Story last updated: March 2019
Dyson has won its appeal to the European General Court in its long-running dispute over the EU vacuum cleaners energy label.
The brand has been a long-standing critic of the energy label regulations, which were introduced in 2014 with the aim of cutting energy use across Europe, maintaining that they don’t test in a way that reflects real-life use.
EU energy use tests are conducted with the dustbag or container empty, but Dyson argued that, as many vacuums lose suction when they fill with dust, this wasn’t accurate.
The European Commission (EC) said there wasn’t a reliable and reproducible test using partially loaded vacuums that could be used instead.
After a lengthy court battle, in which Dyson appealed an initial judgement in the EC’s favour in 2015, the General Court has now ruled in favour of Dyson, and taken the extraordinary step of annulling the vacuum cleaners energy label.
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Vacuum cleaners energy label – what happens now?
In its ruling, the European General Court said that using an empty vacuum cleaner to calculate energy performance did not comply with the essential elements of the energy label directive, which specifies reporting energy consumption during use.
As this element of the testing could not be separated from the energy label as a whole, the General Court ruled that the whole label should be annulled.
The label will remain in force for a minimum of two months and 10 days, during which time the European Commission can decide whether to lodge an appeal, although this is limited to points of law only.
If the European Commission doesn’t appeal, manufacturers would no longer be obliged to use the energy label on their vacuum cleaners. Those that continue to do so must comply with the usual advertising standards. So, if they claim a certain energy rating that is found to be false, this could leave them open to legal challenges for misleading consumers.
The General Court ruling states that the European Commission must fill any legal black holes created by the annulment of the act. In practice, this is likely to mean they need to update the energy label to include dust-loaded energy consumption testing that better reflects real home use.
Update for March 2019
The EC hasn’t appealed the decision, which means that the energy label is no longer applicable. Vacuum cleaner manufacturers shouldn’t display energy labels any more.
Eco-design rules, which restrict the maximum motor size for vacuum cleaners to 900W, still apply. For more see our vacuum cleaners energy label guide.
Which? verdict on the energy label
The EU energy label has done remarkable work to achieve its overall aim of cutting energy consumption across Europe. Prior to the label’s launch, vacuum cleaners were often sold by the size of their motor, as shoppers associated more power with better cleaning performance.
Our independent tests have shown this to be untrue, and the EU vacuum ban encouraged manufacturers to stop chasing higher wattages and instead focus on making efficient vacuum cleaners that clean well and use less energy.
Labelling system has flaws
However, we have raised concerns that the label rating system is flawed and presents a confusing picture for consumers. Our own independent lab tests have found results that don’t tally with the label on the vacuum cleaner when it comes to measures such as cleaning performance, noise and dust emissions.
Manufacturers self-certify using a variety of test centres across Europe, and the margins for error mean that labels are not truly comparable, thereby making it difficult to get an accurate picture of which vacuum cleaners are the most efficient and clean well.
There have also been some unintended consequences of the energy label. The focus on fine dust pick-up on the label ratings led to some vacuums being very difficult to push across floors, and poor at picking up larger debris, as manufacturers geared vacuums towards getting high dust pick-up ratings.
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Testing vacuum cleaners empty vs dust-loaded: why it matters
If your vacuum cleaner starts to lose suction, the first thing we recommend is emptying the dust canister or bag, cleaning the filters and checking the brush bar. This is because as a vac fills with dust it has to work harder to suck up debris, and suction often drops when it begins to clog up.
Some vacuums are better than others, of course. We test vacuum cleaners when empty and part-filled with dust, to get an accurate picture of how good each model will be in a real home environment. This is important, as you don’t want to buy a vac that cleans well first time round but gets worse after a couple of cleans.
The problem, according to the European Commission, is how to do this in an accurate and reproducible way. Vacuum cleaners have a range of different dust-collection methods and capacities, so you need a method that can adapt to different models and still produce reliably comparable results. There are a variety of approaches to this, and the issue for the EC has been deciding on the best one.
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We’ve worked hard to find a method that is reliable, adapting our approach as the rise of smaller-capacity vacs meant we needed to change tactics. And we do find differences between models. The best will reliably maintain suction as the container fills, while poorer models’ suction will drop off significantly.
We have also worked with BEUC, the European Consumer Standards Organisation, to comment on proposed changes to the label and raise issues uncovered by our testing with the EN working standards group who look after the energy label.
It will be interesting to see what the EC does next. If it wants the energy label to survive, it will need to take steps to introduce dust-loaded testing (unless it appeals successfully).
However, we’re not convinced this will resolve the issue of making the label truly comparable. While manufacturers continue to self-certify their products, there will always be a margin for error.
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EU vacuum cleaners energy label: timeline of key dates
|1 September 2014||First phase of regulations come into force. Motor wattage limited to 1,600W. All vacuums must display an energy label with performance ratings for dust pick-up, emissions, noise and energy use.|
|1 September 2017||Second phase reduces max motor limit further to 900W and introduces max noise limit of 80dB. Additional durability tests on the hose and motor also introduced.|
|8 November 2018||Dyson wins case challenging the energy label tests. European General Court annuls the energy label.|
|c. 2020||Planned updates to the label for 2020 include extending the regulations to cordless vacuums (currently exempt). Details still under discussion.|
Discussions were already underway about proposed updates to the energy label, including bringing cordless vacuums into the fold.
Cordless technology was still in its infancy when the energy label was being developed. Since then cordless vacuums have become enormously popular. However, this has its own environmental implications, as lithium-ion batteries are currently difficult to recycle.
We’ve found that cleaning standards are extremely variable too – our tests have uncovered a high number of very poor cordless vacuums, though some outstanding models can deliver a true deep clean. Check our cordless vacuum cleaner reviews for our recommended models, and the ones to avoid.