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Clean up your act: Five ways to get your vacuum to work better and last longer


Vacuums, the appliances in charge of removing dust, crumbs and pet hair from our homes, need more cleaning than just about any other household appliance.

Whether you buy a cheap vacuum every year or you’ve invested in a higher-quality machine, you need to add “clean the vacuum” to your list of regular chores, ideally every week or two.

Proper maintenance will pay off with better performance and give the vacuum a longer life span. How much longer? Experts say that depends on frequency of usage, how many people and pets are in your household, and what brand and model you’ve chosen. If your machine is not maintained, the bad news is it probably won’t last more than two years. With proper maintenance, you could get four to 10 years, or even more, says Craig Dorman, Vacuum Dealers Trade Association marketing director.

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Routine maintenance issues are most commonly the reason an iRobot vacuum may not run properly, according to Ken Bazydola, director of product management at iRobot, which designs and builds robots including Roomba. Bazydola says the newer models have apps that will alert you when it’s time to empty the bin, clean the brushes or wipe off the sensors. The Roomba i7+ even has an automatic dirt disposal system that empties and holds up to 30 bins of dirt on its own.

As always, study your owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with your particular vacuum’s moving parts. There are also videos online to show you how to properly care for your machine. Consider an annual professional tuneup and cleaning, especially if you’ve invested in a more expensive model.

The better you maintain your vacuum, as with anything else, the better and longer it will work for you. Here’s what to do.

Clean filters frequently

Every standard vacuum has at least one filter that will need regular cleaning or replacement; make yourself familiar with any filters before you use the machine. “You need to keep the path free so air flows freely, as that is what creates the suction of a vacuum,” Dorman says. Clean filters will prevent dust and dirt from entering the motor, and some vacuum models have filters on the exhaust, ensuring that dust does not reenter a room, he says. Some filters can be washed, but make sure they are fully dry before re-installing.

Change bags often

Most vacuum bags have a line on them that tells you to replace them when the dirt hits it, Dorman says. If you go above that line, the loss of suction will cut your cleaning production. Although some machines have a sensor that tells you when to empty a bag, don’t wait until you see the indicator light up. “Usually the rule is to change it when it is half full. It keeps vacuum suction power at full performance,” says Mike Morris, vice president of Brothers Sew & Vac, a Washington-area chain that sells and repairs vacuums. “If you wait too long, the bag might break open.”

Empty dirt cups

If you have a bagless model, don’t wait until the cup is crammed with dirt. Otherwise the motor will work harder, and eventually it could burn out. Many cups have lines that indicate when to empty, but experts say it’s best to empty the cup after every use. The cup is the heart of the vacuum, Dorman says, and it also needs to be rinsed every third or fourth use. Dry thoroughly before putting it back in.

Unplug with care

Yanking the cord out of the wall outlet may save a few seconds of your precious time, but it’s really bad for your vacuum, and you might bend the prongs of the plug. It’s a good practice to reach for the plug right at the socket when it’s time to turn it off, says George Tjoumakaris, Miele’s product manager of floor care. Always secure your cord when the vacuum isn’t being used so it doesn’t get damaged.

Pay attention to the brush

Spinning brush rolls can quickly get jammed with hair, both dog and human, Dorman says. Pop out the roll and clear the debris. If you keep your brush clean, it will work much better, giving your carpets a better-groomed look.

Keep glass and bugs out

Shards of broken glass can pierce your vacuum bag, Morris says, causing it to leak and send dirt into the motor. Yes, using a lowly dust pan and brush might be your best bet for this type of mess.

If you suck up bugs and leave them in your vacuum, they might not damage it, but they could start to smell.

Or worse, “they could live off all the dirt that they find in there,” Morris says. “Who wants critters crawling around in their vacuum?”

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