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5 things you need to know about the vacuum cleaners energy label

By Matthew Knight

Find out everything you need to know about the EU vacuum cleaners energy label and the new rules coming in from September 2017.

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The vacuum cleaners energy label was first introduced in September 2014, with the aim of reducing the amount of energy consumed across Europe by people using their vacuum cleaners. 

While the individual savings may be small, the EU commission says that with more-efficient vacuum cleaners, Europe as a whole will save up to 20 TWh of electricity per year by 2020, the equivalent of the annual household consumption of Belgium. 

The main regulation enforced by the label is a limit on the maximum motor power a vacuum cleaner can have. In 2014, this was limited to 1,600W, where previously vacuum cleaners regularly exceeded 2,200W. In 2017 the maximum wattage was restricted again, to 900W. Some people have had concerns that this reduction would affect the cleaning power of their new vacuum cleaner.

At Which? we have tested thousands of vacuum cleaners over the past 60 years, which means we are in a unique position to assess the impact the energy label has had so far and to look at what the new, stricter rules might mean for vacuum cleaners. Below, we run through the five essential things you need to know about the energy label. 

If you simply want to know which are the best and worst vacuum cleaners, head to our vacuum cleaner reviews


What is the vacuum cleaners energy label?

The vacuum cleaners energy label was introduced in September 2014 and limited the power of vacuum cleaners to a maximum of 1,600W. The maximum motor size was restricted again in 2017, to 900W. It also introduced A-G ratings on four key elements of a vacuum cleaner:

  • Energy use - the most energy-efficient vacs will have an A rating
  • Fine dust pick-up on carpet - higher-rated vacuums pick up the most fine dust
  • Fine dust pick-up on hard floor - again, A-rated models will leave less dust behind
  • Filtration efficiency - this measures how well the vacuum traps dust and allergens once sucked up. Poorer models will leak dust back into your home.

The label also tells you how noisy each vacuum cleaner is using dB (decibels). This scale isn't linear, so a vacuum cleaner with a rating of 80dB is likely to be twice as loud as one with a rating of 70dB, and will be roughly equivalent to standing near a busy road.


What vacuum energy label occurred in 2017? 

From 1 September 2017, the energy label introduced a tougher maximum power level of  900W, cut the maximum noise level to 80dB and requires vacuum cleaners to pass two durability tests - one on the hose and another on the motor. The ratings on the label now range from A+++ through to G, rather than simply A to G, to allow for more differentiation.

The durability tests assesses how resistant the flexible hose on vacuums is to splitting or breaking, and how well the motor stands up to repeated use.


Has the energy label made vacuum cleaners worse?

No. There is no evidence to suggest that vacuum cleaners with smaller motors are any worse at cleaning. In fact, according to our own tests of hundreds of vacuum cleaners, the standard of cleaning has remained relatively stable when you compare vacuums from before the energy label restrictions with those from after they came into effect. If anything, cleaning performance has, on average, actually increased as a result of the energy label's introduction. 

However, this hasn't been achieved without some undesirable side effects. Back in 2015 we exclusively revealed that the rating system on the label is being inconsistently applied, as manufacturers each test and label their own vacs to slightly different methods, which makes it difficult to choose the best vacuum cleaner based on the performance information on the label. 

We've also found that some vacuum cleaners' ability to pick up larger crumbs and household debris has suffered, as some vacuum floorheads have been optimised for picking up the fine dust used in the energy label tests, as opposed to the mix of dust, dirt and fluff found in homes. However, our top-rated vacuum cleaners for 2017 will give your home a thorough clean, as we test how well vacuum cleaners pick up a variety of household dust and debris to find the best models.


Should you buy a vacuum with a larger motor?

In the months preceding the energy label's introduction in September 2014 there was a rush to buy vacuum cleaners with very large motors that would soon be banned. 

But, as our testing shows, a smaller motor is no barrier to brilliant cleaning. If you need a new vacuum cleaner, our vacuum cleaner reviews can help you to find one that cleans effectively and to avoid the vacuums that do a poor job of household cleaning.


What impact might the new energy label have?

As well as cutting the motor power, the new energy label also cuts the noise level of vacuum cleaners to a maximum of 80dB. Half of the vacuum cleaners that we have tested since 2014 proved louder than this in our tests, so one of the more noticeable changes might be that vacuum cleaners get perceptibly quieter. This could be disconcerting, as it might sound like the vacuum cleaner isn't working as hard. However, it can be achieved with good internal sound insulation, and over the years we've found plenty of quiet vacuums that clean brilliantly.

The new durability requirements should challenge vacuum cleaner manufacturers to make them last longer. We conduct large surveys each year to gather feedback from members about the products they own and how reliable they are, and we've found that vacuum cleaners are generally a very reliable product. You can see how they compare with other appliances in the graph below, which shows what percentage of products remained fault-free over time, according to our 2016 survey. It remains to be seen whether the new label will have an impact on this figure in coming years.

When it comes to cleaning, it will be interesting to see how manufacturers make sure that they maintain high standards with less power, while also reducing noise levels. We will be keeping a close eye on how new vacuum cleaners compare with the old ones when the changes to the energy label come in and will report back with our findings. 

In the meantime, if you need to buy a new vacuum cleaner, make sure you choose one of our Best Buy vacuums for the best cleaning results. You can also find out which brands came out on top as the most reliable options in our guide to the most reliable vacuum cleaner brands.


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