Inside The Real Repair Shop 2

Practical vacuum cleaner maintenance advice from the workshop!

I have 5 vacuum cleaners, each kept for specific tasks, as you can imagine.  No, seriously I love vacuum cleaners.  From friendly faced Henrys and Hettys to ‘frickin’ Sharks, I love ‘em all.  Why you ask? Well I guess that using a hoover is sheer joy to me.  You take your machine to a grubby area, run it around the floor, and you are rewarded with instant gratification! The carpet is returned to near pristine condition.  Better still, with many machines, you can see all the muck that was once on the carpet, swirling around in mesmerizing dust-storms, in the see-through debris collection bin!  Cosmic stuff.

Decent vacuum cleaners cost a few quid and far too many repairable machines end up at tips across the country, prematurely.

I suspect that many machines could be saved with basic skills. Most people could manage light servicing with basic tools and a small dusting of knowledge so here are some top tips to help you keep your hoover running well for longer.

Models vary, but you are likely to need the following: 

  • Big flat-head screwdriver
  • a cross-head screwdriver
  • damp cloth bowl of hot soapy suds

Before you start work on any appliance, always unplug from the mains. 

Brush heads: Upright vacuum cleaners probably have a rotating brush head. Remove any dog, cat, child hair, Lego etc from the brushes, especially the stuff stuck at the sides, where it can cause damage to things like bearings.  Use a knife or some old scissors to cut-away trapped hair etc.  This will improve performance and prevent damage. 

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, Dyson DC07 brush head- looking clean.

Filters:  Many vacuum cleaners have at least one, sometimes three filters to prevent dust entering back into the environment it was sucked-up from, preventing sneezes.  Usually all you need to do is see where the filters are located and to remove any retaining clips/covers.  Some machines use screws to hold the filters in-situ, so you’ll need to familiarise yourself with your instructions. 

If you’ve held on to your instructions, well done.  If you’re like most people and have chucked the instructions away, you might need to Google your model and download them. These filters need to be cleaned every three months in warm soapy water and left to dry for at least 24 hours or until bone dry.  Clean filters not only prevent dust build-up in the air, but are essential for the free flow of air into your machine and out again.

A blocked motor filter could cause overheating and damage to the motor bearings and brushes.  Suction can be reduced by a blocked cylinder filter. HEPA filters need to be replaced and can’t be cleaned, however eBay is awash with good quality, cheap alternative filters, so there’s no excuse for not lavishing your machine with some filter-love to let your machine breathe easy.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, old and new filters.

Seals:  All vacuum cleaners rely on good seals between joints to ensure perfect performance.  Rubber and foam seals need to be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of dirt. Get a bowl of hot soapy water and an old cloth to clean up joints and seal-like surfaces, no special skills required.  Don’t scrub too hard as you might damage the smooth surfaces, just a gentle clean is all that’s needed.  Remember, dirty seals equal vacuum loss.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, keep seals clean with a damp sponge or cloth.

Just a small tune-up in the way of basic servicing will mean that your trusty vacuum runs sweeter for longer, saving you time, money and valuable resources.  You’ll also bond with your machine, which is a good thing.

After all that cleaning, you’ve earned yourself a cup of tea. Time to put the kettle on, make a brew and grab a custard cream.

Inside The Real Repair Shop 1

They do make them like they used to. You just have to know where to look.

Think back 30 years, and if you can’t, ask anyone over the age of 42. In the place you grew up, how old was the kettle? It might seem a strange question, but as a (slightly odd) child, I noticed stuff like that. I can fondly remember my parents’ own Russell Hobbs K2 kettle, which had been given to them as a wedding gift and was still going strong after they divorced, 25 years later. Unlike their marriage, the kettle was well engineered, robust and easy to mend.

Russell Hobbs advert for the seminal K2 kettle, familiar to many. Image taken from Google Images, FixItWorkshop is not the copyright owner.

Not long ago, long service was expected from appliances and my friends and relatives had similar experiences. Trust me, I’ve asked them. Buying spare parts was also a thing. You could easily repair kettles of that vintage with basic tools and without the need of a yet-to-be-invented online video. Hardware shops would stock cost-effective spare parts like elements and rubber seals to keep your kettle running for longer, but over time, this type of thing has become the reserve of nerds like myself.

During the last 40 years, the market for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, kettles and much more has become congested with laughably cheap goods, and while the prices can make items accessible, it’s usually a case of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. 

Manufacturers have perfected built-in obsolescence to such a degree that they can time your product to fail, just after the warranty expires. Bad for many reasons, but the main thing is that a £15 toaster thrown out after two years will probably end up as landfill. There are free, environmentally kinder disposal routes available from your local council in the UK, but many people just don’t bother.  Sad, but true.

It’s still possible to buy something well-designed and robust that will be supported by a responsible manufacturer, you just need to know what to look for.

Do you really need it?

Just because your friend has a kettle with an interactive disco display controlled by their iPhone, do you need one?  Probably not.  No one does. Google ‘the best kettle’ and you’ll find products that have more knobs and whistles than a power station.  This makes them more complicated and likely to go wrong in the future and contain more precious metals, increasing their environmental impact.  Remember what you need the product to do. Keep it simple.

How long will it last, will it be any good?

This is a tricky one to quantify as lots of things affect that.  But ask yourself, is a kettle costing a tenner going to be a family heirloom to hand-down?  Probably not.  It will boil water, it will make a lot of noise, it will be inefficient.  Take  customer reviews on Amazon with a pinch of salt. Trust organisations such as ‘Which’ to guide you on matters of performance and longevity before handing over your hard-earned wedge.

Can I get help when I need it?

Many retailers and manufacturers are not set up to take care of your product once it’s in your hands.  At the end of your twelve-month warranty, is there a local agent or are there spares available to fix your product, when you need it?  Before making a purchase, do some online research on your chosen toaster manufacturer.  Do they have a help desk, can they supply reasonably priced parts, are there engineers out there who can help repair your item? Responsible manufacturers are out there…

Russell Hobbs K65, Henry HVR160 vacuum cleaner, Kenwood Kmix KMX750 Dualit classic toaster. What do they all have in common? All have reasonable support from the manufacturer, after purchase.

Give yourself time to work this stuff out, and you’ll end up replacing your appliance less often.  Better still, you’ll be able to fix it when it goes wrong, saving it from becoming waste. You’ll also be able to pass it on when the time comes, which is a far better thing to do.  If buying new isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to buy quality appliances second-hand from places like eBay, Facebook and Gumtree.  It might not come in a new box with a receipt, but it’ll still be decent, without costing the earth.

Matt or Fixitworkshop is not affiliated with any of the products shown in this article.  The items displayed are for illustration only, but were chosen with care based on Matt’s own repair knowledge and experiences.

The tale of Hetty & Henry

A small mix up nearly resulted in some body modification…

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, May’20, Henry & Hetty bathing in the sunshine

Make and model: Hetty Vacuum Cleaner (HET200-22)

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement: £100-£140

Manufacturer support:  10/10

Cost of parts: £21.59, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1 hour with service

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter etc

Sundry items: Silicone spray, cleaning materials

Repair difficulty: 4/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: Ginger Nut X2

If only everything was as well made and built to last as a Henry (or Hetty!) hoover.  Simple as a knife and fork, with tried and tested technology, it’s a machine created by an engineer, for everyone to own, use and repair themselves, when needed.

A neighbour got in touch to say that their broken Hetty was about to be scrapped and asked if I could do anything with it.  Of course, I said.  To be honest with you all, I’m not that confident with all repairs, but I knew that in the case of this one, I should be fine as Numatic products are pretty well supported by the manufacturer. And this is the thing:

How many purchases do we make that consider; “will I be able to get parts for that one day”?

We all do it, but as a tinkerer I try and consider the longevity and likely need for replacement components when I’m considering handing over my hard earned wedge, at point of purchase.

The Hetty had been working fine, but had then conked out, mid clean.  No drama, no noise, no smoke, it had just stopped.  The owner had already checked the fuse, but that was fine (as they often are).

When things just stop and won’t restart, that symptom is often trying to tell you something and if you’re listening, capturing the way something fails and acting on the information can save you time and often money.  It’s a trick I’m always trying to perfect, although one can be caught out anytime- but that’s half the fun.

  • The machine stopped suddenly…
    • Maybe the cable broke?
    • Maybe the plug is damaged
    • Maybe a component failed quickly

Expensive things like motors tend to start making noises, run slower than usual or smell bad before failing.  They can ‘just stop’ of course, but it’s likely that there will be a build-up, so I proceeded with some confidence that the motor was probably fine.  I always check motor bearings and brushes anyway, when servicing this type of thing.

Since the mains cable and plug were fine, it was time to delve inside.  The Hetty top is simply held together with a few screws (normal cross head) which then frees the cable winder and motor assembly, when undone.

I suspected the two-speed control PCB as these can fail suddenly without warning and since I have no Numatic PCB tester (if there is such a thing), all I could do is prove the component as faulty, beyond reasonable doubt.  A quick check with my multi-meter revealed that there was no output, when connected to the mains.  Suspicious.

It is also possible to by-pass the speed control PCB on these machines, which I did.  I connected the motor up without it’s 600W/1200W control circuit in the loop and the motor spun up just fine.

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Often, I like to go direct to the manufacturer (where possible) for spare parts as you often get the truth about an appliance as well as the latest version of a part.  Often, manufacturers continue to iron out bugs and develop upgrades for spare parts as these will be fitted to the latest models.  A company such as Numatic seem to apply those upgrades retrospectively to older models too, so that all customers new and old, can enjoy the benefits.  For information; UK spec speed controller part 208436 (red) replaces part 206735 (orange) for model HET200-22.

As I couldn’t find the part I needed on any website, a quick call to Numatic UK, gave me the information I needed.  Even during Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, the lady in Numatic’s spares department, working from her kitchen, was able to advise me on the upgraded part I now needed and arrange for it to be with me for the next working day.  If that’s not good service, I don’t know what is.  http://www.numatic.co.uk

With the new part installed, the motor spun once more, at the correct two speeds.  Happy days.

All fine then.  Not quite. 

Hetty had been supplied with a red base, not the original pink one that Hetty should have.

As we all know… no?  Just me then, Henry is red and Hetty is pink and there is a range of names and colours to choose from in the range.

When I tried to fit the Hetty top to the supplied red base, it didn’t fit.  Quite a head-scratching moment, if I’m being frank with you.  Had it never fitted? Had the owner simply just put up with it the way it was?  Had there been some kind of strange swapping incident that I wasn’t aware of?  Time to get some answers!

It turns out that my neighbour have both Henry and Hetty models and had given me the wrong base.  They had assumed they are all the same.  They’re not actually, see below.

The latest Henry and Hetty tops have a cut-out for the tool storage bracket moudling as shown on the red base above.  The earlier Hetty I had in the workshop had no such bracket in the plastic.  I did offer to modify the Hetty top I had with my Dremel saw, but this offer was declined!

With the right top and base paired up once more, I was happy, the neighbours were happy and another vacuum cleaner had been saved from being scrapped needlessly.

Time for another brew.

 

Hooray for Henry!

A Numatic Henry vacuum cleaner gets the kiss of life…

IMG_1545
FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Numatic ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a (to be exact).

There are times when only no-nonsense suck will do.  Other vacuum cleaners offer the moon on a stick, but rarely live up to the repeated abuse of everyday life.  Henry on the other hand is tough, no-nonsense and above all, reliable.

Reviewers of this kind of thing, seem to agree.

Make and model: Numatic International ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner HVA200a

Fault reported: Dead/ not running

Cost of replacement: About £130, give or take

Cost of parts: £17.25

Hours spent on repair: 1

Tools needed: Cleaning tools/ cross-head screwdriver

Sundry items: Silicone spray/ cleaning rags

Repair difficulty: 2/10

Cups of tea: 1

Biscuits: 1 bourbon, I think

I have friends in trades who will only buy and use Henry ‘hoovers’ as they last, always work and are easy to use. And above all, who doesn’t like an appliance with a smiley face?

The example in the picture above had been used by a local Worthing taxi driver everyday for the last 15 years without any problems and was in pretty good nick.  The filter was clean and apart from some wear and tear scratches, still looked like the current model.

One day, Henry failed to switch on and after the owner had checked the fuse in the plug, he decided to get in touch with the workshop.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, March’20, Henry’s on switch.

The HVA200a has two speed settings, one at 600 Watts power and one at 1200 Watts power, selectable by a red switch and indicated in a red tell-tail lamp.  When plugged in, nothing was happening.

Time to perform surgery.

Opening up Henry’s casing was straightforward and top marks to the designers for creating sensible parts that fit together logically.  Henry is designed to last and be repaired.  All very pleasing.

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With the lid removed, all electrical checks were made from the plug to the end of the flex, down to the motor.  The flex was in good condition with no snags, shorts or earth faults.  The cable winder on this model is a simple handle operating spindle and was a bit sticky.  The contacts inside the gubbins were also tarnished, so while it was all in pieces, I decided to clean all of the electrical contacts with cleaner and make sure all the sliding parts of the cable winder were clean and had a small dab of silicone spray for smoothness.

Testing for current around the circuit revealed that the speed control board was where things stopped.  The speed control board was dead and required replacing.

To prove this fact, I was able to temporarily by-pass the controller and connect the mains switch to the motor, which revealed that the motor was strong.

A quick bit of shopping with my favourite parts suppliers yielded a replacement (updated) speed control PCB for under £20, which seemed like good value to me.  After making a note of the wiring (see slideshow), the new PCB was connected up, the casing back together and Henry was ready to run, once more.

I also decided to give Henry a little polish too, just because.