High-Tech Tools: How Vacuums Keep Changing the Cleaning Game

By Amy Milshtein

High-Tech Tools: How Vacuums Keep Changing the Cleaning Game

Moore’s Law predicts technology gets two times better every 18 months. Does that mean our joy doubles with every faster phone, smaller computer or stronger gaming console? Well, maybe, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not everyone cares about the latest gear, but technophobes and Luddites alike can get behind advances that really make life better. Like vacuums. These high-tech tools keep changing the cleaning game by making it faster, easier and healthier.

The Prototype: Puffing Billy

Carpet has been around for several thousands of years. Vacuums, not so much. Early carpet maintenance meant carrying the floorcovering outside, hanging it on a line and pounding the dirt out with a beater. The Herculean chore demanded time and muscle for not much payoff. Unsatisfied inventors tinkered with mechanical sweepers and hand-cranked blowers but nothing caught on until British engineer Hubert Booth patented a gas-powered model in 1901.

Named Puffing Billy, the device was impressive, popular and so enormous it was pulled down the streets of London by horse-drawn carriage. Puffing Billys cleaned high-profile buildings like Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. In one of the first instances of cleaning for health, a fleet of Puffing Billys vacuumed London’s Crystal Palace when naval reservist came down with spotted fever during World War I.

Hoovering with a Hoover

The wealthy would install a Puffing Billy in their home, essentially creating a central vacuum. The Hoi Polloi, however, kept beating and sweeping their carpets and rugs until 60-year-old department store janitor James Murray Spangler invented an upright, portable vacuum using a broom, pillowcase, paddle blades and an electric motor. The machine cleaned the store better and faster, though one has to wonder if the pillowcase bag made his asthma worse. Spangler sold the patent to his cousin and her husband, Susan and William Hoover in 1908.

Advanced Filters, Self-Driving Robots and Wet/Dry Technology

While surprisingly similar to Spangler’s early version, today’s vacuums are high-tech wonders. Small, powerful and portable, they successfully remove dirt, dust allergens and pollutants that would otherwise settle into the fibers and prematurely age the floorcovering. HEPA filters make vacuuming even safer and leave spaces cleaner by capturing a large percentage of small particles. There have been other advances as well including: cordless, handheld models, stylish designs and colors and self-driving robot versions. Far from reaching “peak vacuum” anytime soon, BusinessWire reports that the global market remains strong, projecting it will be worth $16.2 billion by 2021.

Vacuuming is so advanced it can now replace another inefficient technology: the mop. Wet vacuum systems allow users to apply cleaning solution onto hard surfaces and then vacuum it up, along with dirt and dangerous pathogens.  

Ready to upgrade your high-tech tool? Click here for the latest advances.

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Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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