Tired of lugging around your vacuum from room to room? Here’s an alternative to that. The best central vacuum eliminates the need of having bring out and push your vacuum around your home.
Unlike most home cleaners, central vacs are installed into your home. This gives you the convenience of being able to plug into your vacuum much like you plug in electric appliances.
All you need to do is connect the hose to your wall’s inlets to clean different rooms. When you’re done store the hose away.
Our Picks: Best Options for Central Vacuum Systems for Your Home
- Electrolux 4B-H403 Honeywell – Our Top Pick
- PP500 PurePower 500 Air Watts Central Vacuum System Power Unit
- Honeywell 4B-H803 Quiet Pro
- VacuMaid S2400 Cyclonic Power Unit
Find more products: View the central vacuums available on Amazon.com.
What is a Central Vacuum?
A central vacuum system is an alternative option for home care and cleaning. It is built into the home as a semi-permanent fixture, with tubing built into the walls. Unlike a portable cleaner, the central vacuum means you no longer have to carry a heavy unit throughout your home.
A central vacuum is typically installed in the basement or utility closet of a home or building. From the main unit tubes run through the walls to different areas of the structure. These tubes end at access points interspersed along the walls. You can then attach a lightweight power hose to the access points anytime you want to vacuum a room.
The concept works like electric outlets. Each time you plug the vacuum hose to the access point, you can use it to suck debris from the room. All the dirt then passes through the tubes to be stored in the remote canister.
How They Work
Central vacuum systems have 3 main parts.
- Vacuum Unit: This is the main cleaning system. It houses the motor and dirt container. The vacuum unit produces the suction and collects all the dirt from your home.
- Inlets and Piping: The piping run from the central unit, which is often in the garage, basement or storage room. At the end of the pipes are inlets which are installed in your walls much like electrical outlets. Inlets are placed throughout the home. They are spaced out accordingly so you can clean the entire house.
- Hose and Attachment set: The hose is what you plug into the inlets. Hoses come in different lengths and sizes. With the hoses, you also get different power heads. These let you clean hard surfaces and carpets. You also get attachments that clip on to the hose, such as crevice tools.
The first step to any central vacuum system is installation. We do recommend getting a professional for this. If you want to save some cash, many models come with DIY installation. This lets you set the vacuum system and the inlets up yourself.
Installation can be tricky because the piping are designed to run through your home. This means the tubes are placed on your walls.
To be able to clean your entire home, tubing and inlets will be installed in different places. These include your basement, attic and hallways.
Depending on the manufacturer and model you get, along with the length of your hose, the space between outlets can vary. Inlet valves may be spaced anywhere between 600 to 800 square feet apart.
The main vacuum system is often set up in the garage or basement. This keeps it outside your home. And, in a space where the noise won’t bother anyone.
How to Use a Central Vacuum
Once installed, using the central vac is easy.
To clean a certain area, just insert the hose to the inlet valve. Hoses are about 30 feet in length. This allows you to clean a few rooms from one inlet. On average, you’ll often see homes with one to three inlets per floor. Again, this will depend on how big your home is.
At the end of the hose, you can attach the desired power head. You’ll have various heads and tools available. This will let you clean different floor types as well as areas above the ground.
From there, you’ll be able to move easily around the home.
Pros & Cons: Central vs. Regular (Portable) Home Vacuums
In this section we explain the advantages and disadvantages of central vacuum systems. In the process, we go through the difference between a central vacuum and portable vacuums. The latter being your regular home vacuums including upright, canister and stick models.
- Less Allergens and Dust While Cleaning: Central vacuums are unique because they allow for the ultimate removal of allergens and debris. Since the entire fixture is situated outside the immediate living area in a remote location and the exhaust feeds through the walls, none of the dust is recirculated into the air you breathe. This makes them better for families with allergies or asthma. Additionally, they also come with HEPA filtration.
- Variety of Attachments and Tools: Once the hose is attached to the wall, cleaning with a central vacuum is much the same as traditional vacuuming. The hose, which offers a wide range of connectable accessories for many types of surfaces, can be used in the same manner as a portable cleaner and are three to five times stronger.
- No More Carrying or Pushing the Vacuum: Besides creating a cleaner, more comfortable environment, central vacuums come with the practical advantage of convenience. You’ll no longer have to haul a bulky portable vacuum through the house or devote closet space to storing it. The lightweight power hose is the only thing you’ll ever need to move! This makes going from room to room and up the stairs easier.
- Stronger Suction: Central vacuums are much more powerful than regular uprights or canisters. On average, you’ll have 3 to 5 times more suction power compared to regular vacuum cleaners. Since the central cleaner is not restricted by weight and size, the motors and dirt collection systems can be bigger and more powerful. This makes for faster, more thorough cleaning and less abuse to your carpets and floors.
- Easier to Clean With: They clean floors and carpets better and easier than uprights. And, they do a better job in cleaning stairs, upholstery, furniture, and above floor areas.
- Increase Your Home’s Value: In addition to saving your money in the long run, they also increase your property value.
- Last Longer & More Durable than Standard Vacuums: These units are designed for heavy duty work. They’re also very durable. Because the main unit doesn’t move around, it is less likely to get damaged.
- Very Quiet: With central vacs, the main vacuum system is outside. This means you don’t hear the motor’s noise.
- Large Dirt Capacity: The main central vacuum units are big. This allows them to house a powerful motor and large dirt receptacle. Since you don’t need to carry or push it around, both features offer huge benefits. The larger dirt bin means less emptying and more thorough cleaning sessions.
- Easy Storage: You only need to store away the hose and attachments. Everything else, including the main unit and tubes are hidden.
- Exhaust can be pumped outdoors: This ensures that dust and other allergens don’t get back into your home. Thus, improving indoor air quality
- Installation Required: Though it will be quick and painless for a professional to install, DIYing it depends entirely on your abilities. Since the tubes need to run through the walls, it will require a degree of manual knowledge. However, if you’re confident in your skills, many manufacturers offer instructional videos to help make it easier. We do recommend getting a professional to do the installation since the fixtures will be permanent. This ensures everything is in proper order.
- Higher Initial Cost: The main disadvantage is the high initial cost. Central vacs cost more then regular vacuums. Plus, there’s the issue of installation. However, this is tempered by the central vacuum’s longer life span. And, in a filterless system, fewer consumable costs. Since the central vac is considered a permanent fixture, it can also add value to the eventual sale price of your home.
- You Need to Watch the Hose: The long hose and tip over furniture. And, it can scrape items or wall in your homes if you don’t look at where you’re pulling it.
- Attachments and Tools are Stored Away from the Unit: There’s on-board storage for tools and attachments. This means you’ll need to leave them lying around while you clean. And, carry them along as you move from room to room. You’ll also need to store it along with the hose after you’re done vacuuming.
Choosing a Central Vacuum: Buying Guide
As central vacuums grow in popularity, your options become more plentiful. Though there are countless manufacturers and models to choose from, your main decision will be the power unit and the power brush.
Here are the most important things to look for when buying a central vacuum system.
1. Suction Power
The power unit you choose is dependent on the size of your home. The larger your home, the more powerful a unit you’ll need. Many manufacturers will tell you that on average, twenty amps or less is advised for a 5,000 square foot home.
That said, amps tells you how strong the motor is. With vacuums, the motor’s power is a good starting. But, we need to account for the length of the tubing and how much suction is lost while traveling through there.
As such, measuring suction is often a better way to gauge performance. Here are the 3 figures to consider.
- Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM): This unit measures how much air flow there is in the largest opening of the vacuum.
- Water Lift or Suction Pressure (SP): This measures how much water can be lifted up the tubing. The figure is very useful for wet/dry vacuums. And, a good measure of suction power. But, since we aren’t going to vacuum liquids, it isn’t as relevant. Please don’t try this with your central vac. The liquid will destroy the electric components.
- Air Watts (AW): This is how much suction power your vacuum makes as a result of the airflow in CFM. As such, it is a good gauge of overall suction. Often, manufacturers will give you this figure.
Home Size and Air Watts
Now that we know about suction power and air watts, we can go to figuring out how much suction based on the size of your home.
Ideally, the bigger the home, the higher the suction. This is because there’s more tubing to travel. That said there are a few factors that can affect this in a negative way.
- Multi story homes: the more stories, the more suction needed to compensate for distance.
- Lots of inlets: The higher number of inlets, the more suction you’ll need.
- Lots of angles and turns: The more the tubing has to turn and “fold” the more power you’ll need.
- Leaks: If there are leaks in the tubing, you also lose power.
Due to these, it’s often a good idea to get a system that offers more suction that you need.
Below, we breakdown how much suction you’ll need for your home. Each of the ranges are wide. We do specify the minimum amounts for each home size.
Often the middle range works very well. The higher end offer top line cleaning performance. They also tend to be more expensive.
- Small Homes (up to 3,000 sq. ft.): from 400 air watts to 700 air watts.
- Medium Sized Homes 3,500 to 9,500 sq. ft): 450 air watts to 950 air watts.
- Large Homes (10,000 sq. ft. and more): minimum of 600 air watts to 1,500 air watts.
2. Types of Central Vacuums
As with regular vacuums, central systems come in a number of varieties. These are the main types of central vacuums.
a. Bagged Systems
Bagged systems use vacuum bags. This means all the dirt and dust collected over the past months are stored in them. This cloth style bag does add to operating costs.
But, it also gives you cleaner air. In addition to trapping all the allergens and debris, the bag also filters the air passing through. If you’re main priority is hygiene, this is the way to go.
b. Filtered Systems
Filtered systems come with a number of different filters. You can choose the type when buying your vacuum. Among them are inverted bag filters, foam filters and cartridge filters.
This type of central vacuum is available in bagged and bagless designs.
- The bagged models with filters offer the best cleaning ability and indoor air quality. In addition to the excellent dirt trapping ability of the bags, the filters ensure better air quality in your home.
- Bagless filtered models use a cyclonic system to separate dirt and debris from the clean air. The filter then helps trap the smaller particles from reaching the motor and escaping back out the exhaust.
In a filtered system, the debris you vacuum up go through the tubing, the filters, and eventual will be emitted into the vacuum bag or into the canister.
Using filters offers 3 major benefits.
- The filtration system allows for easier disposal and cleanup of the debris.
- More importantly, filtered systems protect your motor from the dust and debris. This prolongs its life. And, allows it to function better over the long run.
- Finally, it traps the small dirt and dust particles. So, less allergens are able to escape back into your home.
Bagless central vacuum systems don’t use bags. Instead, the circular airflow within the canister separates the dirt from the clean air.
Since they don’t need vacuum bags, they are immune to bag breakage, which can be a problem in bagged systems.
Instead, bagless systems use cyclonic technology. This is the concept invented by James Dyson.
Here the cyclonic airflow creates a centrifugal force that separates the dirt from the air. In doing so, it pulls the dirt particles to the outside of the cyclone. Eventually, to the dirt container.
Additionally, true cyclonic systems don’t use filters. This makes it cheaper in the long run in terms of cost. It also means there will be a smaller risk for the buildup of debris that would affect suction that can even lead to the eventual breakdown of the appliance. Of course, this can be mitigated by regular cleaning of the filtration system in a filtered vacuum.
The downside to these units is that they are messier to clean. The lack of filter means all the allergens and pollutants are stuck in the container. At some point, you’ll need to clean that.
Also, the smaller particles are just vented out the vacuum. This means you’ll have small specks of dust and allergens around the area where the main canister is.
In general, bagless central vacs aren’t a good option if you have allergies or respiratory issues.
It’s worth notice that some cyclonic system use filters. This makes them a step up over full cyclonic units in terms of hygiene.
When it comes to central vacuum hoses, length will be the big decision. On average a 30 foot hose does a good job.
Longer hoses, like those 50 to 60 feet are more convenient. They require fewer inlets to install. Plus, there’s less need to plug and unplug when cleaning your entire home.
The downside of a very long hose is storage. The longer the hose, the more space it takes up.
One solution to long hoses are retractable options. Retractable hose systems allow you to pull the hose back into either the tubing or a special box. This allows it to quickly hide when you’re done cleaning. Retractable units, as you’d guess, are more expensive.
In addition to the hose, you’ll need to plan out how you’ll layout the inlets around the home. The goal is to have to optimal amount of inlets to cover the entire home.
The more inlets you have the costlier installation gets. Too few inlets mean that your hose may not reach all the areas of your home.
- Assuming you’re using a 30 foot hose, a quick guidelines would be to take your home’s square footage and divide by 600.
This gives you a basic estimate. But, it doesn’t account for the shape of your home and how many stories you home has.
Unfortunately, the only way to be certain is to manually cover each area of the home to see if your 30 foot hose reaches every section.
5. Attachments and Power Heads
One of the main benefits of using a central vacuum is they come with your choice of tools and accessories.
The most important ones are the nozzles. These include those for hard floors and carpets.
The nozzle are the components at the end of the hose that do the cleaning. As such, they’re among the most important parts.
When it comes to vacuum heads for carpeting, there are two main options, electrical and air-driven.
- Electric: Need to be plugged in. They use electricity. They have their own motor. And, the electricity gives them more power. As such, carpet tools that are electric allow the brush roll to agitate the fibers better. Their downside, they’re more expensive and cost more to install.
- Air Driven: These nozzles are cheaper to install. They don’t use electricity. Instead, they rely on the vacuum’s suction power to power the brush. This also means they aren’t as powerful.
The rest of the accessories are similar to your regular vacuum. These include the crevice tool, upholstery brushes, dusting tools, pet tools and others.
Best Central Vacuum Reviews
- Electrolux 4B-H403 Honeywell – Our Top Pick
- PP500 PurePower 500 Air Watts Central Vacuum System Power Unit
- Honeywell 4B-H803 Quiet Pro
- VacuMaid S2400 Cyclonic Power Unit
Unlike regular vacuum cleaners that you just plug in and start using, this requires some assembly. Unless you have expertise with installing hardware and doing home improvement, we recommend getting a professional to do so.
You’ll also need to plan where to install the wall vacuum outlets. These let you plug in the hose to your home and start cleaning.
Once installed, it’s much easier to use than your vacuum. The power unit will let you plug in your hose in different areas of your home. This makes cleaning easier. You can vacuum all areas of the home by just carrying the hose and plugging it to the set up outlets.
We recommend this central vacuum power unit for homes that are 3,000 square feet or less. If you want to clean bigger homes, you’ll want to go up to bigger Honeywell models.
We like that is comes with good power at 120 CFM. If you want to compare air power, the Electrolux 4B-H403 brings about 500 air watts. It is also quiet so you don’t have to worry about loud noises while vacuuming.
The unit uses a HEPA filter system. And, it is bagless. The large 4 gallon dirt container comes with a window so you can see how much space is left before dumping all the dirt out.
Overall, this is a solid central vacuum that doesn’t break the bank. It does take some installation at first. But once set up it’s much easier to use compared to standard vacuum cleaners.
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