How to Clean a Vacuum Filter

Vacuum handle lifted over clear container with clean filter

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

One of the most frequently used housekeeping appliances is a vacuum cleaner. It's a workhorse to capture dirt particles, crumbs, and dust from carpets, floors. baseboards, upholstery, and mattresses. And the best way to keep the suction power strong in a vacuum is by cleaning it—specifically, cleaning the vacuum filter(s).

Some vacuums have one or multiple filters that capture the smallest dust particles. By capturing the dust in the filter, it is less likely to reenter the air in your room and eventually settle on surfaces. If your vacuum isn't performing as well as it once did, it's time to clean the vacuum filter.

How Often to Clean a Vacuum Filter

The cleaning frequency for a vacuum filter is dictated by how often you use the vacuum and how dirty the area you're cleaning is. If you have dirty filters, you'll notice a stale odor immediately when you turn on the vacuum and reduced suction as you work. For high traffic areas, the filter may need to be cleaned monthly. For most homes, vacuum filters should be cleaned at least every three months.

Before You Begin

Clean or replace the filter? That is always one of the first questions you must answer before cleaning your vacuum. There are three common types of vacuum filters:

  • Foam Filters: Usually circular, foam filters can be cleaned with soap and water.
  • Pleated Paper or Synthetic Cartridges: These inexpensive filters are often not washable but you can clean them several times before replacing them.
  • HEPA Filters: While some of these filters cannot be thoroughly cleaned, the lifespan can be improved by removing dust before routine replacement.

Tip

Before cleaning any filter, it is best to consult the manufacturer's directions for their specific vacuum filters. If you don't know where the filters are located or what type of filter your model uses, go to the manufacturer's website for cleaning methods and how to order replacement filters.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink or small bowl
  • Microfiber towel
  • Drying rack
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • Trash can

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid or an all-purpose cleaner

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a vacuum filter

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  1. Unplug and Disassemble the Vacuum

    Always unplug the vacuum before disassembling the component to prevent accidental shocks. Empty any collection canisters or dispose of the collection bag. Locate and remove the filter(s).

    Vacuum canister disassembled for cleaning

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. How to Clean Foam Vacuum Filters

    • In a sink or small bowl, mix a cleaning solution of two drops of dishwashing liquid or an all-purpose cleaner in two cups of hot water.
    • Submerge the filter and gently squeeze it to move the cleaning solution through the pores of the foam. If the water becomes black with excessive dust, mix a fresh solution and continue squeezing.
    • Rinse the filter until no more suds appear and the water runs clear.
    • Gently roll the filter in a microfiber towel to absorb the water.
    • Place the filter on a drying rack to air-dry. This may take up to 24 hours.
    • Replace the filter. Do not replace the filter in the vacuum if it is still damp.
    Foam vacuum filter placed in small glass bowl with cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. How to Clean Pleated Paper or Synthetic Fibers

    Most pleated filters have a replacement schedule and are considered disposable by manufacturers. Paper filters should never be soaked or rinsed in water. However, some filters are made from a non-woven synthetic material (similar to a dryer sheet) that can be rinsed with water a few times to remove dust.

    • To extend the life of a pleated paper filter: Remove it from the vacuum. Use a soft-bristled brush (an old toothbrush works well) to brush away any visible debris. Gently tap the filter on the side of a trashcan or an outside handrail to loosen dust. Replace the filter.
    • To extend the life of a synthetic fiber filter: Follow the same steps recommended for cleaning a paper filter. After tapping out the dust, hold the filter under a flowing stream of water to flush out even more dust. Wrap the filter in a microfiber towel to absorb as much moisture as possible. Do not crush the filter. Place the filter on a drying rack to air-dry for at least 24 hours. Replace the filter.
    Pleated paper filter cleaned with soft-bristled brush to remove debris

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. How to Clean a HEPA Filter

    If your vacuum is equipped with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, it is going to trap 99.97 percent of particulates larger than .3 microns that flow into the vacuum. Made of finely-woven synthetic fibers, HEPA filters can often be rinsed with plain, cool water to flush out dust. Refer to your vacuum's manufacturer's recommendations for how often to replace the filter.

    You can also extend the life of the HEPA filter by removing it from the vacuum, and tapping it against the side of a trashcan or outdoor handrail to remove some dust.

    HEPA vacuum filter tapped on inside of trash can to remove debris

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Tips to Keep Your Vacuum Filter Clean Longer

  • Empty the vacuum bag or dust canister often.
  • Clean the appliance vent covers after every use to remove clinging dust.
  • To freshen stale-smelling foam filters, spritz with a few drops of essential oil.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US EPA O. What is a HEPA filter?