How to Remove Bad Vacuum Cleaner Smells

Read our tips to keep bad vacuum cleaner smells at bay.

Did you notice an odd smell coming from your vacuum? We’ve all been there and our main priority is getting rid of it as soon as possible.

Although vacuum cleaners remove dirt from your home, they need some maintenance. If not cleaned regularly, the dirt accumulates, often producing an unpleasant vacuum cleaner smell as you’re using it.

Luckily, a stinky vacuum can smell fresh again.

Why Does Vacuum Smell Bad

To better remove and prevent a foul smell, understanding where it comes from is critical. Here are the four main causes.

1. Pet Hair

If you own a dog, cat, or any other furry animal, their hair might be the main cause of the smell. Pet hair and dander are smelly outside of your vacuum and will carry the odor inside your device.

Pet urine can also add an extra stench. Although you’re unlikely to vacuum your pet urine directly, the liquid can stick to pet hair and dust. Then, once vacuumed, the combination of dried urine and pet hair create the best recipe for a musty smell.

2. Mold Accumulation

If you don’t own a pet, you’re unfortunately not exempt from smelly vacuums.

Mold particles can be found in vacuum bags and filters (1). Left unattended, they create that strong smell you might be familiar with.

Mold needs humidity and moisture to grow (2). Vacuuming a wet carpet could bring these particles inside your device, taking the smell to the next level.

3. Burnt Belt

Your vacuum belt can also be the root cause. The belt is made of rubber and its rotation allows the brush to roll, capturing hair and other dirt.

Vacuum brushes should be cleaned regularly. Without proper maintenance, hair stuck within the bristles may prevent the brush from rotating correctly, damaging the rubber. The belt can also get caught on the brush as well.

Stretched and overused belts produce an easily recognizable, burning plastic smell.

4. Excessive Dust

Dust never comes alone. When you’re vacuuming, other pieces of debris join the ride. So, whether you’re catching dried food or used coffee grinds, they all can contribute to a strong-smelling vacuum.

Letting too much dust accumulate in your dust bag or dust bin will eventually impact the health of your vacuum.

How to Remove Bad Vacuum Cleaner Smells

Have you located the origin of the bad smell? Here are the easiest and most efficient methods to clear your device.

1. Empty Dust Bag or Bin

If your vacuum comes with a dust bag, you might first want to replace it. Sometimes, this is enough to get your device’s smell back on the right track.

If your device comes with a dust bin instead, remove it. Empty its contents into your garbage and wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap.

We recommend adding a small amount of white vinegar or baking soda to kill potential mildew (3). Ensure that every corner and angle is washed.

2. Clean or Replace Filters

Over time, filters also get dirty and dusty. If your filter is washable, simply remove the dust around it and rinse it under cold water. Rinse the filter until the water runs clear.

Even clean-looking filters can gather an impressive amount of dust. So, don’t be surprised if this process takes at least five minutes. Then air dries the filter for 24 hours before placing it back.

If the filter isn’t washable, it might be time to replace it. Generally speaking, vacuum filters should be replaced at least once every 12 months. For heavy use, or if you own pets, it should be checked every six months.

3. Check the Brushes

Regardless of the type of smell, the rotating brushes should be cleaned at least once or twice a year. Often used to clean carpets and rugs, they can amass a large amount of residue on their own. So, having a quick look under your floor head attachment might be helpful.

  • Ensure your vacuum is unplugged.
  • If the brush is removable, detach it from the floor head attachment.
  • Using scissors, carefully cut and remove any hair stuck within the bristles. Be careful not to cut the bristles themselves.
  • Wash the brush with water and soap. If it isn’t removable and is difficult to reach, spray with water and vinegar.
  • Air-dry the brush for 24 hours.
  • Place it back only when fully dried.

4. Wash the Hose

It’s easy to underestimate the power of the hose when it comes to smelly devices. The hose is one of the first places dirt passes through before reaching the filter, dust bag or bin.

Small particles often get stuck within the inner layer of the tube, so hoses are also likely to get clogged. Over time they can decay and create a strong odor. Thankfully, however, cleaning a hose is a fairly simple process.

  • Detach the hose and place it on a flat surface.
  • To remove any remnants, use the stick of a broom or other tool with a similar shape. Push through until the blockage is released. You might even get a lost sock back.
  • Pour about 4 inches of hot water into your sink.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of bleach and 1 tablespoon of regular dish soap. Instead of bleach, baking soda or vinegar can also be used.
  • Place the hose in the sink. They’re often flexible and should fit most sinks.
  • Move the tube around to make sure the water fully runs through and over the entire portion of the tube.
  • Empty the sink and place the hose under the tap until the water comes through from the other end.
  • Before placing it back, the hose should be fully dried. We recommend hanging it for 24 to 48 hours over a shower curtain or in a well-aerated area.

How to Prevent Bad Odors

Now that we have a clean vacuum, how can we give it a fresh smell?

1. Baking Soda

Baking soda is an old but well-known remedy, popular for its cleaning properties (4). This powdery substance will absorb any unpleasant smells.

Through the hole of the dust bag, sprinkle a few teaspoons inside. If your device comes with a bin, simply sprinkle it over the walls of the bin.

2. Essential Oils

For extra benefit, we recommend adding essential oils. Lemongrass or thyme are known for being beneficial. They not only make your vacuum smell amazing, but they’re also great at fighting mold (5).

Add about 30 drops of essential oils to a 32-ounce spray bottle. Fill it with water and a teaspoon of baking soda. Gently spray inside the bag or bin. We don’t want to dampen the area too much, so a few squirts will do and should dry quickly.

3. Cinnamon

If you’d like to use a spice from your kitchen, cinnamon might be a good idea. Place half of a tablespoon of powdered cinnamon inside the dust bag or bin.

Cinnamon is antibacterial and could reduce the growth of unwanted germs (6). As a bonus, it will add a pleasant aroma to your vacuum.

4. Commercial Deodorants

Although commercial deodorants represent a larger investment than home remedies, many enjoy their efficiency. They release a nice fragrance when the air passes through.

They usually come in various scents so you can pick your favorite one.

One tablet, or tablespoon, per bag or bin, should be enough.

5. Regular Cleaning Maintenance

Whether you’re sprinkling baking soda or adding a commercial deodorant, cleaning your vacuum shouldn’t be optional.

Regular maintenance might be the most effective method to prevent unpleasant smells. Depending on how often you use your vacuum, we recommend cleaning it thoroughly every three to six months. If you own a pet, you might even want to clean it every other month.

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Washing Off

Used regularly, most vacuums will produce some sort of unpleasant odor. Investigating where this smell comes from is critical to remove it efficiently. Once you’ve localized the issue, you’ll know where to focus your attention.

When a foul odor is identified, you’ll first need to clean and neutralize the odor. Only then will you be able to use a home or commercial remedy to induce a fresh and pleasing fragrance.

We hope these tricks will help you keep your vacuum healthy and fresh-smelling. Do any of these remedies appeal to you? We’d love to read your questions and comments in the section below!

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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!