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Knowledge Base » Mental Health » What is Zuigerphobia?

What is Zuigerphobia?

Zuigerphobia is the extreme and overwhelming fear of vacuum cleaners and the action of hoovering. This is a relatively unknown phobia that mainly occurs in children and can be connected to the sight, sound and actions of a vacuum cleaner.

Today, we are going to look at zuigerphobia in more detail, including the common causes, triggers, symptoms and treatments.

What is zuigerphobia?

Zuigerphobia is the extreme, irrational, overwhelming and persistent fear of vacuum cleaners (or hoovers as they are also known). Although someone with zuigerphobia may be aware that vacuum cleaners don’t pose any threat to them, they will likely still experience intense and irrational fear, anxiety and panic if they see, hear, touch or think about a vacuum cleaner. Although anyone can develop zuigerphobia, it is most common in babies, children, pets and people with sensory difficulties.

Zuigerphobia is a type of specific phobia, meaning it is an enduring, overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, place or person; in this case, an extreme fear of vacuum cleaners. The negative thoughts and feelings associated with vacuum cleaners are likely to be overwhelming and can have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life, mental and emotional health and overall well-being. A fear of vacuum cleaners can also affect the cleanliness of their environment and can even result in skin irritations and respiratory issues as a result of the excess dirt and dust that may be found in their home.

For someone with zuigerphobia, vacuum cleaners can be so anxiety-provoking that they may experience intense anxiety and fear at the thought of them. They may be unable to think about vacuum cleaners reasonably or rationally and may be out of touch with reality regarding how much of a danger a vacuum cleaner poses to them.

Although disliking vacuum cleaners is not uncommon, particularly during childhood, this does not necessarily mean everyone who is nervous around vacuum cleaners is experiencing a phobia.

To be classified as zuigerphobia, your fear of vacuum cleaners will include:

  • Feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
  • Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the true risk.
  • A fear of vacuum cleaners that has lasted for at least six months.
  • Engaging in avoidance behaviours to prevent encounters with vacuum cleaners.
  • A fear of vacuum cleaners that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.
  • Experiencing anticipatory anxiety or worry when thinking about vacuum cleaners.

Someone with a phobia of vacuum cleaners may have difficulties functioning normally in certain places or situations in case they see or hear a vacuum cleaner. They may become consumed with the thought of vacuum cleaners and constantly check that there are no vacuum cleaners around them, even when they are watching TV shows and films. The fear, anxiety and panic that they feel can have a significant impact on their mental and emotional well-being and their behaviour.

Zuigerphobia is an individualised phobia, meaning that it manifests differently in different people.

It can be connected to several specific fears relating to vacuum cleaners, such as:

  • A fear of loud noises
    This is the most common cause of zuigerphobia and is particularly common in people who have sensory difficulties, difficulties with their hearing or who have had a previous traumatic experience involving loud noises. Vacuum cleaners are notoriously loud, with the average vacuum cleaner having a decibel (dB) rating of between 70 dB to 80 dB. This level of sound is considered to be loud and can seem even louder in a quiet home. There are many reasons why someone can fear loud noises, and vacuum cleaners in particular, and they are often connected to the startle response – when a threatening stimulus (such as a loud noise) startles you and creates feelings of fear, panic and danger.
  • A fear of the movement of vacuum cleaners
    Vacuum cleaners move in a jerky, erratic way and this movement can seem threatening or create feelings of fear and panic in some people. This is particularly more likely if a vacuum cleaner moved towards you in what you perceived to be a threatening way when you were a child (and the vacuum cleaner seemed larger than you) or if you were sat on the floor or at a lower level. Vacuum cleaners can be difficult to control when using, particularly larger cleaners, and they can sometimes hit your legs or hoover over your feet. This can make vacuum cleaners seem threatening and can create feelings of fear every time someone sees a vacuum cleaner.
  • A fear of the suctioning action of vacuum cleaners
    Many people with zuigerphobia dislike the suctioning action and the sucking noise of a vacuum cleaner. Connected to this, they may also dislike the swirling movement of the objects inside the vacuum cleaner and the noise and feel when it sucks up something large or solid. A fear of a vacuum cleaner’s sucking action can stem from a previous incident where the vacuum cleaner attached to your skin or clothes and suctioned them or from when an item you considered precious was sucked in by a vacuum cleaner.
  • A fear of electricity and/or technology
    A fear of electricity and technology, such as machines and robots, is not uncommon. Some people fear being electrocuted, electricity starting a fire or machines taking over. These fears can extend to any object that uses electricity or is considered technology (such as a vacuum cleaner). Someone may be afraid to have a vacuum cleaner in their home because of the potential dangers that it poses to them, their loved ones and their home.

The fear of vacuum cleaners can be so intense that someone with this phobia may begin avoiding certain places and situations, out of fear that they could encounter a vacuum cleaner. For example, they may refuse to go to other people’s houses or may not want to be in shops, restaurants and other establishments close to closing time, in case the staff begin to clean up.

These avoidance behaviours can make it difficult for you to function normally. Although avoidance behaviours are implemented to help you avoid vacuum cleaners and prevent the symptoms of your phobia from being triggered, they can actually have a paradoxical effect. This means that instead of helping you to manage your phobia, they can actually have the opposite effect and instead reinforce your fear and make your symptoms more severe in the future.

Someone with zuigerphobia may be aware that their fear of vacuum cleaners is irrational and that vacuum cleaners don’t actually pose a danger to them. However, they may be unable to control their fear or anxiety and manage or prevent any physical, psychological or behavioural responses to vacuum cleaners or the thought of vacuum cleaners.

Zuigerphobia is often connected to and can occur in conjunction with other phobias, such as:

  • Phonophobia (sonophobia): An extreme fear of loud noises.
  • Ablutophobia: An extreme fear of bathing, cleaning or washing.
  • Electrophobia: An extreme fear of electricity.
  • Technophobia: An extreme fear of technology.
  • Domatophobia: An extreme fear of being inside a house.
Zuigerphobia linked to fear of loud noises

How common is zuigerphobia?

Because zuigerphobia is a type of specific phobia, any diagnoses of this condition fall under the specific phobia umbrella, meaning there are no individual statistics available to show how many people have a phobia of vacuum cleaners.

Zuigerphobia is thought to be considerably more common in children compared to adults. It is also more likely to occur in people who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing difficulties.

Many pet owners also notice signs of zuigerphobia in their pets. Cats and dogs, in particular, often show signs of fear, anxiety and panic when they see or hear a vacuum cleaner and may run away or hide or show other signs of distress.

Although symptoms of zuigerphobia manifest in many babies and children, this does not necessarily mean they are all experiencing a phobia. Some fear or anxiety surrounding vacuum cleaners is normal and may not occur all the time. For example, they may show fear and panic if a vacuum cleaner wakes them up from a nap or if they are already feeling heightened emotions.

Negative thoughts and feelings concerning vacuum cleaners can occur on a spectrum, ranging from mild fear and anxiety in certain situations to severe fear, panic and anxiety that can impact your day-to-day life and result in changes in your behaviour. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between a fear or dislike of vacuum cleaners and zuigerphobia.

However, it is also important to bear in mind that as with many other specific phobias, zuigerphobia is thought to be significantly underdiagnosed. Many people with this phobia never seek a diagnosis or are misdiagnosed.

 There are several reasons why zuigerphobia may go undiagnosed, such as:

  • Children are often expected to grow out of their fears.
  • Younger children may not be able to articulate their fears to an adult and so the adult may not realise the source or extent of their fear.
  • Many people have never heard of zuigerphobia and may not realise that they (or their child) are experiencing a diagnosable medical condition.
  • Many people are not aware that there are effective medical treatments available for phobias so do not seek a diagnosis.
  • An adult with zuigerphobia may be embarrassed about their fear and may not want to visit their GP.
  • Someone with zuigerphobia may also experience other conditions, such as autism or sensory processing disorder so their phobia of vacuum cleaners may get mistaken as a symptom of another condition.

Who is at risk of zuigerphobia?

Although anyone can develop zuigerphobia, there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of you developing a phobia of vacuum cleaners.

These can include:

  • Having a sensory processing disorder or sensory difficulties that make you particularly sensitive to loud noises.
  • Having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Having hyperacusis (noise sensitivity) where everyday noises cause significant distress.
  • Having a previous negative, traumatic, painful or scary experience involving vacuum cleaners (particularly during childhood).
  • Having a previous negative, traumatic, painful or scary experience involving loud noises.
  • Currently or previously being a victim of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or violence.
  • Having another associated phobia, such as phonophobia or electrophobia.
  • Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is connected to or triggered by loud noises.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with zuigerphobia.
  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with another phobia.
  • Being exposed to a fear of vacuum cleaners during childhood or adolescence.
  • Being a naturally more anxious or nervous person.
  • Having a history of anxiety, depression, panic attacks or another relevant mental health disorder.
  • Experiencing a significant life stressor, having higher than usual stress levels or being in a heightened mental state (particularly if you are exposed to a fear of vacuum cleaners or have a negative experience involving vacuum cleaners or loud noises during this time).
  • Having a substance use disorder, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Zuigerphobia is significantly more common in babies and children compared to adults. This is likely attached to the startle response, where the loud noise of a vacuum cleaner triggers a fear response. Adults are better equipped to manage the startle response and rationalise their fear, whereas children do not yet have the skills to manage their fear and anxiety.

They may begin to associate vacuum cleaners with danger and fear and may show symptoms of zuigerphobia. Luckily, many children grow out of their phobia as they enter adolescence and their brain’s cognitive capacity increases. However, symptoms of zuigerphobia can also manifest for the first time during adulthood.

It is important to note that although the risk factors listed above can increase the likelihood of you developing zuigerphobia, they do not guarantee this. Someone with none of the above risk factors can develop a phobia of vacuum cleaners unexpectedly, whereas someone with several risk factors may never develop a fear of vacuum cleaners.

How to deal with zuigerphobia

There are multiple medical treatment options available that can effectively treat the cause and symptoms of your phobia. However, there are also effective coping and calming strategies that you can implement yourself. These strategies can be combined with lifestyle changes to help alleviate your symptoms and reduce the impact your fear of vacuum cleaners has on your life.

Some of these coping and calming strategies are most effective when you implement them long term, meaning you engage in them regularly, not just when you are faced with your triggers. These strategies could become part of your daily or weekly routine and can help you to reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms over time and enable you to be around vacuum cleaners in the future without experiencing negative thoughts and feelings.

Other strategies are most effective in the short term and are designed to be implemented in the lead-up to or when you are faced with your triggers. They are designed to minimise or prevent any physiological, psychological or behavioural symptoms in the moment and to prevent a triggering situation from worsening and your negative thoughts and feelings from taking over.

The most effective long-term and short-term coping and calming strategies to help you deal with your phobia of vacuum cleaners are:

  • Desensitisation
    Through desensitisation, you can gradually expose yourself to your triggers to prevent vacuum cleaners from causing a negative response. The more exposure you get the less intense your fear response will be and the less likely you are to experience adverse symptoms. Desensitisation should be done in an environment you feel safe in, with people you trust and when you are in a calm and controlled state of mind. If the person with zuigerphobia is a child, desensitisation could involve watching a TV show where a fun cartoon character is a vacuum cleaner (such as Noo Noo in the Teletubbies), making your vacuum cleaner at home into a fun character and involving it in games and buying the child a toy vacuum cleaner to play with.
  • Acknowledge and understand your phobia
    Acknowledging you have a phobia, particularly if you have previously engaged in avoidance behaviours or ignored your fear, gives you the power to change your internalised beliefs and thought processes involving vacuum cleaners. You can explore the causes of your fear and understand any negative or damaging beliefs, patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours that are attached to it. This can help you to change your conscious and unconscious reactions to vacuum cleaners. Having a more thorough understanding of your phobia can help you to understand and rationalise your thoughts, reduce your automatic fear response and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
  • Visualise yourself overcoming your fear
    Visualisation techniques can be effective in helping you overcome your phobia and any fear, anxiety or panic you usually feel when you see a vacuum cleaner. You should visualise yourself in triggering situations and imagine confronting your fear and successfully overcoming it. For example, you can imagine yourself hoovering your home whilst remaining calm and positive throughout. Visualisation also involves imagining the positive changes to your life that you will likely experience when you overcome your phobia. Visualising positive experiences with vacuum cleaners can help to reassure your brain that they don’t pose a threat to you and that you are not in any danger. This can make it less likely that you will experience an automatic fear response in the future.
  • Challenge negative thoughts and feelings
    If you have zuigerphobia, you may find yourself fixating on vacuum cleaners and feeling anxious and panicked at the thought of one. You may also begin to imagine the worst-case scenario and all the bad things that could happen if you see a vacuum cleaner. If you find yourself thinking about vacuum cleaners negatively, recapping a previous traumatic experience or experiencing negative emotions, try to disrupt these negative thoughts and remind yourself that they are not accurate and that you are not in any danger. Remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings will soon pass, and your thoughts are disproportionate to the risks.
  • Create a fear ladder
    A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your fear of vacuum cleaners and can also help you to identify which of your triggers creates more severe fear, anxiety and panic than others. When creating your fear ladder, your triggers will be organised from least severe to most severe. Because phobias are highly individualised, everyone’s fear ladder is different. Although your fear ladder may look different, an example is shown below:
    – 1 = Hoovering your home.
    – 2 = Someone hoovering close by you.
    – 3 = Seeing a vacuum cleaner that is not plugged in.
    – 4 = Going into a shop that sells vacuum cleaners.
    – 5 = Being in the same area as a vacuum cleaner, even if you cannot see it.
    – 6 = Watching a video of a vacuum cleaner.
    Once you have created your fear ladder, you can then confront your fears one at a time, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you to build up your tolerance of your triggers gradually and reduce your fear of vacuum cleaners long term.
  • Join a support group
    Joining a support group with people who have had similar experiences to you can be an effective way of managing your phobia. A support group can help to validate your thoughts and feelings and allow you to receive advice, reassurance and empathy from other people who understand your experience. You could attend an in-person or online support group with other people with phobias or anxiety disorders.
  • Tell your support network about your phobia
    Many people with phobias don’t tell the people they are close to about their fear. Being honest with the people in your life, including your family and friends, can ensure they understand your phobia and are aware of what you find difficult. It can also be helpful as they will be more conscientious and will be more aware of what triggers your phobia, for example, they may hide their vacuum cleaner if you are visiting their home. This can help to prevent your phobia from being triggered and ensure you feel supported.
  • Practise mindfulness
    Mindfulness can be an effective tool for managing the symptoms of your phobia and can help you minimise the impact your fear has on your life. It can teach you how to accept your thoughts and feelings whilst also overcoming any fear or anxiety you may be feeling. Mindfulness also teaches you how to focus your breathing and attention, which can reduce your anxiety and the likelihood that you will experience a panic attack. Mindfulness can also help you to manage stress and anxiety and be more in control of the connection between your mind and body and help you to control the symptoms of your phobia.
  • Practise yoga and meditation
    Both yoga and meditation have been proven to be effective ways to manage stress and anxiety. They help you achieve a highly relaxed state and decrease your stress levels, which can reduce the likelihood of you experiencing a fight-or-flight response. You will also learn how to achieve a meditative state, control your breathing and manage your body and mind’s negative reactions to vacuum cleaners. Practise yoga and meditation regularly to reduce the impact of your phobia and improve your symptoms.
  • Learn deep breathing exercises
    You can successfully manage or prevent phobia symptoms by engaging in deep breathing exercises when you encounter a trigger. When you breathe deeply, your brain relaxes and calms down, which can help you to manage your anxiety. Daily deep breathing exercises can effectively reduce your stress levels, relieve tension in your body, and reduce your anxiety in the long run.
  • Make lifestyle changes
    Certain lifestyle factors can worsen the symptoms of your phobia and increase your anxiety. By making changes to your lifestyle, you can reduce your anxiety and the impact your phobia has on your life. Some of the lifestyle changes you could make are:
    – Implement a successful sleep routine.
    – Reduce your daily stress.
    – Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
    – Implement an exercise routine.
    – Avoid caffeine, sugar and other stimulants.
    – Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
    – Stop smoking.
Desensitisation to vacuum cleaner

What triggers zuigerphobia?

A trigger, also known as a stressor, is an object, person, place, situation or thought that triggers an adverse reaction and negative thoughts and feelings, such as fear, panic, anxiety or distress. A trigger can also lead to physiological, behavioural and other psychological symptoms. Your brain perceives triggers as a threat to your physical or mental safety or well-being and will react accordingly.

The triggers of zuigerphobia are the things that trigger your fear of vacuum cleaners and the associated physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms.

Many people will think that only physically seeing a vacuum cleaner will trigger your phobia, but this is not always the case. Some people with zuigerphobia have many different triggers. Because zuigerphobia is an individualised condition, it can manifest differently in different people. Different objects, places and situations can act as triggers for your phobia, and the triggers can vary from person to person. Some people only have one or two triggers, whereas other people have many different triggers.

The types of triggers and the number of triggers experienced by different people can vary depending on what initially caused their phobia of vacuum cleaners to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health.

The most common triggers for zuigerphobia are:

  • Seeing a vacuum cleaner close to you.
  • Hearing the noise of a vacuum cleaner.
  • A vacuum cleaner touching you.
  • Someone going towards a cupboard or place where you know a vacuum cleaner is stored.
  • Seeing dirt or dust on the floor and knowing it will need to be hoovered.
  • Hearing a noise that reminds you of a vacuum cleaner, such as a lawnmower or a leaf blower.
  • Entering someone else’s home and not being sure of their hoovering habits.
  • Being in a restaurant, café, shop or another place close to closing time when staff usually begin to tidy up.
  • Seeing or hearing a vacuum cleaner on a TV show or film.
  • Seeing a picture of a vacuum cleaner.
  • Thinking about a vacuum cleaner or remembering a previous negative encounter with one.
  • Someone talking about hoovering up.
  • Knowing you are in close proximity to a vacuum cleaner, even if you cannot see or hear it.
  • Taking your car to be cleaned or serviced.
  • Seeing a carpet or rug.

What are the symptoms of zuigerphobia?

The symptoms of your phobia are the physiological (related to your body), psychological (related to your mind) and behavioural (related to your behaviour) symptoms and negative changes that you experience when you are faced with a vacuum cleaner or another trigger.

The symptoms of zuigerphobia can vary and often differ from person to person. The symptoms can differ in the types of symptoms you experience, the way they manifest and their severity.

Some people with zuigerphobia only experience a few mild symptoms whereas other people experience more severe symptoms. Many people with phobias also experience different types and severities of symptoms in different situations, depending on the type of trigger they face.

Differences in the severity of symptoms, how frequently they occur, and their manifestation can also occur for multiple reasons, such as how acute your phobia is, your triggers, your perception of the situation and your current mental health and mindset. For example, you may experience more severe symptoms if someone is hoovering close to you compared to if you see a vacuum cleaner on the TV and you may also experience more severe symptoms if you are already experiencing high levels of stress and heightened emotions compared to when you are feeling calm and content.

The symptoms of zuigerphobia can occur at any time, even in unexpected situations. The symptoms are often automatic and uncontrollable. It may feel like you are unable to control or manage your thoughts or feelings and that your phobia is taking over your body. To be classified as a phobia, you will need to experience symptoms for at least six months.

The most common symptoms of zuigerphobia are:

Psychological symptoms:

These are the cognitive and emotional symptoms you experience when faced with a vacuum cleaner or another trigger.

The most common psychological symptoms of zuigerphobia are:

  • Intense, overwhelming persistent, excessive and unreasonable fear, anxiety, panic or dread at the reality or thought of vacuum cleaners.
  • Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the risks.
  • Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are out of proportion to the risk.
  • Catastrophising what will happen if someone uses a vacuum cleaner close to you.
  • Anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to triggering situations.
  • Mood swings, irritation or anger in triggering situations.
  • Feeling like you have a lack of mental and physical control over your body.
  • Feeling like you are frozen or immobilised if you see a vacuum cleaner.
  • Feeling vulnerable or defenceless around vacuum cleaners.
  • Difficulties completing routine activities, such as cleaning your home.
  • Depersonalisation or derealisation (where you feel like you no longer understand what is happening around you or you have lost touch with reality).
  • Difficulties concentrating or functioning normally around vacuum cleaners or other triggers.
  • Feeling like you are losing control or are not in control of the situation.
  • Experiencing frequent or distressing nightmares about vacuum cleaners.
  • Feeling like you are in danger or having a sense of impending doom.
  • Feeling like you are dying or are going to die.

Behavioural symptoms:

These are the conscious and unconscious changes in your behaviour that occur because of your fear of vacuum cleaners. These behaviours are usually negative or damaging in some way, even if you do not realise that. They will also likely be different from your usual behaviour or are abnormal for society as a whole.

The most common behavioural symptoms of zuigerphobia are:

  • Avoiding vacuum cleaners or any place or situation where you could encounter them.
  • Refusing to have a vacuum cleaner in your home.
  • The desire to run away and hide from vacuum cleaners.
  • Avoiding visiting other people’s homes in case they have a vacuum cleaner.
  • Being unable to eat or having a lack of appetite during or in the lead-up to a potentially triggering situation.
  • Difficulties sleeping or insomnia in the lead-up to a potentially triggering situation.
  • Refusing to talk about or think about vacuum cleaners.
  • Refusing to watch a TV show or film that features vacuum cleaners.
  • Becoming socially withdrawn.

Physiological symptoms:

These are the physical symptoms you experience in your body as a result of your phobia. They are usually physical changes or disturbances that you experience as a result of the fight-or-flight response.

The anxiety, fear or panic you experience when you see a vacuum cleaner will result in your brain thinking that the vacuum cleaner is a threat or danger to you. Your body will then react to this threat by preparing you to fight it or run away. Your sympathetic nervous system will release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause physical changes to your body and physiological symptoms.

The most common physiological symptoms of zuigerphobia are:

  • The sound of vacuum cleaners being physically painful to your ears.
  • Unusual or excessive sweating or clamminess.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Chest pain or feeling a tightness in your chest.
  • Difficulties breathing, hyperventilating, shortness of breath or rapid breathing.
  • Feeling like you cannot catch your breath.
  • Unexplained headaches or other pains.
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Feeling confused or disoriented.
  • Hot flashes or chills.
  • Muscle tension or stiff muscles.
  • Pins and needles.
  • A choking sensation, finding it difficult to swallow or feeling a lump in your throat.
  • Heart palpitations, increased heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach discomfort.
  • Feeling like you’ve got butterflies in your stomach.
  • Having a dry or sticky mouth.
  • Being unusually sensitive to hot and cold temperatures (e.g. feeling like you are extremely hot even though the room temperature is normal).
  • Pale or flushed skin, particularly on your face.
  • Having a panic attack.

Symptoms of zuigerphobia in children:

A phobia of vacuum cleaners is more common in children compared to adults. Although children may experience some of the same symptoms as adults, the symptoms of zuigerphobia can manifest differently, particularly in younger children.

This could be because children are less able to manage intense emotions, such as fear and anxiety, may be less able to rationalise and understand the way they are thinking and feeling and may be less constrained or less likely to hide the way they are feeling.

The common symptoms of zuigerphobia in children are:

  • Crying, screaming or having a tantrum.
  • Lashing out by hitting or kicking people or objects that are close to them.
  • Trying to run away or hide.
  • Clinging to a parent, guardian or another safe person.
  • Showing signs of extreme anxiety, fear or panic.

Because the symptoms of zuigerphobia (in both children and adults) can sometimes be similar to the symptoms of other conditions, such as autism or sensory processing disorder and can be similar to the symptoms of some sound-related and hearing conditions, you should always seek medical advice to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment.

What causes zuigerphobia?

There are many possible causes of zuigerphobia. It could be that your phobia of vacuum cleaners has one clear cause that is easy to identify, or that multiple factors contributed to you developing a fear of vacuum cleaners.

Some people with zuigerphobia find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused them to develop a fear of vacuum cleaners and have less of an understanding of their phobia. This is more likely if your phobia developed a long time ago (such as during childhood) or if your fear manifested slowly over time.

Identifying the root cause or causes of your phobia can be extremely beneficial and can help you to understand your fear, manage your symptoms and reduce the impact your phobia has on your life. The causes of zuigerphobia can be psychological, environmental, societal or genetic. Because phobias are specific to each individual, the causes of zuigerphobia often vary from person to person.

The most common causes of zuigerphobia are:

  • The startle response
    A phobia of vacuum cleaners can be triggered by the startle response, which is a mainly unconscious defensive response to something that we perceive to be dangerous or threatening. The threatening stimulus is usually a surprise or occurs suddenly, with something that creates a loud noise (such as a vacuum cleaner) being a common trigger for the startle response. The noise or movements of a vacuum cleaner may have previously ‘startled’ you and caused your brain to release chemicals that heighten your feelings of anxiety and your perception of danger. These feelings of anxiety, fear and panic can linger and can create a future negative association between vacuum cleaners and fear and danger. This can develop into zuigerphobia.
  • A negative, traumatic, scary or painful experience involving vacuum cleaners
    This is one of the most common causes of zuigerphobia and is also known as traumatic conditioning or a direct learning experience. The traumatic experience may or may not have involved real danger or risk. However, as long as you experienced significant fear, distress or trauma, this could have led to the development of a phobia. A traumatic experience is more likely to lead to a phobia if it happened during childhood or during a particularly vulnerable time in your life. Examples of traumatic experiences include:
    – A vacuum cleaner hitting a part of your body and causing pain or injury.
    – Seeing a vacuum cleaner coming towards you and being unable to stop it.
    – Your hair being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.
    Following the traumatic experience, you may begin to have intrusive and negative thoughts or memories of the trauma and begin to avoid vacuum cleaners and other trauma-related triggers. This can cause the fear or anxiety you felt at the time of the experience to linger or worsen and can lead to you developing a phobia of vacuum cleaners.
  • Having an allergy to dust or dust mites
    Approximately 20% of adults and 5% of children test positive for an allergy to dust mites. Although people think of hoovering as cleaning up dust and dirt, the action of hoovering can actually disturb the dust and send dust mites and dust particles into the air or onto your clothes. Someone who has a dust or dust mite allergy may experience adverse symptoms, such as red, puffy eyes, wheezing and sneezing every time someone hoovers. This can create a negative association between hoovering and feeling unwell and can cause someone to begin to dread or fear hoovering, particularly if they are not aware of what is causing their adverse reaction and how to handle it. This can contribute to or cause someone to develop a phobia of vacuum cleaners by association.
  • Having another related condition
    There are many reasons why someone can fear vacuum cleaners and loud noises, including having a hearing condition, such as misophonia or hyperacusis, having a phobia of loud noises (phonophobia) or having a condition such as autism or sensory processing disorder. Being unable to control or manage your response to loud noises or having a physical, mental or emotional intolerance to the loud noise of a vacuum cleaner can create feelings of fear, anxiety and discomfort surrounding vacuum cleaners, which can develop into a phobia.
  • Having a negative, traumatic or scary experience involving loud noises
    A phobia of vacuum cleaners can develop because of a previous traumatic experience involving loud noises. For example, the sudden sound of a vacuum cleaner turning on could bring back traumatic memories for someone who lived in a war zone, was involved in a terrorist event or was a victim of or witness to gun violence. You are more likely to develop a secondary phobia of vacuum cleaners if the initial event involved significant trauma, fear or pain. Developing a phobia of vacuum cleaners is also more likely if you haven’t dealt with the initial trauma or if you are experiencing PTSD following the trauma.
  • Fear rumination
    This is a common cause of phobias and usually occurs following a negative experience involving a vacuum cleaner. Fear rumination involves engaging in repetitive negative thought processes and persistently and repeatedly recapping a traumatic, scary, negative or painful experience. Over time, these thoughts and memories can become increasingly upsetting and intrusive and can make you remember the event as being more negative or scary than it was in reality and create significant feelings of fear surrounding vacuum cleaners. Fear rumination reinforces your natural fear responses, creates additional anxiety and can result in you developing a phobia of vacuum cleaners.
  • A learned phobia
    Also known as modelling or an observational learning experience, a learned phobia usually occurs when you observe a fear of vacuum cleaners or loud noises in another person and learn to be scared of them yourself. You are more likely to learn a phobia if you are exposed to it during childhood or adolescence; for example, children who grow up with a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with zuigerphobia are more likely to develop the condition themselves. However, a learned phobia can also develop during adulthood.
  • Experiencing significant or higher than usual stress levels
    Significant, long-term stress can result in a disproportionate fear response or an inability to manage intense situations. This can make it more likely that you will develop a phobia, such as zuigerphobia, particularly if you have a negative experience involving vacuum cleaners or are exposed to the fear of vacuum cleaners while experiencing higher levels of stress. A stressful or distressing event, such as a death, can also trigger a phobia, as you may be less able to manage your emotions and thought processes when experiencing grief, which can result in a disproportionate fear response.
Having tantrum due to zuigerphobia

How is zuigerphobia diagnosed?

If you (or your child) have any of the symptoms consistent with zuigerphobia, you should make an appointment with your GP or primary healthcare provider. Because the symptoms of zuigerphobia can be similar to the symptoms of several other medical conditions, your GP will likely want you to undergo a hearing test, a physical examination and other medical examinations.

Your GP will also look at your medical history and ask questions about any medication or supplements you are taking to ensure your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source.

Once your GP has ruled out other conditions, they will then make a referral to a psychologist or phobia specialist. In order to gain more information about your symptoms and any negative thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours surrounding vacuum cleaners, the psychologist will conduct a phobia questionnaire.

They will focus on information relating to:

  • The types of symptoms you experience, how frequently they occur and how severe they are.
  • The initial onset of your phobia, including when your symptoms first began and what initially triggered your fear of vacuum cleaners (if you know).
  • Your medical history, including whether you are currently or have previously had any anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias or other mental health conditions.
  • Whether you have a family history of phobias.
  • How much your fear interferes with your day-to-day life, your well-being and your behaviour.

Because zuigerphobia is a type of specific phobia, your symptoms will be compared to the seven key conditions listed in the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias, as listed below:

1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is close to a vacuum cleaner or when they are not.

2. Exposure to a vacuum cleaner or another trigger leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.

3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.

4. The individual avoids places or situations where they could be exposed to vacuum cleaners. If they are exposed to a vacuum cleaner, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or distress.

5. The anticipation of encountering a vacuum cleaner and the avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding vacuum cleaners can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.

6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.

7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.

If your symptoms fit the criteria above, you will be diagnosed with a phobia, specifically zuigerphobia, Depending on the severity and frequency of your symptoms, you may then be offered treatment.

How is zuigerphobia treated?

There are multiple effective treatment options available for treating zuigerphobia. Treatment has been shown to be effective in treating specific phobias in 90% of cases.

Many people with phobias, including zuigerphobia, find medical treatment to be particularly beneficial. If your phobia is triggered frequently, if you change your behaviour to avoid vacuum cleaners, if your symptoms are severe or if your phobia negatively affects your life, then treatment will likely be recommended.

However, not every person with a phobia requires treatment. You may not require medical intervention if your symptoms are mild, your fear of vacuum cleaners doesn’t affect your daily life or well-being, or if you’ve already implemented successful coping strategies. However, you should always consult your doctor before making any decisions regarding your treatment.

Because there are several treatment options available, your doctor will create a personalised treatment plan that is designed to treat the cause and symptoms of your phobia.

Your treatment plan will be based on several factors, such as:

  • The severity of your symptoms.
  • The frequency of your symptoms.
  • The root cause of your phobia.
  • How significantly your phobia impacts your life.

The most common treatment options for zuigerphobia are:

Exposure Therapy:

Also known as gradual exposure or systematic desensitisation, exposure therapy is one of the most popular and effective ways of treating zuigerphobia. It involves gradual and repeated exposure to vacuum cleaner-related triggers in a safe and controlled environment. The aim is that by repeatedly being exposed to your fears, you will be able to be around vacuum cleaners without experiencing automatic fear and anxiety responses.

Exposure therapy can help you overcome your phobia by teaching you realistic thoughts and beliefs about vacuum cleaners, unlearning negative associations and patterns of thought, decreasing your negative reactions and feelings towards vacuum cleaners, and learning relaxation techniques, coping strategies and calming strategies.

Any exposure will happen gradually, in escalating phases. You will start with the least anxiety-provoking trigger, such as watching a video of a vacuum cleaner.

Once you are comfortable with this exposure, you will move on to the next trigger, such as holding a toy vacuum cleaner. With each exposure, you should experience progressively lower anxiety with the aim that you can eventually be exposed to your biggest trigger without experiencing an adverse reaction.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a type of talk therapy that is used to effectively treat a range of mental health conditions, including phobias. It aims to help you identify and address the underlying cause or causes of your phobia and any negative beliefs and patterns of thought surrounding vacuum cleaners.

Someone with zuigerphobia will automatically view vacuum cleaners negatively, which can lead to automatic negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours. CBT aims to change the way you think about vacuum cleaners by deconstructing negative thoughts into smaller pieces which can be addressed separately. Because your thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected, changing the way you think will help all aspects of your phobia.

CBT can also help you to reshape any negative beliefs and thoughts into more positive, healthy thought processes. You will also learn how your thoughts affect your behaviours and how to identify harmful thoughts and behaviours and learn strategies on how to change them. Sessions can be conducted individually or as part of a group with other people who have phobias.

During your CBT sessions, you will work to:

  • Understand your triggers and what initially caused your fear of vacuum cleaners.
  • Recognise distorted patterns of thinking.
  • Change any unhealthy beliefs surrounding vacuum cleaners.
  • Learn coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements.

Clinical Hypnotherapy:

Clinical hypnotherapy can be another effective way to treat phobias. It uses a combination of guided relaxation techniques and focused attention to alter your beliefs, patterns of thought and response to vacuum cleaners. It aims to change the way you think about vacuum cleaners and your overall perception of vacuum cleaners whilst also focusing on any conscious and unconscious behaviours.

The hypnotherapist will also work with you to identify and address the underlying cause or causes of your phobia and any unprocessed trauma or negative memories attached to this. You will also learn calming strategies to help you manage the symptoms of your phobia more effectively.


Medication is not usually prescribed as a sole treatment option for zuigerphobia. However, it may be recommended if you are also experiencing another mental health condition alongside your phobia, such as anxiety or depression. In this case, medication will likely be prescribed alongside another form of treatment, such as CBT.

The types of medications you could be prescribed include:

  • Beta blockers.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Anti-anxiety medication.
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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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