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We've now had nearly a century of the vacuum cleaner belt, and throughout that period of time there have been very few changes.
The first belts were used in the 1930's, a simple round design that ran from the motor shaft to the brushroll. As canister vacuums with brushrolls (beater bars) came into prevalence in the 1970's, and with uprights changing to bypass motors in the 1990s, belts changed from round to flat.
The downside to these belts are they are easily prone to wearing and stretching from the friction and heat. If you have ever experienced the smell of of burning rubber from one of these, I'm certain you'll agree it's a smell you will never forget.
Most budget (store bought) vacuums use this system to this day. These belts need to be changed every few months, not when they finally 'break', as they have stretched out and lost tension long before that point - and cleaning effeciency is lost with it.
Better brands (such as Miele, Sebo, and TriStar) have moved away from the flat belt system to a reinforced geared belt. These belts, while more expensive, can last for years - even decades. These do not need to be replaced unless they do break, which seldom occurs thanks to built in safety features (circuit breakers) in most of these models. Riding on gears on the motor shaft and the brushroll, these reinforced belts do not wear, stretch, and lose their tension.
When shopping for a new vacuum, for both efficiency and the time and hassle that belt changes require, it is well worth the expense to choose a brand such as Miele which uses a geared vacuum belt.
Need a new vacuum? Learn about Miele vacuum cleaners