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Friday, September 23, 2011

Swept away

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Is the vacuum cleaner an essential appliance? I've always thought so. But in the last few months, pushed by mechanical failure, we've discovered that, in fact, it may not be.

Our vacuum cleaner was a 4 year old small-size cylinder model of a well known Italian brand, mid-price range. It came with a 2 year warranty, and it worked very well. For two years, that is.

A few days or so after the warranty had expired, the hose split open. I sealed the crack with duct tape, and it continued working for another few months.

Then, one of the plastic wheels broke off. So I decided to do without wheels. At this point, my three year old vacuum cleaner looked like it'd been through the wars (which, in all honesty, is what vacuuming my house sometimes feels like), but it was still chugging along.

Then, just a couple of months ago, it stopped dead while I was using it, and no amount of coaxing, unplugging and re-plugging it back in, no gentle (or firm) tapping, did the trick. It was a goner.

Now, the repair shop is about a 3 hour round trip from my house, in a town where I rarely go unless strictly necessary. Partly because I don't have that time, and partly because gasoline has shot up to €1.60 a liter. But also because, in Italy you pay just to have an estimate for repairs, which these days cost far more than to buy a new item!

So I decided to do without a vacuum cleaner, at least temporarily, and to see whether a vacuum cleaner is in fact an indispensable appliance. In fact, where we live, this was a real test, with the mud and dirt of the surrounding forests and fields, the sand from the nearby beach, the ash and bits of firewood in a house that's primarily heated by wood, the dust and sundry bits and pieces from our ancient house. Not to mention our the three children (need I say more?)? So it's not like a vacuum cleaner wouldn't be handy.

My conclusions? A broom & dust pan don't quite measure up to a vacuum cleaner in three main ways:

1) Efficiency: much dirt and dust are left behind after sweeping, and there are many areas in a house that a broom can't reach properly.

2) Time: since sweeping isn't as efficient as vacuuming, I have to sweep the floors all the time.

3) Cost: though sweeping the floors is free (unless I pay myself an hourly wage!), since sweeping is less efficient I have to wash the floors much more frequently, which means paying for hot water and detergent -- hence, I'm not saving much money, and may actually be spending more.

In my opinion the vacuum cleaner is an essential appliance to get a necessary (and tedious) household task done efficiently and in a short time. Yet still I hesitate to have my 4-year old vacuum cleaner fixed, because I dread the inevitable diagnosis, and refuse to accept that things these days are made to cost less instead of lasting longer.

Does this mean that I'm coming to a new definition of "essential"?


flowtops said...

We've been down that route years ago, but as our house is way too big to be sweeping all the time, we decided to buy a sturdy industrial type vacuum cleaner (a big monster, can also vacuum after DIY jobs and with water) and only vacuum once a week.

The rest of the time we (or rather I) sweep, which is fine, because it is good exercise.

Because the vacuum cleaner is not used often, it will hopefully last longer (ten years now, so keeping our fingers crossed). It was a little steep in price, but it has never broken down and cleans very well.

So, yes, essential!


Val said...

Sweeping does its job and vacuuming does its thing, right? I do love having less and less carpet in my house. It just feels cleaner.

The Younger Rachael said...

I sweep the tile, but vacuum the carpets. There would be no other way to get the carpets clean, and pick up the dust and dirt that collects. I could sweep up the hair and leaves and grass that collects on the carpet, but there is far more that you can't see.

I'd love to not have wall to wall carpet, though. Instead, I'd have a dust mop to run over the floors daily, that makes no noise, that would be wonderful! Then, once a week or two, I'd do a proper sweep and mop (that's how often I vacuum).

Kaylen said...

When my last vacuum cleaner died, I bought a refurbished 20-30 year old filter queen vacuum cleaner. It works brilliantly and since it's already been refurbished I'm confident it'll be possible and hopefully economical to repair it if it breaks.

Unfortunately, until I tear out the carpets in my house, with 2 dogs a vacuum cleaner is a necessity.

Cher said...

We have replaced most of our carpeting with wood, or wood like flooring because of vacuum's always dying.. the few rooms that we do have carpeting in we use the shop vac on.. It's made to pick up anything, they run between $35 and $50 U.S. and take a beating, and can vacuum up wet stuff from Snow tracking in, to Mudd that the farm guys track in :) I'll never buy an expensive vacuum again when a Shop vac works way better and is way cheaper! :)

Rachel said...

I rarely use the vacuum cleaner as we have mostly wooden floors so I tend to sweep more. Mainly this is due to the vacuum being difficult to carry up and down the stairs in our house. However we do also have carpet in the bedrooms so I have to get the vacuum out every fortnight for 15mins to whip around the carpet. Thankfully we were able to get one second hand off my sister so didn't spend a penny on it.

Rachel said...

I rarely use the vacuum cleaner as we have mostly wooden floors so I tend to sweep more. Mainly this is due to the vacuum being difficult to carry up and down the stairs in our house. However we do also have carpet in the bedrooms so I have to get the vacuum out every fortnight for 15mins to whip around the carpet. Thankfully we were able to get one second hand off my sister so didn't spend a penny on it.

Karmyn R said...

Having dogs and having carpets I have to vacuum. I'd never get all the hair out if I didn't. Vacuums are an essential!!!

Kasia said...

Interesting post, Francesca.

I wish we could live without a vacuum cleaner (I truly prefer sweeping the floors) but in this country most of flats and houses are carpeted throughout (we have carpet even in the bathroom- something I could never understand...). We invested some money in a better vacuum cleaner which has an option of washing carpets too, hoping it will help us to avoid hiring cleaning company when we have to leave the flat (so so expensive!). So far so good but I'm sure it's going to break down just day after the warranty expires. They always do as well as fridges, washing machines, computers etc. Have you noticed? ;)

Elizabeth said...

Yes, a vacuum cleaner is essential. Even when we had mostly hardwood. I think the big problem is cheaply made appliances and not just vacuums. Keep your older appliances as long as possible!

kari said...

i prefer to sweep but I'll admit it I am thankful for the vacuum. It makes things a whole lot easier.

Lex said...

Our vacum broke many years ago, and we have not bought one since. We have three dogs, three teens, so the floors need a daily sweeping and it is time consuming. I am not in a hurry to buy one and I really dislike the noise it makes.

dorteinmalaga said...

vacuum cleaner is essential ... i'm allergic to dust so i vacuum our furniture and beds too - a lot easier that bringing the stuff out and have to ask someone else the beat the dust out them on a regular basis :)

Dianna said...

Yes, vacumns and other tools are now made to cost less and last for a very short time. After purchasing 3 new vacumns in less than 11 years, we bought an old Kirby sweeper (circa 1985)at a garage sale for $5.00. It is perfect!

Barbara said...

Yes, we need a vacuum...but I still use the broom more often!

eatclosetohome said...

Does anyone use a sweeper? The mechanical kind with brushes, but no electricity? I've been thinking about getting one but would be curious to know how well they work on hard floors and rugs before I get one.

Jen said...

I have to say that in the early 90's I splurged and bought a Kirby for almost $1500. It's still going strong and I've NEVER had a problem. At this rate the yearly cost is ~ $83 a year (without electricity or bags). It is without a doubt the most expensive home appliance I've bought but its worth it!

Francesca said...

@ eatclosetohome - I have used a sweeper on holiday once, and it worked very well on the linoleum floors and low-nap carpets in the rental house.

Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue said...

We hardly use our vaccuum, I don't like the noise. Sweep and mop and just have a bit of dirt on the floor - not the end of the world. Vacuum is great for getting the stuff that won't be shaken out of rugs, no carpet here. You could ask for a vacuum on freecycle, people are always upgrading - you see lots out on the roadside on hard rubbish days.

Sarah said...

Before you have it fixed, take off the plug (or cut it off if it is molded), cut back about 6-8 inches of cable and then put the plug back on (or a new plug if it was molded).

Sometimes the copper wires snap inside where you grasp the cable and pull it out. You may just need to get rid of that broken section of wire.

Francesca said...

@ Sarah thank you so much for your tip - I'll try that in the morning!