How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner – Pro Tips With 8 Easy Steps

How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner

​Vacuum cleaning time is probably the most deferred task of all. It’s messy, it’s dusty and yes, quite tiring. However, it’s something you can’t run away from. Procrastinating on this task only increases the amount of time and effort needed to vacuum every time.

So might as well get it done. In this article, I’ll try to help you understand how to clean a vacuum cleaner step by step, so that you don’t have to spend too much time guessing and testing.

​The more you defer this task, the more germs, dust and even mold your vacuum is going to spread into your home. You don’t need to pull a Monica Geller and get a second vacuum to clean the first! But you have to clean that stick!

By the end of the process you should have a squeaky clean vacuum. Believe me when I say it’s going to perform way better than before. So here goes!


How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner (Step By Step Guide)

​Step 1: Get all the Cleaning Tools Ready

​Keeping all the things you’ll need at hand before you start cleaning is a great idea. That way you’ll have to spend less time finding and gathering the tools, which could mess with your motivation to complete the actual task. Here’s a list of things you should keep at hand:

  • ​A bucket of water
  • Liquid soap
  • A wiping cloth
  • A garbage bag
  • A pair of gloves (optional, but advised)
  • An old toothbrush
  • Fresh filters (if your vacuum uses disposable, non-washable filters)

​Besides this, it goes without saying that you should ensure that the vacuum is unplugged before you start cleaning it.

​Step 2: Start by Cleaning the Filter

Start by Cleaning the Filter
Start by Cleaning the Filter

​The filters are what catch stray dust that try to get back into the air. So if this gets too clogged up, it prevents air from entering the vacuum, so you get less vacuum pressure, thereby less cleaning gets done.

Vacuums get have one or even more than one filters. Check where your vacuum’s filters are located and remove them. Some vacuums use washable filters while others use disposable ones.

​If your vacuum’s filter is disposable then replace it with a fresh one. If it is washable then shake it or clean it with an old toothbrush.

This step is usually enough to get your filter clean. While you do this, make sure to keep it away from your face. You don’t want it going into your nose!

​Next, if you think it is needed, rinse it under running water for a few minutes or soak it in a mug of clean water. Lay it flat to air-dry, at least overnight. Finally, fit it back into your machine.

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​Step 3: Clean the Bag or Canister (if it’s Bagless)

​If your vacuum uses a bag that is not disposable, then take it out, clean out all the dust into a garbage bag, Tap it on a hard surface a few times to remove all the dust.

Remember to do this in a well-ventilated area, most preferably out of doors. If it uses disposable bags, then just discard it and replace it with a fresh bag.

​If it is a bagless vacuum cleaner then remove the canister and empty it into a garbage bag. Detach it from the main vacuuming unit and soak it in some warm soapy water.

You can also lightly scrub it with the old toothbrush. After this, rinse with clean water and let it dry overnight. Before fitting it back into your vacuum, make sure there’s no sign of any moisture in it or it is going to attract fungus.

​Step 4: Wipe the Main Unit / Vacuum Body

​An article on how to clean a vacuum cleaner wouldn’t be complete without a mention on how to clean the vacuum body.

This is something that you probably already do on a regular basis, but since you’re already at it now, you might as well get this done too.

Wipe the main unit clean with a wiping cloth. If you find stubborn stains, slightly dampen the cloth and wipe the vacuum body clean.

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​Step 5: Clean the Brush Head

Clean the Brush Head
Clean the Brush Head

​Now it’s time to clean the star of the show – the brush head. Your brush head is usually the first point of entry for any dirt particle into your vacuum cleaner.

So this usually collects stray hairs, threads or any macro particles. The most common things that I find entwined with my brush head are stray hairs, be it mine or my dogs!

​Although it’s tempting to just pull them out, don’t. You’ll just end up knotting them even more. The best way to remove these entangled menaces is by using a pair of scissors.

Most brush heads have little grooves along their lengths. These are actually intended to allow scissors to cut into hairs and threads without damaging the bristles. Try your best not to cut the bristles.

​If you think it is required (and if the brush head does not have any electrical components in it) you can clean it in warm water while you finger through the bristles to remove stubborn debris. Once again, leave it to air-dry overnight before re-attaching it.

​Step 6: Check the Belt and Belt Spindle

​Check the belt that keeps the roll in place. If it seems a little loose, frayed or narrow, it’s a good idea to get it replaced. Also check it for damages and see that the belt does has not slid out of place.

If you need to replace it, remove the brush roll, slide the belt off and put the new belt in before re-attaching the brush roll. Refer to the vacuum cleaner’s instruction manual for clearer instructions.

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​Step 7: Clean all Other Attachments

​Once the main unit of the vacuum is clean, you can clean the attachments too. This process is the easiest. Soak them in warm soapy water. If any attachments have hair or other debris attached, clean them up with an old toothbrush. Once all the attachments are clean, lay them out to separately to dry overnight.

​Step 8: Re-attach Everything and you’re Done!

​Next, all that’s left to do is put all the detached elements back together again, plug the vacuum in and give it a whirr. You’ll instantly feel the difference in the sound, the efficiency and sucking power.

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​A Few Points to Remember…

​When discussing how to clean a vacuum cleaner, there are a few points that cannot go without mentioning.

  • ​Make sure your vacuum cleaner is switched off and unplugged from the socket. I cannot stress this enough, because there have been tons of examples of fingers sucked in and rotors gone mad during a regular deep cleaning session. So don’t forget to do that.
  • Also, make sure the power is switched off before pulling out the plug. While you’re at it, avoid pulling on the cord. This actually applies to anytime at all.
  • When cleaning the surface of the machine’s body, a regular wipe is just enough. Please don’t wash it or dunk it in a bucket of water. But I’m sure you’re already smart enough to know that.
  • If you’re using a cleaning agent to wipe or clean, avoid using corrosive detergents. Try to also avoid solvents, unless you love the look of blotchy rust marks all over the machine’s body!
  • Avoid pressing or scratching any part of the machine with metal tools.
  • If your machine is not bagless, make sure you replace the bag before you start using it.
  • Make sure the vacuum bag or canister does not become more than three-quarters full. You’ll invariably start seeing a significant reduction in suction power when that happens
  • The same thing applies to all the filters. Don’t wait till they get clogged and full.

​Cleaning Different Types of Vacuum Cleaners

​Cleaning Different Types of Vacuum Cleaners
​Cleaning Different Types of Vacuum Cleaners

​How to Clean your Robot Vacuum Cleaner

The process of cleaning of robotic vacuum cleaner is quite different from that of a regular one. Most of the tasks may be automatically taken care of by the robot itself.

For example, there are some robot vacuum cleaners that empty their dirt bins all by themselves. But if it’s not automated to do so, then you will have to do it for them.

​Almost all robotic vacuum cleaners are bag-less. They usually have a plastic dirt bin where they collect dust. You can easily remove this, empty out its contents, give it a gentle wipe and put it back.

Clean your Robot Vacuum Cleaner
Clean your Robot Vacuum Cleaner

Make sure you clean out the filter after every three to four cycles. If the room is particularly dirtier then clean the bin out more often.

​In addition to this, make sure your clean under the robot. Clean the main brush and the side brush with the cleaning tool that comes with the robot vacuum cleaner.

These parts tend to collect a lot of hair fiber and other debris. If they get too entangled, it might also mess with the robot’s movement and cleaning power.

Make sure you also check the left and right drive wheels and the castor wheels to see if they’ve collected debris and clean these on a regular basis too.

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​How to clean your Canister Vacuum Cleaner

​Canister cleaners may be bagged or bag-less. In any case it is important to clean the inside compartment of the main canister. This is especially important if the canister is bag-less, because the dust container is not sealed.

That means the insides can get quite dusty and dirty. Simply using a dust cloth or dusting brush usually doesn’t help much, since it’s difficult to get them into the tight compartments.

A good way to give them a thorough clean is by blasting a can of compressed air into them. Do note though, that this will mean a lot of dust flying around, so you would be better off not doing this step inside your home.

Clean Your Canister Vacuum Cleaner
Clean Your Canister Vacuum Cleaner

Take it out, blast the air in and make sure you keep it away from your face. Get this done quick because the can of air usually gets cold after some time.

​Keeping the hose clean is also important. Use a bent piece of wire to scoop out dust particles that may be stuck in the grooves or any clumps of dirt clogging it up.

Do this gently to ensure you don’t end up making a hole in the hose body itself. Use a dusting brush to clean inside. Once again, be gentle, so as not to break the hose. You can see more details in our article about how to clean a vacuum cleaner hose.

​How to clean your Handheld Vacuum Cleaner

​If you have a handheld vacuum cleaner, I would recommend you to empty the dirt bin after every use, or at least every two to three uses.

This is because handheld vacuum cleaners tend to have smaller sized dust bin which become full within a very short span of time. So it is important to keep it clean to discourage the growth of germs in them.

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​Cleaning Different Types of Filters

​How to Clean Foam Filters

​You will find foam filters usually in bagless or canister vacuum cleaners. These filters catch the dust below the canister. To clean a foam filter, remove it, soak it in water, squeezing it a little to let the dust out into the water. Then let it air dry before putting it back on.

Make sure it completely dries. I would recommend keeping it put to dry overnight. Adding some essential oil like peppermint, eucalyptus or lemongrass can act as antibacterial disinfectants for the filter, not to mention, they will give out a refreshing scent while you vacuum.

​How to Clean Cartridge Filters

​You will find cartridge filters in handheld as well as shop vacuum cleaners. These are round, cylindrical and pleated filters, which are basically disposable.

But if you clean them regularly, they will last quite long, without the need for replacement. Just take it out, give it a slight tap to loosen the debris that is stuck between the pleats of the filter. Avoid rubbing it too much as the material it’s made of is quite delicate.

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​How to Clean a HEPA filter

​HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters tend to have a better lifespan than standard filters. These filters capture very tiny debris (smaller than 0.3 microns) and that’s why they are so ideal for people sensitive to allergens. HEPA filters are made up of tightly woven fibers, so it is best not to apply any kind of pressure on them.

Clean a HEPA filter
Clean a HEPA filter

Avoid washing and scrubbing these sensitive fibers, lest you end up stretching them or introducing tiny holes on them, rendering them ineffective in filtering microscopic particles. My best advice would be to just replace it with a new one when you find it dirty.

​Frequently Asked Questions

​Here are a few questions that pop into most readers’ minds when considering how to clean a vacuum cleaner.

​How do I know how many filters I have and where they are located?

​You can refer to the User Manual that came with the vacuum cleaner to locate the number and location of filters. If you’ve lost it, which is usually the case, you can find it online. Just google your vacuum cleaner’s model number followed by the word ‘manual’ and you should find a copy.

Can I use Vinegar solution to clean the machine?

​You’re better off just using a mild liquid soap. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which can be quite corrosive. So if it comes into contact with metallic parts, it might cause rusting. Another option is to use formulas that have been pre-made for vacuum cleaners by companies like BISSELL.

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​How can I disinfect the vacuum cleaner?

​With dangerous viruses making the rounds these days, this question is quite valid. You will definitely want to disinfect the vacuum cleaner to reduce the risk of viruses and other germs re-circulating in the air inside your house.

You can add a small amount of rubbing alcohol or disinfectant liquid (diluted with 3 parts water) and then use it to disinfect parts of the vacuum cleaner.

​Can I use hot water to clean the Vacuum parts?

​Since a lot of the vacuum cleaner’s parts are either metal or plastic, hot water can actually have a reverse effect. Hot water causes plastic to melt and metal to corrode and bend.

In both cases, you might end up with deformed parts that you will not be able to fit back together. You are better off using water at normal temperature or at the most, lukewarm water.

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​Can I use fabric softener on the bristles of the vacuum head?

​Please avoid using any cleaning agents besides a mild liquid soap. Also make sure the soap you use do not contain bleach or any harmful chemicals.

​How can I clean the belt spindle if it is rusty?

​A rusty belt spindle runs the risk of breaking the rotator belt or causing it to slip off. If you find it a little rusty, you can use sand paper to smooth it down. If you find the belt itself slightly damaged, buy a new one and replace it.

​What do I do if I don’t have time for periodic vacuum maintenance?

​If you’re too busy to clean with your vacuum and then clean the vacuum itself, don’t sweat it. Vacuum repair stores provide services like professional vacuum cleaner cleaning when needed.

So just locate your nearest service provider online, give them a call and most of them even come to your home to pick it up for cleaning.

That way you can rest assured that your vacuum gets a thorough cleaning without you having to lift a finger…well technically you do have to lift a finger to dial their phone number.

​Is it enough to just clean my filters on a regular basis or do I need to change them once in a while?

​Well, your filters are quite important in blocking dust from getting back into the air in your house. So you have to ensure that they are always in prime condition. Moreover, filters contain very fine fibers that are quite susceptible to wear and tear.

So, first and foremost I would advise you to be gentle with them. Avoid rubbing and scrubbing at all costs. Clean them with gentle strokes. Change the filter once in six to nine months.

They are really cheap and you can easily order in a replacement from the seller of the vacuum brand or even from Amazon.

​Can I reuse my vacuum bag after emptying it?

​Older models of vacuum cleaners carry re-usable bags. If yours is one of those models, then re-use it by all means. However, if your model calls for disposable bags, then it is recommended to dispose it and add a fresh one.

This is because the disposable bags are usually built for one time use. They have fine pores on them which often remain blocked even after the dust has been emptied out.

This will make it really messy and you’ll be breathing in a lot of dust and germ particles.

​Final Words on Vacuum Cleaner Maintenance

​Running a vacuum cleaner without proper maintenance means you’re just moving the same dirt around in your house over and over. It’s quite easy to forget that the tools that help you maintain your house also require maintenance themselves. So, it’s important to understand how to clean a vacuum cleaner.

​In this article we looked at the basic steps you need to follow in basic maintenance and cleaning of your vacuum cleaner. Before that I mentioned some tools that you need to keep at hand when cleaning your vacuum cleaner.

Different types of vacuum cleaners have certain specialized maintenance needs. It’s important to understand how to cater to these needs when you clean the vacuum cleaner. Your vacuum cleaner may have different number and types of filters.

I tried to highlight how you can clean the different types of filters. Finally I answered some Frequently Asked Questions and a few points you should remember during every deep cleaning session.

​Your Vacuum cleaner works hard to keep your house clean. The least you can do is to ensure that you keep your vacuum cleaner clean!


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