Using a vacuum cleaner: 21 cleaning tips to make your vacuum work that extra bit harder

Using a vacuum cleaner is for more than just carpets. Read through our list of handy tips and be amazed at just how many things you can clean with a vacuum cleaner (spoiler: includes your dog)

 Using a vacuum cleaner: Dyson V8 Absolute cord-free vacuum
(Image credit: Dyson)

Using a vacuum cleaner for just floors is so 2018. Modern, lightweight vacuum cleaners are up to so many more tasks than just removing dust from your carpet. From freshening up curtains to grooming your pet's coat (yes, really), there are all sorts of ways to use a vacuum cleaner we bet you haven't tried yet. 

Need a new vac? Find the best vacuum cleaners you can buy in our guide.

1. Use a vacuum cleaner to make a room smell nice

Ever noticed when you're vacuuming that the air expelled from the vac is a little, well, dank? It's no wonder, given that your vacuum cleaner's canister or bag probably has everything from mouldy food to pet hair lurking within it. But there are several quite neat tricks you can use to make that expelled air smell sweet so that your room feels as fresh as it looks. Try these: 

  • Change the bag or clean out the canister of a bagless model regularly;
  • Remove blockages – clogged pet hair is often a culprit;
  • Clean the vacuum's parts with a combination of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda and water, rinsed and dried.
  • Pop a tumble dryer sheet into the bag or canister to release its scent.
  • Put an orange's peel into the bag or canister – same effect.
  • Sprinkle your favourite essential oil on to a cotton wool ball and put it into the bag or canister.
  • Sprinkle bicarb/baking soda on the floor and vacuum it up (that will freshen a carpet, too, if you leave it to work its magic for an hour or so).

Loving these tips? Find out more about how to clean with bicarbonate of soda (we've got tips for the whole house) and don't miss our guide to cleaning a carpet to get yours looking like new.

Deep cleaning press image from Airtasker

2. Using a vacuum cleaner to manage your allergies

When spring and summer come around, we throw open our windows to freshen our rooms. Unfortunately, doing so also agitates dust and allows pollen in, which then clings to curtains and window treatments, furniture and carpets. The solution? Other than shutting windows, using the soft brush attachment on your windowsills and window treatments will cut down on dust and pollen entry dramatically. Treat these hot spots once a week – and use them on your children's favourite toys if they suffer from allergies, too. Pick a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to help remove allergens from the air, too.

Find out more about getting rid of dust mites and making your home more allergy friendly in our guides.

3. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean kitchen appliances

Crumbs wedged in (and under) the toaster, food particles littering the microwave, fridge shelves and doors, air filters on ovens, hobs... you name them, all of these bitty jobs you'd normally take ages to tackle with a cloth can be completed really quickly and efficiently with the crevice tool of your vacuum cleaner (a handheld is great for this; the Dyson V7 Trigger is our favourite but you can find all the best handheld vacuum cleaners in our guide). Put the vacuum cleaner on a gentle setting and switch off appliances at the mains before tackling them with your vac, just to be on the safe side. 

Find more kitchen cleaning hacks to short-cut your chores; and don't miss our guide on how to vacuum, which takes you through all the vacuum cleaner attachments and best practice for their use.

4. Using a vacuum cleaner to get rid of household pests

Our homes are also home to a whole range of unwanted visitors, from dust mites to mice to bed bugs and fleas. Using a vacuum cleaner to thoroughly suck up dropped crumbs can help you get rid of mice by limiting their food source but – more drastically – using a vacuum cleaner on affected surfaces, whether mattresses, carpets and furnishings, can kill fleas, limit dust mites and get rid of bed bugs. 

Plagued by pests? Find out how to get rid of common household pests in our guide.

5. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dents from carpets

If you're revamping a bedroom or living room that's carpeted, it's likely that the one thing holding you back is the dents in the carpet left by heavy furniture. However, carpet dents can be reversed with this simple trick: place ice cubes on the dents and allow them to melt, then vacuum over the wet spots – this should make the carpet fibres return to their original positions. 

6. Use a vacuum cleaner to freshen up smelly bedding

Is your mattress odorous? Your bed throws and cushions a little niffy? If the smaller items won't go in the wash, you might wonder how to freshen them up. As for freshening up the mattress, it's not the job and a half you might think it is.

Simple sprinkle it all with baking soda/bicarbonate of soda next time you change your bedlinen, leave for at least half an hour then vacuum it away. The bicarb will loosen dust and help you get rid of lurking dust mites, too.

Find more ways to clean a mattress in our guide.

7. Using a vacuum cleaner to get rid of pet smells

Does your pet's bed smell? Does your sofa smell? Is it all down to your beloved pooch? Vacuuming up pet hair and dander regularly and thoroughly is the best way to stop it smelling bad. Use the bicarbonate of soda trick first, sprinkling it liberally over affected surfaces, leaving it to work its magic for a while before vacuuming it up. Not worked? You'll need to pop any items you can in the washing machine. 

Then, to keep smells at bay in the first place, consider putting a throw or blanket on your sofa or pet bed. You can quickly pop that in the wash to limit the stink in the first place. Brushing your pet regularly will also help.

Find out more about cleaning up after a dog in our guide.

8. Use a vacuum cleaner to groom your pet

This vacuum cleaning hack comes with a strict warning: don't do it if your pet doesn't like it or is already scared of the vacuum cleaner. But if your moulting dog or cat is so laid back that they'll find it a positive pleasure, you can use the dusting tool and the lowest setting to give them a semi-professional grooming session – and ensure that all that pet hair never makes it as far as the floor/sofa/bed/pet bed. 

Find more hacks for getting rid of pet hair in our guide. And, if you're going to do a job, do it right, with a vacuum for pet hair – our favourite is the Dyson Light Ball Animal, but you can find the best of the rest in our guide.

9. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean a washing machine

We don't know about you, but Realhome.com's washing machine drums and lint filters are often littered with hair and fluff. But use the vacuum's brush attachment on both and you'll save yourself the job of doing it by hand; swap to the crevice tool to pick up escaped lint from the filter's cavity or washing powder spilt around the drawer. 

Love that? Find more laundry hacks to get yours done well (and fast), and don't miss our guide to cleaning a washing machine, too.

10. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean a computer keyboard

If you're sitting at a computer now, look down at the keyboard. It's probably dusty between the keys. There might be traces of yesterday's lunch lurking there too. And without wanting to gross you out, there'll be germs, lots of them. So, cleaning your keyboard is a regular must-do. You can of course unplug it, take it outside, turn it upside down and give it a gentle shake. But you could also just take your crevice tool, turn the vacuum cleaner to a low setting and vacuum up the dust and crumbs. Find out how to finish the job in our home office cleaning hacks

11. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean window dressings

We've already talked about removing pollen from curtains with the soft brush tool, but have you thought about how much dust they gather outside of allergy season? So, making vacuuming them part of your regular cleaning regime is a wise move. But don't stop there, you can use the same attachment to clean blinds and shutters, too. Find more cleaning tips for these in our guide. Our advice? Use a small vacuum cleaner for this job as it'll be easier on your arms. Our favourite is the Dyson V8 Absolute (we promise this feature isn't Dyson-sponsored – they just do really well in our reviews!).

12. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean light fittings and lampshades

Dust does cling to all sorts of surfaces, not only fabric, but also glass, especially in rooms where you cook or smoke (the grimy smoke just encourages the dust to stick). And when the light fitting heats up, as it tends to when you turn it on, it heats up the dusty, grimy combo lying on its surface, which then smells pretty bad. So, use the brush attachment as you work your way around the room to remove the dust and at least some of the grime. Then carefully wipe any glass surfaces with a combination of warm, soapy water and white vinegar to quickly remove sticky deposits. You can find more clever ways to clean with vinegar in our guide.

13. Use a vacuum cleaner to dust walls

Ever wiped over walls with a cloth – even a lint-free one – to discover you've simply spread the dust and made the problem worse? You can (very carefully) use a vacuum cleaner to clean your walls. Simply set the main brush head to the hard floor setting, ensure any moveable brush parts are immobile and go for it. To be on the safe side, hold the brush head just shy of the surface if you're worried about scratching the wallcovering or paint work.

Find out more about cleaning wallpaper in our guide.

14. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean your home library

Like to display books? Wow, bookshelves can gather dust, not just on the shelves' surfaces, but also on the top of the books themselves. The easiest way to clean them of dust? Use a handheld or small vacuum cleaner or the upholstery attachment of your main vacuum cleaner to carefully suck the dust from the books' tops, and the crevice tool from around them on the shelves. Keep the power setting low, especially if the books are precious.

15. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean windows

Remember what we said above about cleaning walls? The same applies to windows: they can get really dusty, both inside and out (especially if you or the neighbours have been renovating). Giving them a quick once over with a vacuum can limit how often you have to clean them – and how much elbow grease you need to use when you do. Read our guide to the best ways to clean windows for more tips. Don't miss our guide of the Kärcher Window Vac, too. 

16. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean the bath

If your bath (and its plughole) are constantly full of human (and possibly pet) hair, there's no reason not to use the vacuum cleaner, while you're cleaning the rest of the bathroom's surfaces, to quickly de-hair the bath, too. Using the vacuum on wall tiles is a quick trick for dusting them, too, and don't forget to vacuum behind the loo while you're there. Find more bathroom cleaning hacks in our guide.

17. Use a vacuum cleaner to grab small items under furniture

Enough of cleaning – what about using your vacuum cleaner as a handy grabbing tool? Think small items, like Lego or earrings, that have found their way under the sofa or bed that are just, infuriatingly out of reach. The easiest way to grab them is to secure the foot of an old pair of tights over the end of the vacuum cleaner's hose with a hair band, then turn it on and suck up the items without losing them into the canister or bag. You can use the same trick to dust around smaller items, like kids' toys, too. Clever, no?

18. Use a vacuum cleaner to reach down the back of radiators

Same technique as above, only with the crevice tool. Marvellous for reaching whatever you've dropped behind the radiator and just can't get your fingers to.

19. Use a vacuum cleaner to make white noise

Yes, we know you can download apps to make white noise to a) soothe a baby, b) drown out the neighbours' arguing while you're trying to drop off, c) create a zen atmosphere while you're practising yoga, but if you need a quick fix in an emergency, a vacuum cleaner will do the trick. Take our advice and make it a robot vacuum cleaner, and it can take on the vacuuming while you put your feet up. 

20. Clean you handbag or luggage with a vacuum cleaner

Even if you aren't one for shoving a half-eaten cereal bar in your bag as you run for the bus (guilty), it is amazing how crumbs seem to end up in there. Fluff is another offender, little bits of paper and if you dare take a bag to the beach you will be finding sand in it (and everything else) for weeks to come.

A quick clean with a vacuum cleaner will bring your bag up good as new and protect your possessions from getting scratched or dusty. First, empty the contents of your bag. This is a good chance to chuck old biros and receipts.

Then tip the bag over an open bin to get rid of as much detritus as you can. Next take your vacuum and choose the right attachment. If your bag has a lining that is loosely fitted, you might want to turn the vacuum power down and use the small brush tool. More resilient backpacks and suitcases can take the crevice nozzle to really get the dirt from the edges. Use the brush on the exterior too if required.

If the bag whiffs a bit, you can dust in some bicarbonate of soda to absorb smells, then vacuum again. Or use a teabag for the same effect (we like using peppermint ones).

21. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean your coat

Save yourself some ££s on those dry cleaning bills and try vacuuming your coat. We promise you, in works a treat! There is a right and wrong way to do it, though. The right way involves spreading your coat out on a flat surface, and holding it firmly in place as you vacuum in neat strips, always starting up at the shoulders and going down. We don't recommend this method with cashmere coats, as they're just too fragile, but virtually all other types of overcoats should be absolutely fine. 

Love more cleaning hacks, advice and the best products to buy? Find them all on our cleaning hub page

...And some things you definitely shouldn't use a vacuum cleaner on

While we have your attention, here are some things you definitely should not clean up with your vacuum. In most cases, this is because they will damage the vacuum or damage what you are cleaning – so if in doubt, get the dustpan or duster out.

  • Hot ashes: This should be obvious but enough people must do it for it to be a common warning on vacuum cleaner manuals. It goes without saying it is a fire risk.
  • Glass: Shards of glass will damage the bag or pipes. If you break a glass, use a dust pan and brush to get up as much as possible. You can then use a piece of bread to carefully mop up the smaller bits. Only then can you run a vacuum over the floor to get the last tiny pieces.
  • Water (or anything wet): Food, water and anything else liquid should never be vacuumed. This goes for things like lotions, lipstick and anything else that isn't completely solid. For one, liquid and electricity are a bad idea. Secondly, food and damp things will stink up the vacuum bag. And finally, a vacuum just won't get it up properly or will smear it around. Use a cloth and mop. Unless you have a vac designed for liquids like the Numatic George Wet & Dry of course.
  • Bolts, screws or small metal items: These will shoot up into the bag or canister, damaging it and any pipes along the way. Just pick them up first.