How to clean your vacuum cleaner

Don’t let a dirty vacuum cleaner suck the joy out of cleaning.

We put our vacuum cleaners through a lot – picking up dust, dirt and pet hair among other things. Yet when did you last show your machine a little bit of TLC?

Cleaning your vacuum may seem a tad OTT, but it’s essential to clean the things that clean for you. In the case of a vacuum cleaner, regular cleaning can help keep the suction power strong and ensure your machine lasts the distance.

Thankfully, it’s not a difficult task – but there are a few things to be aware of, including how to clean a vacuum filter.

Woman holding a vacuum cleaner to illustrate how to clean a vacuum cleanerCredit: Shark
Cleaning your vacuum cleaner once a month will ensure it keeps in top working order

Why should you clean your vacuum?

A good clean will help your vacuum perform better

Have you ever thought about what’s inside your vacuum? As well as dust and hair, vacuum cleaners can harbour legions of nasties, from dust mites to mould.

If you don’t clean your vacuum regularly, these can make allergies or breathing difficulties worse for people in your household.

A vacuum cylinder full of dust to illustrate how to clean a vacuum cleanerCredit: Exceptional
A build up of dust and debris in your vacuum cleaner can hinder its suction power

It’s not just humans that this can affect. A build-up of dust and bacteria in bagless cylinders and filters can also upset your vacuum cleaner – and you don’t want that. A dirty filter, for example, will decrease suction, meaning the vacuum picks up less dirt and dust.

So, you’ve realised you do need to clean your vacuum cleaner – but what’s the easiest way to do this?

If you have a Dyson or Shark, then you’ll want to read our dedicated how to clean a Dyson vacuum or how to clean a shark vacuum articles. If your vacuum cleaner is from another brand, continue reading here.

How to clean a vacuum cleaner

Just six simple steps for a cleaner vacuum


Project overview

Cleaning your vacuum cleaner isn’t time intensive and won’t need any special equipment. Water, optional washing-up liquid, and a microfibre cloth will do the job really well, though you may find a small paintbrush or toothbrush are also helpful.

Don’t forget to allow up to 24 hours for drying time.

£1 – £4

1. Unplug your cleaner

It might sound obvious, but before you start cleaning your vacuum cleaner, you’ll need to unplug it from the power source.

2. Empty the cylinder

Leaving dust to linger in your vacuum cleaner is not a good idea, so make sure you fully empty it before you get to the cleaning stage. Ideally, you should do this each time you use it to help keep the suction power performing at its best. It also prevents any stagnant dirt from damaging the vacuum cleaner from the inside.

Someone emptying a vacuum cleaner bin and removing the filter to illustrate how to clean a vacuum cleaner
When you empty the bin, remove the filter and put this to one side to clean later

Remove the filter and set it one side as that will need to be cleaned separately.

If you have a bagged vacuum cleaner, you only need to empty the bag once it’s full.


3. Wash out the cylinder

If you have a bagless cylinder and it’s a bit stinky, it could probably do with a wash using a mild washing-up liquid and water. This will help get rid of any smells or lingering dust or mould. If it doesn’t smell, a quick rinse with water alone will do.

You can give it a quick dry with a tea towel, but it’s also advisable to allow the cylinder to air-dry completely before using it. A damp cylinder interior and dust do not make a pleasant combination.

4. Clean the attachments

While you’re cleaning the attachments, you can also take the time to check the vacuum hose for any blockages. If you find any, resist sticking something sharp, like a knife or coat hanger, down there and instead use a broom handle or a flexible cleaning brush.

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5. Clean the brush roll

If your vacuum cleaner has a brush roll, this will also need to be cleaned.

Over time, hair, string, and other debris can become tangled around the brush roll, which can reduce its effectiveness. Most vacuum cleaners now allow you to remove the brush roll so you can easily clean it. Check your vacuum’s manual for details on how to do this.

If your brush roll isn’t removable, and has hair and other debris tangled around it, use scissors to carefully cut it away.

Brushhead with tangled hairs around it to illustrate how to clean a vacuum cleanerCredit: Shutterstock
If you can’t remove your brush head easily, you may need to snip at any tangles with scissors

6. Don’t forget the exterior

Dust and grime will inevitably also be attracted to the outside of your vacuum cleaner, so it’s a good idea to give it a wipe down with a cloth and some soapy water.

Alternatively, use a couple of squirts of antibacterial disinfectant spray on a cloth to give it a once over.

How often should you clean your vacuum cleaner?

“We recommend giving the filters and inside the bin a thorough clean at least once a month, as this will help to keep the vacuum working at its best,” advises Catrin Davies, product manager at SDA Hoover.

Alternatively, you can wait until the suction starts to go, but scheduling a regular clean will help prevent any issues, such as blockages and loss of suction, in the future.

How to clean a vacuum filter

An easy way to fix suction power

A dirty filter and vacuum cleaner cylinderCredit: Exceptional
A dirty filter will impact the suction power so needs a regular clean


Project overview

Vacuum cleaning filters need regular cleaning to maintain their suction power. After cleaning, remember to allow 24 hours for the filter to dry completely

5 mins
£1 – £2

Cleaning the filter is probably the most important part of cleaning your vacuum cleaner. A dirty filter decreases suction, meaning your machine won’t be able to pick up the dust and dirt as efficiently. If your vacuum cleaner filter isn’t changed or cleaned regularly, it can also end up spitting debris back out into the room you’re cleaning.

Thankfully, cleaning a vacuum filter is straightforward and needs minimal equipment and time. Obviously, it’s always best to check the manual that came with your vacuum, but generally, the same method can be used for all filters.

When should I replace my filter?

Most manufacturers recommend changing your filters twice a year. However, if yours is torn or damaged, it should be replaced straight away.

When buying a replacement vacuum filter, you’ll need your vacuum cleaner’s model number to hand. This will either be on the side or base of it or listed in the manual.

1. Find the filter

These are usually somewhere within the cylinder, but if you’re unsure, check the instructions or manufacturer’s website. Some vacuum cleaners may have two filters that can be cleaned. Once located, remove the filter or filters and set aside.

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

2. Turn on the tap

The easiest and safest way to clean a vacuum cleaner filter is to run it under water – but make sure that your filter is washable before you do this, otherwise you risk ruining it.

While foam filters can be washed with some mild washing-up liquid, don’t use anything stronger, such as cleaning chemicals, fabric softeners or detergent, as this can damage the material.

If you do choose to clean the filter with some washing-up liquid, make sure it’s rinsed away. Otherwise, just run your filter under cold water until the water runs clear.

If your filter can’t be washed, tapping out excess dust will usually be all you need to do. Alternatively, you can get to the debris with a paintbrush or by using a can of compressed air to clean out the crevices.

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3. Allow to air-dry

Your vacuum filter must be completely dry before placing it back in the appliance. A damp filter won’t work effectively, and will reduce the suction power. There’s also a chance that it will encourage mould to grow and develop within your machine.

Don’t be tempted to use any heating appliances like tumble dryers, ovens or hair dryers, to dry it. Air-drying will ensure nothing gets damaged in the filter. Bear in mind, though, that this can take up to 24 hours.

What type of filter does your vacuum cleaner have?

Usually circular, foam filters, which can be cleaned with water and mild soap. Make sure you rinse the soap out fully.

Dyson is one of the brands that use this type of filter. It should be washed with water and left to dry.

Always check if these are washable. Some are made of paper and will be ruined if washed. However, you can still clean and reuse them by removing the dust and debris with a paintbrush or compressed air.

These aren’t found in many vacuum cleaners, but they are durable and can be washed.

These should last two to three years, but as with other filters, their performance will be improved with some cleaning. Check if your HEPA filter can be washed. If not, just remove any dust and debris.

If you have a bagged vacuum cleaner, the filter will be contained within the bag. To keep your vacuum cleaner running properly with this type of filter, simply change the bag when it gets full.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 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.

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