When it comes to buying a vacuum cleaner these days I find that longevity is a key issue amongst performance and design and it's all because of our 22 year old Hoover Junior. Hoover's "Classic" line up of vacuum cleaners were well known from the 1950's to the 1980's even though for their floor care ranges, and in my opinion they never really got any other innovative patent past the paper disposable dust bag idea and beating roller brush. In the 1980s however, despite the fact that Hoover had begun to phase out their billowing soft bag design from the "Junior", "Senior" and "Senior Ranger" uprights, their latest Turbopower range in the 1980's range even had a basic budget soft bag model to pay homage to the "Classic," ranges, and back then UK consumers were slow to pick up on the idea of a soft bag replaced by a hard dust box with the disposable paper dust bag safely locked inside. In 1987 we purchased a Hoover Junior U1104. It was exactly the same as my Gran's 13 year old metal Junior 1346 model save for the fact that it's mainly made of plastic, dripping in 1980's beige with a chequered cloth exterior bag, has a plastic fan and over the older metal model has a slight improvement on its general design weighing around 5kg. The U1104 also has a top fill bag which means at last the massive 6 litre bags have a chance to fill up properly whilst being a great darn easier to empty without being covered in dust. Over the more modern Turbopower ranges, my parents adored the simplicity of the Junior and with a certain German uber-upright vacuum cleaner knowingly about to arrive from my mum's relatives before they emigrated, the Junior U1104 made sense at the time. Brand new, our Hoover Junior cost us £70.
Now this isn't just a trip down memory lane for the Hoover Junior U1104 because whilst on a short trip away down South recently, I came across no less than three electrical shops who sell reconditioned models to the general public, with most buyers being students (according to the many sellers I spoke to) and more recently, environmentalists who want something low powered. Although not available at your main high street, if there's a privately owned electrical shop near you who sell white goods and vacuums, there's every chance that a rarer-than-hen's-teeth Hoover Junior U1104 can be found on sale; most prices command £30 to £60 and against the more modern compeitition with louder motors and more weight, the Junior U1104 has cheap maintenance on its side. Genuine Hoover bags can be expensive for a pack of 5 at £3-99 to £5-99 but I use cheap copy paper bags at the lowest cost of 75p to £2-99 for a pack of 5 to 10 bags. Certainly if you need something no nonsense to care for carpeting only the Junior U1104 is the way to go if you don't like high power and hot heat coming from your vacuum. Power wise this Hoover only has a mere 350 to 400 watts of power; the air watts are nothing to speak of and being 1970's in its design means it is only suitable as a carpet only vacuum cleaner as you would normally have to pay extra for a tool kit and convertor. Sometimes you can even get a cherished and cared for used model on EBay usually at £40.
I've owned my parents' Hoover Junior U1104 since 1987 and although it is largely outclassed these days by modern vacuum cleaners that have cleaner air, clean fan and a greater versatility, the Hoover Junior still sparkles into life and picks up carpet dust with great gusto! I love the retro look, the way its bag flares up like an inflated balloon and its total size is ideal for getting around small spaces. Unlike the compeitition, the Junior U1104 has always retained the famous "beats-as-it-sweeps-as-it-cleans," design principle, or to you and me, metal bars set into its basic twin brushed metal brush roller. This means of course that when the bars hit the carpet there's the famous vibration sound as the brushes pick out the dirt and scoops it into the vacuum cleaner. However thanks to its all metal construction underneath its plastic exterior, unless you want a damaged floor, you should never use this vacuum on hard flooring, marble tiles or anything valuable or delicate. And by gliding this upright through a lightly coloured carpet with visible dirt to the naked eye, you should see dirt bouncing about as it nears the mouth of this Hoover's vibrating brush roll. Later Junior U1104's had plastic brush bars but in my opinion those don't last long as the metal brush rollers and are easier to find for replacements whilst the heavier brush bars give a deeper clean.
With a seven metre cord, I find that the Junior U1104 has good reach and is able to get around most carpets thanks to its 4 stage height adjustment that can be activated by my foot; modern vacuums these days that have height adjustment ask the owner to bend down! Even though it has a two stepped pedal and activation button rolled into one, this simplistic design aspect was improved from the seperate button and lever idea from the older metal bodied Junior from the 1970s. Here you simply press lightly on the foot pedal and the handle will swing down; press firmly and the pedal acts as the power on function. Press it again and the handle falls to the floor and the Junior can clean flat to the floor. Noise is something that Hoover upright vacuums have always had problems in suppressing although the Junior is quieter than my new Slalom upright. Certainly against the compeitition of bagless uprights with much more powerful motors, the Junior U1104 isn't so much noisy as it is with its vibrating brush roll. Disposable paper dust bags are also reuseable after emptying and with belts commanding prices from 75p to £3-99 it certainly reinforces that the Junior can be cheap to run which is why many owners especially elderly people often end up keeping them because the Hoover Junior is largely very efficient.
General performance is progressive and leisurely with Hoover's Junior U1104 whilst able to gobble dirt and glide lightly or heavier in whichever setting you put the floor head in. The Junior however is light enough to be lifted up stairs, easy to store away and thanks to its beater bar leaves carpets with a beautiful groomed appearance that lifts and tufts up carpet pile against heavier more modern uprights that tend to flatten surfaces.
Thanks to its age, the Junior U1104 has a dirty fan system (where the dirt goes through the fan and then to the dirt bag) and in this respect it does share similarities with the similarly designed Oreck XL and the Hometek's "Light'n'Easy," even though these two newer market vacuums don't look the same; they can thank their design counterpart to Hoover's compact and very popular Junior. The Junior U1104 did have an optional £35 extra cost tool kit comprising of a long tube, hose, crevice tool, upholstery brush and a convertor "Pan," or a bottom section of plastic that locked onto the sole plate. In theory even without the belt removed which would cause greater suction capability, the optional cost tool kit doesn't produce much versatility because the suction from the Junior is so weak. With the tool kit it struggles to pick up the lightest fragments of dirt and in this respect if you are a Junior owner, you'll know you'll need to have a secondary vacuum cleaner in the form of a much more powerful pull along/cylinder vacuums as a stand by if you are hell bent on the need for a suction vacuum to cope with ceilings and stairs. Indeed when Hoover re-designed the Junior model, it gave the U1104 some better qualities such as a reasonably low flat hood in which the machine can be put under low furniture and a godsend to owners who had owned the 1346 metal uprights before it - a single screw head on the face plate which doesn't fly off if you clean under beds - something our 1346 and numerous models before the U1104 suffers from. The U1104 also has edge cleaning on both sides of its smaller 12" floor head and unlike the metal 1346 Junior, it has a flat drive belt that is easier to change if it snaps. If there's a clog, the bag can be easily removed including the bottom rubber bellow that allows the dirt to travel along from the floor head to the bag.
Hoover's Junior U1104 could teach more modern brands a thing or two when it comes to maintenance; if the drive belt comes off, it only takes two cross head screws to undo on the sole plate and then the face plate comes off via another cross head screw before the cover door is removed revealing the drive belt and the pulley. It can however be a test of the strongest where tension is concerned. Although not tricky it takes an expert hand, sometimes a prayer but usually patience is the key and a blunt knife or angled flat head screw driver to lift the belt (after putting it around the roller brush and making sure it seats in the right position before pushing the roller in and lifting the belt onto the central pulley fly wheel. Over more modern uprights I've used, changing a drive belt on a Hoover Junior doesn't take rocket science or any need to glance at a user manual for tips.
The downsides however are easier to spot; thanks to its age the Junior U1104 has no filtration whatsoever other than its dust bag. The dust bag needs to be firmly locked in via a rubber ring at the top of the top fill dust tube in the soft bag and from time to time dust can often appear in the soft exterior bag because it hasn't been secured properly. Also at the time of emptying when the bag is released, it is open and needs to be closed over instantly. A damp cloth usually fixes this if dust does escape and over much more modern vacuum cleaners, the Junior U1104 is outclassed in terms of filters since it doesn't have any. Paper bags can often get mangy odours but this can be cured simply by sprinkling bicarbonate of soda or talcum powder into the bag and you may find your rooms are freshened up as a result. The longest time my Junior U1104 has lasted on one paper bag has been on average 3 to 5 months and with its massive bag fills up completely with ease.
If there's ever been an upright vacuum cleaner built purposely for carpet dirt pick up and remains to be economical on power, maintenance and general use, not to mention cheap cost it's Hoover's Junior U1104. What a great pity Hoover no longer sell this; a wasted opportunity where consumers are trying to save or just if you simply love the idea of a retro vacuum cleaner. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009
You Tube video of the U1104: www.youtube.com/watch?v=el-viAjrT9s
Short name: Hoover U1104