running.
- It’s Not for Perfectionists – The robot vacuum does a good job with most of the room and sucks up dust and small debris. However, it doesn’t do so well with the 2 to 4 inches next to walls and edges of the room and tends to leave a bit of dirtiness behind in those areas, mostly around high-traffic spots. My wife and I have just had to readjust our expectations a little bit when it came to a few spots in our home. While it did bother us a little at first, we find it is not an issue for us anymore.
All in all, I like our new setup. It is a bit magical to step away and come back later have the carpet all freshly vacuumed. It is a nice feeling to have our rooms clean again and I’ve even come to like the random zig-zag vacuum pattern the robot vacuum leaves when it is done.
There is more prep to get a room ready to vacuum and you have to empty the waste bin more often. On the other hand, you aren’t grueling away the whole time pushing the vacuum around. Overall, we find that the robot vacuum cleaner requires less time and effort than the old canister vacuum did to clean our house and I now have more time for other things while the robot vacuum churns away in the other room. Most importantly, I now have much less exposure to EMFs from vacuuming.
So that’s real progress in my opinion and a solution we can live with.
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