Portable vacuum cleaners working on the cyclonic separation principle became popular in the 1990s. This dirt separation principle was well known and often used in central vacuum systems. Cleveland's P.A. Geier Company had obtained a patent on a cyclonic vacuum cleaner as early as 1928, which was later sold to Health-More in 1939, introducing the Filter Queen cyclonic canister vacuum cleaner.
In 1979, James Dyson introduced a portable unit with cyclonic separation, adapting this design from industrial saw mills. He launched his cyclone cleaner first in Japan in the 1980s at a cost of about US$1800 and in 1993 released the Dyson DC01upright in the UK for £200. Critics expected that people would not buy a vacuum cleaner at twice the price of a conventional unit, but the Dyson design later became the most popular cleaner in the UK.
Cyclonic cleaners do not use filtration bags. Instead, the dust is separated in a detachable cylindrical collection vessel or bin. Air and dust are sucked at high speed into the collection vessel at a direction tangential to the vessel wall, creating a fast-spinning vortex. The dust particles and other debris move to the outside of the vessel by centrifugal force, where they fall due to gravity.
In fixed-installation central vacuum cleaners, the cleaned air may be exhausted directly outside without need for further filtration. A well-designed cyclonic filtration system loses suction power due to airflow restriction only when the collection vessel is almost full. This is in marked contrast to filter bag systems, which lose suction when pores in the filter become clogged as dirt and dust are collected.
In portable cyclonic models, the cleaned air from the center of the vortex is expelled from the machine after passing through a number of successively finer filters at the top of the container. The first filter is intended to trap particles which could damage the subsequent filters that remove fine dust particles. The filters must regularly be cleaned or replaced to ensure that the machine continues to perform efficiently.
Since Dyson's success in raising public awareness of cyclonic separation, several other companies have introduced cyclone models. Competing manufacturers include Hoover, Bissell, Shark, Eureka, Electrolux, Filter Queen, etc., and the cheapest models are no more expensive than a conventional cleaner.