Central Vacuums: Built-in floor care

When you think of vacuuming, you may think of the traditional: A stick, upright or canister vacuum, or perhaps a robot. All of those are effective options for floor care. There is also lesser-known option, though: the central vacuum. Central vacuums are used by millions in the U.S. and Canada and offer a different kind of floor care experience.

Unlike their stick, upright, canister and robotic cousins who tend to live in closets, emerging when there’s a cleaning job to be done. Central vacuums are built into the home, with the collection unit often placed in the basement, garage or attic. When they’re ready to vacuum, central vacuum users plug the hose into inlets spaced throughout the home and vacuum just as they would with any other vacuum. Multiple attachments and power heads are available.  In some homes, a special kick plate can be installed in areas where crumbs, or dust pile up — such as kitchens — so you can sweep dirt into the opening for it to be sucked into the central collection unit.

If you are the type of person who likes to keep your floor cleaning power ready to go at the flip of a switch, a central vacuum may be the way to go. Central vacuums and other types of vacuums do similar jobs, but there are some differences you should be aware of if you’re thinking of making the switch to a central vacuum.

What’s different

Venting: Central vacuums can be a powerful addition to the homes of people who are serious about improving their indoor air quality. Many central vacuum systems, though not all, are vented to the outside of your home. That means the dirt, dust, pollen, pet hair and allergens that you remove during a typical vacuuming job are carried outside.

Volume: Tired of replacing vacuum bags or emptying canisters? With collection bins that hold 7-9 gallons, central vacuums have a larger capacity than many other types of vacuums.

Ready access: Central vacuums include a number of attachments to allow you to quickly vacuum. Instead of retrieving your vacuum from the closet, you can just flip a switch. You can place inlets in areas where messes tend to occur. Think of how much easier it would be to vacuum your car, or clean those spilled Cheerios out of the baby’s carseat, if you had an inlet right there in the garage.

The right tools for the job: Like portable vacuums, central vacuums come with a number of attachments, including retractable hoses, dusting brushes, crevice tools and hardwood floor brushes. Standard hoses are 30 feet, with options for longer hoses up to 50 feet to allow you to reach everywhere dust settles.

Your options

When shopping for a central vacuum, you will come across a number of different models. Some may have central bags, which need to be changed periodically, depending on how often you vacuum. There are also bagless models, for which you will have to empty the canister as needed, and cyclonic filter models. In addition, some central vacuums convert to a wet-dry system, which can save the day if your basement floods or your hot water heater bursts. Central vacuums are sized according to the square footage of the home. Think about the types of cleaning jobs you tend to do around the house, and ask a retailer what model they think would be best for your home.


It is easiest to install a central vacuum while a home is being built. But they can also be installed in existing homes, provided the walls can be accessed. The process includes placement of the unit and the installation of inlets and piping. The job can usually be done in a day or less.

You probably won’t place an inlet in every room, so think about placing them in or near high-traffic areas in the home or places you’ll vacuum more often than others, like dining rooms, kitchens or living rooms.

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