Yes, You Really Do Need to Clean Your Vacuum Cleaner—Here's How
It’s time for you to become the vacuum cleaner.
Warning: Things are about to get pretty gross.
You may think you’re a diligent cleaner: Your home is always tidy, you clean your surfaces every day using organic and/or all-natural products, you dust, and even vacuum every few days. Yes, it appears things may be on the up and up—until you learn what’s lurking in your vacuum cleaner, and just how grimy it really is.
The acknowledgement that vacuum cleaners need their own cleaning attention is nothing new (thanks to Monica Geller). According to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Arizona, common vacuums and their brushes are absolutely smothered in germs and bacteria. Of the vacuums tested, 50 percent contained fecal bacteria,13 percent contained E. coli, and every single vacuum tested contained mold.
But wait, there’s more. A 2013 study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found more mold, the clostridium botulinum toxin gene, and bacteria carrying antibiotic resistance genes.
“Our results show that although vacuum operation is typically brief, vacuum emissions can release appreciable quantities of human-derived bacteria,” the researchers wrote. “Such emissions could potentially lead to inhalation of infectious or allergenic aerosols." And the effect of mold- and bacteria-laden dust can be even worse for those suffering from allergies.
Kind of makes you want to throw out your vacuum and start sweeping again right? Well, hold your horses as there may be a better way. All you need to do is put in a little elbow grease to clean your vacuum every now and then to eliminate germs there too.
After Every Use: Clean the Brushes and Bristles
After each use, check all the brushes and bristles to ensure there’s no trapped debris or hair stuck to them. If there’s any hair or loose strings wrapped around a brush, don’t pull it: Use a pair of scissors to cut it out instead. Next, spray the brushes with a disinfectant spray to sanitize.
After Every Few Uses: Empty the Vacuum Cannister
According to the Vacuum Experts, rather than allowing your vacuum’s canister to fill up all the way, try emptying it out every single time you use it. At the very least, “empty the vacuum once it reaches half to two-thirds of the way full as a matter of habit,” a Vacuum Experts blog post recommends. This way you’ll be tossing out any potential germs or bacteria before they have time to take hold in your vacuum. By emptying the canister you’ll also be helping boost your vacuum’s performance.
About Once a Month: Check and Soak the Filters
Though cleaning vacuum filters needs to be a big part of your yearly routine, they should also be checked a bit more often, as in every month. Check your vacuum’s manual to see where each filter is located and how to detach it properly. Then, if it’s washable, just remove it, shake it, and rinse it under cool running water. Lay it out to let it fully dry.
Every 12 to 18 Months: Completely Disassemble Your Vacuum to Deep Clean
While you need to clean the individual parts more often, the Vacuum Experts say it’s also a good rule of thumb to take apart the entire vacuum and scrub it down—about once a year. To do so, you’ll need a few things: hot water, dish soap, a cleaning brush, and a can of compressed air.
Start by taking apart all the parts; soak the canister or any other washable parts like attachments. Give them all a good scrub and let them completely dry before putting them back together. Then use the can of compressed air to expel any dust or debris hidden in the nooks and crannies of the vacuum. Don’t forget to wipe down the external parts with a cleaning wipe, too.
Every Decade: Replace Your Vacuum
Very unsurprisingly, a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that the older the vacuum, the more pollutants it emitted. That means if you’ve got a hand-me-down vacuum from your great aunt it’s probably time to toss it.
According to Consumer Reports, vacuums last a median of eight years. However, if you follow the guidelines above and take care of your vacuum you should be able to stretch its use to the 10-year mark. Otherwise, you could just be dragging 10-year-old dirt all over your house.
(Need some ideas on a replacement? Check out Real Simple's ranking of the best vacuum cleaners around.)