Why are Vacuum Cleaners so Loud?

We’re all familiar with the fact that domesticated pets are often easily frightened by the loud activity of a thunderstorm. On the fourth of July, hundreds of dogs and cats go missing when they become startled by the loud pop and cracks of fireworks and run from their homes. There’s only one other source that can scare a pet as much as a thunderstorm or a patriotic display in the sky and it’s probably in your home right now. That’s right, your vacuum cleaner.

loud noise childrenTruly, it isn’t the actual machinery that is scaring your pet or young child, but the level of noise. Among many other common household items and appliances, vacuums are one of the loudest, somewhere in between washer and dryer and blenders, and it’s their noise that most list as one of its least desirable qualities.

Out of common courtesy for others in our home, we may avoid vacuuming late at night or early in the morning, which isn’t a huge inconvenience, unless you’re on a tight, hectic day’s schedule. For others, the loudness of a vacuum may cause headaches. Less of a serious concern, a vacuum’s noise drowns out any music or television you may be able to enjoy while attending to other household duties. All these issues cause those in the market for a new vacuum to question the noise level of their future cleaning appliance.

A common question on this topic sounds simple but deserves a viable answer: Why are vacuum cleaners so loud?

A Brief History of the Modern Vacuum Cleaner

To understand how vacuums work, it helps to understand where they derive their noisiness from by looking at their early years of invention. Before the invention and commonality of motors, many household machines were nonelectric and thus, a lot quieter.

old carpet sweeperThis was a time when a lawn mower was known as a reel mower and didn’t require gasoline to run. It was simply pushed, powered by its operator, and an assimilation of blades on a rotary cut the grass almost silently. The early models of vacuums – originally known as carpet sweepers – worked in a similar way. They didn’t have fans, cords, or utilize suction in order to work; they simply required the energy force of pushing.

This version of the early vacuum is still popular today, specifically in restaurants or movie theaters where these cleaners work efficiently, and most importantly, quietly, without disturbing patrons.

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the noisy vacuums we’re most familiar with today came to be invented. By installing a fan and a bag, the vacuum cleaner became more efficient as they began to store dust, dirt, and debris in the bags located at its back. As the operator moved the cleaner over a dirty carpet, the whirling fan inside the machine, used force to move the dirt from the floor and trap it into a bag that could then be disposed of or cleaned out and used again.

How Vacuum Cleaners Work and Why They’re Loud

And so the history and progress of science and industry lead to the vacuum’s reliance on electricity and its quintessential raucousness. Any one of these reasons, but typically a combination of all are why our household vacuum cleaners are loud:

It’s the fans whirling inside of the vacuum as well as the electric motor, working vigilantly behind bits of plastic, that cause its noisiness. A rubber belt, turning and given power by the motor, constantly moves the bristles or brushes at the vacuum’s nose which help to unsettle and rid of dirt, dust and allergens.

vacuum cleaner insideA fan inside the vacuum has dual function: It cools down the motor as it works to help clean your home as well as creates a lower air pressure to gather and store dirt and dust into a container (a bag for older vacuum cleaner models or a plastic canister that is detachable for any newer, bag-less models).

The suction that’s occurring when we use a vacuum also creates a commotion. Think about a windy tunnel or riding in an airplane where the rushing of air causes discord in our ears, leaving us with noisy reverberations, similar to a vacuum cleaner.

In fact, the decibel level of a vacuum cleaner in function is only five decibels less than the noise level of driving down a highway at 65 miles per hour. This is all due to each piece of machinery working at the same time, adding layers of noise. What’s more, the energy of these functions cause vibrations in the material the vacuum is made of, adding even still to the level of noise. All these moving parts are why vacuum cleaners are so loud.

Sometimes, however, the loudness of a vacuum could be a sign that you need a new one. A torn belt or broken fan may cause raucous rattling the next time you plug in for a quick clean-up. If your vacuum seems to be louder than it originally was, it may require your or a professional’s attention. Parts to vacuums can be ordered and therefore fixed, but in some cases this could cost just as much as potentially buying a replacement vacuum.

The Future of Vacuum Cleaners

Noise shouldn’t be directly associated with functionality in all cases. Newer models of vacuum cleaners advertise themselves as quieter than others, or even soundless. The lack of noise doesn’t mean quieter vacuum cleaners are any less efficient than typical cleaners, but that machine designers and engineers have found a way of eliminating certain processes or re-envisioning parts of the machine that cause noise – such as the motor, suction, or the fan.

dyson v6 absoluteNewer models utilize a bladeless fan which exhibits a softer sound, helping mitigate noise. In other instances, engineers have discovered that the actual material of which the vacuum is built of can help block sound by being thicker. In allegiance with green initiatives, this is why bagless cleaners are becoming more popular, as noise level can be considerably less when blocked by something better than a paper bag.

Read More: How to soundproof a room

Due to the fact that vacuums utilize air pressure and suction in order to work, it is unlikely that vacuums will ever be completely soundless. However, models marketed to consumers as quieter are being invented and manufactured every day. These latest releases are often expensive and some companies have found that there are little in the market for a “quieter” vacuum, perhaps because as a society we have all come to accept that vacuum cleaners and silence will always be mutually exclusive.


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