How Often Do You REALLY Need to Vacuum?

And other things no one taught you about vacuuming.

Let’s have a moment of honesty here — for the most part, nobody ever really taught us how to vacuum, right? Nobody showed us the right way to do it, how often to do it, or even how to get all that gross junk out of the vacuum once we’re done. We just figured it out along the way.

If that’s you, there’s some good news, and some bad news. Bad news first — you’re probably missing out on some steps and habits that will make your vacuuming easier and more effective. The good news is that you’re not alone; we’re here to help you master all the nooks and crannies of both your floors and your vacuum.

So let’s start at the beginning.

What’s the “Right Way” to Vacuum?

At face value, this doesn’t seem like a complicated task, right? Take the vacuum, run it over all the parts of the floor, and you’re done. Well, yes and no. That’s the basic idea, but most of us tend to rush it and we end up with a poorly done job that ends up needing to be repeated more often than we’d like. When it comes to vacuuming, there are two key principles to remember.

1. Vacuuming is the last step

Basically, gravity can either be your friend or your enemy. All of the other cleaning you’ll do in the room will dislodge dirt, dust, and dander. You want to give those particles time to settle to the floor, otherwise you’ll just be making additional work for yourself. Think of vacuuming as the finishing touch — you’ll want to remove small items from the floor, straighten up the room, and dust other surfaces prior to vacuuming.

This has the added bonus of helping to protect your vacuum from potential damage. During this step, make sure that you’re considering the whole room — even areas above your head, as dust can accumulate on railings, ceiling fans, and decor. You may find that you need to Swiffer or vacuum these areas prior to cleaning lower items, then return later for your final vacuuming pass.

2. Don’t vacuum like you sweep

For many of us, this mental shift is the biggest game-changer when it comes to vacuuming. Put simply, you can’t treat your vacuum like a broom. With a broom, the goal is completion — you need to cover all the floor space. As long as you get it all, how fast you do it doesn’t really matter.

A vacuum is different. Think of a vacuum cleaner in the same way you would a towel that is soaking up a stain. Especially when we’re dealing with carpet, the speed matters significantly — we have to give the vacuum time to extract the dirt and dust from the carpet fibers.

It can often be helpful to give yourself a simple rhythm to follow as you vacuum. Push the vacuum 3-4 feet out in front of you, then slowly count to three as you draw it back. As you work your way around the room, make sure to overlap the paths in order to ensure the best clean possible.

If you have time, it’s often worth (especially for high-traffic areas) covering the room twice in opposing directions. Go north-south the first time, then repeat it from an east-west direction. For hard floors, you may also want to mop them in order to give your home that gleaming clean feeling.

So now that we know how to vacuum, this brings us back to our original question.

How often should I vacuum?

Frustratingly, there’s no definitive standard here since no two households are alike. The amount of traffic, number of people, number and type of pets, and even the type of job you have can all make a significant impact on how quickly your floors need to be vacuumed.

As a general rule, however, it’s reasonable to assume that most carpeted floors and rugs will likely need to be vacuumed at least twice per week, especially in high-traffic or frequently used rooms. Harder surfaces like vinyl, wood, or tile will absorb less dirt and grime, and thus might only need to be vacuumed once a week. On the other hand, if you have furry pets running around your home, then you might end up needing to vacuum daily in order to prevent a buildup of hair and dander.

In fact, accumulation is really what we’re dealing with when it comes to vacuuming. We’re attempting to prevent the accumulation of dirt, dust, and allergens on the floor, because those materials can ultimately damage the carpet fibers and present health problems for the people (and pets) living in your home.

Often, your countertops can be a good reference point for your floors — if you look at your countertops and see clutter or grime, chances are good that your floors (especially carpets) are carrying it as well.

But knowing how and how often to vacuum is only part of the battle. It’s worth taking a look at that vacuum itself so you know what you’re dealing with there as well.

What kind of vacuum works best?

Before you start Googling for vacuum cleaner models, it’s important to know what style and features are best suited for your unique home. Obviously there are variations, but you’re essentially choosing from two different types.

1. Canister

A canister vac gets its name from — you guessed it — the canister shape that this style has historically used. With this style, you have a main unit (usually on wheels) with a hose (and attachments) connected to it.

Often this style of vacuum is easier to fit into tight or confined spaces, and the independent hose and attachments make vacuuming stairs or furniture much simpler. In addition, this style of vacuum is often better suited for harder floors, as they don’t have a mechanical “beater bar” that could damage the flooring.

However, the canister vacuum often has a much smaller capacity than an upright, necessitating more frequent emptying of the bag and/or cleaning of the unit itself. In addition, having two pieces to move around while vacuuming is more complicated and increases the possibility of furniture or trim damage.

2. Upright

An upright vac also comes by its name honestly. For many people, the upright stance makes it much easier to use and store, and also minimizes the need for bending over or navigating it around corners and furniture. In most cases, an upright vacuum comes equipped with a beater bar and can be more effective on thick carpet or rugs. This means you may need to be cautious with harder floors like wood or vinyl.

In either case, the answer is likely to be dictated both by the makeup of your home, as well as your preferences for use, storage, and cleaning. Speaking of which, we should mention cleaning the vacuum as well.

Wait, I have to clean the vacuum?

It seems counterintuitive, we know. But just like brooms, sponges, or dishwashers, even the tools we use to clean eventually need cleaning themselves. Maintenance needs vary from vacuum to vacuum (and consult your user’s manual for guidelines), but generally you can expect to clean the attachments and canister every few uses. Deeper cleaning of the unit, hoses, and air filter should be done every few months, and certainly at least once a year.

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