By Ande Waggener
Most people would agree that knowing how to vacuum is not exactly rocket science. You turn on the vacuum and push the floor attachment around the floor, right? Well, not exactly. Although vacuuming is generally a no-brainer, vacuuming right requires a bit of knowledge and skill. So what’s the right way to vacuum?
To know the right way to vacuum, you first need a clear understanding of what’s going on when your carpets or rugs get together with dirt. If you could see dirt at the microscopic level, you’d realized that dirt is made up of thousands of sharp edges. Carpet, on the other hand, is made up of soft, fragile fibers. So when the knife-like dirt hits the fuzzy carpet, who wins? Dirt, of course. Every time you walk on your carpet, you’re grinding dirt “knives” down into your carpet. These “knives” make scratches and nicks in the carpet fibers. The scratches dull a carpet’s sheen, and over time, the nicks literally cause part of the carpet to get worn away so the carpet becomes thinner and harder. As the carpet loses its lushness, its flatter surface becomes a magnet to stains. You’ll see this happen most often on rugs in high traffic areas.
So vacuuming effectively (vacuuming right) is not about just swiping the vacuum over the carpet to remove the dirt you can see. It’s about doing whatever it takes to pull as much dirt out of your carpets as you possibly can.
Effective vacuuming isn’t about just swiping the vacuum over the carpet to remove the dirt you can see. It’s about doing whatever it takes to pull as much dirt out of your carpets as you possibly can. Here are eleven vacuuming tips and techniques that will turn you into a vacuuming pro.
1. Check Your Bag or Filter
No matter what type of vacuum you have, it’s only as good as its vacuum bag or filter. But most of us don’t think about the vacuum bag or filter until it’s full. My vacuum has a warning light that comes on when the bag is full, and I used to wait until that light came on before I removed the bag. I’ve learned, though, that once a bag or filter reaches three-quarters full, a vacuum will remove dirt less effectively.
The best practice is to check your bag or filter before you vacuum — every time. Don’t assume that it’s fine just because it was the last time you vacuumed. Filters can clog, and bags can fill faster than you might think. Replace the bag when it’s more than hallway full, and on bag-less vacuums, wash the filter when it starts to look dirty.
Photos by Ande Waggener
2. Dust the Room Before You Vacuum
To me, this seems like an obvious tip, but apparently it’s not. My mother used to vacuum first and then dust because she thought the vacuum would kick up enough dust to undo all her dusting work. Actually, the opposite is true. If you dust after you vacuum, as you dust, much of the dust will end up in the air and will then settle down into your carpet and rugs. So if you dust right after you vacuum, you immediately reintroduced dirt into the carpet fibers. Obviously, that’s counterproductive.
3. Use the Crevice Tool
When it comes to vacuuming dos and don’ts, one of the most important do’s is to always use the crevice tool to clean edges, along walls, furniture, and other items sitting on your floor. Novice or lazy vacuum users will skip this step and just run the vacuum as far up to the edges as possible. But if this is you, you’re skipping an important part of keeping your floors clean. An extraordinary amount of dirt gets caught in those edges. It’s a breeding ground for dust mite waste and other allergens. You don’t want those in your home. Vacuum them up regularly.
4. Get the Height Right
Nearly all vacuums have a height adjustment feature. Be sure you use it. If your vacuum is set too low, you will wear out your carpet faster than is necessary and you can even damage your carpet. If the vacuum is set too high, you won’t pull up as much dirt as you could.
To find the ideal setting, the first time you use your vacuum, extend it to its maximum length, and then lower it one notch at a time until you can feel the vacuum being sort of sucked forward as you begin vacuuming.
5. Go Slow
Using a vacuum cleaner isn’t a speed sport. Although you can do a quick surface vacuuming if you have company coming, never go for quick when you’re doing your regular cleaning. The only way to vacuum correctly is slowly and deliberately. You need to give the vacuum cleaner time to do its work. Believe it or not, two slow passes over an area of carpet is much more effective than several quick passes.
6. Vacuum in a Crisscross Pattern
Carpet fibers are flexible, and they like to relax to one side or the other. If you vacuum in just one direction, you’ll leave dirt in part of your carpet fibers. Even if you’re going back and forth, you’ll only get the dirt on the front and back of the fibers, not on the sides.
The best vacuum pattern is a crisscross. Vacuum a rug, a room, or an area of the room horizontally and then vacuum the same rug, room, or area vertically, or vice versa. This technique is especially useful for removing pet hair and dander from carpets because pet hair and dander tend to get tangled on every side of carpet fibers.
7. Back Out of the Room
To leave your carpets as clean as possible, get in the habit of finishing each room at the door of the room — not on the far side of it. The easiest way to do this is to do one of your directional passes as you go into the room. Then start on the far side of the room and vacuum your way back to the door, going in the opposite direction of your first passes.
8. Prevent that ‘Vacuum Smell’
Many vacuums, especially if they don’t have an exceptional filter, can release a slight dirty or dusty smell as you vacuum. To prevent this odor, try one of these three techniques:
- Sprinkle some baking soda in the bag or dirt reservoir. This can neutralize that dirt odor.
- Sprinkle some cinnamon in the bag or dirt reservoir. This will release a pleasant cinnamon scent into the air as you vacuum
- Put a dryer sheet in the bag or dirt reservoir. This will release the scent of the dryer sheet into the air as you vacuum.
9. Vacuum Often
Vacuuming isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, so it’s tempting to only vacuum when the carpet or rug looks dirty. Don’t wait that long. What your eye can see is only a fraction of the dirt that’s attacking your vulnerable carpet fibers. By the time you can see the dirt, the damage to your carpet is already underway. The best vacuuming practice is a twice-a-week routine, at least in the most trafficked areas of your home.
10. Deodorize the Carpet Occasionally
A good vacuuming habit to get into is incorporating a carpet deodorizing session into your vacuuming every three to six months. (More often if you have pets and less often if you don’t.)
To deodorize your carpets, simply sprinkle baking soda all over the carpet. You can do this directly from the box, but I find it easier to use a mesh sieve to get a more even application. If you have low- to medium-pile carpets, all you have to do is sprinkle the baking soda and let it sit. If you have deep-pile carpets, you’ll need to sprinkle a section and sort of massage it into the fibers with your fingers before moving on to the next section. Let the baking soda sit a few hours or overnight then vacuum up the baking soda. Be sure to use that crevice tool!
If you do the above process and your carpet or rug still has an unpleasant odor (which can happen if you’ve never deodorized your carpet before or you wait too long between deodorizing sessions), repeat the process again. Baking soda can only hold so much stink. Apparently, once it becomes saturated, baking soda won’t absorb any more odor. If you repeat the process with fresh baking soda, you can remove more of the funk.
11. Protect Your Vacuum
Because effective vacuuming is easier with a vacuum that’s in good repair, you need to take good care of your vacuum cleaner. One of the easiest ways to do it’s by never vacuuming up hard or sharp items that could damage the vacuum cleaner.
Another way to help your vacuum cleaner keep going is to attend to floor attachment clogs immediately. If strings or cords or something get caught up in the attachment, you can use a seam ripper or a crochet hook to clean out the attachment easily.
Following the above vacuuming tips will help your both your vacuum and your carpet have long and clean lives.