How To Vacuum Floors the Right Way

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Once you know how to vacuum the right way, your floors will be cleaner than ever, and your carpets will last longer, too.

Closeup of someone using a canister vacuum on a shag rug

Are your carpets starting to look dingy or turning dark on the edges at the base of your walls? Do you notice more pet hair or dust motes flying around in your home’s air? Maybe your home has developed that “old house” smell even though it’s newer. Or you’re starting to feel like your vacuum isn’t doing a good job.

The problem may not be the age of your carpets or home or even your machine’s fault. It may be that you aren’t vacuuming the right way. If so, you’re not alone — most people do it wrong. I had no idea that I was vacuuming incorrectly until years ago when a repair person showed me how to use the machine properly. The difference was amazing — and, ever since, my floors have stayed so much cleaner. Now yours can, too.

The Best Way to Vacuum Your Floor

There’s nothing wrong with running your vacuum hurriedly over high-traffic areas when you’ve got company coming, or you only have a few minutes to tidy your home. 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 Cleaner for Use

Dirt and debris can reduce your vacuum cleaner’s suction. That’s why it’s important to do regular maintenance on your vacuum cleaner after use. At a minimum, make sure you’ve emptied the dust bin before you begin. Or, if your vacuum cleaner uses bags, make sure the bag is no more than half full. Then check the roller brush or beater bar and make sure it spins freely. Remove any string, hair, or other debris that’s wrapped in the brush.

Step 2: Get the Room Ready for Vacuuming

If you’re planning to dust, do it before you vacuum. The idea of cleaning is to move dirt down and then out of a room. The easiest way to do this is by dusting before you start vacuuming. Start with the highest surfaces, like ceiling fans and fixtures. Then work your way down to dusting your furniture and baseboards.

Vacuuming a room properly will go faster if you don’t have to keep stopping to move things. So, before you start, pick up any clutter on the floor. 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

Use your machine’s attachments to vacuum a room’s edges first. 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. So, switch to your vacuum cleaner’s crevice attachment and go around the room to begin. Also, clean around the base of any furniture that sits directly on the floor.

To vacuum carpeted floors, switch to the roller brush, which lifts the fibers so the machine’s suction can remove dirt. Be sure to adjust the brush head’s height, so it makes contact with the surface of your carpet but does not crush it. 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 if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to do this yourself.

If you have 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 carpet attachment, they won’t damage your hard floor’s surface, either.

Step 4: Work Slowly and Repeat

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 gives your machine time to lift away dirt stuck between the fibers instead of just what’s on top of them.

Work wall-to-wall and then turn and repeat. This is where most of us don’t vacuum the right way because we’ll stop as soon as we’ve gone around the room once. But carpet fibers are twisted loops that get dirty on all sides, so vacuuming in only one direction doesn’t get them completely clean. To vacuum the right way, work across a room in one direction, then turn and vacuum again from a right angle.

How Often Should You Vacuum?

In an ideal world, you’d vacuum wall to wall twice a week, and also go over high-traffic areas daily. In reality, it depends on the type of flooring and how much use a room gets.

Vacuum hard floors at least once a week. On top of weekly wall-to-wall vacuuming, go over the traffic lanes twice a week in most rooms. For busier rooms, like kitchens, you may want to do that daily.

Vacuum carpets twice a week. Carpet fibers hold onto pet hair, dirt, and bacteria more than hard floors do. To keep your home’s carpets clean, you need to vacuum wall-to-wall twice a week. If you’re going to mop the floor, do it immediately after vacuuming. (Try my homemade no-rinse floor cleaner that’s safe for any type of hard floor.) If you have a very busy home or pets, you might even want to vacuum high-traffic areas daily.

Where to Next?

How To Clean Your Car’s Interior Like A Pro
How to Make Your Home Smell Better
How To Declutter Any Room: 5 Tips that WORK!

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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.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Diane! I’m so happy you’re finding my site helpful.

  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.

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