Learn how to clean your vacuum cleaner in this step-by-step guide.

Whether you own an upright, canister, or a handheld vacuum, have you ever wondered what — or who — lives inside it?

We know that sounds weird, but think about it. You probably use your vacuum cleaner fairly often to get the dirt out of our homes.

person using vacuum cleaner on floors

But do you ever stop to think about where all of this stuff goes when you finish cleaning?

In this tutorial, we'll teach you how to clean a vacuum so it is more efficient when you clean your home with it.

Keep reading to learn the step-by-step process you can use to clean any type of vacuum cleaner.

This tutorial will help you remove bad smells from your vacuum.

This vacuum cleaning process helps us keep our cleaning business running smoothly.

Why You Should Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner

Vacuum cleaners work better when they are regularly cleaned, which is why you should keep yours tidy as often as possible.

When you clean the dirt from various floors, the majority of it should end up in the vacuum bag or filters attached to the unit that you use.

Of course, not all of it goes there. Debris also bonds the brushes near the front of the vacuum, or even clings to the walls of the filter.

The purpose of a vacuum is to remove visible pieces of trash from floors.

Unfortunately, with a dirty vacuum cleaner, the trash that it's supposed to store can end up back on the floor when the unit is in poor shape.

As the pressure increases when a vacuum is plugged in, so does the potential for lingering debris inside of it to move and come out of its body.

Sometimes, it travels from the filter through tiny crevices located along the vacuum's exterior body.

It may also push out through the vents. Its consistency is like a fine particulate, which can be harmful to breathe in and result in histamine reactions such as sneezing, coughing, and runny nose.

Are there any machines capable of preventing this from happening?

To answer this, understand that vacuums with interiors strong enough to block harmful particulate matter from getting out will have such a feature in their filter.

Vacuums with high-efficiency filters, commonly called HEPA filters, are built exactly for this purpose.

They not only trap harmful matter that comes off the floor but keep microorganisms and bacteria from getting out of the filter's ventilation system.

How Often Should You Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner?

Bagless vacuum cleaners that use a bin or dust cup should be emptied when the debris level reaches the top of the cup or after every use.

Vacuum bags should be removed and thrown away when captured debris reaches the indicated full line.

vacuum cleaner with a bag

You should clean your vacuum cleaner quarterly, or monthly if your home is very messy.

Simply take a few minutes to check the brush rollers and hose for any issues.

Then, thoroughly wash the dust cup, change or wash the filters. Don't forget to wipe down the outer housing to remove dust.

How Long Will It Take To Clean?

When done properly, it should take you 10 to 30 minutes to clean your vacuum. You'll need to let the vacuum parts dry out for a day afterward.

However, vacuums with extensive parts might take longer to clean. Making sure everything is dry requires time.

Even self-cleaning vacuums should be disassembled after a while, to keep them running as expected.

Before you clean, you'll want to avoid any wires or submerging any sensitive components in water.

Know how to handle access to the motor, and what you can and cannot remove as per warranty stipulations shown in the owner's manual.

You'll know when to clean it by seeing visible dirt inside and out of the cleaner, and changes in the way that it runs.

Weakness in the motor is one big sign, where the suction power might not be as strong as it was when you purchased the machine.

Overheating is another big one, though you might not see intense heat coming from the motor or any smoke.

Many newer cleaners have mechanisms that'll shut off the motor at the first sign of overheating.

If your vacuum turns off on its own after a while, though, this might be what's occurring.

Still, the majority of the cleaning that you'll do will be easy, requiring minimal effort with no risk of damaging parts.

You can also check on social media for unit-specific cleaning tips. Just remember to refrain from taking apart anything that could void your warranty.

What You'll Need

Here are some of the tools that you'll need to clean your vacuum cleaner and get it back into shape.

  • Flashlight - This is to help you see debris in areas that are difficult to notice.
  • Gloves - To keep your work sanitary and reduce cross-contamination.
  • Brush - Any handheld brush will do, including an old toothbrush.
  • Facemask - N95 masks work best, but a surgical mask of any kind will suffice.
  • Cleaning cloth - To wipe down large parts of the interior and exterior, as well as smaller parts.
  • Scissors - Scissors will help you get out stubborn pet hair, human hair, lint, and other tangled debris from the vacuum cleaner's brush.
  • Cleaning solution - This could be dishwashing liquid, vinegar, or your concoction. Just avoid using anything that could damage the vacuum's materials or solutions with a high salt content, which can potentially create rust.

Here are some additional but not necessary items for you to consider using during the cleaning session:

  • Essential oil - Essential oil can eliminate and prevent odors from developing inside the vacuum cleaner, and create a pleasant smell in the rooms that you clean.
  • Microfiber rag - This kind of cloth will dry up some of your vacuum's parts, reducing the time it'll take for them to dry out.
  • Compresses air - Compressed air works great for cleaning sensitive electronics, such as laptops and circuit boards. They're also great for getting caked-on debris from vacuum motors and hard-to-reach parts within them. If you can get a can of compressed air, it just might be the trick that stops your unit from overheating.

8 Steps To Clean A Vacuum Cleaner

1. Take The Vacuum Apart

The first thing you must do is take apart the vacuum. Depending on the unit that you have, this could either be easy or burdensome.

Again, don't do anything until you have familiarity with the interior components of your vacuum machine. If you're having a difficult time disassembling it, look to see if others have done the same detailing that you wish to do, and follow their advice.

If your vacuum is under warranty and you wish to keep it that way, don't take apart anything that's listed to be avoided by the manufacturer.

With some units, this can be difficult to know exactly. But for most products, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

Remove any small parts and be sure to not lose them. If your vacuum takes screws that must be unscrewed, keep this in a place where they're easy for you to find again.

Try not to unscrew too fast, which may result in you stripping their heads.

The most complicated parts of a vacuum are the motor and brush. Look carefully at what you're doing so that nothing will break by you trying to separate all the pieces.

When it comes to debris containers and dust bags, empty all the contents and throw away anything disposable, in a safe manner, of course.

2. Clean The Filters

Once everything's disassembled, you should first start by cleaning the filters.

No matter what kind of filter you have, it'll get clogged with debris and dust at some point, lowering the vacuum's suction power as a result.

This is sometimes gradual, where you may not notice signs of lost suction power until months or even years later.

Filters have different recommendations for when they should be cleaned or replaced.

They're generally suggested to clean more often than the entire vacuum itself. If you've been doing this, then the filter shouldn't take you too long to clean or change out.

Companies sometimes advise that their vacuums be changed according to the number of times that the debris bag has been emptied or swapped.

How To Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner Filter

Some cleaners are built in a way that can have the filters last for over a quarter of a year. Don't worry if you go over the recommended filter change. Just don't wait too long after the period that's set by them.

Filters are sensitive as well and may come with different cleaning guidelines than the rest of the vacuum cleaner. There are cleaners with one filter, and others with several.

Know how many your vacuum takes, and the kind that fits with the unit. If you don't have them and you know that the filters should be replaced, try buying them while the other parts of the vacuum are drying.

A HEPA filter can last for several years before needing a change. The easier way to tell is from the way that it smells.

When noticing a strong odor, then you should change it for a new one. But if no odor is present and the filter appears in decent shape, it's perfectly fine to keep it for a while longer.

For filters that can't be washed, use the cleaning cloth to remove stuck-on debris or a toothbrush. Mildly abrasive scrubbing pads are also good for this.

3. Clean The Canister

Since not every vacuum cleaner has a canister, such as those with dust bags, this step doesn't apply to all.

First, make sure that the canister is emptied. If you have neglected the canister for some time, you may notice some of the dirt clinging to its surface, particularly around the edges and corners.

To get rid of this, Use a bucket of warm, soapy water, preferably a solution that's missing with an antibacterial soap.

You can mix vinegar into this if you want, but don't do it if the canister has rubber parts.

Vinegar can corrode rubber, so avoid it when you see it. Scrub the canister with a cleaning brush or toothbrush.

Make sure to get in those gunky corners, which is where most of the bacteria come from.

If you don't clean such an area well, you may notice biofilm on the canister's surface during the drying process.

4. Clean The Interior

The inside of your vacuum cleaner is where most of your cleaning problems lie.

Once you're done with the canister, take the brush you used for that job and brush away any visible dirt and debris that you see on the inside of the unit. Clockwise, counterclockwise, and longitudinal strokes work best.

Have a hard time getting the caked-on debris to come off?

The green brittle pads commonly used for scrubbing pots and pans are a good last resort option.

However, don't scrub with them too vigorously since they can permanently scratch the vacuum's surface when too much force is applied.

5. Clean The Beater Bar/Brush Roll

The beater bar is the vacuum's brush, one of the toughest parts of the cleaners to get back in a like-new state.

This is also one of the most bacteria and virus-laden parts that you must clean, so be sure that your mask is on and gloves donned when handing the brush.

Start by trimming the brush first, with your hands or a fine-toothed comb that you don't need to use on your hair anymore.

Don't expect everything to come out this way. Yet much of the tangible debris should raise and loosen up, even if you can't take it out with your fingers.

When going about this, handle the brush gently to prevent it from getting damaged.

Here's a video that will show you how to clean your vacuum's brush roll.

Brushes are usually tough, but over time, the bristle tips can weaken and easily come off if you're not careful.

The toothbrush you used for the canister or vacuum interior can help you clean away the lower portion of the brush.

Clogged brushes and block debris from entering the vacuum, so remove as much of it as you can. If there's anything latched into tight knots on the brush, don't be afraid to use the scissors to remove it.

Again, be careful to not damage the brittles during this process.

Is your brush able to be removed from the bar? If so, you can detail it better. Use disinfectant as you scrub, or soak the entire brush in a cleaning solution for about an hour.

Rubbing alcohol is a good alternative if you don't want to soak. It'll rid the brush of harmful bacteria and dry out faster than soaking in water.

6. Clean The Attachment Accessories

Vacuums tend to have multiple accessories included with the unit. To bring everything to the same standard of cleanliness, you should clean them out as well.

You can skip any parts that you seldom or rarely use. Some attachments may have brushes on them, use the same strategy you applied to clean the larger brush to these.

You can soak the tubing in a bathtub or other large bucket in soapy water or a disinfectant solution.

For accessories that you use more often, passing a brush over it would be a good idea, especially if there's a layer of dirt around the surface.

Small accessories should be placed out to dry first. Based on your vacuum, these may take a longer amount of time to dry out.

7. Wipe Down The Exterior Unit

The vacuum's exterior shouldn't take you too long to get clean.

Use a damp cloth or microfiber towel and wipe it clean, being careful not to get any water on sensitive electronic components.

Alcohol or vinegar is good for exterior cleaning. Use a brush to go over the corners where you notice dark spots or an accumulation of dirt.

8. Reassembly

Reassembly comes after every vacuum part is completely dry. This usually takes about 24 hours to complete, though the time might be longer or shorter according to the unit.

Wipe away water with a towel before sitting the parts out to dry, which can help them dry out quicker.

Check to ensure that no water is left in the interior by wiping with a dry cloth or microfiber towel when a day has passed since you cleaned it.

Mistakes To Avoid When Cleaning Your Vacuum

Never clean a vacuum that's plugged in. Furthermore, if you have one that's wireless, take the battery out before doing anything, especially when cleaning the brush.

Failure to prevent the machine from accidentally running can result in your clothing and hair getting damaged due to being sucked into the machine.

Although it sounds like a trivial thing to remember, the risk is there when the unit is plugged in, or powered by a battery.

Inspect the vacuum cleaner for worn wires around the plug and motor. If you notice this, you could get a replacement if the unit's warranty hasn't passed yet.

What To Do With A Vacuum That Smells

Odor is a common issue and complaint among people using vacuum cleaners.

An odor may occur from having vacuumed food particles or other organic debris that could result in mold growth. The dust bag or container should be cleaned out or have its content discarded frequently. This alone can reduce odor.

Alternatively, you add a few drops of essential oil to the filter or canister after cleaning it out.

As a plus, essential oil can also fragrant the rooms that you clean when vacuuming.

There are cleaners on the market with their air fresheners, if yours has one, it might come in the form of beads that are added to the vacuum bag.


Cleaning a vacuum isn't hard. Be sure to read up on your unit so that you understand how to clean it and the type of filters and dust bags you need before taking it apart.

Doing this can extend the lifetime of your vacuum and keep its performance at the same state that it was in when you first purchased the machine.

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