Another big vac trend is improved filtration, especially of the air exhausted from the cleaner -- a natural sell to consumers increasingly paranoid about air quality. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration, developed originally for the clean rooms in nuclear labs, is particularly popular.
But the simple presence of a HEPA filter isn't enough to keep offending particles out of your air, warns Scott Wells, with the Vacuum Dealers Trade Association, because vacuum cleaners leak, and particles can escape -- from around the edges of the filter, for example. Consumers should look for vacs with sealed systems, he advises. Another fancy-filter downside is that they're not cheap.
In the category of trends just beginning are lightweight vacs, says Kathy Luedke, public relations director for Eureka. The publicity blitz for Oreck's 8-pound vac primed the market for this, McLoughlin says, and may have hit home with an aging population that doesn't want to lug around a heavy machine. Quieter cleaners may also become more common, if consumers can be persuaded to stop equating noise with power.
Robots on the way
Most of these innovations promise to make cleaning easier and pleasanter, but the hard fact remains that you still have to do it -- at least until the robot home vacuum cleaner turns up at a store near you. Eureka showed a prototype a year and a half ago, Luedke says, a cute little character nicknamed the Trilobite that is about 15 inches across and 6 inches high, with gills on its sides and sonar-equipped bumpers to tell it where walls and furniture are.
"We're thinking it'll come in around $1,000," she says, but refuses to be persuaded to give a due date.
Dyson of bagless fame has also produced a robot cleaner called the DC06. But, according to a July article in the London Financial Times, the DC06 is having "teething problems that have caused its launch to be postponed," and its proposed price of 2,500 pounds, or about $3,600, would leave most consumers resigned to pushing their own vacs anyway.
Which they might not mind. Even without robotics, the vacuum cleaner earns approval ratings even George Washington could envy. A hefty 41 percent of polled vac owners rated their relationship with their vac as a passionate 9 on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 meaning dissatisfied and 9 being very satisfied. More than 73 percent went for a quite affectionate 7 or more, says McLoughlin.
So "the growth continues," Wood says. "Will there some day be a point when it ceases to grow? I don't know."
But, he adds hopefully a moment later, "Carpet sales are growing."
In the beginning ...
Just who built the first vacuum cleaner, and when, seems to be controversial, but a man named Booth or Bothe did build a very early model in 1901 in the British Isles. The machine, which was very heavy, had to be lugged through the streets, and the hose was run from it into the houses of those who wanted vacuuming. His machine was used to clean the carpet in Westminster Abbey before Edward VII's coronation.
The first truly portable vacuum cleaner was probably the one made in 1907 by an asthmatic Ohio inventor named Murray Spangler, who couldn't stand the dust raised when carpets were swept with a broom. In self-defense, using a tin soap box, a pillowcase, a fan and a broomstick, he devised a motorized gadget he called a suction sweeper. He took his "sweeper" to a cousin's husband for help in marketing and production.
The husband's name was W.H. Hoover, and the rest is history.