What if I told you that most people don’t know how to vacuum properly? It surprised me when I learned this myself years ago because I’d always thought that vacuuming was one of those obvious housekeeping skills. But I’d been doing it wrong.
It wasn’t my mother or even a vacuum salesman who pointed out my deficient vacuuming skills. Of all people, it was someone who worked for a company I’d hired to clean our home’s air ducts. (I’ve since learned how to clean air ducts myself.)
SIGNS OF IMPROPER VACUUMING
Have you noticed any of these in your home?
✓ Dark lines on your carpet at the base of walls.
✓ Your home is continuously dusty.
✓ Your socks get dirty when you’re just walking around the house.
✓ Your home has that “old house smell” even though it’s not that old.
✓ Indoor allergies that don’t clear up.
✓ High-traffic areas on your carpets look dark.
✓ When you move furniture, the rug beneath is a different color.
PROPER VACUUMING WILL FIX THEM
Those dark lines on your carpet at the base of the wall happen when the air is full of dust. Central heating/cooling systems and fans circulate air through the room which then goes down the walls. If the air is dirty, you wind up with dark streaks at the bottom of your walls where the flooring meets the baseboard.
One solution is proper vacuuming, which involves more than merely going back and forth with the machine. (You should also clean your walls and ceilings regularly.)
The rest of the signs are because lousy vacuuming leaves a lot of dirt and dust on your floor. That buildup can begin to smell, and since it’s a feast for dust mites, your indoor allergies will get worse. Over time, the grime gets ground into your carpet fibers and can permanently bond with them. Proper vacuuming, and shampooing your carpet the right way each season, will fix that.
How To Vacuum Properly
Perform the following steps as part of your weekly cleaning routine. Vacuum high-traffic areas at least once mid-week (more often if you have pets or kids who play on the floor).
Years ago, vacuums would emit fine debris along with their exhaust, so most people vacuumed before dusting. HEPA filters fix this, so now you should dust first.
Shake your curtains to loosen dust then wait a few minutes for it to settle. Use a damp microfiber cloth to dust your furniture — or put a soft-bristled dusting brush on your vacuum and let it do the work.
Prepare the Area
Pick up toys, pet beds, and other large items from the floor. Once a month you should move small furniture so you can vacuum beneath it. Vacuum beneath heavy furniture as part of your Spring or Fall Cleaning routine.
Check your Machine
For the best suction, make sure your machine’s dust basket or bag is empty and that the brush is free of hair and other debris. You can improve performance even more if you take the time to clean your vacuum before you start.
Your vacuum’s brush head is no substitute for using the crevice attachment at the base of walls and unmovable furniture. This should be done at least twice a month, but weekly is ideal.
Get Under Raised Furniture
Yes, dust builds up beneath raised furniture like sofas, entertainment centers, or bookshelves. After vacuuming the edges of the room, switch to the floor attachment and vacuum beneath these pieces at least monthly.
Select the Right Height
Some vacuums, like Kirbys, allow you to adjust the vacuum head to the height of your floor. Others only offer the option of hard flooring or carpet. Either way, change the height to suit the surface you’re cleaning, or your machine won’t suction properly.
Work Both Directions
If you look at your carpet closely, you’ll see the fibers are twisted loops. This means they get dirty all the way around, so vacuuming in only one direction doesn’t adequately clean them.
To vacuum properly, work from left to right across the room then turn and vacuum it from a right angle, so you’re cleaning the fibers from every direction. In high-traffic areas, it’s a good idea to repeat this process twice.
Your vacuum’s brush rotates rapidly, but it still needs a chance to do its job. Vacuum slowly to give the brush time to lift up pet hair and dust. Make sure your strokes with the vacuum overlap, too.
If this seems like a lot of work, remember how expensive new flooring is. It’s more cost-effective to vacuum properly every week and treat carpet stains when they happen than it is to replace your carpet every few years.
Note: This post first appeared in September 2015. It has been revised and updated for republication.