Va-va-va vacuums: Fashion comes to the utility closet

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Shopping for a vacuum cleaner these days is something like shopping for a car.

Consumers want a little get up and go in their vacuums – a sense that there is power at their disposal – but they also don’t want to compromise on style.

Like so many other home appliances, vacuums have undergone a transformation. It’s not enough any more that they do their job in a workman-like fashion; they should also feature cutting-edge design.

“Four or five years ago, it was basically a product that had a motor in it and sucked dirt up,” says Rob Newcombe, vice president of marketing for Electrolux Home Care Products. And the comparison to auto-shopping makes sense to Newcombe, who says, “Our designers spend lots of time at auto shows.”

Who would have thought that vacuum cleaner manufacturers would be talking about color trends? This year, it’s something called copper sunrise, says Newcombe, who notes all the chocolate and pink apparel he saw recently in a department store window. “In the past, manufacturers would have ignored that.”

Shelf appeal has become essential. The average consumer spends just seven minutes in a store choosing a vacuum, Newcombe says, but function hasn’t been thrown out the window. Key considerations for consumers these days are weight, the ability to vacuum in hard-to-reach areas and the idea of green cleaning with sealed High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration to remove allergens.

About 70 percent of vacuum cleaners sold in the United States are bagless, but it’s a trend that seems to be leveling off a bit.

Recent designs from manufacturers are unabashedly colorful and downright futuristic, but they’re also task-oriented. Here’s a look at a few.

Unleash the beast

Dyson Absolute promises monstrously strong cleaning with its DC17 Animal upright. The company touts its Level 3 Root Cyclone technology, which spins dirt at high speed through three cyclone levels, separating it from the soon-to-be-expelled air and allowing it to collect in the bin. The bagless vacuum relies on a washable filter, and you simply push a button to empty out dirt. Dyson vacuums tend toward the upper end of the economic scale the DC17 Animal retails for $550 but the company says its vacuums never clog or lose suction. The company also says filtration is so thorough that the air the vacuum expels has as much as 150 times less bacteria and mold than normal household air. The DC17 also offers some flexibility in use, with a quick-draw telescoping wand with a 16-foot reach.

A closet friend

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Storage can be an issue with hefty vacuums. The 16-pound Electrolux Intensity promises portability and easy storage, with a telescopic folding handle. Electrolux also says the little vacuum that could offers 50 percent higher suction than the industry’s leading upright, thanks to a short, three-inch air path from intake to dust bag. Fingertip power controls on the handle let the user switch from carpet to hard surface settings with ease. Available at retailers such as Lowe’s, Sears and Best Buy, the Intensity retails for $300.

Appearance counts

Dirt Devil’s handheld Kone vacuum is unabashedly about form. Designer Karim Rashid’s sleek vacuum brings to mind a lava lamp, and the colors, including pink, purple and a steely blue, are iPodesque. The idea is that the 7.2-volt rechargeable vacuum will look so nifty sitting around your pad that you won’t want to hide it, thereby saving storage space. In fact, a stark white version features an illuminated base that “casts a soft glow that adds an inviting radiance to any room,” say the Dirt Devil folks. Available at various retailers; found at www.target.com for $40

Easy does it

The Eureka Uno, available in a lighthearted lime green, is designed to be a more comfortable vacuum to operate. The vacuum’s O-shaped, soft-grip ergonomic handle is intended to make vacuuming easier on the wrist. The Uno’s handle also adjusts to eight positions, accommodating height differences. Onboard tools include an edger brush designed to work along wall edges and a flip-top hood that allows the easy use of a stair nozzle both horizontally and vertically. Sold at Target, Costco and Sam’s Club for $130.

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