Using a vacuum cleaner: 28 cleaning tips to make your vacuum work 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

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

Using a vacuum cleaner for just floors is so last century. Both inside and outside the home, get the most out of your suction-powered 'electric broom' and use a vacuum cleaner to its full potential. Most (good) models are a little pricey, so if we're thinking about price per use, you'll want to whip it out on every occasion possible.

The best 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.

Of course, your vacuum cleaner user manual will tell you all about how to operate that particular model, but what it doesn't unveil is all the handy tips and tricks to really get the most from it. From pest control to getting rid of odors, locating lost items, and getting the baby to sleep, there are so many ways to utilize your dustbuster. 

Using a vacuum cleaner

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Of course, your vacuum cleaner user manual will tell you all about how to operate that particular model, but what it doesn't unveil is all the handy tips and tricks to really get the most from it. Here we have rounded up some great hacks that user guide doesn't mention.

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 moldy 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 while you're cleaning a carpet. 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 peel into the bag or canister – same effect.
  • Sprinkle your favorite essential oil onto 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). We've got a whole lot more on how to clean with bicarbonate of soda if you're interested.

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 favorite toys if they suffer from allergies, too. Pick a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to help remove airborne allergens and will in turn help in making your home more allergy-friendly

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 our next kitchen cleaning hack.

Simply use the crevice tool of your vacuum cleaner (the best handheld vacuum in our opinion is the Dyson V7 Trigger but you can find more trusty tools 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. 

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, and get rid of dust mites or bed bugs. 

If you're plagued by any pests we haven't mentioned, we have a whole guide on how to get rid of common household pests.

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 fibers 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 cleaning a 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 duvet covers and bedding sets, 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.

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

Does your pet's bed smell? Does your sofa smell? Cleaning up after a dog can be
a challenging task. Vacuuming up pet hair and dander regularly and thoroughly is the best way to stop it from 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 (a must if you're looking for ways to clean urine and poop). 

Then, to keep smells at bay in the first place, consider putting a throw or blanket on your best 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.

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 molting dog or cat is so laidback that they'll find it a positive pleasure, get rid of pet hair using 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. 

And, if you're going to do a job, do it right, with a proper appliance for your pup or puss. The best vacuum for pet hair is the Dyson Light Ball Animal, but you can find other top dogs in our guide. 

9. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean a washing machine

We don't know about you, but at Realhomes.com we love laundry hacks... Especially as our 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 spilled around the drawer. 

Yes, cleaning a washing machine, but it'll save you the inconvenience of random stains and clumps of detergent on your garments.

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 if you want to set up a home office for comfort and productivity

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.

If you work remotely quite regularly, it's worth putting some time aside to read through our home office cleaning hacks to ensure you're WFH looks no less than pristine.

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.

Our advice? Use a small vacuum cleaner for this job as it'll be easier on your arms. Our favorite 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 even clean with vinegar to quickly remove sticky deposits.

This will also work for ceiling fans and air conditioning too, which can re-circulate dust rather than provide clean air.

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 when cleaning wallpaper or marking a fresh paint job.

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 cleaning windows: they can get really dusty, both inside and out (especially if you or the neighbors have been renovating). Giving them a quick once over with a conventional vacuum cleaner or a Kärcher Window Vac can limit how often you have to clean them – and how much elbow grease you need to use when you do.

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 bathroom cleaning hack for dusting them, and don't forget to vacuum behind the loo while you're there. 

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. Marvelous for reaching whatever you've dropped behind the radiator and just can't get your fingers to.

19. Defluff your radiator

Unless you've invested in the best tumble dryer, a heated towel rail, or a clothes horse, the chances are that you'll use your radiators to dry your clothing. But there's no point laundering clothes if they're only going to end up on fluff and lint-filled radiators so use your vacuum cleaner to clean a radiator between the core and along the pipework.

20. 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 neighbors' arguing while you're trying to drop off, c) create a zen atmosphere while you're practicing 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. It can take on the vacuuming while you put your feet up!

21. 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 dry, unused teabag for the same effect (we like using peppermint ones).

22. 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, it 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. 

23. Give your car a valet

Whether you're driving your first car, invested in a luxury sports car, or playing taxi using the family people carrier, there's nothing more satisfying than stepping into a clean and crumb-free car.

We get it, cars get dirty and there are all sorts of reasons for the mess: our fave being on-the-go eating. That cheeky McDonald's drive-thru, road trip snacks, and even that protein bar that gets inhaled on the way to the gym - all culprits when it comes to finding food fragments on the floor.

The best cordless hoover can tackle anything from chips to flaky croissant shards and is small enough to get into the nooks and crannies of your vehicle. Be sure to shake off your floor mats outside, and away from your automobile, so the wind doesn't blow them back in. 

24. Maintain your artificial lawn

 The best lawnmowers get put to work when the grass in our front or back yard needs a trim. But how do you keep artificial turf looking clean and tidy? The answers inside your home... Yes, a vacuum cleaner.

Be sure to use it on a day where it's not been wet, and remove all debris (we're talking animal poop, stones/pebbles, large leaves, and large insects like snails and slugs off the surface first) before using it to eliminate bits that are stopping your faux grass from looking green.

25. Clean your faux plants

Not all of us are made out to be plant moms and dads, so when faux plants became a thing – we jumped on board the bandwagon. However, we quickly found that artificial houseplants can sometimes be a dust magnet - the downfall of not choosing fresh.

However, before you bin your fake blooms, consider using your vacuum cleaner to remove dust from the leaves and flowers on your imitation buy.

26. Banish dust from your banisters

When cleaning our staircases, we often prioritize our staircase runner ideas and treads. But dust can collect on the main infrastructure of the case - including the banister and handrails. No one wants to hold onto a dirty support, especially in a high-traffic area that has the potential to harbor germs. So be sure to elevate your stair cleaning regime for hygiene's sake!

27. Clean out your closet

Though the best closet organizers can keep our pants, skirts, and blouses in their place, dust and dirt can accumulate quickly... Especially if you're storing jackets and coats that you use regularly.

It's gross to think about, but dead skin and oils from hats, hoodies can also live in your wardrobe so it's vital to give your clothes cabinet a once-over with your vacuum cleaner. Even more important if you store your sneakers and shoes in this space too.

28. Clean your headboard

Whether you have a DIY headboard or one of the best headboards, cleaning this part of your bed is absolutely vital to keep away dust, and ensure better sleep hygiene.

To leave your bed looking as good as new, founder and director at Time4Sleep (opens in new tab), Jonathan Warren,  teamed up with Paul Morris, antimicrobial expert at Addmaster (opens in new tab), to share some top tips on how to properly clean your headboard.

Morris says: 'The fabric on upholstered headboards offers the ideal conditions for several types of skin bacteria that break down sweat on the body.'

And Warren adds: 'Using a vacuum cleaner is a great first step for headboard cleaning regardless of the fabric and is the best tool to pick up dust, bacteria, and light dirt,'

'Aside from improving the appearance of your headboard, the hoover will also collect bacteria that can contribute to allergies and asthma and negatively affect your sleep.'

29. Look after your rattan furniture

Just because your furniture has been inspired by the seventies, that doesn't mean it should look like it hasn't been cleaned since then. But many of us might be confused about how to clean it. The good news is that you can use a vacuum to avoid dust build-up as one expert shares:

'To remove any dust or dirt, gently brush the furniture with a soft brush or duster, or the bristle attachment on your vacuum cleaner,' says Georgia Metcalfe, founder of The French Bedroom Company (opens in new tab).

'This will enable you to get into any cracks and crevices which come as standard with woven furniture, and this critical process will eliminate any hidden dust.'

...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, or check out your manufacturer's instruction manual on how to vacuum using their particular machine.

  • 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 dustpan 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 bad ideas. 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 Bissell PowerClean 2x 3112E Series Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner (opens in new tab).
  • 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. 

What can be done with a vacuum cleaner?

'Vacuum cleaners aren’t designed to only clean your floors and carpets. With the right attachments, they can be used to clean everything from your mattress to your air conditioning unit. But not all vacuum cleaner attachments are made equal.' says Sherman.

How to keep your vacuum working efficiently

'The fuller your vacuum is with dust, the less it will be able to function properly,' says Matthew Harrison, cleaning expert, PriceYourJob (opens in new tab).

'To keep your vacuum working efficiently, with the best possible suction power, then you should empty it when it is 2/3 full, as a maximum. Anymore than this will result in dust getting into the system and affecting the whole appliance.'

'Ideally, you should prepare the space before you actually use your vacuum. Pick up larger bits from the floor, such as big clumps of hair, pennies, or hair clips, and ensure your vacuum is not too full already with previous vacuum use. One of the most common mistakes with vacuums is overestimating their ability to suction larger bits and still work efficiently.'

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.

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