Get the most out of your vacuum


Whether you spent $200 or $2,000 on your vacuum, you want it want it to perform well each time you pull it out of the closet. That means knowing how to use all of its features and accessories.

"Taking a few minutes to understand the different parts of your vacuum is going to be important because you don't want to damage your floor. For example, the beater bar, which is right here in the front of the sweeper, is actually not good for hard surface floors, nor is it good for the more gentle fabric in oriental rugs. In that situation, you want to use one of the other attachments," explained Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

"On hardwood flooring you definitely want to use the hard floor attachment," added professional cleaner, Matthew Miller. "The beater brush, if you use it a lot of the period of time, can eventually start to wear out the floors and wear out the finish. Almost all rug companies will tell you not use the beater brush on there because rugs are made of thousands of little threads and the beater brush will loosen these threads and eventually start to pull them up and all that money you spend on the rug just goes to waste because the rug can't be fixed at that point."

You should regularly empty canisters, replace bags and clean or replace filters on your vacuum, but after months or years of regular use, your machine may require some repair work. If you're losing suction or your beater bar isn't moving, you might want to have it checked out. Your main goal is to protect the motor from burning out and needing to get a brand new machine.

"An older generation vacuum cleaner can still be a great vacuum cleaner. One member, for example, had a broken vacuum cleaner and took it to the vacuum shop because it was making a smoking smell and found out it was a $1.50 repair and a 5-minute job," said Hicks.

If you are shopping for a new vacuum, there's the age-old question:  bag or bagless?

"The biggest advice that I would have is get a vacuum that takes a bag that is the single most important thing. It helps protect the motor. Having that first layer of filtration is important. With a bag vacuum, you change the bag every two months or so depending on use… where with the bagless, you have to empty that cup every time you use it. It actually is more cost effective to use a bag machine," said Kurt Chavez, who's in vacuum sales and service.

Hicks adds that with proper maintenance, a good vacuum should last as long as 10 to 20 years, so don't assume you need a new one just because it's old. Repairing instead of replacing could save you hundreds of dollars.

Four signs it may be time for a vacuum repair:

  • This doesn't suck: If you notice your vacuum isn't picking up the dirt on your floor or carpet, check your bag (if applicable) to be sure it isn't full or damaged. If that's not the issue, check the inside of the compartment that holds the bag. That area should be clean. If debris is present, change the bad and try again. If this doesn't fix the problem, call for repair.
  • This beat is sick: If your beater bar isn't moving, you may have a broken or damaged belt. Consider DIY or call for repair.
    • Most belts can be bought at hardware stores and replaced as a DIY project. If you DIY, consult your owner's manual for a how-to as well as what type of belt you need.
    • One Angie's List member hired a company to replace a belt and was charged $5 plus was instructed on how to DIY it next time.
  • What's that smell? If you smell something burning when you switch on the vacuum, you may have a motor issue. Call for repair.
  • This is a turn off: If your vacuum loses power after you've started using it, check for clogs and make sure you've properly set the knob or switch for carpet or bare floor.  If neither of these issues resolves your issue, call for repair.

6 common vacuum attachments & what they do:

  • Dusting brush: This rounded attachment is for delicate objects and uneven surfaces like curtains and floor rugs.
  • Crevice tool: This is the one with the flat, diagonal piece. It's for hard-to-reach spots like under tables and furniture.
  • Turbo brush: This looks like the floor brush, but is designed for stair steps.
  • Upholstery tool: This is small but wide, hard plastic device with a flat, possible angled opening and is for your couches and chairs.
  • Pet attachment: This one comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but looks like a comb and/or bristled brush. It's to suck up hairs as you groom your pet.
  • Specialty attachments: Beyond the standard are attachments to clean blinds, screen doors, dryer vents, refrigerator coils, windows or ceiling fans, even electronic products.