How to Remove Bad Vacuum Cleaner Smells

By Jeneva Aaron Updated January 18, 2021

Follow the guide to eliminate foul vac odors


Cleaned your house just now, then what’s that smell? Have you been facing this problem too often, of late? If yes, you might want to inspect your vac, first of all.

A vacuum cleaner works tirelessly to keep your house clean and smelling fresh. Now, it’s time for you to return the favor. Without proper maintenance, a vacuum can start smelling foul, defeating the whole purpose of cleaning your home.

So, what causes a stinky vacuum? While cleaning, the dirt and debris accumulate in the vacuum cleaner. If left uncleaned for a long time, the dirt creates a nasty odor, making the whole vac stink.

If you’ve noticed an odd smell coming from your vacuum, it’s time to clean it up. In this guide, I’ll discuss tips and methods that you can use to clean your vac regularly.

Table of Contents

Why Do Vacuums Smell?

Before I talk about cleaning, let’s discuss where the smell is coming from. In fact, it’s essential to know the source of unpleasant smells to deal with them.

1.Pet Hair

Yes, I know you love your little pup, but he’s probably why your vac is smelling bad. Even when outside the vac, pet hair stinks.

When your vacuum cleaner sucks this hair, the smell builds up over time and gets pungent in a few days. Additionally, pet urine has a role to play in intensifying the smell.

Obviously, you won’t directly vacuum pet urine – unless you have a wet-dry vac – but the urine droplets are stuck to the pet hair and debris particles. You might just be vacuuming dirt, but there are traces of pet urine in it that can create a musty smell.


Nothing good ever accompanies mold, whether it’s in your bathroom or the vacuum cleaner. Due to several reasons, mold accumulates in the vacuum filters (1) and dust bags.

When uncleaned for a long time, mold gives off a strong smell that is hard to ignore.

Here’s a tip: never vacuum a wet carpet. Since mold thrives in moist environments(2), the fungus is likely transferred to your vacuum through the wet carpet.


The most common cause of smelly vacs is excessive dust accumulation. Consider this: when you deep clean your home, the vacuum cleaner picks up everything from food crumbs to dust particles.

All these materials mix to create a bad smell. Along with causing foul odors, letting dust gather in the vacuum filters can also reduce their lifespan.

4.Burnt Vacuum Belt

The vacuum belt allows rotating brushes to capture dirt, debris, and hair. If you don’t clean the vacuum regularly, the belt can get damaged and may even break.

Since most vacuum belts are made of rubber, they give off a burning smell when worn out or overused.

How to Remove Bad Vacuum Cleaner Smells?

Before I move on to cleaning, let’s discuss the most common places where the smell may be coming from. Although the canister is mostly the main culprit, the foul smell can also arise from the hose, filters, and the brush roll.

What You’ll Need

Step by Step Instructions

Unplug your vacuum cleaner before you clean or perform any maintenance action on it.

1.Cleaning the Filters

Most vacuum cleaners have two filters: premotor and post-motor. Your vacuum cleaner might be slightly different, but the overall design is consistent among all named brands.

The filters perform two functions:

First off, remove the housing from the base of the vacuum cleaner to dislodge the premotor filter. It has two parts: sponge and case. Both components need to be cleaned slightly differently.

For the sponge, rinse it under cold tap water and wring out the excess moisture. Do the same with the filter case and tap it against a rigid surface to remove dust.

Leave both parts to dry for up to 24 hours. 

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the filters every three to six months, depending on the frequency of use.

Although they work well with regular cleaning, filters need to be replaced after some time. Refer to your user’s manual for this information.

Now, it’s time to clean the post-motor filter. Mostly, it’s present under or near the canister in bagless vacuums. Remove the canister and disassemble the post-motor filter from its position.

Clean it by rinsing under cold water, as you did with the premotor filter. Again, for replacements, consult the instructions guide that came with the vacuum.

2.Clean the Canister or Dust Container

Since this is where the dust is stored, it’s a most likely source for smells. Refer to your vac’s manual to disassemble the canister from the vacuum. In most cases, you have to press a button on the top of the canister.

Use warm soapy water to clean the canister. If the smell is too strong, it’s probably the work of pathogenic bacteria. In this case, I suggest using an  EPA-registered disinfectant (3)to remove the scent and its root cause.

If you have a bagged vacuum, replace the vacuum bags as required to remove unwanted odors.

3.Tap the Cyclone Unit

When you remove the canister from the vacuum, the leftover component will be the cyclone unit. Remove dislodged dust from the unit by tapping it gently with your hands.

Use a toothbrush to clean the venting holes and reach deep into the crevices. Now, reassemble the cyclone unit with the canister and put them back in the vacuum cleaner.

4.Clean the Hose

Since the hose is the first part that comes in contact with the dirt, it’s most probably clogged to the brim, causing unpleasant odors.

Most vacuum cleaners have a catch that you can press to remove the hose from the main body.

Soak the hose in soapy water to get rid of dirt and debris. If it’s too dirty;

5.Wash the Attachments

Like the hose, remove the vacuum cleaner’s attachments and put them in soapy water for cleaning. If they contain metal parts, spray disinfectant on a damp washcloth and wipe them thoroughly.

6.Clean the Brush Roll

The brush roll comes in direct contact with the carpets, so it gathers the most hair and dust. If left unattended for long, the brush roll can become a significant cause of a vacuum cleaner smell. 

Remove the brush roll from the vacuum cleaner and use scissors to cut off the hair sticking out. Then, spray it with disinfectant, and you’re good to go.

How to Prevent Bad Odors?

By now, your vacuum should be squeaky clean. It’s time to give it a fresh scent.

1.Baking Soda

While baking soda is primarily popular for its cleaning properties (4), it also has other functions. It can efficiently absorb foul smells, leaving your vacuum cleaners smelling fresh.


After you’re done fixing yourself a warm cup of cinnamon tea, you can use the spice to freshen up the vac. Cinnamon is a natural antibacterial agent(5) that helps remove nasty smells from the vacuum cleaner while keeping it free of pathogens.

3.Essential Oils

Essential oil aromatherapy is a common practice in different parts of the world. Why not use the same mechanism to make your vacuum cleaner smell fresh?

Along with making your house smell good, essential oils also have antifungal properties(6). Thus, they keep your family safe from the hazardous effects of mold.

Washing Off

If you vacuum your house regularly, it’s inevitable for it to gather unpleasant smells. However, it’s no reason to give up vacuuming.

Before you start cleaning, it’s crucial to localize the cause of the odor. Once that’s done, the rest of the process is pretty simple, as indicated in this guide.

No doubt, regular cleaning can keep smells at bay, but you also need to replace the vac’s components as required.

Now, it’s time for you to follow these methods and tell me the following:

Leave the answers and your feedback in the comments below.

About the Author

Jeneva Aaron

Jeneva has over years of passion for home decorating and cleaning. She is the founder and CEO of where she provides honest and objective reviews on home and cleaning products.

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