How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner and Increase Its Efficiency

When was the last time you deep cleaned your vacuum cleaner?

Have you ever wondered what — or who — lives inside the vacuum cleaner? That sounds weird, we know, but think about it. We use vacuum cleaners to get the dirt out of our homes but do you ever stop to think about where all this stuff goes?

You’re probably thinking about the dust bag or bin, and rightly so because that’s where all the dirt should go. But what about the dirt that attaches to the beater bar, intake port, filters, and the fan? Where does that go?

Dumping the trash out of your vacuum is not the end of the cleaning process and neither is wiping down the device. It’s actually the beginning.

Vacuum cleaners themselves can get pretty nasty, and dirty vacuums are no good for cleaning. So, how can you make sure your vacuum cleaner is clean after doing all your dirty work?

Why You Should Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner

As you vacuum your floors, carpets, and rugs, most of the dirt will find its way into the dust bag or canister. Some of the dirt, dust, and debris get trapped in the beater bar and the filters. You only need to look at the beater bar to get the idea.

As the high-pressure suction removes dirt from surfaces, it also disturbs settled dust and antigens. Additionally, some of the dirt is also released right back into the environment when you switch off the vacuum (1).

It’s this dirt that should concern you as it can easily find its way back into the air you breathe and trigger allergic reactions. A good way to minimize this risk is by purchasing a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter (2).

Cleaning your vacuum will also help get rid of dirt, bacteria, and other microorganisms that may be lurking in there.

While we’re on the subject, avoid using the vacuum if a member of your family has a stomach bug. This is particularly important if the person is vomiting or has diarrhea. Some of the germs may find their back into your home and affect other people (3).

Cleaning your vacuum also helps it perform optimally. Some people will throw out their vacuum because it’s no longer working well. But unless there is a mechanical problem, the vacuum may just need a good cleaning.

The brushes on the beater bar, for example, get caught up in hair, fur, and other dirt. These things reduce their ability to function properly. In the same vein, a clogged filter can hardly be relied upon to separate dust from the air effectively.

So, by taking the time to clean your vacuum, you will also be setting it up for long life.

How Often Should You Clean Your Vacuum?

The owner’s manual contains specific information regarding the maintenance of your vacuum. If you don’t have one handy, you can always check online. Ideally, you will want to take the vacuum apart for thorough cleaning every 12 months but no longer than 18 months.

Additionally, if your vacuum comes with a dust bag, always empty the contents when the bag is about two-thirds full. Any higher and the vacuum will not perform effectively.

The canisters in bagless vacuums should also be emptied after use. Filters should be cleaned every week if you vacuum your home daily. Those who vacuum their homes once or twice a week can clean the filters once every month.

How Do You Know It’s Time To Clean Your Vacuum?

Reduced efficiency is one tip-off. If you have to go over the same spot several times, then it’s time to get cleaning.

How to Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner

Vacuums differ depending on the model. However, they will, in most cases, contain similar components such as the filters, beater bar, fan, motor, and the like. We have provided below a step-by-step guide to help you clean your vacuum.

You will need:

  • Dish soap.
  • Water.
  • Microfiber cloth.
  • Access to a sink or basin or any other container to wash the small parts.
  • A cleaning brush — preferably a toothbrush.
  • A pair of scissors or a seam ripper.
  • Garbage disposal bag.
  • Pair of gloves for your hands.
  • Can of compressed air (optional).
  • Disinfectant (including alcohol) and a cotton pad (both optional).
  • An open area or garage where you will be cleaning the vacuum.

Quick Tip

When taking the vacuum apart, be sure to remember how the parts fit back in. You may encounter some trouble if you can’t recall how to piece them back.

1. Take Vacuum Apart

Dispose of any dirt that may be in the dust bag or canister. Remove all washable and replaceable parts which may include the filters and attachment accessories.

2. Clean the Filters

Your vacuum may contain more than one filter. Check your owners manual to verify how many are in your vacuum and where they are located.

Dunk the washable filter and scrub it clean using a toothbrush. This would be a good time to add the disinfectant if you choose to use one. Rinse the filter in cool water and allow it to air dry for at least 24 hours.

Non-washable filters can be tapped a couple of times against a surface to loosen and remove dust and other clumped particles. You can also use a cloth to wipe off the dirt.

This would also be a good time to replace the filters. However, do check the manual for any instructions on this, particularly regarding the HEPA filter.

Assemble Dry Parts Only

Avoid assembling the vacuum if the parts are still wet. You may increase the chance of mold growing inside the vacuum, which can lead to a ton of health issues (4).

HEPA filters for vacuums used in residential settings may not need changing for up to three years (5). Again, you’ll need to check with the vacuum manual. If the HEPA filter emits a musty odor, it’s definitely time to replace it.

3. Clean the Canister

You can skip this step if your vacuum comes with a dustbag. But if you wish to clean your dust bag more thoroughly, check if the manual comes with any instructions. Manufacturers typically don’t recommend washing dust bags, so you may need to replace it.

Now for those with canisters. Start by emptying the canister. Check the manual for instructions on how to separate the canister from the larger vacuuming unit.

Then, soak the canister in warm soapy water (mixed with a disinfectant) and scrub it with a brush. Rinse it in cool water and just like you did the filter, and allow it to air dry completely.

4. Clean the Interior

With the canister out of the way, use the toothbrush to remove dirt from the interior part of the vacuum. Use downward strokes to ensure the dirt comes down and not further up.

Then, blast some compressed air to remove stubborn and hard-to-reach debris. Just watch out for flying particles. These can easily get into your eyes and airway, triggering allergic reactions.

5. Clean the Beater Bar

Lots of stuff gets caught in this part of the vacuum — from hair to strings and other debris. Start by carefully trimming the hair and strings from the bristles using a pair of scissors or a seam ripper.

Once you’re done trimming, use your hands to gently pull away the hair and other debris. Be gentle to ensure that you don’t damage the bristles. Use the toothbrush to wipe off the remaining dirt.

If the rotating brush in your vacuum can be removed, go ahead and unscrew it for a thorough scrubbing. Behind the rotating brush, you will see a small passageway (present in most vacuums) that is easily ignored.

Remove any debris that may be obstructing this passageway. Remember the alcohol mentioned earlier? Rub some on a cotton pad and apply it to the bottom of your vacuum cleaner.

We recommend disinfecting the bottom because it’s what touches the surfaces around your home. Alcohol is perfect for this because it dries very quickly while disinfecting the vacuum.

This is also a good time to inspect the vacuum drive belt for signs of wear and tear. Visible signs of aging and cuts mean it’s time to replace it.

6. Clean the Attachment Accessories

This is a fairly easy process. Dunk washable accessories in soapy water, scrub, and rinse in cool water. If any of the attachments have hair or strings caught in them, use the scissors to trim the debris and remove it.

Remember to lay them flat to air dry for at least 24 hours.

7. Wipe Down the Exterior Unit

Use the microfiber cloth to wipe down the vacuuming unit. If you like (and we like to do this), rub a bit of alcohol just to ensure everything is clean and disinfected.

8. Reassembly

Once all the parts are dry, it’s now time to reassemble the vacuum cleaner and install any new parts. When done, give the vacuum one final wipe down and you’re good to go.

Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some things to remember as you clean your vacuum:

  1. If you want to look at the beater bar, ensure the vacuum cleaner is turned off and unplugged. A running vacuum can pull in your hair from your head (yes, we’re cringing at the thought, too). It can damage your clothes and even injure parts of your body.
  2. Don’t use your vacuum cleaner if the electrical fault is worn out or has wires sticking out.
  3. Don’t carry the vacuum cleaner by its cord as this may damage the cord, resulting in electrical fault.

What to Do With a Smelly Vacuum?

Vacuum cleaners can become smelly if the dust bag or canister is not emptied regularly. The smell could also come from sucking up something nasty or from vacuuming an area where your dog had laid.

Who are we kidding, our furry friends can stink sometimes. Here are some tips that may help freshen your vacuum which will, in turn, leave your home smelling fresh.

  • Invest in fresh air scent beads and place one in the vacuum bag before vacuuming.
  • You can also go DIY by sprinkling a small amount of cinnamon or ground potpourri into the dust bag. Or, you can sprinkle directly onto the area you’re vacuuming beforehand.

These options will provide a fresh scent to your vacuum cleaner and your home.

A burning smell, however, is an indication of just that — burning. You may have a faulty electrical cord which puts you at risk of a fire or electric shock. In this instance, have an electrician look at the vacuum and don’t use it until he gives you the go ahead.

Cleaning the Cleaner

Learning how to clean a vacuum cleaner the right way will help your device run more efficiently and lengthen its operating life. Don’t forget to regularly check the filters for buildup and the dust bag or bin while you’re at it.

Gather all your cleaning supplies into one area before you begin cleaning so you’re ready for the mission.

What’s your favorite vacuum cleaner? Will you use our tips for cleaning it? Let us know in the comments and remember to click the “share” button.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!