* Prices may differ from that shown
Isn't the snow lovely? Well, it's lovely to look at from afar but as soon as I trample the snow in past the front door of my flat, it means tons of ice chunks all over the laminate. There are two options here. Either I continue to mop up the snow and pick up chunks before they melt, leaving droplets of water and small puddles before I can get to a sink, or leave a bucket and a couple of towels for the same kind of action. Either way, it is time consuming, messy and either mop or towel has to be constantly washed. I don't have time for that! But then this isn't a reason to consider buying a vacuum that can suck up dry dirt as well as water. The first two weeks into December saw me coming back in from work and dealing with a burst water pipe from the neighbour next door, damaging half of the laminate in the bedroom and then leaking into the bathroom below. All the while, keeping hard flooring wet free has been a bit of downer for me recently and keeping the snow back off my floors has been the least of my worries!
My eyes were drawn to three offerings in my search when the water damage first occurred; the Karcher wet and dry vacuum that retails at £99 with horrid plastic pipes on offer and a short power cord, or another Karcher model at £129-99 with a novel power tool adaptor (I can see all the DIY enthusiasts rushing out for that one) on board but still has horrid plastic pipes and a short power cord length, or Henry's brother, the Numatic Charles at £103-00. We have several Henry and Charles models at work, so it made sense to grab this rather new vacuum, which the company had bought last year instead of buying one myself - well until the January sales hit Ebay and I can probably think about getting Charles because unlike rivals, Charles has metal pipes - and they're rust proof - but this is just one advancing feature that is worthy above all the other rivals on the market - for longevity and less breakage in use.
Of course the old story of marketing in a domestic setting has played the card well in the 1970's when these kinds of vacuums first appeared to "deal with washing machine floods," like it was an occasion that happened daily if you happened to own brands known to flooding like Hoover or Ariston! Numatic's latest Charles vacuum is little different from that model I used so many years ago to the one I have now. There's still the pleasing light blue colouring, wide black eyes and cheery smile reminiscent of Henry, and the same black bowler hat with an additional grab handle that is permanently bolted to the top. This means the machine lacks a manual cable winder roller and instead there are two quick release cord hooks that have 12 metres of cable on board at the side of Charles with his branding in white large lettering adorning the front instead of the Henry name plate. Even though I dislike Henry's hand wrenching roller top, I'd have appreciated that here instead of having to lasso up the much longer cord on the points at the back. Because of the design, the motor has to be taken off the top, then the tritex washable filter basket and in his tummy the large high filtration dust bag has to be fitted onto this black dust channel. A bit like building blocks here and fairly easy to do even if the paper bags have difficult seals on them, the more expensive "pet" dust bags "HEPA Flo" are far easier (and a bit more expensive) to fit. You'll need to take the bags off if you want to suck up liquids.
In operation when using for wet pick up of liquids, Charles is an excellent vacuum and up for the job at hand. He's not excessively loud and the power rating is economical too due to the total rating. The suction just seems to go on forever - when sucking up water - and the rate in which Charles sucks up water is quick and fast without problem. A double squeegee fitted floor head that has two soft coated wheels helps a lightweight feel even though the squeegees do all the work of gathering the water in, sucking it up and letting the front squeegee scrub the floor dry of the excess water left behind.
The problems start with his size though - he is more apparently big in small to medium homes rather than large homes and measures 35cm by 35cm and height of 51cm. He also has a 2.5 metre hose that feels fairly lightweight yet flexible and light enough to whack off doors when used for long stretchiness - a conceivable downside to all kinds of canister/cylinder/pull along vacuum, but if you're savvy enough to protect your furnishings then the beauty of any long hose is that you can hold the handle with one hand whilst the other holds excess hose, pulling the machine along at the same time. For stability, Charles has four stable wheels with two castors at the front and two rolling wheels at the back. In reality, unless Charles is rolling on flat surfaces without obstacles or humps "in the road," be prepared for this model, all 7kg of it to fall over without hesitation. It is not a machine for those who like their vacuums to be light! Infact, on the basis that he can hold up to 9 litres of water in one go before needing to be emptied, Charles is quite a chore to pull around, especially when full of liquid. Can you imagine pulling 16 kg of potatoes around with you before being able to empty the bag? Well this is what Charles feels like on average when he is full of sucked up water! This isn't a bad thing though because even if the capacity is larger than rivals, the Numatic offers peace of mind in terms of sealing the water in. If Charles falls over, the water doesn't come tipping out the sides thanks to the excellent level of wall protection built around his canister / tummy! The machine will also cut out if the water level reaches the motor and the motor itself has a wet protection filter that is both washable and long lasting.
Instead, it would be handier if the wheels had a lock action to them to let Charles stay in one place but unless the hose is fully stretched out, the slightest pull of the hose brings Charles trundling side to side in an awkward toddling procession towards me and it isn't reassuring when he looks like he is about to topple over a carpet or laminate floor frame! Take him slowly and desperately at a snail's pace and he can be pulled over such frames. Do it quickly and you may find Charles trying to jump in the air! Lifting him is easy due to the handle at the top, but it is a blocky handle that is well made but suffers from a few hard edges. Despite Numatic making every effort to protect this machine, they haven't done much to protection on the body or the bowler hat, even if the company go to the pains of pointing out that the thick PVC plastic protection can sustain abuse. Scratches are fairly evident from bumping pipes on his bowler hat and sides. There are other downsides to this vacuum though and it all points to Numatic who keep churning out the same machine year after year with little updates to satisfy its commercial market rather than offering something a bit more user friendly in a domestic home.
Take the motor for example. It may well have a long life "TwinFlo" motor but that's where the similarities with Henry stop. The motor lacks any low power suction change that makes for easier gliding - one switch provides all and you'll get a full 1200 watts of power and around 200 air watts (for those who love the air watts idea but haven't seen the light that only applies to Dyson thanks to non-stop suction) once the dust bag is fitted. There is an air outlet hole fitted at the top of the metal pipes and I have to leave it open for most of the time because of the force of suction at all times when cleaning up dry dirt. The dry dirt standard suction floor head just hasn't been improved either. Great on hard floors because you have the easiness of the hard bristles against hard flooring, it only becomes a hard exercise to do carpeting once the bristles have been retracted. Charles' floorhead has a bad tendency of constantly flipping upwards too because part of his design has a lot of increased travel built into the large extension part that fits onto the aluminium grey painted tubes which are lighter than the stainless steel pipes you'd find on Henry. Good and bad points there, then. The 14" size of the floor head means slow progress to judge between legs of chairs and furniture because the size can get stuck.
You'll also find three dust bags in the box to get you started, which is a bit of a bonus since they can cost £7-99 to £9-99 for 10 genuine paper dust bags (and they're difficult to fit because of the rubber seal) with three different types on offer for levels of increased filtration depending on need or easier if you have the more expensive HEPA FLO high filtration synthetic dust bags on board (code NVM-2BH) and cost between £6-99 and £12-99 fitted that have a plastic card that slides onto the dust channel in the machine. In both cases, the bags can last for months - between 6 to 8 months EACH depending on the amount of traffic dry dirt you pick up due to their larger 15 litre capacity making Charles a bit of a bargain where dry dust collection is concerned. The floor heads that come with this model comprise of the standard "blocky" 2 way standard floor brush when the dust bag is fitted and when wet mode is required, the bag will need to be lifted out as well as the washable or dust brushable cloth "tritex" filter and an inner bladder control dropped in instead, so that the machine deposits the sucked up water into the bin that originally held the dust bag in place. When snow comes off the wellies for example and strewn across laminate flooring, the Charles in wet pick up mode is a great idea if you have a large family stomping in from outside. Others would grab a mop, but unless it is dry in the first place you'll usually find that you'll be sponging up the floor with a dirty sponge mop, thus probably leaving more dirt on the floor than it first had. I now have Charles "in wet mode" permanently plugged in by the front door and ready to go!
Using Charles as a wet vacuum is a heck of a lot easier than using him like a normal vacuum cleaner though, or even for DIY pick up, or even if keeping around as a back up vacuum, especially for use in cleaning out the car because the difficult to steer 2 way pedal floor head will seldom be used. It's a pity that for all the use Charles gives, Numatic haven't fitted him with a likewise soft parquet brush that would suit him better as a hard floor cleaner alone with the added bonus of being able to pick up wet liquids. Three smaller cleaning tools like a crevice tool, round upholstery brush and a flat T shaped brush are all very welcome, but as usual just like Henry, they can't be used on the hose independently without an additional adaptor and if used with any part of the three sections of pipes, the tools have nowhere to store after cleaning is finished. Numatic have made no attempt here to offer slots on the back of Charles where effectively you could store the tools when they are not needed. Karcher fits slots and they've been in the wet and dry vacuum market for a shorter period, so why can't Numatic improve upon this? At least Charles has a 32mm diameter fitting - so you can use old Hoover, Electrolux, Morphy Richards or some Dyson DC01 tools if you have them lying around, or if you need that soft brush to deal with hard flooring - pick any of the alternative brands off Ebay. The squeegee rubber is only suitable for water pick up. Try it on dry hard flooring and it is impossible to shift!
Being an old-fashioned canister vacuum by design means that there are more downsides. The weight and size is an issue and you'll need a big store to put Charles in after tasks are completed. Because of his elevated height (Henry = 37cm compared to Charles = 51cm) he is impossible to slide under a standard shelf either for the fact that the handle gets in the way or for the additional fact that neither the hose nor pipes can be locked to the machine for effective space saver storage. The 2.5 hose has to be left in a heap with the pipes attached and either laid beside his wheels or propped up against a wall if possible. Charles also lacks a bag fill indicator, only either whistling when he gets full or no other alert over this when it doesn't work. If there's a clog, then you're none the wiser to knowing whether the vacuum's bag, bin or pipes are clogged. At least with a mechanical bag indicator, you have at least some chance to know what is going on!
That aside, Charles is a likeable character, even if he feels and looks like he's eaten too many pies! For the fact that he can effectively clean up pies and liquids (and almost anything) without using a bag in place means that for the most part, he can be used as a bagless (but you'll spend ages pulling the dust off the central bladder's washable filter) vacuum for dry dirt but works better for wet liquids, means he is far better build wise than Karcher's vacuum at a similar price. If used slowly and sensibly Charles is a good vacuum cleaner to consider if your family are susceptible to wet messes, or if you need something that is multipurpose without feeling too expensive although for carpet care I'd definitely use a different floor head like a Vax or Hoover head that is far lighter to push and pull without fear of it flipping upwards. Plus, you get the same kind of pipes that are fairly easy to use as well as being able to be changed over and cleaning up at angles. Charles is also powerful, robust and fairly reliable to sustain use. I just wonder that if Numatic could bring out a Charles, perhaps the pink version will be called Camilla? Just a thought! Thanks for reading & Merry Christmas! ©Nar2 2010
You want a Numatic vacuum cleaner that is totally without compromise, be it for wet or dry use, and thats exactly what you get / One minute (or most of the year in the majority of cases) the Numatic Charles Henry vacuum cleaner will be up to its neck in dust and dirt, keeping everything spic and span, and then suddenly the call arrives and it would be expected to unblock the sink or dry the floor / Well its no problem for the Numatic Charles Henry vacuum cleaner / Its have got big filters and disposable paper bags for dry use and a safety float valve for wet pick-up / The tubes are stainless steel so they will never rust / The Numatic Charles Henry vacuum cleaner has got two floor nozzles / one for wet work and a combination nozzle for carpets and hard floors, and even that has got a stainless steel high-efficiency carpet plate / Add to this the three small Numatic tools and you are complete to tackle almost anything that comes along / Be it floors or even floods, corners, curtains or covers, you are in control / The / Short name: Numatic CVC370