Do you need to clean your vacuum cleaner?

The answer is yes – because regularly cleaning your vacuum cleaner will not only make it work better, it’s also better for your health.

You might not have thought about the need to clean your vacuum cleaner, but it’s a task that should be tackled regularly – and will pay dividends when you do.

As one of the household tools that is used frequently, your vacuum cleaner can quickly get grubby. If left to get dirty, not only will your vacuum cleaner lose suction power and make your job twice as difficult, it can also be harmful to your health.

Woman vacuuming a hard floor in her kitchen to illustrate whether you should clean your vacuum cleanerCredit: Shutterstock/Ground Picture

Think about what your vacuum cleaner sucks up on a daily or weekly basis – hair, food, dead skin cells – and you may not be surprised to find out it can be a source of harmful bacteria emissions.

A study in Canada showed that not only can vacuum cleaner bags or cylinders trap live bacteria, such as salmonella, for up to two months, they have the potential to spread them around the house. These emissions can be particularly harmful to those with allergies or asthma.

For Helen Francis, a cleaning pro and Company Director of Abode Lifestyle & Cleaning Services, cleaning her vacuum is non-negotiable.

“With all the billions of dust particles, dirt, pet hair, dead skin, etc, that gets whipped up into it, a regular clean will keep it in tip top condition,” she says.

By cleaning your vacuum regularly, not only will you be helping to keep it in good shape, you’ll also notice any wear or tear, as well as when you need to change the filter.


When should I clean my vacuum?

Less power means it’s time for a clean

Don’t leave this task as part of your yearly spring cleaning ritual, if you’ve noticed your vacuum has less suction power than usual, this is a great time to give it a clean.

Many vacuum manufacturers recommend cleaning any in-built filters that aid the suction every three to six months, and replacing them yearly for best results. However, it also depends on how often you use your vacuum.

“Manufacturers recommend every three months to clean your filter, but as mine gets a daily use I clean it once every three to four weeks,” says Francis. “Left unattended it will start to smell stale.”

How to clean a vacuum filter

Check what filter your have first

This depends on what kind of filter is fitted in your vacuum. Before cleaning it, check your manufacturer’s instructions. Many manufacturers will also have further details on their website, including how to locate the filter or order new ones if necessary.

Paper or synthetic cartridges, for example, aren’t usually washable but can be dusted with a dry cloth. True HEPA filters (see below) cannot be washed, instead they need to be replaced every two years. However, HEPA-like filters usually can be dusted or rinsed under a tap.

Explainer: HEPA Filters

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. These filters trap and remove really tiny particles, rather than recirculating them back into the air. This is particularly important if you have anyone in the home with allergies, asthma or other respiratory problems.

A true HEPA filter has to be able to remove at least 99.8% of particles 0.3 microns in size or bigger. These figures, and the serial number, will be printed on a true HEPA filter. Many brands use HEPA-like filters but can’t promise to be as effective as the original filter.

Foam filters, however, are most commonly used in vacuum cleaners and can be easily cleaned with water.

To clean your filter, ensure your vacuum is unplugged, then open the cylinder to remove it. The filter should be visible, however you may need to remove an additional layer, such as a felt filter, to get to it.

woman cleaning a vacuum cleaner filter by running water through it to illustrate how to clean a vacuum cleaner filterCredit: Shutterstock/Mariia Boiko

When you’ve removed it, give it a tap over a bin to remove any loose dirt, then simply rinse it in warm water. It’s not advisable to use soap – a good rinse in water should be enough to get it clean.

It’s important to let the filter dry completely before reinserting it, as a damp filter will hinder the performance of your vacuum, and there’s also a risk of damaging the motor or encouraging mould to grow. Drying it out may take a whole day, so make sure you leave plenty of time until your next vacuuming session.

Have you got a Dyson vacuum cleaner and want to know how to clean the Dyson filter? Even though these vacuums have their own unique filtration system, simply rinse the filter under the tap and leave it to dry for 24 hours.


How to clean the brush roll

Hairs be gone!

The brush roll may be something you’ve never thought about cleaning but if you have pets or people with long hair in your household, it should be tackled regularly.

“If your brush roll is clogged up with hair and other debris, it can stop it from turning,” says Francis, who adds this will make it impossible to do a good job.

long hair wrapped around a vacuum cleaner's brush roll to illustrate whether you should clean your vacuum cleanerCredit: Shutterstock/Afanasiev Andrii

Most brush rolls pop out easily – consult your vacuum manufacturer’s instructions to see how yours works. You can then clear the roll of any debris trapped around it.

If your brush roll can’t be removed, use scissors to cut away whatever’s trapped, giving it a tug to fully remove it.

What else should you consider cleaning?

Don’t forget the rest of your vacuum

Francis advises cleaning any vacuum attachments you use every couple of months. This allows them to stay free-flowing and ensures they don’t transfer any leftover particles from previous jobs. She also recommends cleaning the hose every so often to make sure nothing nasty is lurking there.

“I immerse it in some baking soda and warm water, rinse through, then leave to dry before putting it all back together,” she says.

If you have a bagless vacuum, you can use this mixture or soapy water to rinse out the cylinder, which will help remove any nasty smells.

Hose blockage?

If you have a blockage in your vacuum hose, use something like a broomstick to gently feed it through the hose. This may help dislodge larger blockages that soap and water alone can’t remove. Alternatively, you could buy a flexible cleaning brush (£6.49, Amazon). Don’t use a coat hanger or anything sharp as this could damage the hose and reduce its suction power.

As your vacuum is often getting down and dirty, give the whole body a once over with a damp cloth to keep it dust free, advises Francis. You could also use a diluted cleaning product, such as Zoflora, to get rid of harmful bacteria.

Once again, check your manufacturer’s instructions to ensure this won’t harm your machine.

Emptying your vacuum

Should you ever leave dust in a vacuum?

If you have a bagless vacuum, you may not think of emptying it until it’s full, but Francis recommends it should be emptied after every use, even if you’ve just hoovered up a bit of dust.

This will get rid of any bacteria, while also improving the suction.

Vacuum cleaner cylinder full of dust and ready to be emptiedCredit: Shutterstock/Badnews86dups

Bagged vacuum cleaners can be left longer, as the dust is enclosed and will be thrown away with the bag.

“Change it for a fresh one when it is nearly full as it becomes expensive if you change it too often,” she says.

Reusing bags

You might be tempted to reuse old vacuum bags, but it’s not a good idea as some of them contain part of the filtration system and will lessen the effect of this.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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