How to clean a vacuum – 6 steps to maintain its longevity and performance

Improve the performance of your vacuum with these expert cleaning steps, contributing to a healthier indoor environment

(Image credit: Alamy)

It can be easy to overlook the fact that the cleaning supplies themselves require upkeep, however, cleaning your vacuum is essential to maintain its longevity, and performance and prevent dirt and dust from spreading.

Whether you are trying to improve suction in your vacuum, remove blockages, ensure your vacuum lasts longer, or contribute to a healthier indoor environment, these steps can ensure each vacuum component is clean.

Our experts have explained the steps to effectively clean your vacuum to extend the time before you have to replace your vacuum.

How to clean a vacuum

'A vacuum with clogged filters or accumulated debris can release dust and allergens back into the air. Step one is to always unplug the vacuum for safety,' advises Dr. Fahad Yasin, editor-in-chief at AirPurifierLabs. 'Then, systematically disassembling the necessary parts like the dustbin, filters, and brushes ensures a thorough clean.'

Remember to consult your vacuum's user manual for specific cleaning instructions, since vacuum models can vary.

If you are in the market for a new model, you can check out our guide for the best vacuums.  

1. Empty the canister or replace the bag

Someone vacuuming a mattress

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For bagless vacuums, empty the dustbin or canister regularly to prevent it from getting too full and affecting the vacuum's suction, and a build-up of dirt and odors. This could be after every use or when it gets about halfway full, depending on the size of the canister. 

'If your vacuum has a bag, replace it according to the manufacturer's recommendations,' advises Muffetta Krueger, cleaning expert and founder of Muffetta’s Domestic Assistants. These should usually be replaced at least every three months.

'Periodically sanitize the compartment where dirt collects to prevent unpleasant odors and bacterial growth,' continues Muffetta Kruger.

To do this, turn off the power and take out the dustbin from the vacuum. Use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the inside of the canister. We recommend these HOMEXCEL microfiber cloths, from Amazon.

Soak the canister in warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly to get rid of the soapy film. 

'Before reinstalling the canister, make sure it is completely dry to avoid trapping moisture, which can lead to mold growth and decreased suction power,' warns Hashi Mohamed, president of Ivy Cleans.

You can also gently wash the vacuum bag with soapy water, then rinse it and let it air dry. Some vacuum bags are also machine washable, so check the instructions. 

Muffetta Krueger
Muffetta Krueger

Muffetta Krueger is a cleaning expert and founder of Muffetta’s Domestic Assistants with over 16 years of operational management experience in the service industry. Muffetta’s Domestic Assistants provides housekeepers, house cleaners and maids, and is based in New York.

2. Clean the filters

Filters play a vital role in trapping allergens and maintaining air quality. 'Check the vacuum's filters (HEPA, foam, or felt filters) according to the manufacturer's instructions,' recommends Callum Stokes, at House Vacuum Cleaner.

'Wash washable filters with cold water, and air dry fully. Replace non-washable filters as advised.' 

If the manufacturer hasn't recommended soap or cleaning solutions, don't use them.

You should also get rid of dust before washing a filter, by taking it out and tapping it on a hard surface.

3. Brush roll care

Vacuum brush roll

(Image credit: Alamy)

'Next, you have to clean the beater bar. Remove the base plate to expose the roller brush, then use the scissors to cut off any hair or fabric entangled on the bar,' advises Ivo Iv,  founder and CEO of Decor Home Ideas. 'Be careful not to damage the brush bristles. 

'Next, use the grout brush to thoroughly clean the roller and remove any debris. Clean the base plate using a dry microfiber cloth.'

'Inspect the brush roll, which is responsible for picking up debris. Remove any hair, string, or debris wrapped around it,' recommends Muffetta Kruger. 'This ensures it can spin freely and maintain optimal performance.'

4. Regularly clean the vacuum's air pathway

Blockages are the leading cause of your vacuum becoming ineffective, which is why should regularly check the vacuum's hose, attachments, and pathways for clogs.

'Your best bet for clearing out any hair and debris in these places is a straightened coat hanger or a brush with a long and flexible handle. These tools are great for clearing out any obstructions and keeping your vacuums’ suction power in its best form,' advises Henrique Conceicao, manager from Total Clean.

We recommend this long flexible brush for cleaning blockages, from Amazon.

Angela Rubin, a cleaning expert at Hellamaid also recommends, 'Follow the vacuum's user manual to clean the internal air pathway, which may involve removing panels or accessing the internal components. Ensure it's free from obstructions and dust.'

Angela Rubin
Angela Rubin

Hellamaid is an award-winning cleaning company in Canada that's been featured on multiple global media brands.

5. Sanitize wheels

Dyson Ball Animal 2 vacuum cleaner

(Image credit: Dyson)

'Casters and wheels are another area that collect high amounts of debris and hair,' explains Henrique Conceicao. 'Your best bet is to again use a pair of scissors to remove the unwanted obstructions.  

'After cleaning you can then lubricate them which will help to manoeuvre the vacuum easier and more intuitively.'

6. Wipe the exterior

'Use a damp cloth to clean the vacuum's exterior, including the handle, body, and button,' advises Muffetta Kruger. 'This prevents the transfer of dirt from the vacuum to your hands.'

'Disinfect high-touch areas like the handle and power buttons,' says Angela Rubin. 'A simple solution of water and mild dish soap or a disinfectant wipe works well for this purpose.'

Henrique Conceicao, adds, 'I also recommend to regularly disinfect your vacuum with equal parts water and vinegar to keep it sanitary. This is especially important if you use it for germ-prone messes, like pet areas or even bathroom floors.'

Henrique Conceicao also recommends avoiding vacuum cleaner storage mistakes by 'Storing it in a place that’s out of reach from daily traffic will also ensure its longevity by avoiding potential damage.'


How to remove odors from a vacuum?

'To remove odors from your vacuum, consider sprinkling baking soda on the
carpet before vacuuming,' recommends Hashi Mohamed, president of Ivy Cleans. 'Alternatively, you can also place a sachet of baking soda inside the vacuum's dust bin or bag.'

You can also create a DIY lavender drug freshener to add a fragrant scent to your vacuum. 

How often should you clean your vacuum?

Kerry Sherin at Ownerly advises, 'The best rule of thumb is for how often to clean your vacuum: the cleaner your vacuum, the cleaner your carpets. 

'Depending on usage, it is suggested you clean your vacuum thoroughly cleaning once every 3 to 6 months. Although, if you have pets or even a particularly dusty environment, you might want to bump up the schedule a bit.'

Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for detailed guidance on cleaning your specific vacuum cleaner.

Remember, you should regularly clean a vacuum for preventative maintenance. By keeping on top of these small cleaning jobs, the vacuum will stay efficiently running for longer.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.