My vacuum smells – how can I fix it? Experts reveal how to banish those persistent odors

Yes, vacuum cleaners need cleaning themselves. This is how, and mistakes to avoid

shark vacuum cleaner being used in living room
(Image credit: Shark)

Q: I've noticed a slight odor coming from my vacuum cleaner lately. What's causing it and how can I fix it?

This was an email I received recently, and I'm happy to say that there are a number of steps you can take to fix it if you have the same problem.

The best vacuums make household cleaning a breeze, but it's no surprise that even the latest models need some maintenance now and then. After all, they come into contact with a lot of dust, pet hair, and general debris. I asked experts to share their pro cleaning tips and advice on how to stop your vacuum cleaner from smelling.

Why does my vacuum cleaner smell?

shark vacuum cleaner being used in living room

(Image credit: Shark)

According to Lorna Smith from robot vacuum cleaner retailer Eufy Clean (opens in new tab), a smell coming from even a bagless vacuum cleaner is usually generated from the reproduction of fermentation bacteria, and is closely linked to your habits and how you use it. 

'The accumulated dust or dander would be the main cause, and a humid environment would make it worse. You can choose products with dust collection functions, which means it won't have the hair tangled and leaves less dust in the machine itself,' she explains.

Below, she shares some preventative measures to try.

How to stop a vacuum cleaner from smelling

cordless vacuum cleaner used in kitchen

(Image credit: Dyson)

1. Clean the vacuum

'Clean the dust bag, dust cup, and filter screen regularly and dry them thoroughly,' says Lorna.

Joanne Archer at Expert Home Tips (opens in new tab) says the key to stopping a vacuum from smelling is to ensure you clean the filter regularly. It's one of those tasks we put off but is never so bad when we finally get around to checking it off our list.

'When was the last time you cleaned or replaced the filter in your vacuum, if ever?' asks Joanne. 'The frequency you should do this depends on factors like how often you use your vacuum and the surfaces you clean, but we suggest replacing or cleaning your filters every 3-6 months.'

2. Replace the accessories

'Replace the accessories, like the filter screen, regularly according to the manufacturers' instructions,' says Lorna.

3. Use scented filters

To combat odors, Samantha Sparkle from Cleannr (opens in new tab) advises using scented filters and vacuum bags, at Amazon (opens in new tab)

4. Avoid vacuuming strong-smelling substances

Samantha Sparkle makes the point that you should avoid vacuuming strong-smelling substances, throwing them directly in the trash can instead. 'Storing the vacuum in a well-ventilated area after use is also helpful,' she says.

5. Buy a self-cleaning vacuum

Some vacuum cleaners have a self-cleaning function that can be activated at the touch of a button, as well as voice alerts that remind you to dump the sewage tank, which will stop odors from developing. The upcoming MACH V1 Ultra by Eufy (opens in new tab) has these features, and the Shark Stratos below also has an odor-neutralizing cartridge for getting rid of pet smells.

Other vacuum cleaners have an antibacterial and deodorizing dust bag, which prevents the growth of bacteria on the bag.

  was $429 (opens in new tab)

Shark Stratos Upright Vacuum | was $429 now $299 at Shark Clean with code STRATOS130 (opens in new tab)
Our tester Camryn loved this vacuum's anti-hair wrap technology, which saves you from the gross work of untangling pet hair, as well as an odor neutralizing cartridge that gets rid of pet smells. This special promotional price is available exclusively through Shark and includes a free under-appliance wand, which bends so you can easily reach under washer-dryers and other appliances. 

How often to clean a vacuum?

Beth McCallum from Oh So Spotless (opens in new tab) says you should clean the unit every month, including the dust bin, rollers, and, most importantly, the filter. If your vacuum cleaner gets a lot of action, you might need to clean it even more frequently.


What vacuum cleaning mistakes should I avoid?

'Avoid putting the cleaning of the filter screen or dust bucket to the bottom of the chore list!' advises Lorna Smith from Eufy Clean. 'It's important that these are regularly cleaned. Also, avoid absorbing water and wet garbage.'

Will putting baking soda in a vacuum cleaner ruin it?

Experts don't recommend putting baking soda inside a vacuum cleaner because it may cause a blockage in the filter. That's not all: baking soda is a highly corrosive alkaline substance that could cause damage to devices or pipelines. 

It's okay to use baking soda mixed with water to clean the filter screen, filter screen, hose, and other parts regularly, as long as you dry it all thoroughly afterwards.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is Section Editor at Homes & Gardens, overseeing the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. She has been in the world of digital journalism for six years, having previously worked as Senior SEO Editor at News UK both in London and New York. She joined the Future team two years ago, working across a range of homes brands. Millie formerly worked as Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home, taking care of evergreen articles that help and inspire people to make the most of their homes and outdoor spaces. Millie has a degree in French and Italian and lives in North London.