How To Vacuum Floors the Right Way

Pinterest Hidden Image
A canister vacuum being used to vacuum shag carpeting the right way

Are your carpets looking dingy in high-traffic areas where people walk most often? Do you notice more pet hair or dust flying around? The problem may have to do with how you’re cleaning. It isn’t just running your vacuum over the floor and calling it done. Learning the right way to use your vacuum cleaner can make a huge difference in the cleanliness of your home. It will help your flooring last longer, too.

How To Use A Vacuum Cleaner on Floors

We’ve all rushed the job when we’ve learned that visitors are coming or we have only a few minutes to tidy. But that type of quick cleanup shouldn’t be your standard routine. What follows are the best practices for using your vacuum so you get dirt, dust mites, and pet dander out of your home.

Step 1: Prepare your vacuum.

Too much debris in the dust containment area reduces your machine’s suction. If you have a bagless machine, empty the dustbin before use. If yours uses bags, don’t let it get more than half full or that will reduce suction. Also, check the roller brush to make sure it spins and snip away any threads tangled in the bristles.

Step 2: Prepare the room.

Vacuuming goes faster if you don’t need to stop working to move things. So, before you start, move toys and chairs out of the way. On alternate weeks, move small furniture like side tables or plant stands so you can clean beneath them. 

Step 3: Use the attachments first.

Vacuum heads can’t get all the dirt where the floor and walls meet, which is why it’s important to use the attachments, too. First, use the dust brush to go around the top of baseboards. Then, switch to the crevice tool and clean around the edges of the rooms and base of heavy furniture. This step can help prevent the dark lines at the edges of carpets.

Step 4. Match the vacuum head to your flooring type.

To vacuum carpeted floors and large area rugs

Use the rotating brush head which lifts carpet fibers so the machine’s suction can remove dirt. Some upright vacuums have a setting specifically for carpets. If yours requires manual adjustment, lower it to the point it just contacts the carpet without reducing suction. You’ll know if this happens because the machine will get louder and be more difficult to push. Avoid setting the brush too high, though, or it won’t clean deep-down dirt.

To vacuum hard floors or small rugs or mats

Upright machines have a hard floor setting which disengages the roller bar to protect your floorboards. Cordless or canister vacuums will have a felt or fabric roller or a flat floor head without a spinning brush for use on hard floors. Unlike the roller or beater bar attachments for carpeting, these won’t damage your hard floor’s surface.

Step 4: Vacuum the room slowly.

Your vacuum cleaner needs time to suction up dirt. If you move it too quickly, it will simply send dirt flying. So, slowly push it away and then, without moving it to the side, pull it back. This slower pace gives your vacuum’s head a chance to lift away dirt stuck between the carpet fibers or floorboards, instead of just what’s on top of them. With the next movement, push it forward again but slightly to the side so the path overlaps with what you just cleaned, then pull it back slowly. Continue this all the way across the room.

Step 5: Turn and repeat.

To get carpeted floors as clean as possible, turn at a right angle and go over the room wall-to-wall a second time. This allows you to clean all sides of the carpet fibers. If your floors look dingy soon after steam cleaning your carpets, this one change can make an enormous difference.

Which Is Better: Vacuuming or Sweeping?

Brooms spread dust into the air which can worsen allergies and asthma and make your home look dirty even when you’ve just cleaned. Modern vacuums have adjustable floor settings or attachments suitable for hard floors, so they’re superior to brooms.

How Often Should I Vacuum?

The general rule is to clean wall-to-wall at least once a week. This should include all the steps described. If you have a busy household, pets, or live in a sandy area, go over high-traffic areas like hallways and entrances several times throughout the week to reduce dust and keep pet hair under control.

Should I Dust or Vacuum First?

If you’re going to dust, do it first to move dirt off surfaces to the floor where your vacuum can pick it up. If you follow a room-based cleaning approach, this means you’d first dust a room and then vacuum it before cleaning the next room. If you follow a task-based cleaning plan, you’d dust all the furniture on Monday, for example, and clean the floors on Tuesday.

Should I Vacuum Before Mopping?

You should always vacuum before mopping your floor to remove debris and dust. If you don’t, your mopping solution will turn the dirt to muddy streaks. If you live near a beach or desert, you might even want to use a microfiber or static floor duster between vacuuming and mopping to pick up any fine particles your machine missed.

Why Isn’t My Vacuum Getting My Floors Clean Anymore?

Make sure you are following the steps to prepare your machine before use. If your machine’s dust container or bag is too full, it cannot produce enough suction to clean larger pieces of debris. You may also need to deep-clean your vacuum.

Join My Free Daily Cleaning Series

These quick emails are the “secret sauce” to taking your home from tidy to truly clean — or rediscovering your cleaning motivation if you’ve lost it under the clutter.

Comment Policy

Comments are moderated and may take up to 72 hours to appear. Submission of a comment constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Barb Kuehl says:

    Most important part of vacuuming is to set height of vacuum to level of carpeting…..If you get marks you are set too low…Not cleaning the carpeting either…Just running over it………..No more marks in carpeting…..

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Barb,
      I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. The lines referred to here occur when the vacuum head comes in contact with the carpeting. If you set the head too high, so there are no lines, it’s a sign the brush and vacuum head aren’t making contact with your carpet which means it’s not lifting debris or vacuuming dirt at all.

  2. It is my first time visiting your site and I just want to thank you for all the great information. All the information and ideas are helping my family get it clean the right way…and wow what a difference.
    Have a great day and thanks again.

  3. James Hall says:

    These are great tips – and like Luke mentioned they are often forgotten!

    I always try to give myself more time than I need to vacuum, because I like to get under furniture and around skirting boards every week. It takes around 30 minutes to clean my (small) home, but it’s worth it. I also have a cordless for “top up” cleans, although I’m yet to find one that can truly replace a corded model.

    One thing that’s really important is cleaning the filter of a vacuum. Some filters are better than others, but once clogged up the suction power is greatly reduced. Dyson models solve this to a certain extent, but cleaning the filter is still important.

  4. Luke Yancey says:

    A lot of these tips are pretty common sense, but you would be surprised what people can forget! My favorite tip of yours was to vacuum the edges of the room first. This is one that I constantly forget, and nearly never remember. By the time it comes to clean the edges, they are disgustingly filthy. Thanks for the quick reminder!