In Praise of Old Technology: the Carpet Sweeper

Hands up who likes vacuuming! Yeah, me neither. We do have a vacuum cleaner. I do use it. But my husband carries it from room to room and up and down the stairs for me, because the thing is built like a tank and weighs as much as a small child, assuming said small child has been dining off a pile of lead bricks washed down with a draught of liquid mercury.

Is it a vacuum cleaner? Is it a wheely bin? Is it an armoured vehicle? Or is it perhaps all three?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sight of a freshly-vacuumed carpet, it’s just the heaving around of the bellowing machines themselves, as they belch hot air in your face, that fails to appeal. Not to mention the way they need emptying and filter-cleaning and tangle themselves up in their own cords (there’s never anywhere really convenient to plug them in) and tend to let their removable fittings come apart just when you most need them to hold tightly together.

If only there was an alternative! Oh, wait – there is. Ladies and gentlemen: the carpet sweeper!

Invented by a man rejoicing in the name of Melville R. Bissell a gross of years ago (1876) it is light and quiet and easy to use and does not require electricity – though of course, it had only been around for about a quarter of a century before some bright spark had the idea of adding batteries to save the effort of the gentle push which sends it sweeping over the carpet.

Dunlap LCCN2014719475

Of course, a carpet sweeper isn’t magic. You still need to empty it (position over bin, open flaps, shake, close flaps), and once a year or so I find myself cutting my own hair off the brushes which have carefully scooped it up and wrapped it around themselves, but, all things considered, it’s brilliant. If a sudden outbreak of cat fur or biscuit crumbs occurs on your carpet, do you need to bring out the big guns? No – you just grab the sweeper, run it over the mess, and pop it away again.

I keep mine in the sitting room, tucked next to a bookshelf where it is out of the way while still remaining handy, thus satisfying my aesthetic tastes while leaving the barrier to action low. Half a minute’s whisk round the high traffic/high cat areas of the carpet of a morning, and vacuuming becomes an intermittent and occasional task – and even then it’s only because of the fiddly bits round the skirting board and underneath low furniture.

It also has the benefit of novelty. Never have I ever been pestered to allow someone to vacuum my carpet for me, but I have found it necessary before now to arbitrate between two small children both desirous of employing this delightful device. (They took turns.)

The Baby Bissell, a plaything that will work—a little sweeper just like mama’s—sweeps the floor, and amuses the little girl—Christmas present? Just the thing.

It is also less alarming to pets than a vacuum cleaner. Our cats, after many years’ exposure to the vacuum cleaner, are still prone to abruptly leaving the room when the vacuum starts up, but they are now completely blasé about the carpet sweeper. I have even had to prod one cat gently with said carpet sweeper, in order to get him to move off the carpet I was sweeping. He was peeved, but he moved.

That vacuums have not rendered the carpet-sweeper obsolete is evident from the fact that vacuums have been around for over a hundred years, but carpet sweepers are still being manufactured.

There’s always something new in the vacuum cleaning line – upright, bagless, see-through, stick, built-in, automatic floor-crawling – but carpet sweepers have barely changed in the last 144 years, because if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I would even argue that a carpet sweeper is superior to an automatic vacuum cleaner, as it remains under the control of human intelligence (no smearing nasty things all over the carpet).

Brand new vintage C. A. Breger floor and carpet sweeper

Plus you can decorate it in any way that takes your fancy. Personally, I like the idea of two or more large googly eyes, but if you prefer funky flowers or a chic and understated sleek cream, well, there’s a carpet sweeper for you.

It’s compact, lightweight, quiet, convenient, so simple children use it, environmentally friendly, pet-friendly, and (unlike a vacuum cleaner) costs absolutely nothing to run.

So if you too are secretly certain that vacuums suck, why not try a carpet sweeper?

2 Replies to “In Praise of Old Technology: the Carpet Sweeper”

  1. Hi Deborah,

    It certainly seems like magic, no need to plug power, not too heavy and easy to store. But why don’t people use it? It certainly saves a lot of money and frustration.

    I think we mostly go and buy stuff that has the latest technology in it. Look at the phones now, with each year the prices go up and the functionality is the same.

    1. There certainly seem to be a lot of people who will buy anything if they’re told it’s new and “the latest”!

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