To keep a tidy house with good indoor air quality, you need to vacuum at least once a week. High-traffic areas might need to be hit more often, and you might even have to haul the vacuum out on a daily basis if you have heavy-shedding pets—say a golden retriever or Maine coon cat (which, incidentally, is the feline breed whose hair Consumer Reports uses in our grueling pet-hair vacuum tests).

Run the numbers, and you’re revving up the vacuum anywhere from 50 to 300-plus times a year. That translates into a lot of wear and tear, even if you’re careful to steer clear of sharp objects, which can be murder on a vacuum’s fan or motor.

This is why maintenance is so important to getting maximum life expectancy out of your vacuum, with minimum trips to the repair shop. Here’s how to make your vacuum last with a checklist from the experts in our vacuum labs. Remember to always unplug your vacuum before doing any work on it.          

In the market for a new vacuum? Check our vacuum ratings and brand reliability charts to find a model that delivers top cleaning power with the least chance of breakage.  

Step 1: Don’t Overfill It

Whether you have a bagged or bagless vacuum, don’t let the bag or bin get filled to the brim. Besides clogging the vacuum’s inner workings, including its motor, this can result in dust and other particulates being emitted back into the air you breathe.

With bagless vacuums, it’s good practice to empty the dirt bin after every use. Many machines have a max line that serves as a helpful reminder, if you can’t make emptying the bin part of your vacuuming routine.

As for bagged vacuums, top picks in our vacuum ratings have a full-bag indicator that tells you when it’s time to empty the bag. If you have an older machine without this feature, you’ll have to rely on the squeeze test. A noticeable drop in suction power is another sign that the filter bag is full. 

Step 2: Clean the Filter

Most vacuums have two or three filters, including a pre-motor filter, which is designed to protect the motor from dirt and dust, and an exhaust filter, which is there to prevent particulates from being released back into the room.    

Check your owner’s manual for the type and location of filters on your machine. In most cases, filters can be hand washed in cold water. To preserve their shape and effectiveness, handle them gently—no wringing or twisting. Then let the filters air dry for 24 hours before inserting them back into the filter holder.

If your vacuum has a HEPA filter, it probably can’t be washed in water. Instead you’ll need to clean or replace it according to the schedule in your owner’s manual.

Step 3: Clear the Brush

Over time, your vacuum’s motorized brush can become tangled in hair, string, and other fibers, especially if you have long-haired pets or craft-loving kids (think yarn, twine, and the like). Severe tangles can hamper cleaning performance and also put additional stress on the motor.

Every few weeks, turn the vacuum head over, so that the bottom side is facing up, and inspect the brush. If tangles are present, release the locking mechanism, be it screws or a latch, that’s securing the brush’s cover plate. Remove debris from around the brush by hand. You may need to cut through hair and string with scissors, then pick it out with your fingers. Lock the bottom plate back in place when finished.

If your vacuum has a powered hand tool, use the same process to keep it clean and tangle-free.

Step 4: Unclog the Hose

Now and then, it’s worth checking the vacuum hose for clogs. This is also a common troubleshooting measure if your vacuum has lost suction power.

Start by releasing the hose from the vacuum and brush attachment. Stretching the hose to its maximum length might be enough to undo any clogs. Alternatively, you can gently pass a broom handle through the hose to remove any blockages. Never insert an object with a sharp point into the hose or you’ll risk puncturing the sidewall, at which point you’ll be faced with a replacement.