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How to Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner (Step-By-Step Guide)

Written by James Hall |

How to clean your vacuum cleaner

Is your vacuum cleaner not performing as well as it once did? A full clean may be the answer.

Many people assume their vacuum cleaner is broken when the cleaning performance starts to drop. It’s much more likely that the vacuum needs some basic maintenance, such as untangling hair from the brush bar, cleaning the filters, and unclogging the hose.

So, before you throw away your vac, try our step-by-step guide to keeping your vacuum clean.

Do Vacuum Cleaners Really Need to be Cleaned?

It’s a fair question. After all, you’ve bought a vacuum cleaner to clean your floors, not to add another chore to your to-do list!

All vacuum cleaners really do need regular cleaning though. While most dirt, hair, and dust ends up in the bin or bag, not all of it does. The rest is caught in filters, stuck in hoses, or caked on the inside of tubes and wands.

Dirty filters, clogged hoses, grime build-up, and tangled brush bars can have a big impact on how efficiently your vacuum cleans. In many cases, the drop in performance can become so bad that owners think they need to replace the vacuum.

Bacteria and mould can also start to grow in a vacuum that isn’t regularly cleaned. Over time, this leads to nasty smells coming from the vacuum, and may even pose a health risk.

So, while cleaning a vacuum isn’t the most pleasant job, it could save you the cost of buying a new one!

How Often Should I Clean My Vacuum?

There’s no single answer to how often you should clean your vacuum, as it depends on a variety of factors.

In most cases, we recommend a full clean at least once per year. If you vacuum more than the average person, have a big house, or lots of pets, then you might need to clean your machine more frequently. A drop in suction power also suggests that your vacuum needs some TLC.

This recommendation is just for a full and deep clean though. Filters will need to be cleaned much more often, along with untangling the brush bar.

It’s also important to empty your vacuum’s bag or dust canister before it gets full, as overfilling can cause a drop in performance. The more debris air has to pass through, the weaker the airflow will be.

Tip: Some manufacturers include information about when to clean different parts of the vacuum in the manual. If you’ve lost your manual, you should be able to find a PDF version online.

How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner (Step-By-Step)

Every vacuum is different, but the process below is a general guide to cleaning your vac. Make sure you check the vacuum’s manual for model-specific cleaning tips though.

Set aside around 30 minutes to complete the cleaning process. You’ll also need to let your vacuum parts air dry for at least 24 hours before using it, so don’t clean it on a day you want to vacuum your home.

Tools You’ll Need

Cleaning a vacuum isn’t difficult, but you’ll need some tools to do a good job. These include:

  • Gloves. You’re going to be touching components that are covered with dust and grime, so some sturdy gloves are important.
  • Face Mask. Dust and other allergens will escape into the air when cleaning your vacuum. A basic cloth mask can prevent you from breathing most of them, but use a more effective mask if possible.
  • Scissors. You’ll need these to cut hair from the brush bar.
  • Torch. Sometimes it can be difficult to see clogs without some extra light.
  • Microfibre cloths. These soft cloths will be used to wipe away dirt and grime.
  • Can of compressed air. This is a useful tool for blowing out dirt that you can’t reach.
  • Small grout brush or old toothbrush. For removing grime and dirt.
  • Washing up liquid. For cleaning the inside of the hose and dust canister.
  • A sink with a plug. To fill with water for cleaning the hose.
  • (Optional) Vacuum bags. If you have a bagged vacuum, you’ll need to replace the bag.
  • (Optional) New Filters. If your vacuum doesn’t have washable filters, then you’ll need to replace them.

Before you begin…

Make sure that the vacuum is unplugged before you start a thorough cleaning. Detach any tools and accessories, as these can be cleaned separately. Then empty the dust bin or throw away the vacuum bag.

If possible, clean the vacuum outdoors. This prevents dirt, mould, and allergens from being dispersed into your home.

It’s also vital that all components are dry before you use them again. Putting together a vacuum with damp parts can lead to unhealthy mould and clumps of dirt getting stuck inside the vac.

Step 1: Clean (or Replace) The Vacuum Filters

A dirty vacuum filter

Vacuum filters gradually collect a layer of dust. As the layer becomes thicker, the vacuum starts to lose suction and become less effective. If they aren’t cleaned, a clogged filter can eventually cause the vacuum to stop sucking altogether.

It’s hard to give specific advice in this section, as vacuum manufacturers have different recommendations for maintaining their filters. Check your manual to find out how often you should clean the filter(s) and whether they can be washed.

Many modern vacuum cleaners have a washable filter. These are typically cleaned by tapping off any loose dust, then rinsing the filter under cold water. Make sure you allow at least 24 hours for the filter to dry before you use it again.

Other vacuums have disposable filters. The Numatic Henry is a good example, as it has a filter which can’t be rinsed. You can still tap off loose dirt from these filters, but you can’t wash them in water. These filters need to be replaced when they become clogged.

How Many Filters?

Some vacuums have multiple filters that need to be cleaned. This is more common on bagless vacuums, where there’s no bag to act as an initial filter. If you have multiple filters, there may be different cleaning instructions depending on the type, so make sure you check the manual.

Step 2: Clean and Untangle the Vacuum’s Brush Bar

Long hair is bad news for rotating brush bars. Most hair will get sucked into the vacuum’s bag or canister, but some will always become tangled around the brush bar.

A soft hair build-up on the bristles prevents them from agitating carpet fibres as efficiently as they should, which reduces performance. Tangles can eventually stop the bar from spinning freely, leading to overheating, motor cut outs, and a broken drive belt.

The easiest way to remove hair is to cut it free with a pair of scissors. Be careful not to cut the bristles, as this could affect performance.

If the hair is too thick to cut, then you may need to remove the brush roll to untangle it. Some vacuums make this simple, while for others it can be a difficult process. Check the manual to find out how to remove the brush.

Step 3: Unclog and Clean the Vacuum’s Hose

A clogged hose doesn’t just reduce your vacuum’s suction. It can also put extra strain on the motor and cause a bad odour during vacuuming.

We’ve written a full guide on how to clean a vacuum hose, but here’s an overview of best way to clean your hose:

  1. Remove the hose and inspect either end for visible blockages.
  2. Check for internal blockages by squeezing along the hose. If you find one, gently bend around the clump to loosen it.
  3. Push a thin broom handle through the hose to dislodge any blockages. Don’t use too much force.
  4. Rinse the inside of the hose with cold water, then fill the sink with a few inches of water and washing up liquid. Submerge the vacuum hose and move it around so water gets inside.
  5. (Optional) Combine baking soda with white vinegar (1:4 ratio), then dilute it with water. Pour the mixture through the hose to kill bacteria.
  6. Thoroughly rinse the hose with cold water to get rid of any remaining cleaning substances.
  7. Allow the hose to completely dry.

Step 4: Clean the Dust Canister or Replace the Bag

Emptying the dust bin of a bagless vacuum

The dust bin of bagless vacuum cleaners often becomes coated with dust and grime. It’s important to clean it to prevent bad odours or bacterial growth.

To clean the canister, fully detach it from the vacuum, empty it, then use a dry microfibre cloth to remove any loose dirt. Wash the canister in water with washing up liquid, before thoroughly rinsing it with cold water.

As always, make sure the bin is completely dry before you reattach it!

This step is much easier if you have a bagged vacuum, as you’ll just need to replace the old bag with a new one. It’s still a good idea to wipe down the compartment holding the bag though.

Tip: Never use a bagged vacuum without a bag, unless the manual says this is fine. The bag acts as the primary filter in a bagged vacuum. Without it, the pre-motor filter will become clogged much faster, and the motor may be more exposed to dirt.

Step 5: Clean the Vacuum’s Interior and Remove Clogs

This step can be performed throughout the cleaning process, but it’s easiest when the dust canister is removed and drying.

Whenever you notice any clumps of dirt or dust inside the vacuum, use a brush or cloth to wipe it. If you can’t easily access the area, use a can of compressed air to blow it.

In most cases, small patches of dust and dirt won’t have a big impact on your vacuum’s performance. Cleaning them makes your vacuum look more attractive and prevents the dirt from causing future clogs though.

If you notice any larger clogs, then you’ll need to make sure they are removed. Loose clogs can often be removed by hand, although you may need to use a narrow brush or compressed air for awkward locations.

Where to Check for Clogging

Some of the most common locations for clogs include:

  • Where the wand meets the vacuum body on a stick vacuum
  • The entrance to the main tube from the floorhead
  • The inside of the hose (see step three)
  • The gap between the filter and the edge of the dust bin (for cyclonic vacuums)

The type of debris also affects how likely it is for clogs to form. Damp dirt can quickly cause clogs, so try to avoid vacuuming anything that’s even slightly wet. Hay for pets (such as guinea pigs or rabbits) can also often get caught inside the vacuum, leading to a debris build-up.

Step 6: Clean any Vacuum Attachments

Attachments like crevice tools and dusting brushes don’t tend to collect as much dirt and dust as the main floorhead. It’s still important to give them a quick clean, however, as this removes dirt that could eventually cause a clog.

Non-motorised tools can usually be washed in soapy water. Make sure you rinse them thoroughly with cool water and allow them to dry.

For a pet turbo tool or any other motorised accessory, you shouldn’t use water. You can still cut away any tangled hair in the brush bar though.

Step 7: Wipe Down the Vacuum’s Exterior

As a final step, give the vacuum’s exterior a wipe down with a dry microfibre cloth. This gives your vacuum the fresh, clean finish that it deserves after such a thorough clean!

Allow everything to fully air dry before you reassemble the vacuum. You’re now ready to start vacuuming again.

Ongoing Maintenance Tips for Vacuums

Every vacuum cleaner needs a deep clean every so often. This doesn’t replace regular maintenance though, as some parts of the vacuum need to be cleaned much more frequently.

Here’s a quick overview of how to maintain your vacuum:

  • As needed: Empty the vacuum or replace the bag. Ideally, bagless vacuums should be emptied after every use, even if they aren’t completely full. This reduces the chance for bacteria and mould to grow. Replace the bag of a bagged vacuum when it’s around 75% full, as a full bag reduces suction power.
  • Once per month: Check and clean washable filters. Check your owner’s manual to find out how often to clean your vacuum’s filters. In most cases, we recommend checking and washing them once per month. If your vacuum doesn’t have washable filters, you will need to replace them when they start to clog.
  • Once per month: Cut away hairs from the brush roll. You may need to clear the beater bar more frequently if you have pets with long hair.
  • Once every two months (or when there’s a blockage): Clean the vacuum hose. It’s usually obvious if the hose is blocked, but it’s a good idea to clean it regularly to reduce the chance of clogs forming.
  • Once every 12 months: A full clean using the process above.

If your vacuum has a fault, then we recommend contacting a professional technician. While DIY repairs are sometimes possible, it’s best to leave complex repairs to the experts.

Tip: Is your vacuum broken beyond repair? Check out our guide to properly recycling a vacuum in the UK.

Enjoy Your Clean Vacuum!

Keeping your vacuum clean will extend its lifespan and maintain its cleaning performance. So, if you notice your vacuum generates less suction, or there is an unpleasant smell when vacuuming, it’s time for a deep clean.

Do you have any questions about how to clean your vacuum cleaner? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, as your vacuum is now functioning at its best, read our guide to how to vacuum more efficiently.

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