IT HAS banned the incandescent light bulb and reduced the power of flatscreen TVs to save energy. Now the European Union is planning to reduce the suck of vacuum cleaners in a move that threatens the cleanliness of the nation's homes.
The EU will next month put out a draft regulation for consultation that, if approved, will see the most powerful vacuum cleaners taken off the market to cut energy use and protect the environment.
While 2,000-watt vacuum cleaners are now popular purchases, the new rules will restrict the size of motors to just 900 watts.
Current bestsellers include the 1,300-watt Dyson DC33, the 2,000-watt Electrolux Powerplus Z4471 and the 2,200-watt Miele S5211 Power Plus.
The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances said manufacturers were concerned about the move.
"If you are affecting the amount of energy you have flowing through a product, then of course it is a concern about how that will impact on cleaning performance," a spokesman said.
One vacuum cleaner engineer added: "If the new rules came into force it would inevitably mean vacuum cleaners would be less effective at sucking up dirt. You would have less power to generate suction," he said.
The EU believes that by cutting the power of cleaners - five million are sold in the UK alone every year - it can save enough electricity to power 2.3 million homes.
A report by a panel of experts, which has now been sent for consultation with member states and vacuum cleaner manufacturers, states: "Vacuum cleaner input power ratings have increased markedly since the 1960s.
"However, the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners has dropped over the years. In other words, more power does not necessarily equate to better cleaning."
The draft regulation requires new vacuum cleaners to consume no more than 62 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, based on 40 hours' usage over a year. The limit will take effect two years after the regulation comes into force. Five years later, the limits will be halved again.
EU officials hope that the proposed regulations will encourage new technology to be developed to help increase the efficiency of appliances. They claim that although today's cleaners consume more power, they are not necessarily more effective than they were in the 1960s.
Nick Stevenson, a sales assistant at electrical goods specialist Wallaces in Edinburgh, thinks manufacturers could make sure the machines were still powerful.
"They go to about 2,000 watts, so 900 is a lot less, but I'm sure the manufacturers will get round it by designing them differently."Environmental groups threw their support behind the idea. Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: "Our homes are filling up with gadgets, each of them increasing our demand for power.
"Meeting climate targets and keeping our bills manageable mean we need to make every new device, from fridges to phone chargers, much more efficient than the ones they replace. Even the humble vacuum cleaner needs to play its part in heading off climate chaos."
A spokesman for Dyson said the company supported the EU's drive to limit the impact of vacuum cleaners on the environment and added that it was an opportunity to innovate. "You can have very high-performing machines with a smaller motor," he said.
Since 20 June, new energy-saving rating labels have been put on electrical goods to help consumers make the right choice on what product is best for the environment.
In June, the Westminster government launched a campaign to persuade consumers to choose the most efficient household appliances - televisions, washing machines, dishwashers and fridge freezers - to save them money and to lower their carbon footprint.
A survey found that UK consumers are less likely to buy energy-efficient appliances than consumers in Europe.
The new European Energy Label includes a rainbow of coloured bars and an indicator showing how well that product performs. The labels currently run from A-G, with A being the best and displayed as dark green, and G the worst and depicted as red.
As well as the band indication, the labels also have figures such as the amount of energy that the product uses (kWh). The lower that figure is, the less energy the product uses.
The EC believes that the strict energy efficiency targets will cut electricity use across the EU by 12.5 per cent by 2020.
Labels for vacuum cleaners will follow once the new regulations are introduced. Manufacturers are already adapting and competing by launching lower-energy products.
Panasonic says its "eco-friendly" motor makes one of its new Eco Max vacuum cleaners 194 per cent more efficient than its predecessor.
Dyson last year complained successfully to the Advertising Standards Authority that an advertisement for a Bosch vacuum cleaner was misleading because its energy claims could not be substantiated.