How To Clean A Vacuum Cleaner

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Knowing how to clean a vacuum cleaner will protect your machine and also your flooring. A clean vacuum works better, so you’ll be saving yourself time, too.

How To Clean A Vacuum Cleaner

Vacuuming is one of my least favorite household chores. I hate everything about it: the noise, the attachments that never stay put, and the hassle of trying to wrap the cord properly — is it a circle or a figure-8?

I solved most of those problems when I ditched my clunky old Kirby in favor of a new upright vacuum. (See my review here.) I love how that thing puts its own cord away!

Unfortunately, they’ve yet to invent a self-maintaining vacuum. So, to keep yours working correctly, you do need to know how to clean a vacuum cleaner.

Yellow upright stick vacuum cleaning carpet

Before Each Use

  1. Inspect the belts: Over time, a vacuum cleaner’s belts can become worn or stretched out. When this happens, the machine won’t function properly. Give yours a quick peek regularly and replace loose or worn belts as needed.
  2. Check the hoses. In addition to looking for holes or fraying spots, make sure the tubes are free of debris. I’ve found tissues and other debris clogging mine. Clogs cause the vacuum’s motor to overheat and stop working, so make sure the hoses are intact and empty before each use.
  3. Inspect the cord and plug. Pets love to chew on vacuum cords for some reason. Fraying vacuum cords pose great safety dangers, so always check yours before use. Also, make sure the prongs of the plug are not bent before you insert them into the electrical outlet.

After Each Use

  1. Empty it. If your vacuum has a bag, replace it when it’s half-full. Dump out the dust bin after each use to keep your vacuum ready for the next time. This also stops dust mites from breeding in the container. (If vacuuming stirs up your allergies, this may be why.) Plus, no matter what the manufacturer says, a full bag or dust bin does lessen the suction.
  2. Check the brushes: Thread, hair, and other items get tangled in the rolling brush at the base of your vacuum. This brush is what lifts dirt and debris from your carpet. If it can’t spin properly, it can’t clean properly. Tease the threads free, or use small scissors to snip and remove them.
  3. Wipe the head. Given their job, it’s not surprising that a lot of dirt and dust collects on a vacuum’s head. The spinning roller brush can easily compact this debris over time, making your vacuum tough to move back and forth and reducing the suction power. So, after each use, unplug your machine and use a damp cloth to wipe away debris in the area around the roller brush.
  4. Wipe the wheels. Dirty vacuum wheels can leave tracks on your clean carpet, or cause scuffs on your hard floors. You’ll wind up struggling with the machine, too. So, after use, give the wheels a quick wipe with the damp cloth to remove dirt and debris.
  5. Fasten the cord. Wrap the cord on the handle in whatever pattern you prefer. Letting it sit in a pile on the floor leaves it too susceptible to damage.

Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner’s Parts, Too


Wash your vacuum cleaner’s attachments at least once a month, or immediately after cleaning any food or pet spills. All it takes is some soap and warm (not hot) water, plus a good rinse. Be sure to blot dry any soft bristles, so they dry faster.


If your hoses are made of plastic, give them a quick rinse in the sink or tub monthly, too, then hang them outside to dry. For fabric hoses, check the manufacturer’s directions.

Dust Containers

It’s best to wash your vacuum’s plastic dust bin after each use. In reality, once every two weeks is fine.

If you’ve been noticing a stale smell when you vacuum, the cause is most likely a dirty dust container. If washing it in soapy water and air drying it thoroughly does not get rid of the odor, it’s time to replace your filters.


Many bagless vacuums still require regular replacement of internal dust and HEPA filters. Using dirty filters runs a risk of overheating your machine and reduces its cleaning efficiency, too.

Some filters are washable, while others require actual replacement. Check your manufacturer’s instructions and replace yours accordingly.

Still feel like your vacuum isn’t working as well as you’d like? Check out how to vacuum properly, to see if you need to change your technique. It’s amazing how many of us are doing it wrong!

Note: This post first appeared in June 2012. It has been revised and expanded for republication.

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How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner

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  1. Small Town Mommy says:

    I definitely need to do some maintenance on my vacuum.  I hate vacuuming but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care of it,

    1. Katie Berry says:

       I’m one of those weird people, I guess, because I love vacuuming. It makes such a HUGE impact, and the room looks so much cleaner even if I didn’t bother dusting or polishing. Then again, I don’t fret over vacuuming in straight lines. (I have a friend who obsesses over that, so she never bothers vacuuming because she can’t make the lines perfect.)

      Now, sweeping or mopping? Oh I absolutely HATE those.

  2. your pun became true with my vacuum cleaner . thank god it didn’t end up in motor . I agree with you that vacuum doesn’t suck good when the vacuum bag is full . Dyson is good at doing the job but still why would anyone want to risk an expensive vacuum ? it better to empty it when its half filled . I usually empty it when it is around 75% of the bin .

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yep, that’s the right time to do it.

  3. How does one clean the build up off the wheels other than scraping it? Is this some kind of cleaner one can use?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      If that gunk doesn’t come off with a microfiber cloth and soapy water, I’d try scrubbing with an old toothbrush. For particularly bad buildup, you could try rubbing the wheels with a bit of baking soda and water then wiping them clean with a damp cloth.

  4. geraldine says:

    I like to use the vacuum for cleaning up the dust above my ceiling. And some times, I forgot to wrap up the cord around its body and cat plays with it.

  5. My entire home smells like bigfoots A**hole after running my Dyson Ball vacuum. I’ve tried everything finally gave up and bought the Shark lift away which I’m really happy with. We’ll see how it holds up in the long run. LOVE your site and advice Thank You!!!

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