6 Things Your Vacuum Is Begging You to Stop Doing

A repair pro confirmed we could all be doing better by our vacuums.

It turns out we’re not busting the dust—we’re busting our vacuums with our bad habits. When a fellow Real Simple staffer told me she ruined her very expensive vacuum by doing something most people would consider fairly harmless (more on exactly what she did in a bit), it made me wonder what other things we’re all doing that are shortening the lifespans of these hard-working machines.

To help me find the errors of our ways, I spoke to Cory Hankins, the CEO of The House of Vacuums, a North Carolina-based business that sells, services, and repairs—you guessed it—vacuums. Hankins says, “We work with customers across the nation who send us their vacuums, and we've been in business for over 55 years, so we’ve seen all the good, the bad, and the ugly.” He was able to share vacuum mistakes people make, plus maintenance tips that’ll help keep your device running smoothly for years to come.

Related: The 12 Best Vacuum Cleaners of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

<p>Johnny Greig/Getty Images</p>

Johnny Greig/Getty Images

You’re using it to suck up fine powders like baking soda

This is probably the most common offense Hankins sees and is what my colleague (who shall remain nameless!) is guilty of doing. Passing her vacuum over a baking soda-coated mattress killed her machine almost instantly. But who can blame her? We’ve all read the cleaning tips out there that suggest sprinkling mattresses and rugs with baking soda or carpet fresheners to deodorize them, then suctioning all of that fine powder up with the vacuum.

However, Hankins says this is a really bad idea for two reasons: One, because it’s incredibly dusty and fine, all of that fine powder will clog up the filter and other parts of the machine. Two, some brands of carpet powders are actually acidic, which can damage vacuum filters (and certain rug fibers) over time. If you’re wondering about other gritty, real life situations like post-beach clean ups, Hankins says it’s okay to run a vacuum over tiny amounts of sand you might’ve tracked in. This won’t overwhelm the machine the same way mounds of baking soda might.

You’re passing it over water

“Vacuum cleaners are not shop vacs,” Hankins stresses. We all claim to know and understand this, but according to him, running vacuums over water is a very common mistake he sees vacuums fall victim to, and it’s partly because we’re not paying attention to the surfaces we’re cleaning. On top of this, we’re all assuming a little bit of water is harmless.

Cats and dogs, for example, will drip water all over the carpet after being outside, and people will often Hoover right after them without thinking twice about it. The problem is that the moisture will collect inside the vacuum, leading to dirt and lint sticking and clumping up—resulting in clogs and weaker suction. Another familiar scenario: You dropped an ice cube in the kitchen, forgot about it, then passed a vacuum right over the spot a little later. A tiny chunk of ice doesn’t seem like a big deal, but depending on the size of your machine, it could spell disaster. “You’d be surprised. That type of dampness from an ice cube could spread water throughout a little handheld stick vacuum. You get a whole mess,” Hankins says.

You’ve completely replaced your broom with your vacuum

We have an unrealistic amount of faith in our vacuums. They are rockstars in our homes for sure, but they can’t do everything. “Vacuum cleaners are designed to pick up pet hair, dust, dander, dirt, grass—stuff like that,” Hankins says. They’re not designed to lift teeny socks, paper towels, newspapers, and such. Yes, these were real examples he gave, so clearly this isn’t as common sense as you might think!

But even smaller items shouldn’t be trusted. Paper clips, rubber bands, coins, and so on, should get swept up or picked up by hand before you vacuum a room. Let’s say you shatter a glass though, isn’t a vacuum the best way to get every single speck? Hankins confirms yes, but sweep up as much as you can first. Any lingering glass fragments that are virtually microscopic are fine to get inhaled by your vac, but Hankins says to pay attention to the sound: If it’s making a high-pitch squeal after you do the job, you might be in trouble.

You’re not washing and replacing your filters

Be honest with yourself… When was the last time you cleaned your filter? It’s not uncommon for people to never wash them, but it’s so crucial to their function. Washing them will preserve your vacuum’s suction power, and it’ll help your home smell clean. Filters can actually trap smells and spread them throughout the house when they’re not maintained! Hankins recommends washing them once a month (refer to your manual for best instructions), and replace the bags in bagged vacuums every two to four months.

The other thing people do even less of is replacing their filters. Washing them will keep much of the dirt at bay, but over time, they’ll get harder to clean. Stubborn debris builds up no matter what (which is something I noticed with my own vacuum), so it’s important to totally replace them once a year, according to Hankins. He also recommends getting your vacuum serviced annually if you really want it to perform optimally and last longer, which is probably a wise idea if you paid a pretty penny for your machine.

You’re leaving it on the charger… All. The. Time.

Technically this won’t ruin your machine if it’s not super-old, but it’ll certainly help extend the battery life. “Technology has advanced to where batteries don't overcharge anymore, but I do tell customers to let their vacuum power up to 100 percent, then the next time you use it for a few minutes, don’t plug it back into the charger. Use the machine until the battery is fully dead.” He says this is cycling the life of the battery, helping it last longer. (Dyson confirms this is true for their models.) “It's like cell phones and laptops, it’s a good idea to let them go dead every once in a while, then do a full charge.” Think of it as a little reset!

You’re not removing the hair from the brush roll

“That's a big one,” Hankins confirms. Human hair, pet hair, lint, strings—all those things wrap around the rollers and can seriously weaken your vacuum’s suction if you let it get out of control. He says this includes many vacuums that claim not to have this problem, so you shouldn’t skip this chore even if you think your vacuum is immune. Follow your device’s manual, but many versions will allow you to slide the brush roller out so it’s easy to pull off the hair. Other versions might require you to safely clip away with some scissors.

Related: How to Clean Every Part of Your Vacuum

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