The vacuum cleaner was first invented around the turn of the century, although primitive “carpet sweepers” made it onto the market even earlier. The earliest non-human powered vacuum was an oil-fuel machine introduced in 1901 by H. Cecil Booth. It was so large that it had to be carried, ironically, on a horse-drawn cart. Many later vacuum models improved on this early version by getting small enough to fit inside a house, adding electrical power and dust filters, and coming down substantially in price.
Today vacuum cleaners are a must in most households. In 2003, retailers sold 1.87 million vacuums
in the United States alone.
Vacuum cleaners are notorious for breaking easily or simply not functioning as well as advertised. When this happens to you, is it possible to recycle your old vacuum cleaner?
The answer is yes, although it may take some extra work on your part. Vacuum cleaners are challenging to recycle, but it can be done. The more eco-friendly solution is to try to fix the vacuum cleaner, then keep using it yourself or donate it to someone who needs it.
Different types of vacuum cleaners
There are four main types of vacuum cleaners: upright, stick, canister and handheld. The upright is considered the best model for most homeowners, as it is powerful, affordable and easy to use. As the name implies, these vacuums have a tall, upright profile. Each will have a large bag or canister for catching dirt.
Stick vacuum cleaners have very long handles with a very small bag or canister attached. They work well on area rugs and hard floors, but not so well on carpets. Their small size makes them easy to store.
Canister vacuum cleaners have a unit that sits on the floor to collect the dirt, and a long wand with different attachments for vacuuming your floor. The attachments mean it is possible to clean all types of floors. The main drawback to canister vacuum cleaners is their cost, which is typically higher than that of an upright vacuum cleaner.
Handheld vacuum cleaners are small devices meant for cleaning shop counters, cars and other small spaces. Their size means they are pretty limited in what they can accomplish, but they are a handy tool if you tend to get debris in small places a normal vacuum cleaner cannot easily reach.
One thing all these vacuum cleaners have in common is that they contain a lot of plastic. The body is almost certainly plastic, as are the hoses and some of the other parts. Rigid plastics like those found in a vacuum cleaner are tough to recycle unless you live in a place with a very progressive plastic recycling program.
But there are a few things you can do to deal with your vacuum cleaner in an eco-friendly manner. Look into the repair, recycling or reuse options listed below.
Can your vacuum cleaner be repaired?
If your vacuum cleaner stops functioning, try to determine if it can be repaired. The belts on the rollers do wear out after a while, and when that happens, the vacuum stops picking up dirt. See if you can locate a new belt at a hardware store or the place where you purchased the vacuum. If your vacuum is an older model, you may need to look online.
If you replace the belt and your vacuum cleaner still does not work, try taking it to a vacuum cleaner repair shop. While many items in our society have become disposable, putting repair shops out of business, vacuums are a big enough investment that there are still stores that specialize in fixing them. Many are co-located with sewing machine repair shops, so if you are having a hard time finding a place that fixes vacuums, check with your local sewing machine repair business to see if they can fix it or recommend a place that can.
How to recycle vacuum cleanersGoVacuum
, a vacuum cleaner retailer in Chantilly, Virginia, has a program to recycle vacuum cleaners. They refurbish and sell vacuums that are in decent shape, and send non-reusable vacuum cleaners to a recycling company.
People who live in northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., or Maryland can take their vacuum cleaner to the company’s showroom. Everyone else is welcome to mail their vaccum cleaner to the company using the instructions on its respective website. People who send in vacuums must pay the cost of shipping, but GoVacuum may be able to issue a credit toward the purchase of a new vacuum cleaner from its website.
If this option will not work for you, there are few remaining resources for recycling your vacuum. If you have the time, try breaking it down and setting aside any recyclable parts. If your vacuum has large pieces of metal (which is more likely on older models), your local recycling center may be able to take the metal. The cord contains copper, which is quite valuable. A scrap yard might be able to take it. But the plastic, vacuum bag, rollers and other miscellaneous materials will probably need to go in the trash.
How to reuse vacuum cleaners
If your vacuum cleaner still works, consider donating it to someone else who can use it. Your church, school, daycare or other local institution may be grateful to have a newer one. A friend with a second home may appreciate having a reliable vacuum cleaner to keep on hand for cleaning up messes. A thrift shop may be able to sell it, although it is worth checking with them before dropping it off to see if they want it. Since vacuum cleaners can be unreliable, many people hesitate to buy them secondhand.