How To Vacuum Floors the Right Way

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Learn the basics of how to use a vacuum cleaner so you can vacuum carpeted floors and hard floors the right way.

A canister vacuum being used to vacuum shag carpeting the right way

Are your carpets starting to look dingy or growing dark 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 vacuuming. There’s more to it than just running your vacuum over the floor and calling it done. Learning how to vacuum properly can dramatically improve the cleanliness of your home.

How To Vacuum Floors

There’s nothing wrong with quickly running your vacuum over high-traffic areas and skipping the rest when you’ve got company coming or have only a few minutes to tidy up. But that kind of quick cleanup shouldn’t be your regular routine. To get the most dirt and dust off your floors — and out of your home — you need to prepare your vacuum, prepare the spot you’ll be vacuuming, and then take your time doing it right.

Step 1: Prepare Your Vacuum

Too much dirt and debris in the canister will reduce your vacuum’s suction. So, before you begin cleaning the floor with your bagless vacuum, empty the dust bin. Or, if your vacuum cleaner uses bags, make sure the bag is no more than half full. Then look at the roller brush or beater bar and make sure it spins freely.

Step 2: Prepare the Room

Vacuuming goes faster if you don’t have to keep stopping to move things. So, the fewer toys, chairs, or other items you’ve got to deal with, the better. If you have pets or live in a very dusty area, you might also want to alternate weeks where you move small furniture so you can vacuum under it, like side tables or plant stands.

Step 3: Use Your Vacuum Attachments First

Use your vacuum’s crevice tool first to clean the room’s edges and around the base of heavy furniture. Even the best vacuum cleaner head won’t get all the dirt where the floor and walls meet. Then you’ll see dark edges on carpets at the base of your walls or, if you have hard flooring, a gritty gray line.

To vacuum carpeted floors

Switch to the roller brush, which lifts carpet fibers so the machine’s suction can remove dirt. If your brush head’s height is adjustable, lower it to the point where it just makes contact with the carpet. If the brush is too high, it won’t clean deep-down dirt. When it’s too low, it can’t spin well and interferes with the machine’s suction. Some vacuums automatically adjust the height, but you’ll need to do this yourself if yours doesn’t.

To vacuum hard floors

Do not use roller bars or beater bars on hard floors. Your machine should have a felt or fabric roller or a flat floor head without a spinning brush. These specialized hard floor vacuum attachments do a better job of picking up dust and small debris from hard surfaces. Unlike the roller or beater bar attachments for carpeting, hard flooring rollers won’t damage your hard floor’s surface.

Step 4: Vacuum the Room Slowly

Your vacuum cleaner needs time to suction up dirt — working too fast sends dirt flying around. Even the best vacuum cleaner needs to go over an area repeatedly to get out the most dirt. So, slow down and push the vacuum away and then, without moving it to the side, pull it back. This slower pace gives your machine time to lift away dirt stuck between the fibers instead of just what’s on top of them.

Step 5: Turn and Repeat

The best way to thoroughly vacuum a room is to clean wall-to-wall, then turn at a right angle and vacuum the room again. Carpet fibers are twisted loops that get dirty on all sides, so vacuuming in only one direction doesn’t get them completely clean. To get the most dirt out of your carpet with a vacuum, work across a room in one direction, then turn and vacuum again from a right angle. If you notice the signs of poor vacuuming, this one change to your routine will likely fix the problem.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vacuuming

Below are some of the most commonly-asked questions about how to vacuum. If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for here, please leave it in the comments!

Which Is Better: Vacuuming or Sweeping?

Since modern vacuums have adjustable floor settings or attachments suitable for hard floors, it’s best to vacuum. Brooms send considerably more fine dust particles into the air than vacuuming does. These airborne dust particles can worsen allergies and asthma and make your home look dirty even when you’ve just cleaned.

How Often Should I Vacuum My Floors?

Don’t wait for your floor to look dirty before you vacuum it. A regular vacuuming schedule will help keep dust and pet hair under control in your home and extend the life of your carpet. At a minimum, you should vacuum hardwood floors wall-to-wall weekly and carpeted floors twice a week. In busy households or a sandy environment, you may need to clean the high-traffic areas more often. Pet areas also require more frequent vacuuming.

Should I Dust or Vacuum First?

You should always dust before vacuuming. This order moves dirt off surfaces to the floor where your vacuum can clean it up. Doing it the other way (vacuuming then dusting) means the vacuum’s rollers will spread dust from your floor onto other surfaces, so your home will still look dusty even when you’ve just cleaned.

Should I Vacuum Before Mopping?

You should always vacuum before mopping. Vacuuming will remove debris and dust, so your mop can clean the floor. Not vacuuming first means your mopping solution will mix with dust and leave streaks on your floor.

What Do the Vacuum Attachments Do?

Use your vacuum cleaner’s soft dust brush to clean blinds or curtains and remove dust from baseboards. The upholstery attachment has a flat head and no roller and is best for cleaning soft surfaces like mattresses and chair cushions or cleaning your sofa or couch. Use the long, angled crevice tool around the edges of the room and at the base of heavy furniture where the main vacuum head can’t reach.

What’s the Best Way to Vacuum Rugs?

To vacuum area rugs, adjust the vacuum head, so it just makes contact with the rug’s surface. Vacuum slowly back and forth lengthwise on the rug, then turn at a right angle and repeat. Clean dusty fringe on your rug with the dust brush. Also, at least once every 3 months, you should flip the rug over and vacuum the backing and the floor beneath it to remove dust that filters through the rug’s fibers.

What’s the Best Vacuum to Use?

The best vacuum cleaner for your home depends on the different surfaces you need to clean. If you have both carpet and hard floors, you’ll need a vacuum with an adjustable head to handle both surfaces. If you have only hard flooring, look for a vacuum with brush rolls specifically for hard floors. Either way, you’ll want a vacuum with tools like a crevice attachment and dust brush to clean around the base of walls and soft furnishings like sofas and mattresses. Cordless vacuums are convenient, but their batteries only last around 20 minutes, so they may not be the best choice if you have a large home.

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

Make sure you are following the steps to prepare your vacuum before use. If your machine’s dust container or vacuum bag is too full, it cannot produce enough suction to clean larger pieces of debris. You may also need to deep-clean your vacuum, a cleaning task that you should perform every three months at a minimum.

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  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.