In our home we have a Welsh Pembroke Corgi, three girls with shoulder-length or longer hair, and three mohair rugs; there are days when I am not sure who or what sheds worse. We have a conventional upright vacuum cleaner, and although it works well enough, it is a pain to have to get it out. As you likely know, in order to use a traditional upright vacuum cleaner, you generally have to get it out of a storage closet, unwind the cord, plug it in, and move it about as needed; I’m not sure about your upright vacuum, but ours is heavy! The idea of a light, cordless vacuum cleaner that would do an excellent job at cleaning was very appealing to me, so I was quite interested in giving one a try after writing up the Gtech AirRAM Cordless Vacuum Cleaner last April.
Gtech is a British company that has a cordless vacuum cleaner that’s been available overseas for at least a year, but has only now begun to be sold in the US.
Last week, Gtech sent me an AirRAM cordless vacuum cleaner, and I have had ample time to test it out because (sad to say) I’ve had no shortage of cleanup opportunities. This happened to be one of those review items that shows up and immediately gets unpacked, even though it wasn’t necessarily the next item in my review queue.
So what makes the Gtech AirRAM so special? To start, there is no permanently attached power cable, and it is supposed to be able to last for up to 60 minutes between charges. The vacuum isn’t very bulky; with a ~3″ tall main unit, you can work it under furniture farther than the typical upright vacuum cleaner would go, without having to break out a hose attachment. There are no bags or big canisters to empty, because the AirRAM compresses dirt, hair, and whatever else is sucked up into “easy-to-dispose ‘bales'”. And, as you might have guessed, because there are no attachments, the AirRAM is super light and maneuverable; it weighs only 7.7 pounds, and I can easily pick it up and push it around one-handed.
The AirRAM arrives partially assembled in its packaging; the handle and battery pack are removed. Also included are an AC charging cable and an operating manual.
The handle has to be inserted into the top of the main unit, and it’s odd because when you are about to attach it, you’re going to find that the direction you thought the handle should face is not the direction in which it goes. Take a look at the picture of the installed handle below, and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s weird, because the AirRAM hardly looks big enough to have much of a motor hidden inside, much less any kind of means to generate adequate sucking power. Removing the filter assembly from the top of the main unit shows that a large bit of vacuum’s base is composed of the two collection wells which will hold the bales formed as dirt and hair are sucked up. Get a good look because this is probably the cleanest they will ever be …
The other bit of the base is where the brush motor is located.
This is the filter assembly; using a coin to open the middle lock reveals …
… two filter packs.
The cool thing about these is that you don’t replace them after a period of time, you simply wash them once a month by putting them under the tap until they flow clear. After cleaning them you let them dry for 24 hours, then pop them back in the vacuum cleaner, and you are good to go again.
The included22.2V 2000 mAh Lithium-Ion battery pack snaps into the cavity on the back of the AirRAM; at the bottom of the battery is the charging port and a port for the data bridge cable (not included), which appears to be sized like a standard printer USB cable, but I am not certain as I didn’t have one available to try it with. If you download the AirRAM software and plug the battery pack into a Windows PC, you can then “calculate the electricity you have saved, get customer support, and even see how many calories you have burned while cleaning.” Unfortunately, there is no Mac software, and the vacuum doesn’t come with the data bridge cable — which is rather disappointing.
It takes about four hours for the battery to fully charge, and charging can be done without the battery pack being installed in the vacuum, which is handy.
The AirRAM has four LED indicators on the front of the main unit, which lets you know not only when it is done charging, but if there are issues with the device. Four green bars mean that the AirRAM is fully charged, and the green LEDs will deplete as the battery charge level goes down through use; four red bars would indicate that there was a brush bar jam. I’ve actually seen that happen on mine once, and it was because I got too close to the fringe on one of our carpets; you should try not to do that, as the force with which your fringe will be gobbled up is shocking to behold. Fortunately, no fringe was digested by the Gtech, but for a moment I was worried.
Other than the power button on the left side, there are no other buttons or dials to deal with.
The lower handle next to the power button makes it extremely easy to pick up the AirRAM when you need to vacuum the sofa or other places where your dog or cat might have been lying. The AirRAM works very well — surprisingly well — on rugs, wood floors, tile, really anywhere.
My usual system is to us a dust mop on our bamboo floors, then I’ll sweep up what’s gathered as well as anything I missed in the room corners with a regular broom. The last step is to vacuum the rugs and catch anything stray that I missed when sweeping. The AirRAM has fit in perfectly with my regular way of doing things, but it has actually made it so much easier to ‘break out the vacuum’ when I notice little flecks of whatever on the rug under the table or by the sofa in between housekeeper visits. I’m not going to lie, in the past those flecks might have been allowed to stay there for a day or two before I got around to cleaning them up; now I get them right away, because it is so easy to do! Dare I say it’s even a little bit fun?
Turning on the AirRAM makes a beep sound, the brushes start whirring, and the little vacuum cleaner will sort of leap ahead like it is ready to get started. It’s not self-propelled like a lawn-mower, but the brush action is so fast and furious that it behaves that way. The vacuum is easy for kids to handle, and they like using it because it is everything the typical upright isn’t: light, easy to push, easy to move around, and there is no danger of them getting wrapped around the dining room table or running out of available power cord.
Have you ever been in the middle of vacuuming only to have the machine suddenly stop 20 feet away from the wall, because you accidentally pulled the power cord out? Guilty.
This cordless vacuum is genius, with one caveat.
I typically use our big upright for something that isn’t technically in its job description, and is possibly even some kind of Good Housekeeping no-no: we use the hose attachment to suck up moths and other creepy crawlies when they get in the house. Do any of you do that? But since there is no hose attachment on the AirRAM, we can’t do that. In my defense, spring and summer in Texas mean population explosions of mayflies, then moths, then june bugs and in the summer, flies — which are the worst! Sucking them up with the vacuum hose is pretty convenient, even though we have a DynaTrap that is going 24/7 in our laundry room, and I have a DynaZap hanging ready that is expressly for that purpose. But I digress.
When the collection wells are full, you’ll notice that the vacuum is still working as hard as ever, but it’s not picking up things that should obviously be sucked up. Removing the filter assembly will quickly show you why … the wells are full of hair, dirt, dust, random little dead bugs (I live on a ranch, remember?), and whatever else was on your floors and carpets. They need to be emptied.
Now you are presented with a choice: what’s the best way to empty out the bales?
Sure, they are mostly compressed, and they should come out without breaking apart. But what if they don’t?
There are no clear instructions on the site, nor is there anything beyond “empty the dirt briquettes into the waste basket, tap the filter assembly to release dirt” in the manual.
Here’s what I do: make sure that your hands are dry (because if they are wet you will be left holding), pinch the bale of funk, and put it in the trash. I think that it is best to do this outside; if you can, you ought to keep a can of compressed air handy to use to spray the wells and ports out a bit, too. The last thing you’ll need to do with each cleaning is to gently tap the filter assembly on the side of the garbage can a couple of times on each side, just to dislodge all of the hair, dirt, and whatever other things have been collected and are still in the filters.
Update 05/29/13: As you’ll see in the comments below, Nick Grey, the founder of Gtech, weighed in to let me know that the clear bin does indeed come out. I had tried removing it during the review process, but since I wasn’t positive that it could come out, I had only given it a full light tugs from the top — and it didn’t budge. Knowing that it was supposed to come out, this morning I put my hand under the clear bin and was able to push up and dislodge it. Sure enough, the bin does come out, and it can easily be emptied into the trash.
It takes me about 10-15 minutes to vacuum our entire house, and I generally only have to empty out the bin when I am done. With that said, Otis (our doggie) seems to be shedding more than usual lately, so it is possible I’ll soon hit a point where I need to empty the bin midway through the cleaning. It’s okay, though; every time I see what’s been sucked up, I still can’t help but be amazed … and a bit grossed out.
The Gtech AirRAM is small enough that it can fit in a corner somewhere, or you can remove the handle and stuff it all in a cabinet. I tend to just keep it assembled, parked and charged in our laundry room; it makes it that much easier when I am ready to clean up the latest mess, and I am all about the convenience factor.
Maintenance on the AirRAM is fairly simple: as I mentioned you have to wash out the interior filters once a month, but you are also told in the manual to clean the vacuum with a dry cloth once a week, to remove hair and fiber from the brush bar (using scissors if necessary), and to not use it on wet floors. There is also a not that the AirRAM shouldn’t be used on concrete or other rough surfaces, but I am guessing that doesn’t apply to the painted/finished concrete so many people are using inside their homes these days — just the rough stuff you might have on your patio or driveway. And of course, you are not supposed to use the AirRAM on rug tassels or frayed carpets because the vacuum will suck them up and possibly destroy them.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I started using this, my first cordless vacuum cleaner, but I have to say that the Gtech AirRAM has thoroughly impressed me. Okay, so it doesn’t have a hose and it isn’t great for tight corners, but I have other methods in place already that can take care of those needs. I’ve relegated our huge upright to the closet for now, and if enough time goes by where I don’t feel that we are missing out by not having it available, then I am going to permanently move it down to our guest cabin. This vac easily handles our vacuuming needs, and it is a product I can heartily recommend.
The Gtech AirRAM Cordless Vacuum Cleaner is available directly from the manufacturer.
MSRP: $349.95; you can get a spare battery for $79.99, and the Gtech cable is $9.99
What I Like: Extremely light; Easy to operate (it’s on or off!); Can be picked up one-handed to use on upholstered furniture; Easy to empty, and the clear plastic bin that holds the dirt bales is removable; No bags; Filters are easy to clean; Does an excellent job at picking up dirt, hair, and other detritus; Downloadable Data Bridge PC software so that you calculate the energy you have saved
What Needs improvement: No hose attachment; Even though the clear plastic bin is removable, you still might want to clean it outside because the bales and detritus it holds are dusty and a little bit gross; Data Bridge software is PC only; Data Bridge cable is not included
Source: The Gtech AirRAM Cordless Vacuum was a manufacturer supplied review sample