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How to Make Your Vacuum Cleaner Smell Better

Written by James Hall |

how to make vacuum cleaner smell good

Has your vacuum cleaner developed a bad odour? Here are some simple tips for making it smell better and leaving a pleasant odour throughout your home.

A vacuum’s job is to pick up dirt, grime, pet hair, and other unwanted debris – so it’s not surprising that it can start to smell over time!

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to help your vacuum smell better. As a bonus, some of these tips may also help to restore your vacuum’s performance.

Be Aware of Mechanical or Burning Smells

The tips in this article are for unpleasant musty odours, which are often caused by clogging, overfilling, or grime. If the smell is mechanical or burning, then this is more likely to be caused by a fault. Switch off the vacuum and take it to a professional to repair, as it could be dangerous to continue using it.

Causes of a Bad Odour From a Vacuum Cleaner

Understanding why your vacuum cleaner smells bad can help you to remove the odour. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Grime and Dirt Build-Up. Grime can accumulate inside your vacuum cleaner over time. As air is pushed around the vacuum cleaner, unpleasant-smelling particles are picked up and pumped back into the home.
  • Mould. Any dampness inside your vacuum cleaner could allow mould to grow. To prevent this, avoid vacuuming damp material, such as wet mud or a damp carpet.
  • Pet Dander and Hair. Vacuuming a home with pets is more likely to cause a smelly vacuum cleaner. Pet hair, dander, and even urine can accumulate inside the vacuum, leading to unpleasant smells. Check out our guide to removing a dog smell from a vacuum for more information.
  • Mechanical Fault. A burning smell from a vacuum cleaner is likely to be a mechanical fault, such as a damaged drive belt.

1. Change the Bag or Clean the Dirt Canister

It sounds obvious, but emptying the bag or dirt canister is often the quickest way to make your vacuum smell better.

If you have a bagless vacuum, then it’s also a good idea to clean the canister. You should check the instructions for your specific vacuum, but the process is often:

  1. Detach the bin from the vacuum.
  2. Give it a gentle wash with a microfiber cloth and a small amount of washing up liquid.
  3. Thoroughly rinse to remove any remaining bubbles.
  4. Allow to fully dry before reattaching.

2. Clean the Filters

Filters catch pet dander, dust, and other small particles to prevent them escaping back into the air. Over time, these particles build up on the surface of the filter, leading to a loss of suction and an unpleasant odour.

Some vacuums have washable filters. These are usually cleaned by rinsing the filter under cold water until the water runs clear, then allowing at least 24 hours for the filter to fully dry.

If your vacuum’s filter isn’t washable, you can still remove loose debris by tapping it into a bin, but you won’t be able to rinse it in water. Heavy staining or clogging may mean it’s time to replace your vac’s filter.

Always Check the Owner’s Manual for Filter Cleaning Instructions

Every vacuum brand uses different filters, so it’s important to check the instructions before cleaning them. Using the wrong method on a filter could damage it or make it less effective.

Here are a few examples for various brands:

3. Add Cinnamon to Your Bag or Canister

If you love the smell of cinnamon, then try adding a teaspoon to your vacuum’s bag or dust canister.

Not only does this help to improve your vacuum’s smell, but cinnamon may also have antibacterial properties.

Tip: Not a fan of cinnamon? Try vanilla powder instead. It’s just as effective and has a more neutral aroma.

4. Check for Blockages

Blockages can form almost anywhere inside a vacuum cleaner. If the blockage is caused by a build-up of grime or smelly material, then this can cause a bad smell whenever you’re cleaning.

While you should check everywhere for a blockage, here are some of the most likely locations:

  • Hose. Check the hose for blockages whenever you’re cleaning your vacuum. Start by looking for visible clogs at either end of the hose, then gently push a broom through to dislodge any blockages. Never use a sharp object or too much force for this.
  • Floorhead intake. The opening from the floorhead into the wand or main vacuum body is another common location for a blockage.
  • Dust canister entrance. If you have a bagless vacuum, check the entrance to the dust canister, as this can sometimes become blocked with debris.

5. Add a Fabric Softener Sheet to the Bag or Canister

Similarly to adding cinnamon to a vacuum bag or canister, a fabric softener sheet will release a pleasant aroma whenever you switch on the vacuum. It’ll also help to neutralise unwanted odours.

Alternatively, you can buy commercial scent crystals to add to a vacuum. These can be either added to the dust cup or sprinkled on the floor and vacuumed up. Commercial scent crystals are more expensive than DIY solutions, but are great for improving the aroma of your vacuum cleaner.

6. Never Vacuum Damp Material

Most people know that it’s dangerous to vacuum liquid with a regular vacuum cleaner, as water can get into the motor and risk an electrical fault.

What’s less commonly known is that you should never vacuum damp material, such as mud that hasn’t dried, damp carpet, or moist food. Any moisture that enters the vacuum could cause dirt to clump and bacteria to grow, leading to an unpleasant smell.

7. Use Essential Oils to Freshen Up Your Vacuum

You can use essential oils to deliver your favourite smells throughout the home when vacuuming.

  • For bagged vacuums, simply apply a few drops of essential oil to your vacuum’s bag before using it.
  • For bagless vacuums, apply 5-10 drops of essential oil onto a tissue, then put it into the empty canister.

Warning: Some essential oils are dangerous for pets. If you have pets, make sure you check that it’s safe before adding the oil to your vacuum.

Other Tips for Improving Your Vacuum’s Smell

  1. Detach and clean your vacuum’s hose. Removing blockages may not be enough to fix a bad smell from a hose – you need to give it a proper clean. Click here to find out how to clean a vacuum hose.
  2. Don’t forget to clean your vacuum’s exterior. Wipe away grime and dirt with a damp cloth. Always make sure the vacuum is fully dry before you use it again.
  3. Consider buying a charcoal filter. Charcoal filters absorb bad odours before they are released into the air. If your vacuum’s smell is being caused by pets, then charcoal filters can be particularly effective.


It’s normal for a vacuum cleaner to develop a bad smell over time. After all, it’s being used to clean a range of different types of dirt, grime, and unpleasant materials!

The key to eliminating odours is to keep your vacuum as clean as possible. Regularly clean out the dust canister (or change the bag), check for blockages, and clean the filters. You can also use cinnamon, essential oils, or commercial deodorisers to freshen up your vacuum.

Do you have any questions about preventing a bad smell from your vacuum cleaner? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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