Early cleaners

Before there were vacuum cleaners, people took their carpets and rugs outside to beat the dust out of them with a carpet beater. Floors were swept with brooms and scrubbed, by hand with brushes, soap and water.

Hand pumped rug cleaners

Hand pumped rug cleaners were in use in England and the United States from the 1800s and in 1899an American, John Thurman, invented a motorised sweeping machine with a petrol - driven motor. He took it door to door offering to clean houses for $4 a visit. His machine wasn't a true vacuum cleaner.

Ives McGaffey was granted the first patent for a 'sweeping machine' in Chicago USA in 1869.

A true vacuum cleaner

In England in 1901 Hubert Cecil Booth patented a vacuum cleaner requiring one person to turn the handle of a pump to create a vacuum while another moved the cleaning hose over the carpet.

In1906 American James Murray Spangler invented the first portable vacuum cleaner. He connected an electric fan to a box with a broom handle attached. He used a pillow case as a dust collector. Later, cloth filter bags and cleaning heads and hoses were added. Spangler called his invention a 'suction sweeper'.

An early model of a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Image © PictureTip.com

An early model of a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Image © PictureTip.com

 In 1908 William Hoover bought Spangler's patent, and he soon had a small staff turning out six suction sweepers a day. Hoover made further improvements to the vacuum cleaner and when he gave people a ten-day, free home trial and used door-to-door salesmen who gave home demonstrations of the new vacuum cleaners, his invention took off and Hoover's name became the one that people associate the vacuum cleaner rather than with Spangler.

How does a vacuum cleaner work?

Upright vacuum cleaners

Upright vacuum cleaner ©iStock/Getty Images

Upright vacuum cleaner ©iStock/Getty Images

When a modern upright vacuum cleaner is turned on, air is removed from inside the cleaner by an electric powered fan to create a partial vacuum. The air is thrown out of the back of the cleaner and this causes air to be sucked up from the carpet, floor or upholstery, carrying dust and dirt with it.

As the air passes through the paper or cloth bag, the dust and dirt are caught in the bag and the air passes out of the back of the cleaner.

Cylinder vacuum cleaners

Image © iStock/Getty Images

Image © iStock/Getty Images

In cylinder vacuum cleaners, a fan pulls the air out of the hose, causing outside air to be pulled into the machine, carrying dust and dirt with it.

In vacuum cleaners without a bag, the incoming air is whirled around by the fan and the dust and dirt collect on the walls of a compartment inside the cleaner, to be emptied later.

Watch a video that explains how a vacuum cleaner works

Read more here and learn about the latest vacuum cleaners: the robotic vacuum cleaner