Patented more than 140 years ago, the first manual vacuum cleaner required both elbow grease and coordinated choreography, in addition to a penchant for housework. To operate American inventor Ives W. McGaffey’s 1868 machine, the "Whirlwind," the user had to turn a wheel with one hand to create suction and steer it around the room with the other.
In the early 1900s, powered vacuums came on the market, and by mid-century, the job was easily being done with cocktail in one hand, vacuum in the other. Today, we don’t even need to get off the sofa to clean the carpets—as long as we can reach the Roomba’s remote control from the comfort of our couch’s cushions.
Modern vacuums—many bagless, some self-propelled, and others automated—do the deep cleaning so we don’t have to. Of course, you still have to remember to vacuum beneath the bed, one of the most frequently forgotten spots and a common cause of sleeping problems (due to built-up dust). And be sure to do your due diligence: Select a model (like any of the vacuums featured here, save the Roomba 560) equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, which is rated 99.97-percent effective at capturing particles 0.3 microns in diameter. "The things you see on the rug don’t trouble you because they fall to the ground and are too heavy to inhale. It’s the really fine particles you want to make sure to get," says Angel Waldron of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Still, if giving your home the recommended once-a-week onceover makes you cringe, you can always hire a housecleaner—at least until we reach the point where we’re all as lucky to have our very own Rosie the Robot to lend a helping hand.