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Vacuum features, settings and technique: Expert advice

Vacuums are one of your go-to appliances as you strive to keep your home clear of dirt, dust, pet hair and allergens. There’s a good chance vacuuming is part of your daily or weekly routine. A 2013 global survey by AHAM member Electrolux found that 33% of respondents vacuumed 2-5 times per week, 13% vacuumed daily and 3% more than once a day.

How you vacuum, not just how much you vacuum, is an important factor as you strive to conquer household dust. The various settings and features incorporated into many vacuum models, combined with the proper technique, will help you maximize your vacuum’s ability to keep your home free from dust and dirt.

Features

The features vacuums offer vary, but adjustable height, “full-bag” sensors and variable motor speed are common. All of them affect your vacuum’s performance.

Adjustable height: Many models allow you to adjust the height of the vacuum as you clean different surfaces. But vacuum owners often don’t realize that a lower height setting doesn’t necessarily mean a deeper clean. “If it’s too low, it won’t clean properly,” says vacuum guru Tom Gasko, curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri. So how do you know which height is right? “Recline the handle and start the vacuum in its highest position,” Gasko says. “Turn it one notch down until you hear the change in sound—it will become a deeper, throatier sound.” That sound means the brush is sweeping correctly. The team at BISSELL, an AHAM member, recommends a higher setting for thicker, plush carpets, and a lower height for low-pile carpet or bare floor.

Speed settings: Another common assumption is that high speed equals better cleaning. The appropriate speed depends on the surface you’re vacuuming. “If you’re cleaning an area rug, the high speed tends to bunch it under a nozzle,” Gasko says. “The lower speeds work better. Let’s say you have a woolen area rug. Don’t use high speed. You’ll drag the carpet and it will destroy the nap of the rug. Your draperies don’t need near the suction of the shag rug. On your sofa, it can tear the fabric.”

 

“Empty bag” indicator: A “full bag” indicator is great for telling you when it’s time to change the bag. “If that [indicator] window is three-quarters of the way full, that bag is three-quarters of the way through. If you’re vacuuming three rooms and you have a shedding dog, you might want to change the bag.” Bissell recommends emptying bagless vacuums frequently so they don’t overfill. This leads to fewer clogs and better performance. And check your brush, too: hair on the brush roll can decrease its effectiveness and cause stress on the vacuum’s belt. Clean the brush regularly for the best performance.

Attachments: Many vacuums come with a variety of attachments. Some of the more common are crevice tools, turbo brushes, extension wands and dusting brushes. “Use crevice tools and turbo brushes to vacuum upholstery and get in between cushions on the couch,” the BISSELL team says. “Use extension wands to reach dust on ceiling fans, cobwebs in high corners, etc. Dusting brushes can be used to reach around books and items on shelves. Gentle bristles won’t scratch delicate wood surfaces.”

Technique

When you vacuum, do pull back harder than you push? Many people naturally do. They’re unknowingly leaving dirt on the floor. Why?

“Vacuums are designed to be pushed at a specific speed,” Gasko says. “They’re to be propelled forward at 12 inches per second, backwards at six inches per second. Your backward pull has to be slower than your forward push.” Brushes on vacuums rotate forward, from the back to the front. “If you pull it back at half the speed, the brush has time to groom the carpet and sweep all the dirt out of the carpet because you’re going against the direction the brush turns.”

If your vacuum includes swivel, use it to reach those tight areas and corners, BISSELL recommends.

If you’re using a stick vacuum on a bare floor, it’s also a good idea to slow down and give your vacuum enough time to remove the dirt. “People think they can get through their kitchen in less than a minute,” Gasko says. “A bare floor doesn’t mean you can push the vacuum faster.” BISSELL recommends turning off the brush roll when vacuuming hard floors so that debris don’t scatter and brushes don’t damage delicate floors.

How you push the vacuum also matters. You may be using too much arm.

“People will stand and make star-shaped patterns with their arm,” Gasko says. “You’re supposed to hold the vacuum in your hand with your arm not bent.” He recommends walking forward at about 12 inches per second and backing up at half that speed for maximum dirt removal. “Make two passes, one forward and back, at the proper speed. Using your shoulder and elbow is inefficient, and your carpet will be cleaner.” Don’t go too fast, and be methodical in your pace when cleaning high-traffic areas of the home, BISSELL recommends.

Do you use a canister vacuum? If you tend to pull on the hose to get the canister to follow you around the room, there may be a better way. Proper technique involves wrapping the hose around the small of your back and holding it in your left hand. This will allow you to move the canister without pulling on the full length of the hose, Gasko says.

Are you cleaning drapes, furniture, shelves and other higher-up areas? BISSELL suggests cleaning those first, before you vacuum the floor. That way, if dust drifts from the higher spots, you’ll only have to vacuum the floor once.

Expert Dishwasher Tips to Make Your Dishes Shine

 

Over their more than 130-year history, dishwashers have radically altered the post-meal ritual of “doing the dishes.” Besides taking most of the work out of scrubbing and drying, dishwashers use far less water than it takes to do the work by hand. They also sanitize dishes and can even rinse away food allergens.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher is part of the kitchen routine, and many dishwasher users habitually select the same cycles and settings every time they wash the dishes. That’s okay if you generally wash the same number of dishes that require the same level of cleaning. But if your needs change—say you need to wash pots instead of dishes, or you’re cleaning up after a particularly messy meal—taking advantage of different cycles can help save you time, effort and energy. Your dishwasher can most likely handle most food-related messes — they’re tested to deal with the worst.

Navigating the seemingly endless options of dishwasher models and features can be daunting, and it helps to have a guide. We reached out to Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping’s director of home appliances, cleaning products and textiles and a longtime friend of AHAM, who has worked with hundreds of dishwashers over the course of her career.

Cycles

Most dishwashers come with a variety of cycles to allow you to adjust the level of wash depending on what you’re washing, and how much cleaning is needed.

  • Rinse: Appropriate for very light cleaning jobs
  • Quick: These may range from a half hour to about an hour, Forte says. They’re made to tackle lighter cleaning jobs.
  • Normal: For your day-to-day, average dish needs
  • Pots and pans: For larger, perhaps more heavily soiled cookware

On many models, you’ll also find specialized cycles, like anti-bacterial, sani-rinse and others.

Choosing the right cycle

Your use and care manual will offer a description of the capabilities of each cycle. “If you have lightly soiled dishes, normal or quick wash should be fine,” Forte says. “If you have stuff that’s baked or dried on or it’s after a normal meal, you should do an auto cycle. If you have really baked-on stuff or cookware, go for the pots and pans cycle. Know what you’re putting in and use the features to get the best clean.”

Racks

While you’ll still find plenty of models with two racks, some manufacturers have added third racks to handle certain types of dishes and flatware. “One area dishwashers have distinguished themselves is racks,” Forte says. “You’ll find folding racks, clips to hold plastic lids, special jets for water bottles. If you do wash those, they’re also very helpful.”

Smart and connected features

Like many other appliances, dishwashers are steadily incorporating smart and connected features that offer functions like remote operability and repair diagnosis. Forte has worked with models that allow users to start or stop the dishwasher with their mobile device, and others that report when something in they cycle has gone wrong, like a blocked spray arm. Some models offer leak alerts and may even shut off when a leak is detected. Voice controls are also arriving. “Were seeing dishwashers that are Alexa-enabled,” Forte says. “You can start and stop it remotely.”

Get the best wash

Now that you know about dishwasher features, it’s time to talk technique. How can you minimize the dishwasher headaches like dishes that don’t quite get clean, cups that flip over and collect water, and dishes being knocked around during the cycle? How you load the dishes matters. “Some people are meticulous, some don’t care,” Forte says. “You have to load it right. If the water can’t reach it, it won’t get clean. Look at what the manual recommends. Make sure nothing is blocking anything else.”

  • Pots and pans should go on the bottom, upside down, Forte says. “Make sure they aren’t blocking each other.
  • Bowls can go on the bottom or top.
  • Glasses should go on the top rack. “Rest them against the tines, don’t put them over the tines,” Forte says. “It can put spots on the glasses or stress the glass.”
  • Spoons should be placed alternately up and down in the flatware basket. If you have a grid over the basked, they can all be placed with the handles facing down.

More dishwashing tips

“Make sure you use enough detergent, but not more than you need,” Forte says. “If you have hard water, you might need more detergent.” And you might not have realized that your dishwasher needs to be cleaned once in a while, too. Clean the filter regularly to dislodge any food waste. Look for detergent specially made to clean dishwashers, and follow the instructions in your use and care manual.