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Can You Use a Vacuum Cleaner Without an Air Filter

Air filters are part of vacuum cleaners' air filtration systems and ensure capturing small particles of dust, pollen, and other dirt and potential allergens.

But, air filters also cause air pressure to drop within the air pathways and some of our readers ask will removing them improve the suction of the vacuum and will it improve the cleaning effect. For short: removing air filters from vacuums is a big NO. Read more ...

Published: May 13, 2022.

hepa filter

Vacuum Cleaner Air Filtration System

Regardless if the vacuum cleaner is bagged or bagless, they all feature relatively similar air filtration system which consists of several air filtration layers.

Bagged vacuum cleaners feature an air filtration system consisting mostly of:

- vacuum cleaner dust bag,

- pre-motor air filter(s),

- post-motor exhaust air filter.

Bagless vacuum cleaners feature an air filtration system consisting mostly of:

- cyclonic air filtration system (usually within or above the dirt cup),

- pre-motor air filter(s),

- post-motor exhaust air filter.

Both pre-motor and post-motor air filters cause a certain pressure drop and decrease the energy efficiency of the vacuum cleaner and some people want to know will removing these air filters improve cleaning and increase the energy efficiency of the vacuum cleaner.

Short Answer: Removing air filters will improve the suction, but NO, it will NOT improve the cleaning effect because all the dirt that gets captured by air filters will be returned to the cleaned area, with most very fine dust and allergen particles becoming airborne again - even if You don't suffer from asthma and allergies, such increase of the dirt in the air will cause You to sneeze, cough, etc.

The energy efficiency of the vacuum cleaner would increase since the airflow would be stronger for the same energy spent, but in the long run vacuum cleaner would have to operate longer and it wouldn't achieve the same cleaning effect as a vacuum cleaner with air filters.

Note: operating the vacuum cleaners without air filters will also render the warranty void.

Little Bit Longer Answer ...

All parts of the air filtration system are there for a reason:

- vacuum cleaner dust bag or a cyclonic air filtration system collect the vacuumed dirt and store it for disposal later. Note that some vacuum cleaner dust bags also feature a layer of activated carbon and are able to remove Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), pet odors, smells, and similar from the vacuumed air.

- pre-motor air filter(s) prevent larger particles from entering the suction motor. Very small particles can pass through the suction motor easily, but larger ones can cause the motor to overheat due to the dirt buildup on the motor windings and other parts of the motor, and the rest of the vacuum cleaner.

Pre-motor air filter(s) are usually washable using plain water with some mild detergent or soap. After washing, pre-motor air filters must be thoroughly air dried (usually 24h) and assembled back only when fully dried.

Note: many users order spare pre-motor air filters to avoid waiting - while one set of filters is drying out, another set of air filters is in the unit.

- post-motor exhaust air filter is often a HEPA air filter that captures very fine dirt particles, preventing them from being returned to the cleaned area.

The following table lists various classifications of EPA/HEPA/ULPA filters according to the EN 1822 standard:

Filter Group Filter Class Filtration Efficiency Penetration
Efficiency Particulate Air (EPA) Filters E10 85 % 15 %
E11 95 % 5 %
E12 99.5 % 0.5 %
High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filters H13 99.95 % 0.05 %
H14 99.995 % 0.005 %
Ultra-Low Penetration Air (ULPA) Filters U15 99.9995 % 0.0005 %
U16 99.99995 % 0.00005 %
U17 99.999995 % 0.000005 %

Note: In the European Union air filtration is defined by standard EN 1822, which defines several classes of EPA/HEPA/ULPA air filters according to their ability to retain(!) the Most Penetrating Particle Size (MPPS) particles that are in the 0.1 and 0.3 micrometers range.

However, commonly in the US 'true HEPA' air filtration means the ability of the air filter to retain at least 99.97% of 0.3 microns or larger particles. Thus, 'true HEPA' is between H13 and H14 filter classes.

Also, some HEPA exhaust air filters are combined with a layer of activated carbon, and not only that they capture very fine airborne particles, but they also capture pet odors, VOCs, kitchen smells, tobacco smoke, etc.

miele hepa filters

Exhaust air filters are not always washable - after some time, they must be simply replaced.

Regardless if your exhaust air filter is washable or not, it must be maintained as recommended by the manufacturer of the vacuum cleaner.

Long Story Short: If You wonder if one can use a vacuum cleaner without air filters, the answer is NO.

Using the vacuum cleaner without its air filter(s) can damage/destroy the vacuum cleaner, can render the warranty void, and can significantly increase the amount of airborne particles, causing various health issues for the occupants even if they don't have health issues like asthma and allergies.


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