Background: Vacuum cleaners are essential for the removal of dust from the surface of carpets; however, they may also contribute to airborne dust both by leakage through the cleaner and disturbance of floor dust.
Methods: The present studies used established techniques for measuring airborne Fel d I to study the effects of vacuum cleaners on airborne cat allergen under laboratory conditions and in houses with cats. Nine different models were loaded with dust containing 50 mg Fel d I and run for 15 minutes in a laboratory room (volume approximately 18 m3). Leakage was expressed as the airborne concentration of allergen in nanograms per cubic meter.
Results: Cleaners incorporating a double-thickness dust bag either did not leak, that is, less than 0.4 ng Fel d I/m3 or had minor leakage approximately 5 ng/m3. Vacuum cleaners with single-thickness paper bags leaked more, that is, 15 to > 90 ng/m3 with the exception of the cleaner with an efficient outer bag. Detailed studies on a vacuum cleaner that leaked showed that placing dust in the bag, replacing the dust bag with a double-thickness bag, and placing an electrostatic filter over the exhaust reduced levels from greater than 90 ng/m3 to less than 2 ng/m3. Two water-filter vacuum cleaners each emitted cat allergen (up to > 100 ng/m3) with a mean of approximately 90% on particles less than 2.5 microns diameter. This emission could be almost completely controlled by taping electrostatic filter paper over the air outlet.
Conclusions: In houses with cats, different models of vacuum cleaners could either reduce or increase total airborne allergen, and could also selectively increase certain particle sizes. These results suggest that cat allergen is a good model for studying the effectiveness of vacuum cleaners recommended to allergic patients.