Sally Jobes, EVS supervisor at Little River Casino and Resort in Manistee, Mich., says she cannot fully stress the importance of a quality, well-maintained upright vacuum in the cleaning operation.

"I once had to try and clean a carpet with just a broom and dust pan, which made me realize how much wear and tear this puts on your wrist and back and what having a vacuum saves you," she says. "The upright vacuum is one of — if not the most — important tools for cleaning."

But in a sea of options ranging from bagless to bagged, dual and single motors, HEPA and non-HEPA filtration, selecting the right vacuum for the job can seem daunting. Cleaning operations must fully consider their goals, budget and vacuuming tasks when making a selection, says Glenn Rothstein, president of BioShine Inc. in Spotswood, N.J.

Rothstein advises cleaning operations consider the following:

  • Is the primary goal to green the operation? Perhaps a dual-motor vacuum with HEPA filtration operating at a low noise level is the best option.
  • Are there large open spaces to vacuum? This scenario likely warrants a wide area vacuum up to 30 inches wide to efficiently perform the job.
  • Are there many small spaces in need of vacuuming? A smaller-width upright with crevice and dusting tools allows housekeepers to vacuum in tight spaces.
  • What is the budget? If a cleaning operation employs 10 housekeepers and needs 10 vacuums, but its budget is only $2,000, then the best option may be smaller-sized, single-motor vacuums.
  • Is the cleaning staff primarily female or individuals of smaller stature? In this instance, vacuum weight may be a primary consideration.

There are many things to consider: Weight, width, ergonomics, dual motor vs. single motor, bagless vs. bagged, filtration and more. Mark Miller, sales manager at Dalco Enterprises Inc., a Minn.-based distributor, recommends cleaning operations tap into the expertise of their supplier when making vacuum selections.

"Like any piece of equipment, it's important to fully explore the options and the productivity each unit offers," he says. "Vacuums range in price from $200 up to $1,000. It's important for cleaning managers to consult with their distributors to maximize the productivity they can get within the budgets they have."

Single vs. Dual

There are two main types of upright vacuums — single motor and dual motor. Single-motor units use one motor to create suction and the same motor turns the brush that pulls debris up and out of the carpet. A dual-motor vacuum, on the other hand, has one motor dedicated to creating the vacuum or suction and another dedicated to turning the brush.

Each upright type offers inherent advantages and disadvantages. For instance, a single-motor unit may be preferable when money is tight because these units tend to have lower price tags. They also weigh less. On the flip side, these units can offer less suction than their dual-motor counterparts, are prone to clogging and are unavailable in wider widths.

Dual-motor vacuums, however, come in up to 30-inch widths and offer more powerful suction, which can also increase their overall weight. Their design has also been known to reduce equipment maintenance needs.

Because the single-motor vacuum uses a single motor to perform multiple tasks, debris passes through a single area on the unit's bottom. As housekeepers vacuum, debris must pass the vacuum belt and fan before hitting its destination.

"Often the belt or fan breaks from the debris passing through," says Rothstein. "Dual-motor vacuums do not have this problem because [the vacuum's inner-workings] are protected. You don't have to worry about debris beating up belts because you have a brush motor on the vacuum and a vacuum motor on top."

Even with the dual-motor's numerous advantages, Miller notes that the single-motor upright reigns as king in the housekeeping world.

"Though people recognize the value of the dual motor, single motor sales remain high because (a) the vacuums are lighter weight and (b) they are far less expensive," he says.

When cost is not an issue, most users, distributors and manufacturers state the dual-motor version is preferred.

"The dual-motor vacuum is a more efficient vacuum," stresses Miller. "You can do your vacuuming in single-pass cleaning. In other words, you don't have to vacuum over the same area numerous times to pick up debris."

In The Bag

Which is better, a bagless or a bagged vacuum? According to experts, both choices offer distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The key advantage to a bagless vacuum cleaner is the cost savings. In these tough economic times, not having to spend money on bags can be quite attractive. In addition, housekeepers know exactly when to empty debris because they can see the cup filling up through a view window on the vacuum. However, bagless units can be messy to empty, which becomes an issue when indoor air quality is of concern.

"The thought of a dust cup is great," explains Rothstein. "But in this day and age, with indoor air quality concerns, it's the worst because you're not trapping dirt. You put it in a cup, and when you take it out, you're basically shaking it out, breathing the dirt in and sending it back into the air."

Many bagless units also have filters that must be cleaned and replaced. Rothstein calls a dirt cup with HEPA filtration an oxymoron. "What are you actually filtering if you're going to breath it in when you take that cup off?" he asks.

A bagged unit keeps indoor air quality high by sealing in dust and dirt inside a micro-lined bag. However, in order to maintain vacuum suction levels, housekeepers must regularly check bag fullness and empty bags before they become too full — vacuums lose suction as their bags fill up.

Watch Your Weight

"There's no doubt that weight has become a factor," says one upright manufacturer. "When you appreciate that a commercial user might have a housekeeper using a vacuum for an entire shift, you quickly realize the importance of bringing unit weight down."

Jobes agrees stating that she looks for a vacuum that is durable and built to last, but is not so heavy that it is a chore to carry up and down stairs.

Today, advancements in manufacturing and materials allow for lowered commercial vacuum weight, with current weight ranges from 12 to 23 pounds. Single motors tend to capture the lower weights, while dual-motor units snare the higher end of the weight range.

"Generally, when the staff is mostly female, they prefer a lightweight vacuum," says Rothstein. "Would you rather swing a 12-pound or a 23-pound vacuum?"

Ergonomic design and handle weight can be as important a consideration as equipment weight.

"It's really not the vacuum's weight that is a concern, it's what the handle weight is," Miller explains. "When housekeepers put the handle down to vacuum, what is that weight?"

Even more important, adds Rothstein, is teaching housekeepers how to properly vacuum. Improper vacuuming technique can lead to more back, arm and wrist strain than the vacuum's actual weight.

"Housekeepers should not vacuum back and forth because it will hurt their arms," he explains. "They want to go all the way forward then all the way back."

Cleaning Path Width

Many vacuum sizes are available to meet the cleaning needs of everything from small confines to large unobstructed spaces. Vacuum cleaning paths come in 12 to 20 inches all the way up to 30 inches wide. Single-motor vacuums come in 12 to 15 inches wide, dual-motor units in 15 to 20 inches and wide area vacuums in 26 to 30 inches.

Cleaning operations must fully assess the areas they need to clean and then choose the best machine for the job, says Rothstein.

"If an operation has wide open spaces, why are they buying 12-inch wide vacuums? So they can get 10 of them?" he says. "If budget is an issue, why not buy one wide area vacuum and a couple of small ones? You'll get more done." Likewise, vacuuming a classroom full of desks may be a real chore with a wide area vacuum.

Sizes also depend on the users themselves.

"An operator who is smaller in stature may be more productive with a small vacuum because as width increases so does weight," says Miller. "However, if the operator is capable of wielding a larger vacuum, they'll be more productive and cover a lot more carpet in a shorter period of time."


If a vacuum is not properly maintained, vacuum selection becomes a moot point, says Jobes.

The primary maintenance need is to regularly empty bags. Most operations tell housekeepers to empty bags after each shift, but if no one checks to ensure its being done, this task may fall through the cracks.

"If the bag fills up and operators fail to check it, the performance of the vacuum is dramatically decreased," says Miller. He adds that users also must check vacuum orifices and clean out debris regularly. Finally, he recommends checking the power cord to make sure its in good shape and not cracked or cut.

Jobes stresses the importance of a good vacuum maintenance program: "Anyone can 'run' a vacuum, but if it's not used properly, chances are it won't last long. We have had some of our vacuums in service for eight years of the 11 we've been in operation. If you are good to your equipment, it will be good to you."

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.