How to EASILY Clean All Types of Vacuum Cleaner Filter


Loss of suction? Weird smell coming from the vacuum? Chances are, the filter needs a good clean so that you can get back to vacuuming. It’s only a small part of your vacuum cleaner, but it’s also an essential component, and without it, you’ll find that your machine doesn’t work as efficiently, or even at all. 

Lucky for you, we’re professionals and have the best tips and tricks for keeping your vacuum cleaner filter in perfect condition. What’s more, we’re bringing you all of the information you need to get back on top and give your filters the treatment that they need and deserve.

What is a Vacuum Filter?

The filtration system in a vacuum cleaner works to prevent dust and allergens that have been sucked up by your vacuum from escaping back into the air.

The airflow in the machine is designed to go in a specific direction, towards the exhaust, and so before it is able to reach this point, the filtration system is in place.

There is usually a primary filter that will collect the chunkier debris, followed by a secondary filter that will collect the finer debris.

The main reason for having a good filtration system isn’t just for the cleaner air, but also to help those who have asthma and allergies live in an environment where they are less at risk of an attack or reaction.

Different Types of Vacuum Filter

There is actually more to vacuum filters than you might think. Here is a quick look at each type that is available, as well as what makes them different.

Filtration Systems

Primary Filter. Many vacuum cleaners have two sets of filters now, and this is the one that will collect the vast majority of dust and grime. The dirty air goes through this, then the secondary, and cleaner air is pushed back out into your home.

Secondary Filter. This will further filter the air that is pushed through, allowing for all the finer debris to be collected. It also protects the motor, and other key elements of the vacuum, from being damaged by any debris missed by the primary.

Types of Filter

There isn’t a huge amount that is different between these types, but it can be crucial to your decision. Here’s a bulleted look at what each of them is and how they are used:

  • Cartridge. These are disposable and so will need to be replaced as opposed to washed.
  • Cloth/Pleated. These are found in industrial vacuums and incredibly tough and reusable.
  • Foam. These are usually secondary filters and are washable.
  • Disk/Cone. These are usually primary filters, washable, and resemble coffee filters
Types of vacuum cleaner filters

Filter Features

These are the extras, the important details that can make or break a filtration system. Below, is a quick bulleted list of each of them:

  • HEPA. These are the most popular filters and are highly efficient, capturing 99.97% of particles that pass through them.
  • MicroFresh. A non-chemical addition that prevents the growth of fungi and bacteria.
  • Allergen. These filters have been designed in a way similar to HEPA where they can catch even tiny particles. They do not exceed HEPA in terms of filtration though.

Why Does Your Vacuum Filter Need to be Cleaned?

It’s a boring task, right? A little bit gross as well. Nonetheless, it is one of the most vital parts of vacuum cleaner maintenance. Even if the filter is just a little clogged with dirt and dust, here are some of the symptoms you can expect:

  • Loss of suction
  • Strange sounds from the vacuum
  • Odd or unpleasant smells

In severe cases, where a filter has not been cleaned for a very long time, the clogs can become so severe that it actually causes the vacuum cleaner to break down.

A sign of this is that oftentimes the vacuum will start and then shut itself down, or just not switch back on. It may also come with a smell of burning. This is how I lost my first vacuum.

There is one other major reason to keep your vacuum filter clean. A dirty filter means that it is no longer able, or as effective, at tackling dust and dirt. This means that you are just pushing more allergens back out into the air in your home.

How to Clean a Washable Disk/Cone Vacuum Filter

The disk and cone vacuum filter fall under the same category, and both of these names refer to the fact that it resembles a coffee filter. It’s a relatively common filter, and is usually found in Dyson vacuum cleaners. We actually have a pretty handy guide to cleaning your Dyson filters and bins you can check out.

1 Step One

Remove the filter from the vacuum cleaner and gently tap it against the bin to remove any excess dust and debris.

2 Step Two

Run the tap and ensure the water is cool. Then, hold the filter under the tap and allow it to rinse the filter. Avoid soap, as well as scrubbing it or parting the pleats – the running water is more effective than you think.

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3 Step Three

Shake the filter gently over the sink to remove excess water. This will help it to dry faster and also prevents droplets from settling and creating a musty odour.

4 Step Four

Place the filter on the side for a minimum of 24 hours. You can put it near a heat source, such as a radiator, but never directly on one.

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5 Step Five

Check that the filter is completely dry. If this is the case, you can place it back in the machine and start using it again. If it is still even a little damp, leave it out to dry for longer.

How to Clean a Washable Pleated Vacuum Filter

Pleated filters are quite common in vacuum cleaners, and they are usually made from cloth. They are highly effective at capturing allergens, and surprisingly easy to clean despite their design. You don’t need anything except your hands and running water in order to clean these ones.

1 Step One

Remove the filter from the vacuum cleaner and gently tap it against the side of the bin so that you can get rid of any loose dust.

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2 Step Two

Turn the tap on, and hold the filter under cool running water. Gently leaf through the pleats so that the water can reach into them and remove all the grime. It is important that you do NOT spread the pleats open or are rough with them as this can cause damage. Be gentle.

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3 Step Three

Shake the filter gently over the sink to remove excess water, and then leave it on the side to dry. You can place it near a source of warmth, but never put it on one directly.

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4 Step Four

Once it is completely dry, and this could take 48 hours, you can put it back in the vacuum cleaner and get back to using it as normal.

How to Clean a Washable Foam Vacuum Filter

These are probably the easiest to clean, and while they are commonly secondary filters there are plenty of vacuums that use them as the primary one – Shark being a common example, and one that we actually look at in more detail in our Shark filter cleaning guide. Again, for this cleaning routine, you don’t need anything except your hands and sink.

1 Step One

Remove the filter from the vacuum cleaner. With foam ones, the dirt and dust are less likely to fall off, and you will not need to tap it against the bin – take it straight to the sink.


2 Step Two

Run cool water in the sink and hold the filter underneath. You can squeeze it gently and run your thumbs over it to help get rid of all the grime. Once it is clean, gently squeeze it out to remove excess moisture.

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3 Step Three

Place it on the side once it has been squeezed and wait for it to dry. It can be placed near a source of heat, but be careful not to put it directly on one. It can take an easy 48 hours to dry.

4 Step Four

Once it is completely dry, you can put the filter back in the vacuum cleaner and go back to using it as you normally would.

How to Clean a Non-Washable/Cartridge Vacuum Filter

While these filters cannot be washed, they can be cleaned in a different way. The plus side? It’s actually a really simple method that can be used for both rounded and cartridge style non-washable filters. Here’s a quick look at what you will need to get the job done, as well as the steps that you will have to take.

What you Will Need:

  • Screwdriver (optional)
  • Bin bag
  • Paintbrush
  • Compressed air (optional)

1 Step One

Remove the bin from the main body of the vacuum cleaner. Then, pop the filter section out. For this stage, you might need a screwdriver depending on the model of vacuum cleaner you have.

2 Step Two

Spread the bin bag out, and place the filter in the opening so that any debris is collected in the bag.

3 Step Three

Use the paintbrush, and gently brush all the dust and grime off the outside of the filter and into the bag. Then, pop the filter out fully so that you can clean the rest of the exterior without getting dirt everywhere. Check the inside, but this should be clean. You can also use a can of compressed air for really stubborn clumps of dirt that refuse to be brushed away.

4 Step Four

Put the filter back into the vacuum and then put the machine back together. Switch it on, and go back to using it as normal.

How to Clean a HEPA Vacuum Filter

These are one of the most popular types of filter to have in a vacuum cleaner. They are highly effective, and the best at making life easier for asthma and allergy sufferers. However, they also tend to be paper-thin and very delicate. 

If your HEPA filter is listed as washable you can find what you will need to clean the filter, as well as the steps you need to follow below.

What you Will Need:

  • Microfibre cloth
  • Screwdriver

1 Step One

Remove the HEPA filter from the vacuum cleaner. They are commonly found before the motor because they are much finer than the standard filter. You might need a screwdriver for this part as the motor section is very secure.

2 Step Two

Dampen a microfibre cloth with cool water and use it to gently wipe down the filter. Rinse and re-dampen the cloth as necessary to ensure that you are keeping the filter as clean as possible. Make sure you are very gentle during this process.

3 Step Three

Once the filter has been washed and gently rinsed, leave it on a flat surface to dry. Do NOT leave it in direct sunlight or on a heated surface as this will damage the material that the HEPA filter is made from. It can take an easy 48 hours to dry thoroughly.

4 Step Four

Once it has dried completely, you can put it back in the vacuum cleaner, get everything back together, and go back to normal use.

If your HEPA filter is not listed as being washable, it can still be cleaned but you will need to take a different approach.

What you Will Need:

  • A handheld vacuum cleaner
  • A paintbrush
  • A screwdriver

1 Step One

Remove the HEPA filter from the vacuum cleaner. You are likely to need a screwdriver to get to it as it is commonly found nestled above the motor. Give it a quick tap against the bin to remove any loose debris before moving to the next step.

2 Step Two (Vacuum)

Take the handheld vacuum cleaner and put it on the lowest setting. Allow it to glide over the HEPA filter so that it can collect large and small pieces of debris.

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2 Step Two (Paintbrush)

Use the paintbrush to wipe away debris and dust from the HEPA filter. This is a very gentle approach, although a little time-consuming.

3 Step Three

Put it back in the vacuum cleaner, screw everything in place, and continue to use it as you did before.

Should You Clean a HEPA Filter?

A common question is whether or not you should wash or clean your HEPA filter. It’s hotly debated, especially since there is some evidence to suggest it is less effective after it has been washed. However, there are others that argue that the way in which it is cleaned can have an impact on how effective or ineffective it is afterwards. 

HEPA filters are generally advertised as being replaceable, which means that once their lifespan is finished you should be replacing it as opposed to cleaning. However, if you are insistent on cleaning your HEPA filter, the best method is one that does not involve the use of water because of how fragile it is. 

Instead, use the brush/vacuum method that we mention in the previous section. It has the least risk of decreasing efficiency and is very easy to do. Unfortunately, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that washing a HEPA filter will increase or decrease efficiency, but it is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and replace them once they pass their set age limit.


How Do I Know if My Vacuum Filter is Washable or Non-Washable?

If you want to know if your vacuum filter is washable or non-washable, you will need to check the manufacturer’s instructions. It will be clearly listed in the manual so that you can determine the best method for getting your filter back in shape.

Can I Wash a Non-Washable Vacuum Filter?

No, you should never wash a non-washable filter. Washing it can actually cause it to disintegrate, or it will damage the microscopic holes that are used to allow air to pass through – causing the filter to become completely useless.

How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Vacuum Filter?

This does often depend on the manufacturer, and you should always check the instructions, but we also have our own important filter cleaning advice. While most companies recommend cleaning washable filters every three months, you should check them on a monthly basis. 

Every home has different levels of dust and dirt, and everyone has their own vacuuming schedule to follow and the damage that can be caused to your machine if you don’t wash your filters can be severe.

Do Vacuum Filters Need to be Replaced?

Yes, you will need to replace your vacuum filters as even the washable ones have a lifespan. Even with regular cleaning, you will have to buy new ones, and the time period really does depend on the manufacturer and the type of filter that you have. 

For the replaceable ones, you are looking at between three and six months before you need a new one – depending of course on how often you use the machine. 

Older models with replaceable filters may last a little longer – between six and 12 months – although we do recommend changing them sooner as the replaceable ones aren’t always as effective once they pass that six-month line. 

With the washable filters, there is no need to worry about replacing them for around five years. They last a long time, and you won’t need to replace them sooner unless they become damaged.

Can I Use Soap on a Vacuum Filter?

No, you shouldn’t use soap on your vacuum filter. There are some that recommend this for cleaning, but it is not necessary. The soap can clog the microscopic holes in the filter, especially if it is not rinsed correctly. Additionally, if the soap dries on the filter it can become sticky and covered in lumpy clumps that will make the filter less effective or entirely useless.

Can I Put My Vacuum Filter on a Radiator to Dry?

No, you cannot put a vacuum filter on a radiator to dry. This can cause it to become less effective as the filter is manipulated by the heat. The heat can cause parts of the filter to shrink or become misshapen, especially in the case of the microscopic holes in the filter itself. Similarly, you cannot put your filter in the dryer either – just leave it on the side and be patient.

Can I Use My Vacuum Without a Filter?

No, you cannot use your vacuum cleaner without the filter. If you forget to put it back, the machine will not usually turn on for safety reasons. Even if it does, using it without the filter is not recommended because you will just be pushing dirty air back into the home and are at risk of damaging the motor.

Can I Put a Damp Filter Back in my Vacuum?

No, you cannot put a damp filter back in your vacuum cleaner as it could cause permanent electrical damage. In short, water and electricity don’t mix, and the last thing you want to do is break your vacuum cleaner or risk giving yourself a nasty shock. 

Even if it does not cause electrical damage, it encourages the growth of mould and mildew, which can lead to some pretty awful odours while cleaning. Always ensure the filter is bone dry before you put it back in the vacuum cleaner.

Final Thoughts

The filter is one of the most essential parts of the vacuum cleaner. It keeps the air clean and ensures that those with asthma and allergies are more comfortable in their homes. However, if you don’t remember to clean them they will not only be less effective but you also run the risk of your vacuum cleaner breaking down. 

Cleaning your vacuum filter is not a difficult task, and while it will leave your machine out of action for a day, it’s worth it to ensure that it remains healthy and maintained. Did you enjoy our guide to filter cleaning? Make sure to leave us a message below and say hi. Protection Status