Adrianne Jeffries

IS IT GREEN?: The Cordless Vacuum

by , 10/23/08

dirt devil accucharge, cordless accucharge vacuum cleaner, product greenwashing, energy star certified, energy efficient, cleaning products, home appliances

Dirt Devil is currently retailing a cordless, bagless, ENERGY STAR-certified vacuum cleaner called the AccuCharge. The product’s website urges you to “Clean with a conscience” and the video says, “Go green and get it clean.” Caveat emptor: “Green” and “clean” pair well in advertising jingles, but environmentally-conscious vacuum buyers should be wary. Read this interview with Michelle Kivlov, product manager for AccuCharge, before you rely on AccuCharge to let you “clean with a conscience.”

dirt devil accucharge, cordless accucharge vacuum cleaner, product greenwashing, energy star certified, energy efficient, cleaning products, home appliances

A lot of products now qualify for an ENERGY STAR rating, with more than 40,000 individual ENERGY STAR qualified products available in 2007. Many companies, including the subject of our last Is It Green post, Hewlett Packard, have begun marketing campaigns constructed around the ENERGY STAR rating. That’s great because it raises awareness of the ENERGY STAR label, but it can be bad when companies conflate “energy efficient” with “good for the environment.”

INTERVIEW WITH DIRT DEVIL PRODUCT MANAGER MICHELLE KIVLOV

Explain the power-saving feature. When you say it uses 70% less energy, how is that possible?

A good way to start off talking about AccuCharge if I can just explain the technology and how it’s different.

Pretty much most everything that’s cordless uses basically just a ni-cad battery. When you keep it plugged it, basically what’s happening is it’s always drawing energy from the wall. It doesnt really understand when it’s charged and it doesnt really stop charging.

Our AccuCharge technology has a circuit in the unit and it has an efficient power supply. The circuitry actually recognizes when the unit is full and stops charging and just has kind of a trickle charge for maintenance. That’s the power energy saving feature, [compared to] the current units are always being charged, you save 70% energy.

Tell me about the green features in AccuCharge’s packaging.
One of the things is that all the cartons are made from about 70-80 recycled paper. We don’t use any PVC windows.

The inks are ROHS (Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances) compliant. Inside all the packaging we use molded pulp instead of styrofoam, all made from recycled corrugated cardboard and newsprint. All of the other inserts are made from 70-80% recycled paper just like the outer carton is.

Is that post-consumer recycled content?

Yes.

What’s the estimated life of the AccuCharge hand cleaner? Meaning, with normal use, after how many months should a customer expect to replace the vacuum?

The hand vacuum is three years.

The stick vacuum?

Two years.

How often does the filter need to be replaced?

We recommend about six months to a year for most of our filters but its also going to depend on usage of course.

AccuCharge has a nickel-cadmium battery. How long does the battery last?

The whole unit, like the battery and the motor, will last three years for the hand vac and two for the stick.

If [the battery died while it was under warranty they would probably just replace the unit. The nice thing about AccuCharge is that the batteries do generally last longer as far as the run time because with the AccuCharge technology, the batteries stay healthier longer. [with] Current units, the power being pumped into them is generating heat and the heat damages the battery, which is why some units start dying after time.

Does Dirt Devil intend to use this charging technology on all future cordless vacuum cleaners? Why or why not?

We hope so. We’re still kind of exploring what we want to do next with that. Nothing comes to us for free, it does cost some money for that so right now we are seeing what consumers are willing to pay for. So far AccuCharge has been selling really well.

dirt devil accucharge, cordless accucharge vacuum cleaner, product greenwashing, energy star certified, energy efficient, cleaning products, home appliances

Did I miss any of the the environmentally conscious features of AccuCharge?

We are partnered with RBRC so you can take your batteries and recycle them and I believe they have 50 locations nationwide. We do put that on all of our cartons.

Is this the most environmentally-conscious vacuum cleaner that Dirt Devil offers?

Yes, definitely.

Is Dirt Devil trying to market this product as green?

It’s one of the main focus points but not the only one. With AccuCharge you’ve got two main benefits. One is you get the energy aspect of it and then you get the performance aspect of it, being longer lasting. But we’ve definitely been trying to stress both of them so consumers understand that there are multiple benefits to it.

dirt devil accucharge, cordless accucharge vacuum cleaner, product greenwashing, energy star certified, energy efficient, cleaning products, home appliances

Is it green?

Not unless ‘greener than other cordless vacs’ counts as green

Negative Points: Cordless vacuums are less energy efficient than vacuum cleaners that you plug in to the wall. The energy loss that the AccuCharge technology was developed to counter is only an issue for cordless vacuum cleaners that require batteries. Cords are an annoying but minor inconvenience so I really don’t see a justification for using batteries (toxic) that need to be replaced every two or three years (wasteful).

Perhaps the most problematic part of this product is its disposable design. Dirt Devil is recommending that people replace their filters every six months, and the whole vacuum has to be replaced every two or three years. There are vacuum cleaners on the market that last for more than 30 years. Dustin Chaffin, manager of Great Vacs, phrased it well in an email:

The problem that I have seen with vacuums like that who are usually sold in the big box stores and that claim to be green is they are disposable. They are only designed to last a few years and then they want you to throw it away and buy a new one. They are so cheap they are not even worth fixing. So you have them filling up our landfills and wasting energy shipping them to all the big box stores. It’s a serious waste of resources. You compare that to a Kirby, Rainbow, or Filter Queen where an average life span is 25 plus years. That is a more green approach. It might not be as profitable but it is better for the environment and the customer.

“Most brands we have seen that are disposable and are filling up our landfills are Dirt Devil, Bissell, Hoover, Eureka and more. It’s usually better to make an investment in a high end vacuum that can last for decades.”

Positive Points: Dirt Devil is using recycled materials in their packaging and encouraging customers to recycle batteries. But that doesn’t offset the damage this product deals to the Earth.

+ Dirt Devil

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3 Comments

  1. ingoratsdorf October 27, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    So what they are really saying is that their current charging system is extremely bad, that’s why they try to sell you a system which is not that bad and eventually will sell you a system that will even simply shut off when the battery is charged.
    That will then still leave a lot of space to sell you a yet better system where the battery will even last longer, charge faster and will wake you up with a coffee in the morning…

  2. Barbara Piplits Barbara P. October 24, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    It is shocking that these vacuums are designed to only last between 2 and 3 years. I was suspicious already that everything here in the States is designed to last 5 years as in the 5th year of use our washing machine, dishwasher, oven termite control and swimming pool pump all started having problems and needed to be replaced or repaired. That was expensive. I just hope the rest of my house holds up.
    Two to three years is even worse than I thought.

  3. deviceone October 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    So I take it this unit does not have a user replaceable battery? I could see these approaching non-insanity when they inevitably switch to a better battery technology.

    (sarcasm) If only they had added a tree decal and used an earth tone color scheme. (/sarcasm)

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