How to vacuum properly: top tips from a cleaning pro

Ready to up your vacuuming game? Cleaning expert Laura Mountford shares her top cleaning tips.

Vacuuming is an essential element in keeping your home clean and free from dust and dirt. It might seem like a simple task, but there are right and wrong ways to vacuum properly.  

We quizzed cleaning expert Laura Mountford about how to vacuum for maximum results with minimal effort. As the author of the book Live, Laugh, Laundry, she is a self-confessed “cleanaholic”, and says that while vacuuming isn’t difficult, there are steps you can take to make it easier and more effective. 

Woman using a vacuum cleaner while cleaning carpet in the house to illustrate how to vacuum properlyCredit: Shutterstock
Using the right technique when you vacuum can ensure you get the maximum results on carpets and hard floors

Clear the floor

Remove the clutter  

Before you even switch on the vacuum, make sure you clear the floors as much as possible, advises Mountford.   

While this doesn’t mean moving heavy furniture, it does involve picking up random clutter from the floor, such as shoes and bags. Not only will it make the job quicker, it will stop you from sucking up anything that shouldn’t be in the vacuum. No one wants their bag (or vacuum cleaner) ruined by sucking up a random bag strap. 

Get dusting

The big question – to dust or vacuum first?

“The most common method is to dust first and then vacuum to finish off,” says Mountford.  

Use a microfibre cloth or duster to wipe down surfaces like shelves, tables, and windowsills. However, if you want super clean surfaces, you may need to dust again, she advises. 

people, housework and housekeeping concept - happy woman with dusting cloth cleaning shelves at home to illustrate how to vacuum properlyCredit: Shutterstock
Dusting before you vacuum is a good idea to stop all the dust being blown around the room

“Did you know that when you vacuum it can cause dust particles to move around the room?” she says. “So you may need to do a final dust to ensure surfaces are completely clean after vacuuming.” 

For that reason, it’s also a clever idea to shut the doors in every room as you vacuum, to prevent more annoying dust particles moving through the house. 

Use the right settings

Hard floor or carpet

Most vacuums now come with different settings to ensure you’re getting the best clean for the floor type. If your vacuum doesn’t seem to be picking up much from a rug or carpet, make sure that it isn’t set to its hard floor setting. 

When it comes to thicker rugs, such as shag pile or sheepskin, Mountford advises ditching the regular brush head and choosing a different vacuum attachment.

“Use the nozzle attachment, as using the brush will just get it clogged up,” she says. “The best method is to give the rug a good shake outdoors to remove any debris and then use the attachment to suck up any remaining dust and dirt. 

Cleaning expert Laura Mountford shares her tips on how to vacuum properlyCredit: Laura Mountford
Cleaning expert Laura Mountford says that thicker rugs and carpets may need a different attachment

The right technique

Forward and back

Yes, there is such a thing as a correct vacuuming technique, says Mountford, who advises vacuuming in straight lines, forward and back. 

The back and forth motion helps to loosen dirt and debris, to ensure your vacuum cleaner is picking up as much as it can.  

Many people often put more energy into pulling their vacuums back than pushing them forward, but this can end up leaving dirt behind. Vacuum cleaners were designed to be pushed at a faster speed than pulled, so put your energy into pushing your vacuum forward to get the best results. 

Start in the far corner

Work your way around the room

Not only is how you vacuum important, but where you start from is key. 

“Start in the far corner of the room and work your way from back to front, top to bottom,” advises Mountford. 

If you can, try and overlap each back and forward push to make sure you dont miss anything.    

Dont forget the edges and corners of each room. These areas are often overlooked, but they can be real dust and dirt traps. If needs be, use a smaller attachment – such as a crevice or nozzle attachment, which are usually long and slim – for these smaller areas, to ensure you suck everything up. 

Four things you should never vacuum up

These do not mix with an electrical machine, so use a cloth instead. Liquids can get trapped inside a vacuum and not only start to smell bad, but also cause mould to grow. You can buy wet and dry vacuum cleaners, such as the Henry Wet & Dry Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner (Argos, £150), but these are the only type of vacuums that should be used anywhere near liquids.

Sharp pieces of glass can damage your vacuum by puncturing the hose, bag or other parts of the interior. A good old dustpan and brush is your friend here.

It may be tempting to suck up that piece of irritating Lego or a coin, but dont do it! They are hard on the motor and can leave pieces in the brush roll or interior. These are the sorts of things you need to look out for before you start vacuuming and when you’re clearing the room of clutter.

Using your vacuum to suck up ash may seem like a quick and easy solution, but it’s not. The ash can block filters and damage your vacuums, and because ash holds heat for a long time, there’s also a small risk of a fire starting within your vacuum cleaner.

Use your attachments

You can vacuum more than the floor

You may find your vacuum has just too many attachments, but its worth familiarising yourself with what they do as they can be useful for other areas of the home. 

“I use my vacuum to clean my sofa, curtains, cupboards, mattresses, car interior, and any upholstery around the home,” says Mountford. “Many have a dusting attachment so you can vacuum any surface.

Woman cleaning sofa with vacuum cleaner to illustrate how to vacuum properlyCredit: Shutterstock
Thanks to various attachments your vacuum can clean so much more than your floor

Dyson has a pet grooming attachment so you can suck away the hair as you brush your furry friend, while Miele produces a radiator brush to help you get to those hard to reach dusty bits. 

Tackle the stairs

Go cordless to make it easier

The stairs are one thing many people hate to vacuum, but as a high-traffic area, they need a good vacuum on a regular basis. For Mountford, its all about having the right kind of vacuum. 

“Use a handheld cordless vacuum that is lightweight and easy to carry,” she says. “Nobody wants to be faffing around juggling a heavy corded vacuum on the stairs. 

Flat top view looking down on woman vacuuming stairs to illustrate how to vacuum properlyCredit: Shutterstock/Kristi Blokhin
A cordless vacuum is your friend when it comes to cleaning the stairs

To get the best results, start at the top of the stairs. That way, any dust or debris that gets knocked off from the upper steps can be hoovered up as you work your way down. Pay particular attention to the edges and corners as this is where dust can accumulate. This is also an excellent job for a crevice attachment, which can  get into those hard to reach areas. 

We’ve tested the best cordless vacuum cleaners so you can see what one suits your cleaning needs.

Get rid of smells

Shake it out!

It’s not just dust and dirt that you have to worry about when it comes to carpets. They can also harbour some nasty smells – however, Mountford says that a common kitchen ingredient can easily get rid of odours. 

“Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on your carpet and leave for a few minutes before vacuuming up,” she advises. “This is a great natural method for removing odours.” 

Rugs and carpets can also harbour stains that vacuuming alone wont remove, and to tackle these Mountford suggests using a special product. 

She says: “For any stains, my must-have (particularly for pet parents) is the Dr Beckmann pet stain and odour remover. It has a brush on the end and is ideal for removing stains and freshening up carpets, rugs and upholstery.” 

You can also use bicarbonate of soda on your mattress. Shake it all over and then leave for a couple of hours. Then using the upholstery attachment, if you have one, run the vacuum all over the mattress. This will remove any odours, as well as dust mites and dead skin. Aim to do this every couple of months. 

Empty the cylinder

A full bin can lead to reduced suction

If you have a bagless vacuum cleaner, you need to empty it frequently.  

“You should ideally empty your vacuum cylinder after every use, so that it is clean and ready for the next time,” says Mountford. “When the cylinder is full this can reduce the effectiveness of the vacuum power.” 

Dont forget to also clean your vacuum cleaner, especially the filter and cylinder. Both can be rinsed with warm water to help remove any build-up and get rid of any musty smells. Doing this regularly will help improve the suction power of your vacuum as well.

Vacuum twice a week

Most homes can be vacuumed once or twice a week

The more often you vacuum, the less dirt and debris will build up, which makes your job much easier. Once you know how to vacuum properly, it will also become a much quicker job.

Person vacuuming a carpet with a beagle dog lying next to themCredit: Shutterstock
If you have pets, you will need to vacuum more frequently, especially on carpets

Experts recommend most houses can be vacuumed once or twice a week. However, if you have pets, you will need to do it more often. Pets shed a lot, and their fur can quickly build up on carpets and furniture.

If you have allergies, dont assume that vacuuming daily will help. Unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter, which traps the allergens inside the cylinder, vacuuming can worsen allergies as it moves dust and pollen around. 

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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