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Creature comfort: Dyson engineers reveal the science behind pet hair, dander and how to clean it

Dyson Engineers are obsessed with making machines that clean better, especially when it comes to pets. The World Health Organisation estimates that we spend more than 90 per cent of our time indoors. For the 67 per cent of US households (63 million) who share their home with a pet¹, this can be particularly challenging.

using the Dyson hair screw tool

For many pet owners, the frustration of constantly clearing up pet hair and dander is an everyday problem, particularly as we spend more time indoors. But spotting the hair is half the battle. Beyond the locks left behind is a world of microscopic mess consiting of skin, hair and dirt. Here's how to deal with it.   

Dyson knows hair

“Pet hair shares many similarities with human hair,” says James McCrea, Senior Mechanical Engineer at Dyson. "They are both structured in the same way and they tend to have a similar thickness. But there are some key differences that make pet hair particularly difficult to clean.”

Human hair grows continuously, growing longer and thicker in the process (the anagen phase), which can last between two to seven years. The hair follicle will eventually reach the catagen phase when it stops growing. But animal hair stops growing as soon as it reaches a certain length and sheds to be replaced by new hair. This can change between the seasons, with certain dog breeds, like German Shepherds, Collies and Samoyeds shedding more hair in the spring and autumn to make way for their summer pelts. That's why you find more pet hair at certain times of the year.

Frequently, pet hair embeds into carpeted surfaces or electrostatically “sticks” to a hard floors. To ensure the hair is picked up, agitation is required to “peel” it off of the surface, which is done by either the airflow from the machine ("passive") or the brush bar’s nylon bristles, a form of "active" agitation.

“When we design vacuum cleaners, we test with dust from real homes and not just industry standard material, because we know that organic matter like pet hair and dander is often caught up in household dust and will have a big impact on how the machine functions,” explains James.


“In the development of our vacuums, we go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that our technology will work effectively for our owners. In our Pick-Up Laboratory, we test how effective our machines are at removing pet hair from different floor types – from industry standard carpets, all the way to tatami matting commonly found in Japan.”  

A close-up image of animal and human hair.

From investing in all types of flooring to bringing in different types of hair, dirt and even pet food from all over the world, we aim to recreate the conditions in real homes each day to figure out the best solutions. “A home with pets not only contains pet hair, but also a whole host of pet-related mess,” says James.


“As a dog owner, I know from experience that pets can cause quite a bit of chaos around the home!” In the Dyson Pick-Up Laboratory, we take all of this into account and have done our research. Our engineers collect dry pet food from around the globe to test out Dyson vacuums’ suction power and better understand how our technology can be optimised for pet owners. “We want to make sure that our vacuums will work effectively in real homes, wherever they are in the world,” explains James.

Understanding the invisible

Beyond the pet hair and food you can see, there is a host of microscopic life that pets bring in with them that’s invisible to the naked eye. Pet dander is just one of those things. Composed of tiny, microscopic, skin particles shed by pets with fur or feathers. It can be shed onto surfaces or transported through the air in household dust².

A Dyson V11 vacuum cleaner being used in the pick-up lab.
Different types of debris on a wall.

Once airborne, dander and the dust mites that live on it can be inhaled, triggering allergies³. As well as dust mites and skin flakes, dried saliva, urine or faeces containing allergens may flake off from an animal's fur and become airborne, where it can be inhaled⁴. In fact, as many as three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs in the US and cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies⁵. Much like dust, dander builds up in soft furnishings such as carpets, mattresses and pillows and is the food source of dust mites.


“If pet hair is a problem for you, vacuuming your floors and soft furnishings regularly and not allowing dust, pet hair and dander to accumulate is essential,” explains James.


“It’s worth investing in a vacuum with extra strong suction power and a fully-sealed filtration system as our research shows that the best way to get rid of pet hair and dander is to remove it from your home completely. That’s why we spend a lot of time developing our filters and seals at Dyson, to make sure that we capture not only the pet hair you can see, but also the dander you can’t.”


Read the full Dyson dust study

Dyson Engineers' top tips for pet hair cleaning at home:


1.    Groom the source of the problem

Pets shed fur all the time as their hair reaches the catagen phase – the stage in a hair’s life cycle stops growing. They shed much more regularly than humans, so grooming your pet frequently will avoid hair being deposited in your home. Groom your pet in the same area and spot clean this with slow vacuuming using a Mini-Motorised tool, designed with nylon bristles to remove embedded pet hair and dander.

Dyson vacuums are equipped with up to 240AW of powerful suction to ensure effective pick-up of fine dust like pet dander and large debris like pet hair.


2.    Clean up high and down low

Like dust, pet hair and dander can become airborne when disturbed and fall onto lower surfaces, so start cleaning up high and finish on your floors. Don’t miss out armcharis and sofa, especially if you pets spend time there. Soft furnishings can hold pet hair as well as pet dander, dust mites and other allergens. A Mini-Motorised tool is great for furniture you can’t put in the wash.

Dyson vacuums come with an a range of accessories, so users are equipped with the right tools for every cleaning need. The Dyson Hair Screw Tool transforms your cord-free stick vacuum into a handheld and is effective on both hard floors and soft furnishings and can remove embedded pet hair and dander, fast.


3.    Wash pet blankets and remove covers

Washing blankets, cushions and bedding – wherever your pets spend the most time! – at 60 degrees celcius will help to break down allergens and reduce the amount of microscopic dander that dust mites feed on⁶. At the end of the wash, make sure you remove any pet hair out of the drum.


4.    Vacuum slowly and in multiple directions

Vacuuming slowly gives the airflow and brush bar more time to “agitate” the pet hair and remove it from the surface.

Go over the carpet a few times in alternating directions to pick up more pet hair and agitate some of those embedded ones loose. But don’t forget, any more than two or three times give minimal increase according to our research.


5.    “Peel” pet hair from surfaces

Some vacuums are engineered with nylon and carbon fibre bristles at their cleaner head to disturb the hair and “peel” it off the surface. Using a cleaner head with a lint picker strip will stick the pet hair to it – a lint roller can do the job in some cases, but it may not be as effective as picking up the pet dander that causes allergies.

The brush bar on the cleaner heads of Dyson vacuums have carbon fibre bristles that removes the static attraction between fine dust and hard floors which allows the vacuum to then suck it up easily. The Dyson V15 comes with the High Torque cleaner head that has added anti-tangle technology which is perfect for capturing pet hair while ensuring it does not tangle on the brush bar.


6.    Vacuum little and often

Pet hair is more likely to clump on carpets or form tumbleweed on hard floor surfaces than human hair. Vacuuming little and often prevents excessive build-up of pet hair. If you’re tight on time, using a robot cleaner to remove pet hair while you’re out will keep pet hair under control between more thorough cleans.  


7.    Keep your home free of odours  

The odours that come with a furry friend likely won’t be as loveable as they are. Aside from pet beds and indoor litter trays, most of the pet smells will come from their shed hair and dander that float around the house, working their way into the cracks and crevices of your soft furnishings or under your furniture. Dogs can also sweat on their paw pads and this gets walked around and into your carpets and soft furnishings.

Air purifiers can remove odours. At Dyson, we test on a whole range of real-life smells, such as cat urine and wet dog odour. Dyson Purifiers use an activated carbon filter which has millions of micropores to absorb odours and gases and just one gram of this activated carbon⁷ has a surface area of 1000m2 – that’s the same as four tennis courts.

[1] Bedford, Emma (2020), ‘Number of US pet owning households by species 2019/20’, Statista. Available at:

[2] American Lung Association (2020) What is pet dander?. Available at:

[3] Institute of Medicine, Division of Health Promotion, Indoor Air and Disease Prevention. (2015) Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Kanchongkityiphon W., et al. Indoor Environmental Exposures of Asthma: An Update to the 2000 Review by the Institute of Medicine. Environmental Health Perspectives: 123: 6-20.

[4] Institute of Medicine, Division of Health Promotion, Indoor Air and Disease Prevention. (2015) Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Kanchongkityiphon W., et al. Indoor Environmental Exposures of Asthma: An Update to the 2000 Review by the Institute of Medicine. Environmental Health Perspectives: 123: 6-20.

[5] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Available at:

[6] Choi, S. Y., Lee, I. Y., Sohn, J. H., Lee, Y. W., Shin, Y. S., Yong, T. S., Hong, C. S., & Park, J. W. (2008). Optimal conditions for the removal of house dust mite, dog dander, and pollen allergens using mechanical laundry. Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology : official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology100(6), 583–588. 

[7] 2016_GAC.pdf ( And used in commercial documents: JDF_2021_SEA_DIGITAL_Engineering solutions Air pollution_Secondary School_Teacher's pack.pdf ( Page 29.

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