I have a vacuum that trips the AFCI device of the circuit that services my bedroom.

The vacuum has some age on it, and there is some wear on the motor's commutator. This wear causes electrical arcing which, to the AFCI device, looks to be approaching an unsafe condition. It is not an unsafe condition, however, because the arching is internal to the motor and the wear is part of the motor's design. This knowledge, along with the fact that it sucks dirt really well, leads me to the conclusion that the vacuum is functioning properly.

The AFCI device has been engineered to detect the type of arcing caused by electric motors. Although it occasionally trips when my older vacuum is in use, it does not trip when my neighbor's new vacuum is plugged into the bedroom circuit. The device trips when it senses a potentially dangerous (although not dangerous) arc in my older vacuum, but also is able to distinguish the arc caused by by my neighbor's vacuum as from a motor and not dangerous. This information leads me to beleive that the AFCI device is functioning properly.

Should I get rid of the vacuum? I don't want to do this, because it sucks up dirt really well. Also, if I get a new one, it will wear in a year or two and cause the same problem. Should I get rid of the AFCI device? I don't want to do that, because I want protection from fires and it is required by NEC.

  • 1
    In my case, I have a virtually new Dyson 41 Animal that trips our newly installed arc fault breakers. So age of vacuum isn't always the issue!
    – user23774
    Jul 15 '14 at 7:12
  • AFCI'S have problems with motor loads and variable lighting controlls the closer to a fully loaded circuit the not often they will trip a AFCI.
    – Ed Beal
    May 4 '18 at 1:44

Plugging the vacuum into a surge suppressor with EMI filtering, should prevent the vacuum from tripping the breaker. However, if the vacuum is overloading the circuit, no filter will help.

When I run my vacuum sweeper / paper shredder / treadmill / etc. it trips my AFCI.

Eaton’s AFCI has been designed to work with devices with motors that are within the FCC standard for noise. Even though these devices have been manufactured to the FCC’s standards, after frequent use wear within the motor can create noise which trips the AFCI. To mitigate the noise generated by these devices, you may use a surge plug or surge strip

From Eaton AFCI frequently asked questions (pdf)

  • If I permanently installed a surge suppressor with filtering, and someone plugged a lamp with a frayed cord into the surge suppressor, would the AFCI still be able to detect a dangerous arc?
    – Edwin
    Dec 30 '13 at 3:07
  • @Edwin Yes, the AFCI device should still be able to detect dangerous arcing through a surge suppressor.
    – Tester101
    Dec 30 '13 at 12:57
  • Tester had to down vote this one the problem is not a surge but ether a brushed motor or electronicly controlled motor. AFCI'S have problems with any waveshaping (speed control) or brush arcing and light dimmers can cause tripping. A surge suppressor only dampens spikes and guess what when a MOV dumps a spike to ground it looks like an arc and will trip the AFCI. These are all documented problems with even the latest AFCI technology when loaded around 80%. Luckily my state allows circuits having these issues to use a standard breaker. Or it did last cycle will double check for current code.
    – Ed Beal
    May 4 '18 at 2:00
  • 1
    @EdBeal: You are mistaken. A GFCI detects voltage not passing through neutral (i.e. "dumped to ground"). The AFCI is monitoring RF signals transmitted back through the wire, caused by arcing. Hence the "Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter" name. It will trip the breaker even if the arcing happens within the normal hot/neutral circuit, without the ground being involved at all. It is true that many (most? all?) AFCI also incorporate GFCI functionality. But the arc part of the detecting/tripping has nothing to do with ground. Jan 2 '20 at 2:15
  • 1
    @EdBeal: in any case, the fact that many surge suppressors do not have filters on them, does not negate the fact that some do, and those that do may in many cases filter out the RF signal that is causing an AFCI to trip. It's important to keep in mind that the arc-like signals don't trigger the GFCI component of the breaker, because they aren't voltage spikes. Arcing, and arc-like signals, don't change the voltage coming through the wire. Jan 2 '20 at 5:53

Run a 12 gauge extension cord to a non-AFCI circuit. Or really rip your house apart and put in a central vacuum.


You can have the motor on your vacuum serviced. Either by a professional or by yourself.

Here is a something I found that describes some of the conditions to look for. ( It is chapter one of a general maintenance guide )

Look for obvious brush and brush holder deficiencies:

  • Be sure brushes are properly seated, move freely in the holders and are not too short.
  • The brush spring pressure must be equal on all brushes.
  • Be sure spring pressure is not too light or too high. Large motors with adjustable springs should be set at about 3 to 4 pounds per square inch of brush surface in contact with the commutators.
  • Remove dust that can cause a short between brush holders and frame.
  • Check lead connections to the brush holders. Loose connections cause overheating.

Look for obvious commutator problems:

  • Any condition other than a polished, brown surface under the brushes indicates a problem. Severe sparking causes a rough blackened surface. An oil film, paint spray, chemical contamination and other abnormal conditions can cause a blackened or discolored surface and sparking. Streaking or grooving under only some brushes or flat and burned spots can result from a load mismatch and cause motor electrical problems. Grooved commutators should be removed from service. A brassy appearance shows excessive wear on the surface resulting from low humidity or wrong brush grade.
  • High mica or high or low commutator bars make the brushes jump, causing sparking.
  • Carbon dust, copper foil or other conductive dust in the slots between commutator bars causes shorting and sometimes sparking between bars.

There are more things to check on that page.

You really need to weigh the price to have it serviced ( either in terms of time or cash ), vs the price of a new one.
That is assuming that servicing it would allow it to run without tripping the breaker.

I would say that unless it is a really good vacuum; I would just live with it, replace it, or add a EMI filter as stated in another answer.

  • Most vacuums are not DIY serviceable, so maintenance would require you to take them to a dealer or repair shop. Unless it's a really expensive vacuum, it's likely not worth the cost.
    – Tester101
    Dec 30 '13 at 13:00
  • @Tester101 All devices that are serviceable are DIY serviceable; if you are willing to learn how to service it. It's just that there is a higher risk of permanently damaging something. I have fixed two LCD monitors, one involved reading the documentation of one of the chips to learn that there is supposed to be a resistor across the pins of one of the capacitors that was left out as a way to reduce manufacturing costs. Adding a resistor fixed it. The other required replacing most of the caps (It was thrown out by someone else). Dec 30 '13 at 18:57
  • Actually if you work at a repair shop and fix your own stuff, you are doing it yourself. Dec 30 '13 at 19:00
  • Sometimes special tools and parts are required, that are only available to dealers. I'm not saying DIY repair is always out, just that sometimes manufacturers make it difficult.
    – Tester101
    Dec 30 '13 at 23:39
  • @Tester101 Well then you may have to make a tool to take it apart, it wouldn't be the first time I've done that. That's the reason for the text after the horizontal rule. It's definitely a cost/benefit decision. Dec 31 '13 at 15:30

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