Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Kenmore 31079 Vacuum: Is It Cliche To Say Of A Vacuum, "This Sucks?"

The Good: When everything works, it performs fine, Ease of bag replacement
The Bad: Brushes constantly clog, Belts snap all the time, Attachment holders break easily, Doesn't deep clean
The Basics: On the infrequent occasions when all of the parts to the Kenmore 31079 actually work, this is an adequate vacuum, but those occasions are special ones for this defective vacuum!

I'm feeling a little out of my league writing a review of my pathetic vacuum cleaner. I've wanted to write a review for a long time because I think customers ought to avoid my upright. The problem is, I'm unsure what to write outside my most basic experience with it. I recently had occasion to write a review - and a very favorable one - about my new Ash Vac which is a vacuum used exclusively for cleaning out a fireplace. But since then, as I've been cleaning my living room floor more and more frequently, I've found myself swearing quite a bit at my Kenmore Performance Cleaning System 116.

The Kenmore 31079 is an ugly green upright vacuum designed for home use. This dark teal monolith to plastic baffled me at first; I grew up using upright vacuums where the vacuum bag was within a bag, on the Kenmore 31079, it is safely ensconced within a hard plastic shell. This thing that originally miffed me came to be one of the few things I would appreciate about the 31079. This is a 10.0 Amp upright vacuum, meaning the base has wheels and the actual opening for the vacuuming while the movement of the unit is controlled by an arm that comes upward from the base. Upright vacuums require the vacuum to move around as opposed to having a stationary vacuum canister and a tube that the user brings to the dirt (like a shop vac). In addition, the Kenmore 31079 comes with three tool attachments and a tube for vacuuming in hard to reach places that the base of the unit makes it too difficult to clean in.

Standard usage of the Kenmore 31079 is rather simple. After a vacuum bag is in it (see below) and a belt is on the base connecting the cleaning brushes to the motor, the unit is ready to be used for regular day to day vacuuming of a home or small office space. The 31079 has a simple two-prong plug and runs on normal electricity so it's as easy as plugging the unit into the wall socket and turning it on. The 31079 is activated by pressing a big plastic knob on the back left quarter of the base. The button is easy to activate using one's foot and it seems designed with just that in mind.

For ideal range of motion, there is another pedal just behind the power switch, which releases the lock on the upright arm. This allows the user to move the vacuum with less stress and energy than trying to move the vacuum when the arm is perpendicular to the base (which is the ideal position for storage and carrying the vacuum). The pedal release for the upright portion is very close to the base of the cord for the power supply and at least four times in the past two years since I first obtained my 31079, I've tripped on the cord while trying to release the locking mechanism. This strikes me as poor design, having both bits so close together, especially when it is expected that one would be making a stepping motion to either activate or deactivate the unit or release the lock.

Once it's running, simply move the vacuum back and forth to suck up all of the surface dirt on rugs, tile or wood floors. For more dense rugs with less pyle, the Kenmore 31079 offers an easy height adjustment on the front of the base. Looking at the front of the unit, on the lower right side, there is a simple slide lever that allows the user to adjust the height of the vacuum from low to medium to high. What might take the user by surprise is that this height adjustment only comes into play when the upright arm is unlocked! Sitting and adjusting the height while the arm is locked perpendicular to the base will not alter anything that can be seen. The height changes only occur when the upright arm is unlocked. The slide adjustment is very easy to use, so children or senior citizens would have no trouble at all adjusting the height of the vacuum base.

There is also a convenient light panel on the front of the vacuum base which lights up when the unit is on. This is a dim light that barely illuminates anything, but it's a decent thought, even if it is not designed well enough to serve its apparent purpose. So, when the unit is plugged in, the height it adjusted, the upright portion is unlocked so it swivels with the natural motion of trained vacuuming, one need simply turn it on and go to town to eliminate surface dirt.

If only it were that easy and it worked that truly and directly! Instead, the Kenmore 31079 is a mess when it comes to its functionality. Where to start? Well, the first thing that went wrong - and almost always goes wrong - was that the belt snapped. Actually, the belt did not snap, it was worn through! To clarify, the belt is a flat rubber piece that connects the drive shaft of the motor (the thing that's turning around when the motor is running) to the brushes on the front bar. It is the belt that allows that front bar to rotate, which sends the brushes spinning, which lifts the dirt, hair, dust and other solid matter up off the floor and into the sucking channel that is the vacuum. That's the theory anyway.

No matter how I oil the joints at the edge of the rotating bar, reposition the bar or the belt or alter my stride or movement of the vacuum, the bar locks, the belt stops moving and the end with the motorized pin that rotates simply burns through it. This happens to me at all height adjustments, when the bar's brushes are completely cleaned of hair (human and cat!), dust or debris. In fact, I've stripped away everything that easily gets wound around the bar or the bristles and the result was the same. The longest I've had a belt on this vacuum last is one month. In the past two years, I have gone through forty-three vacuum cleaner belts! Sure, they might only cost $3.00, but that adds up for something that is supposed to last. And I've confirmed on multiple occasions by consulting with both the manual and telephone customer service professionals (very friendly people, by the way!) that I am installing the belt properly.

This is the most irksome and severe problem with the design and function of the Kenmore 31079. The next on the list would be that it does not clean all that deeply. In addition to not functioning properly for long (and depositing hot, smelly rubber shavings when it goes), when it does work, this vacuum at best gets the surface dirt, hair, etc. It does not deep clean, even when kept in the lowest position to the ground.

On the front left (when facing the unit, on the opposite side of the front as the height adjustment) of the Kenmore 31079 is the tool port. The tool port is where the tube plugs into the base to redirect the vacuum from below the unit to the end of the tube. This allows one to vacuum hard to reach places that the vacuum will not suck material from through the base. The 31079 comes with a hard-plastic wand with a tapered end that allows for edges to be cleaned efficiently and precisely. Or rather, it would if the vacuum were powerful enough.

The tool port provides suction for the vacuum through the tube, but it's a very weak suction. I've watched clumps of cat hair resist the pull of the vacuum when using the attachment! At least with the base things like cat hair get stuck in the bristles and moved off the floor, but the tool port and related attachments are absolutely worthless. They are window dressing for the product to try to sell it as a versatile machine, though it does not function adequately in this regard.

What is even more laughable is that two of the three attachments are simply extensions! There is the tube, then one may use up to two 20" hard plastic extension tubes before attaching the 12" nozzle wand. With the nozzle attached to the extensions, the end of the tube is essentially 88" away from the vacuum source and the suction is so weak that dropping things like hair and dust bunnies into the end of the nozzle will not guarantee that it gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner bag! Ostensibly these extensions and the tube are designed to allow the Kenmore 31079 to fight high-up cobwebs but it does not do even that.

The extensions and tube are conveniently hooked to the sides and back of the upright arm. Or rather, they would be if the clips that held them there did not break easier than thin ice on a warm lake (okay, it's a stretched metaphor, but these clips broke ridiculously easy, the attachments fell off and I was tripped by hard plastic extensions!).

So, why do I keep this cheap piece of barely-functional vacuum cleaning wimpiness? Well, I can't afford a new vacuum at this point.

But also, it's not all bad. To change the vacuum cleaner bag, all one has to do is lift a lever at the top front of the upright arm, which releases the hard plastic shell covering the bag. The bag simply slides off the open hole in the upright arm and can be disposed of that easily. Similarly, when putting the new bag on, it's a simple matter of pushing the opening for the bag onto the suction hole, and closing the hard plastic shell until it clicks locked!

Yes, ease of bag replacement is something I'm a sucker for and it raises this vacuum out of the truly abysmal range (though anyone and everyone I talk to about vacuums I find myself saying "Avoid the Kenmore 31079!"). And, truth be told, you ought to avoid it as well.

For other vacuum and small appliance reviews, please check out my takes on:
Eureka Maxima 4700 Series Vacuum
Dirt Devil KWIK hand vacuum
Dyson Air Multiplier fan


For other home and garden product reviews, please visit my index page for a listing!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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