What We Do Blog

Happy National Coffee Day! Here’s what’s brewing in home coffeemakers

AHAM is celebrating National Coffee Day with a look at how people are preparing their beloved morning cup. Even with the nearly ubiquitous sight of early-AM lines stretching out the doors of the one (or more) coffee shops that seem to dot nearly every city block, plenty of consumers are still opting for the more cost-effective option of preparing their coffee at home. An AHAM survey of US households showed a high percentage of them own coffeemakers, with 60% opting for automatic drip and 35% owning single-serve, or pod coffeemakers.

So who’s buying what? Drip coffeemakers are most common among those who live in rural areas, with 74% of respondents reporting owning one. That compares to 61% in suburban areas and 52% in urban areas. Automatic drip models are most popular among consumers 55 and older, with 74% reporting owning one compared to 62% of 35-54 year-olds and 43% of those between 18 and 34. The 35-54-year-old consumers reported the highest rate of ownership of single-serve coffee makers with 40%, compared to 37% for those 18 to 34 and 29% of consumers 55 and older.

But “coffee” is not just coffee, and there are plenty of specialized options if you’re looking to caffeinate. The National Coffee Association, in its 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends, reports a decline in consumption of traditional coffee (not brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties) and a slight increase from 2015 to this year in consumption of espresso-based drinks. The NCA also reports that consumers are trying newer varieties of coffee like cold brew and flat white.

Looking to move your home coffee brewing beyond the traditional cups? Take a look at Whole Latte Love’s video on how to make a flat white.

Or, try these tips on making cold-brew coffee from Jamie Oliver coffee expert Mike Cooper.

What’s your favorite way to prepare your coffee at home?

It’s the little things: Small appliances add big convenience to tiny houses


Across the country, many people are looking to simplify their lives and lower their housing costs by downsizing their living spaces. Their choice of accommodations ranges from permanent or semi-permanent “tiny houses” or “micro-apartments,” extra-small apartment units in densely populated areas.

But downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the appliance conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to.

“A lot of people are concerned about how the house will function,” says Jeremy Weaver, a tiny house dweller and co-owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Wind River Tiny Homes. “Appliances are an integral part of how people interact with their houses, arguably the most intense way. I tell them we can get the same functionality, though it will be a lot smaller.”

With Wind River’s models usually topping out around 350 square feet (though they have built larger homes in the 400-800 square foot range), space, as you might imagine, is precious. Appliances that won’t get a lot of use are usually left out. But tiny spaces have many of the same conveniences as their full-sized counterparts, just on a smaller scale. How much use an appliance will get is the major factor in whether it will be included.

“In a tiny house, if someone doesn’t use an oven, they probably won’t have an oven,” Weaver said. “If you want a full-sized fridge, it means you won’t have a pantry or you’ll have hardly any counter space. There really isn’t space for something you don’t use. People who don’t cook a lot typically don’t use ovens—they’ll use a cooktop or a microwave.” Many of the Wind River homes have been fitted with four-burner, 20-inch ranges, Weaver said. In his tiny house, which includes four burners and an oven, he’s able to fit four full-sized pots and pans on top and 2-3 cookie sheets in the oven.

Every inch matters in a tiny house, and some may opt for a two-burner portable induction cooktop that can hang on the wall when it isn’t being used, Weaver said. Appliances in tiny homes often are powered by propane. Mobile tiny homes can also be set up to plug in like RVs.

For laundry, combination washer-dryers are the way to go in a small space. They’re common in Europe and Asia, where small-space living is more widespread, Weaver said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses we’ve done have them.” More options from manufacturers have become available over the past few years, he said.

Small appliances were already being manufactured for boats and RVs. Wind River recently installed a dishwasher for the first time in a tiny home and used a model made for an RV, a drawer-style under-counter model.

Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technology Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Easy ways you can prevent cooking fires

There are more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. today, and most are operated safely and without incident. When fires do occur, they’re usually preventable through a few simple steps. AHAM has partnered with UL, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Safety Council to develop its Recipe for Safer Cooking. These preventive measures will help you greatly reduce the chances that a cooking fire will occur in your home:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when you cook. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep an eye on children in the kitchen. When they’re old enough to cook, teach them how to do it safely.
  • Keep your cooking areas clean. Food and grease build-up can increase the risk of fire.
  • Keep curtains, towels, pot holders and other fabrics away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. Never keep gasoline in the house.
  • Turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills that can result in serious burns.

Unfortunately, fires sometimes happen even when preventive measures are taken. Memorize these steps so you and your family are ready if a fire happens:

  • Immediately call your local fire department. Have the department’s emergency number on hand, as calling 911 will instead direct you to a central emergency services center. That means the response time could be slightly longer.
  • If a grease fire breaks out, put a lid on the pot to smother the flames, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place while the pan cools.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish cooking fires.
  • If a fire starts inside the oven or broiler, keep the door closed and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Contact your local fire department for training.
  • Keep a working smoke detector in your home and test it every month.

AHAM and appliance manufacturers are attacking the problem of unattended cooking fires through the technical advances to cut down on the potential for fires, and through consumer awareness initiatives like the Recipe for Safer Cooking. Visit AHAM’s store to order copies of the Recipe for Safer Cooking and other fire-prevention information.

Are you looking for more ways to make your kitchen safer? Take this kitchen appliance safety advice from John Drengenberg, also known as “Mr. Safety.”

AHAM shipment research: What’s hot in major appliances

While we can’t tell you which appliances are the coolest among your neighbors, AHAM is the leading authority for major appliance shipping trends. That means we CAN tell you what styles and features you might see when you go shopping for new appliances. Here are a few of the trends we’re seeing in cooking, refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers and laundry:

Induction cooking is catching on: Consumers, perhaps attracted by its potential to deliver shorter heating times and more precise temperature control, continue to show interest in induction cooking. Last year, 16% of electric surface units shipped included at least one induction cooking unit, up from 8% in 2010. So far, the percentage is holding steady, as 15% of electric surface units shipped between January and July of 2016 had at least one induction unit.

Taking a shine to stainless steel: Seventy-six percent of bottom-mount refrigerators shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel finish. That number has been growing steadily since 2009, when just 44% of units shipped were stainless steel. The trend can also be seen in dishwashers, of which more than half shipped last year—57%—had a stainless steel finish, a trend that has been on an upward climb since 2007. AHAM’s shipping numbers also show growth in stainless steel being used as a tub material in dishwashers. Forty-four percent of units shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel tub, a number that has remained steady through the first six months of 2016.

Bottom-mount stays cool: Bottom-mount refrigerators, which have the freezer on the bottom, continue to gain popularity. Total shipments of bottom-mount models doubled between 2009 and 2015, while 2015 shipments of side-by-side models are similar to their 2015 numbers. AHAM’s shipping numbers also suggest that consumers want more doors in their refrigerators. Last year, 17% of bottom-mount refrigerators had four or more doors. That percentage has grown from 11% in 2012, when AHAM started tracking the shipments of four-door models.

Laundry on top: Top-load washers as a percentage of units shipped have been growing steadily since 2009. Top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015, up from 62% six years earlier. More consumers continue to be drawn to units without agitators. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.

Physicians share their allergy prevention advice

Ragweed. Pet dander. Tree pollen. Mountain cedar. Regardless of what’s causing your allergy symptoms, the sniffling, coughing, sneezing and itching are a major downer any time of the year. Before you reach for the antihistamines, look around the house. Odds are you already have many of the tools—your appliances—that can reduce the level of allergens in your home and help you breathe a bit easier.

AHAM spoke with two allergy experts, Corinna Bowser, M.D., of Narberth Allergy & Asthma in Narbeth, Pa., and Sakina Bajowala, M.D., of Kaneland Allergy in North Aurora, Ill., who shared their advice on how your appliances can help you find allergy relief:

Vacuum: Vacuums with HEPA filters can be helpful in removing both ground allergens, like dust mites, and airborne allergens like pollen. A stick vacuum may be a convenient option to help you remove dust mites from the hard surfaces in your home between regular cleaning sessions.  Finally, consider having someone who doesn’t suffer from allergies do the vacuuming.

Room air cleaner: Air cleaners also utilize HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. Do you have pets? Keep an air cleaner running in the room or area where the pets spend their most time and in the room where the allergic person sleeps. “Running a HEPA filter can help to reduce the levels of allergens in the air by up to 50 percent,” Bajowala said. “The air filters can help trap a lot of the allergens and make the air more suitable for asthmatic or allergic patients to breathe.”

Air conditioner: Air conditioners will help filter outdoor allergens and keep them outside. Combine them with a room air cleaner for an extra layer of protection. “Many patients with asthma and allergies do a lot better in air conditioned environments,” Bajowala said. “Both room and portable air conditioners can be helpful.”

Dehumidifier: The dreaded dust mite thrives in a human environment. “The more people, animals and humidity, the more dust mites,” Bowser said. Dust mites live year round, which means you have to take year-round precautions. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the humidity in your home and give the mites a less-favorable environment. “The recommended humidity is under 50 percent,” Bowser said. Bajowala recommends purchasing a humidity monitor to check your levels. Keep in mind that any appliance that uses water has the potential to grow mold, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning.

Washing machine: Dust mites tend to thrive in mattresses. You can help kill the mites by washing your linens in hot water. Washing machines will also help remove outdoor allergens like pollen from your clothes. “The pollen that covers cars is the same stuff that settles in our hair and clothes,” Bowser said. “It can become airborne again.”

Dishwashers: This isn’t related to seasonal allergies, but Bajowala recommends that anyone who lives in a home where someone suffers from food allergies wash their dishes on a sanitize cycle. “It does a better job of cleaning the surface and not transferring [allergens] from dish to dish. Hand washing can leave food protein behind.”

Finally, it’s important to visit a doctor to see if you can find out what’s causing your symptoms. “It helps to get tested and see what you’re allergic to,” Bowser said. “You can then focus more on what’s causing it and get the right advice.”

Advice from a dietitian on how your appliances can help you eat healthier

From your oven and ranges, to your refrigerator and freezer, to your blender, your appliances, when used properly, can be one of your best tools in your efforts to eat healthier. Much of healthy eating comes down to planning and preparation, says Tamara Melton, MS, RDN, LD, founder of LaCarte Wellness, a corporate wellness consultation firm in Atlanta. Melton is not only a registered and licensed dietician, she’s also a busy working mom who loves to cook and regularly puts the meal prep tips she offers her clients into action for her family.

“You don’t have to have the fanciest appliances, but having high-quality appliances that you know how to use can aid someone who is trying to eat healthier,” Melton said. “They help store your food and cook it well. It’s really important.”

While your appliances can’t do all of the work for you, they’ll make your path to a healthy lifestyle much easier. You’ll have to put in the prep time, though, so Melton recommends carving some time out of your week to prepare the foods you’ll eat. Melton offered her advice on how to take advantage of your kitchen appliances:

Refrigerator: If you organize your food for easy access, you’ll be less tempted to grab your phone and order takeout. Put your food in easy-to-access containers so the ingredients are easy to grab when you’re making the next meal. Slice up vegetables and fruit and store them in sandwich bags for snacks. Keep snacks for the kids within their reach on the lower shelves of the refrigerator. Want to save time in the morning? Boil eggs in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

Freezer: Melton bakes muffins and quick bread and stores them in the freezer, defrosting them in the microwave for 15-30 seconds for an on-the-go breakfast. She’ll also freeze extra portions of spaghetti, chili and other dishes to take for lunch or serve as leftovers.

Rice cooker: The rice cooker gets a lot of use in Melton’s home and is a cornerstone of her cooking. “I cook most of our grains in there,” she said. She regularly takes advantage of the rice cooker’s convenience to prepare grains like couscous, quinoa, bulgur and farro. “I’ll put rice in with chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro. I’ve made quinoa that I’ll take out and make into a Greek quinoa salad.”

Oven and range: “I like to make a lot of one-pot dishes,” Melton said. “We do a lot of roasted veggies.” The range and oven are used to prepare healthy foods for that night and later in the week. “I can walk away from it, and prepare some for the rest of the week.” Pay attention to your cookware and invest in quality saucepans, sauté pans, roasting dishes and dutch ovens, Melton recommends.

Microwave: The microwave oven can be the best friend in the kitchen for busy parents. Melton has a large microwave that she uses to quickly steam vegetables and defrost proteins. “We have steamed veggies as a snack,” she said. “Now that school’s back in, I steam veggies three times a week. The microwave is really important.”

Blender: The blender is an essential tool for making healthy smoothies and juices that can get the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables without them even knowing. Try one of her favorites: ½ a cup to a cup of cottage cheese, a cup of frozen berries, a cup of orange juice and a bit of honey. Add a hard- boiled egg (from the refrigerator), a muffin or quick bread (from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave) and coffee, and you have a convenient, healthy breakfast.

Toaster oven: Take advantage of your toaster oven to reheat leftovers with a smaller appliance and cut down on food waste, Melton recommends. It’s may be a more efficient option than your oven for reheating smaller portions.

How you arrange your appliances can also affect how willing you are to cook a healthy meal, Melton said. She recommends keeping the appliances you use regularly within easy reach. Make sure you reserve enough prep space as well.

5 things to consider when buying a vacuum

If you’re serious about keeping your carpets clean and your floors shining, just any vacuum won’t do. The type, features and design of the vacuum are important, but the type of floors and the level of cleaning they’ll require should be your focus when making a decision. Do you have hardwood floors? Standard or ultra-soft carpet? Area rugs? Pets? People with specific allergies in the house? Do you vacuum every day or once a week? Make the wrong decision and you could end up with more of a mess and a vacuum that just takes up space.

Walk into an appliance retail store and you’re likely to come face to face with a plethora of vacuum models. They can be broken down into seven categories:

Lower half of a man wearing shorts vacuuming a tan rug with an upright vacuum as part of his housecleaning chores..
Upright: An upright is likely what comes to mind when you think of a vacuum. It’s a traditional, full-size, pushable format with or without a mechanical brush roll. It will work well and provide deep cleaning capability on many types of carpets, but it often is not the best choice for a house with only hardwood or other bare floors. Most will include attachments like a dusting brush, crevice tool and upholstery cleaner. Some may also include detachable handheld or smaller vacuum units. The key to cleaning carpeted floors is to have suction, air flow and good filtration. It is important to agitate the carpet with a mechanical brush roller at the same time the suction and air flow pick up the dirt and move it into the receptacle or bag.

Woman cleaning with vacuum cleaner, baby sitting on floor and biscuits all around
Canister: Unlike the upright, you won’t push the whole vacuum when using a canister, though they do need to be pulled. Unlike the upright, the canister can be maneuvered for stairs and difficult to reach places. The body is separate from the wand and floor tool, connected by a hose. They’re designed for the ability to be lighter weight when doing above floor cleaning (dusting, crevice cleaning, upholstery cleaning, etc.), but can also provide deep cleaning for carpet.

Man vacuuming and woman on sofa
Stick: Think of these as the everyday cleanup tool for mealtimes, pet hair and spills on hard surfaces and area rugs, but not as much for heavy carpet cleaning. They’re available in both corded and cordless, though there’s a trend toward cordless models.

The female hand holds a portable vacuum cleaner
Handheld: Handheld vacuums are made for smaller clean-ups. They’re often light enough to be operated with one hand, but some larger models may include hoses or attachments to tackle bigger messes. Again, they are available in both corded and cordless, although the cordless ones are more prominent.

Home vacuum cleaning robot in action on genuine wooden floor. Selective focus on robot.
Robotic: They’ll do the cleaning for you. Robotic vacuums are growing in popularity. They can be set to clean for a certain time and some are capable of following certain patterns or mapping a house or room. They don’t have the capacity of the other types of vacuums. They can clean carpets or hard surfaces, but may not have the deep-cleaning power of an upright or canister vacuum.

Wet-Dry: These vacuums are often reserved for the garage or basement but can be used in many places to mop up water spills or to clean up after wet cleaning on concrete or other hard surfaces. The vacuum is specially constructed to be used around water so that the user will not receive an electric shock when used in accordance with the instructions.

Central: These vacuums are installed in one place in the home and a tube is embedded in the walls of a home for routing to the central unit in the garage or basement. Central vacuums use ports located at intervals in the home to access the vacuum. A hose and floor tool can be connected to the ports. The advantage is that all the vacuumed dirt and dust are directed out of the living space of the home.

Now that you know the types of vacuums available, here are five factors you should consider when shopping for a new vacuum:

Ease of pushing: Vacuuming is a physical activity, and you’ll need to think about how much weight you want to push around while cleaning. Some vacuums are light and easy to push. Some will have heavy suction for cleaning deep in the carpet, but may have adjustments to make them easier to operate. Others are heavier and may require more force. If it’s too hard to push, you won’t want to clean. You should also think about how you’ll feel carrying it up and down stairs. Some vacuums use a motorized brush roller that helps to move the vacuum on the floor. Many vacuums make turning around furniture easier through their design. Ask your retailer if you can try it out before you buy it.

Bag or no bag? Bagless and bagged vacuums require somewhat the same level of maintenance. Both must be emptied regularly. A bagless vacuum will free you from having to stock up on vacuum bags, but they still contain one or two filters that need to be cleaned. Bagged vacuums trap the dirt and debris inside a bag and can be carried out for disposal.

Your level of dirt: Do you have pets? You’ll likely need to clean up more hair than anything else. Pet owners often own two vacuums—one for routine cleaning and a separate model for frequent deeper cleaning of pet hair from the surfaces and the right attachments like a turbo brush and crevice tool.

Allergen removal: Both allergy sufferers and pet owners should consider buying a vacuum with a sealed air system that prevents dirt, dander and allergens from escaping the vacuum.

Reliability and durability: Some retailers will have carpet available in store for you to try out a vacuum. Others may allow you to take a model home and try it out. Ask for a demonstration. But in case a demo isn’t possible, study online consumer reviews in advance and look for descriptions of how the vacuum performed on the types of flooring that you have in your home.

Vacuum Bags, Belts and History: Advice from the Curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum

Tom Gasko was about eight years old and walking to school when he found his first vacuum. It was a GE Roll-Easy from 1956. He was immediately fascinated.

“It looked like a barrel,” Gasko recalls. “Somebody had thrown it away. My mom said ‘That thing probably has bugs in it.’ I thought it was very interesting.” Gasko took the vacuum apart and figured out how it worked. Friends and neighbors, hearing of his interest, began giving him their old vacuums. He followed his passion into a successful career in vacuum sales, repair and design, and ultimately to his current role as curator and manager of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory Outlet.

Gasko’s vacuum collection, which began with the GE model, has now grown to nearly 800 and includes nearly every model ever made. To him, the individuality of vacuums makes them stand out among home appliances.

“Every dryer you buy is a square box with a rotating drum,” he says. “The design is pretty much the same. Vacuum cleaners are completely unique. Then, you add on top of that the passion of the door-to-door sales. It’s passion that you have with no other appliance.”

Visitors to the Vacuum Cleaner museum can get a guided tour through Gasko’s collection, and he’ll share details about each model and note how their design reflected the events of the time.

He might point out the Atlas vacuum, released in 1957, whose design evokes the classic Chevy model of the same year.

He’ll show you models from the 1960s, the age of the race to the moon, Star Trek and Lost in Space. This Fairfax model, Gasko says, was designed to resemble Rosie, the robotic maid from “The Jetsons.”

1960sFairfax
The 1970s, the era of Saturday Night Fever can is reflected by this Kirby model. The rake on the front is designed to tackle the strands of that iconic relic of the time, shag carpet.

1976Kirby
It’s safe to say that Gasko is one of the world’s vacuum experts. That designation means he gets a lot of questions from consumers about which vacuum they should buy. There’s no easy answer, as it depends on the home’s flooring, carpet style and cleaning needs.

Vacuums are relatively easy to care for, but Gasko sees widespread misunderstanding among consumers who aren’t aware of the simple steps they can take to keep their vacuum…well, sucking.

“They don’t understand that the removing of the dirt from the machine and filters, and changing the bag, is the best thing they can do to lengthen the life of their machine,” Gasko says. Upright vacuums without bags are common models, he said, but their owners often neglect basic maintenance. “Just because it doesn’t have a bag doesn’t mean it doesn’t have filters,” Gasko says. “Most people don’t know where the filters are or how to clean it. They don’t realize there are one, or two, or in some cases, three filters.” If you don’t clean your vacuum filters, eventually, the suction will disappear. Gasko estimates that about half of the vacuums put out with the trash work just fine. But their owners have failed to clean the filters and believe the vacuum no longer works.

Most filters are washable, Gasko says. He recommends removing the filter every time you empty the canister. Simply rinse it off and allow it to dry for 24 hours before you put it back into the vacuum.

Another simple maintenance step you can take is to change the belt every two years. “I’d estimate 50 percent of vacuums in people’s closets have worn out belts. Everyone waits until it breaks.” Belts usually cost about two dollars, Gasko says. A worn belt means the vacuum’s rotating brush won’t turn at the correct speed, limiting its cleaning power.

Vacuum owners also tend to neglect the attachments that come with the cleaner, Gasko says. “If it’s an upright, it has an onboard hose attachment, an extension wand, a crevice tool, a dusting tool and a furniture tool.” A canister vacuum will have a power head and rotating brush. The attachments can greatly expand the vacuums ability to clean and allow it to tackle different surfaces, like mattresses and furniture. But they too often sit unused in the closet, the casualties of their owners’ reluctance to read an instruction manual, Gasko says.

If you’re in the market, Gasko firmly believes that cordless vacuums are the future of the industry. It’s a safe bet he already has some in his collection. But he’s still on the hunt for a Hoover Model O.  “They only made 239 of them,” he says. Do you have one? Let us know!

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Home appliance design trends, energy savings and innovation.

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