Inefficient Vacuum Cleaners to Be Swept From European Stores

Upright and cylinder vacs that emit 80 decibels or more and drain electricity at 900 watts or higher have been banned per new EU rules aiming to limit energy consumption. (Photo: Mike Tungate/flickr)

Some unfortunate news for European Union residents who prefer their vacuum cleaners to be clunky, noisy and high-wattage: These beastly crumb-sucking, dust-eradicating machines will soon be a thing of the past.

As reported by the BBC, upright and cylinder vacs that emit 80 decibels or more and drain electricity at 900 watts or higher have been banned per new EU rules aiming to limit the energy consumed by the omnipresent household cleaning tools.

Per the new rule, their manufacture and import is restricted within EU member nations, which for now, includes the heavily carpeted United Kingdom. (Britain, coincidentally, is the birthplace of the first commercially viable portable domestic vacuum cleaner having been first sold and marketed by Birmingham manufacturer Walter Griffiths in 1905.)

And already, some adherents to egregiously high-wattage Hoovers simply aren’t having it.

Vintage vacuum advertisement
Vintage vacuum advertisement. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

You see, the more noise a vacuum makes and the more energy it consumes has long been (falsely) equated with its overall power and effectiveness in sucking up messes. A common belief is that it doesn’t possess a deafening roar and cause a spike in electricity bills after a thorough all-house vacuuming, it’s probably not doing a good job. Some manufacturers have been known to intentionally up the wattage of vacuums — even when it doesn’t necessarily boost performance — knowing that consumers will gravitate toward these seemingly more powerful models.

Yet thanks to technological advances over the years, new model machines with smaller and more efficient motors suck — in the best way possible — just as much as their predecessors that sound like a Boeing 737 coming in for landing.

Vacuum salesman Howard Johnson explains to the BBC: "People want a more powerful vacuum cleaner but they can't see that more power doesn't mean more suction. The lower power machines are perfectly adequate and better for the planet.”

As for that “better planet for part,” while the reduced energy usage of lower-wattage vacuums is modest on a per-household basis, it does add up.

According to the European Commission, an energy-efficient vacuum can save consumers in the ballpark of 70 euros ($83) over the lifetime of the machine. If all of Europe were to ditch inefficient older models, 20 terawatt hours of electricity could be saved by 2020. This is roughly equivalent to the annual household electricity consumption of all of Belgium. In the end, an inefficient vacuum-free Europe would halt 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, which is about the same annual emissions of eight standard power plants.

An old upright vacuum cleaner
The EU ban on efficient Hoovers only impacts upright and cylinder models, not battery-operated, handheld or robotic vacs. (Photo: Alan Stanton/flickr)

Caution: Panic shopping ahead

A lighter and more efficient vacuum cleaner that makes less of a racket while still performing just as well — or even better than — than older models. What’s not to like?

Much like with the political grudge match known as the Great American Light Bulb War, many Brits have taken sides. One side is eager to embrace more efficient vacuum cleaners, while the other has taken a “you can pry it from my cold, dead hands” mentality.

The Great Hoover Clash actually dates back to September 2014 when the EU’s Ecodesign label was introduced and forced vacuum makers to cap off products at a maximum of 1,600 watts. The Telegraph notes that prior to the new labeling scheme, average vac motors ran at an average of 1,800 watts.

This prompted public outcry and a wave of anti-EU sentiment in the U.K. The media published numerous reports of “panic buying” as consumers flocked to stores to snatch up beloved vacuums that didn't didn't the cut.

“People weren't used to being regulated in this kind of way,” Stuart Muir, a product manager of the Energy Saving Trust, tells the Telegraph.

With even stricter energy standards now in place, there’s no doubt there will be another rush on older model vacuums. (To be clear, vacuums that don’t meet the new standards won’t be yanked from store shelves but once the stock runs out, that’s it. Cordless and robotic vacs as well as powered floor cleaners are excluded from the ban.)

Henry vacuum
Experts advise consumers not to panic-buy high-wattage vacuums as more efficient models can suck just as powerfully. (Photo: Adrian Scottow/flickr)

Keep clean and carry on

Since the new EU standards were announced, there have been plenty of questions regarding how — or if — the vacuum ban will impact post-Brexit consumers in the U.K.

That, for now, isn’t entirely clear although a government spokesperson tells the BBC: “Until we leave the EU, the U.K. government continues to implement European regulations. We support measures that will save households and businesses money on their energy bills.”

Jan Rosenow, a researcher at the Centre on Innovation & Energy Demand at the University of Sussex, implores power-craving Brits not to rush out and buy energy-intensive vacs before they vanish. He notes that many of the leanest, meanest sucking machines on the market safely meet the new standards.

“Just because a vacuum cleaner has a large output, it doesn't mean it's going to pick up more dust or dirt,” Rosenow explains, adding that folks with older models needn’t rush out and by new models that qualify under the new rules. He advises that they keep using their current machines until they reach the end of their useful lifespan.

The latest offerings from Dyson, the gold standard in British-designed vacuum cleaners, do indeed make the grade and are under 900 watts. Dyson's digital motor-equipped vacuums also fared well when the 2014 efficiency rules were rolled out. However, Dyson, a company famed for efficiency and obsessive improvement, has been embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with the EU — and, separately, German vac giant Bosch — over what founder Sir James Dyson believes to be faulty testing and labeling practices.

As for the noise aspect, the EU ban on deafening vacs has been applauded by Quiet Mark, the certification arm of the UK Noise Abatement Society. Quiet Mark awards consumer products — ranging from hair dryers to electric kettles to air conditioning units and beyond — based on how hushed they are when in operation. While no Dyson vacs have been awarded with a Quiet Mark seal of approval, the company’s range of bladeless fans have. The only household vacuum currently on the market that meets Quiet Mark standards is the C3 Silence EcoLine Plus from coveted high-end German manufacturer Miele.

As the Guardian notes, respondents in a recent Quiet Mark survey ranked vacuum cleaners as the second most annoying-due-to-noise household appliance/product, trailing just behind washing machines.

Inset vintage advertisement: Wikimedia Commons