Introducing DustUp: Help us learn why vacuum cleaners break

Vacuum cleaners suck. At least, they’re supposed to. But we see quite a lot of broken vacuum cleaners at our repair events and they’re not always easy to fix. In fact, we’ve recorded over 1,000 attempts to repair vacuum cleaners between us here on Restarters. And that rises to over 3,000 when we also look at data collected by our partners in the Open Repair Alliance.

Now, the EU is writing new rules that could make vacuum cleaners easier to fix in the future. So we want to look at these attempted repairs in more detail to see what we can learn about the most common reasons vacuum cleaners break down. Knowing this could help us make a stronger case for effective rules from the EU, which could also influence the UK and other countries.

Introducing DustUp

DustUp is our latest people-powered investigation into why our devices break. This time, we want to learn the most common causes of failure for vacuum cleaners. To do this, we’ve partnered with students from the University of the Arts in London. Together, we’ll be reading through information about each of the broken vacuum cleaners in our database to determine the main fault.

You can help too! Simply visit DustUp below, read about some vacuum cleaners and try to identify the main reasons they broke:

Try DustUp

How does DustUp work?

  1. Go to DustUp. You will see some information about a vacuum cleaner that was brought to a real-life repair event.

  2. Select the type of fault that best describes the problem. Once you’ve pressed an option, confirm your choice by pressing the “Go with…” button that appears at the top of the list. If the data provided is too poor quality to make a judgement, select the ‘Poor data’ button. And if you’re not sure, just select ‘I don’t know’ at the bottom.

That’s it!

Once you’ve confirmed an option, you’ll see another vacuum cleaner. The more faults you can categorise, the more we learn! And don’t worry if you’re not 100% sure about your answer: DustUp shows each vacuum cleaner to two or three people to help confirm the right category.

Why vacuum cleaners, and why now?

The European Commission :eu: is currently running a public consultation on Ecodesign and Energy Labelling for Vacuum cleaners.

This process will lead to a draft regulation on vacuum cleaners, including requirements on repairability and availability of spare parts. While the future legislation would only be binding for the EU single market, it’s likely to influence similar legislation in other countries around the world, including the UK.

So what can we do?

This is a unique opportunity to contribute data from people’s real-world experiences of recurrent faults in vacuum cleaners. European regulators tend to mostly have access to industry sources of data, so data from community repair initiatives is a precious addition to help make the case for repair.

This is why we need your help now!

Go to DustUp

Questions? Comments? Feedback?

Just post below and let’s chat :slight_smile:


I went to Try DustUp and had to login, is that expected?

How many records to do before we’ve got it in the bag (most brands)/bagless (Dyson, et al)?

Shouldn’t have to, I just tried logging out and was able to use it?

There are 3k records requiring a max of 3 opinions each.

Does “brush” mean the spinning brush in the head of a vacuum cleaner, or the brush(es) inside the motor which contact the commutator and pass current to make the motor go round. Both wear out, I suppose, but the spinning brush won’t burn out, which is what I think this one is - so I recorded it as Motor being the problem:

Would be useful for this sort of issue to have a reference to the record visible so it would be easier to refer you to the correct record.

The fault type is referring to external brushes. Sounds like the record is referring to an internal component. Motor would be a decent choice.

Should we always have a “No Fault Found/Nothing to repair” fault type for records like this?


“Other” would be appropriate imo.

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By the way, the Status page has a superfluous column, a leftover from the BattCat quest. Please ignore “Repair status” as it is meaningless for DustUp. :slight_smile:

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I came across this problem description

A bit of a search comes up with phase lead capacitors -

Would that make sense for a vacuum cleaner? I’ll go with internal damage if so.

That’s a different type of phase lead capacitor, but motors do usually use capacitors for various purposes.

Is changing a ‘phase lead’ capacitor relevant to fixing a motor? Depends:

Yes: If the motor is a single-phase AC induction motor (also known as a synchronous motor), then yes because capacitors are used to create the rotating magnetic field to make the motor turn (and to make it turn in the desired direction) - the cpacitor changes the phase of the current slightly which is why you might use the term phase lead capacitor, but these are usually called ‘start’ and ‘run’ capacitors. The start capacitor tends to be larger value like 50uF, and is only in curcuit until maybe 75% of operational speed is reached. The run capacitor is perhaps 1-2uF and is always active. These are both in series with a second winding which is rotated at an angle wrt the main winding, the different angle ensuring the net magnetic field rotates. The secondary winding field doesn’t need to be so strong once the motor is running, so switching out the start capacitor saves power.

Washing machines are big enough to sometimes be able to use induction motors, anything smaller is much more likely to use a universal motor.

Not sure if it’s a good reference but see
and some excellent real discussion of the different types (although looking at large motors) by Jeremy Fielding

No: IME vacuum cleaners and pretty much all small electric motor-driven domestic appliances tend to use what are called universal motors (can run on AC or DC not that the DC matters) which have a commutator and brushes. Universal motors are small, cheap to manufacture and powerful for their size. For universal motors there’s no need for start/run capacitors because the magnetic field rotates due to the commutation. However there will always (?) be suppression capacitors across the motor to control electrical noise from the commutator as it rotates.

If the motor has brushes then it’s a universal motor and won’t have start/run capacitors, just suppression capacitor(s).

Perhaps it was an induction motor where the start/run capacitors needed replacing, or perhaps the repairer mis-referred to the suppression capacitors.

The other type of small electrical motor you might come across is a brushless DC motor - these use a permanent magnet on the rotor so no electrical connection is needed to it so no need for commutator and brushes. The rotating field is produced by electronic switching of current in multiple windings of the stator, generating a rotating magnetic field which moves to continuously attracts the rotor magnet to rotate. This type of motor is sometimes used in small power tools particularly where battery power, variable speed, and forward/reverse rotation is needed - it’s low-maintenance and generates low interference (because no commutator/brushes) but more expensive electronic controller than a speed-controlled AC universal motor. Will probably have suppression capacitors but much smaller and build into the electronics, which are less stressed than any mains capacitor so less likely to die. To get the rotor to rotate the magnetic field has to be in a particular angle wrt the rotor angle - that means there’s built-in a sensor on the rotor that tells the electronics what angle the rotor is at so the controller can power the correct stator windings to make the rotor move.



Tim Hunkin did a video on motors as part of his new series The Secret Life of Components: